I believe that peace between Jews and Arabs could result from meeting each other as individuals, without the stereotypes that blind us to understanding our common humanity.
After flying to New York from Israel, I was taking a bus to spend the weekend with a daughter in Cambridge, and then taking another bus to Maine to open my bed and breakfast in Bar Harbor for the season.
The bus was departing, and I had spread out on the next seat when young man motioned me to make room. He was holding the Sunday Times in one hand a small paper bag in the other, and I figured he would trade sections with me if I initiated a conversation. A
Moroccan, Faud taught high school English, and this was his fist trip to the U.S. He would be in Boston with an uncle who told him he’d just need his toothbrush.
The uncle would meet him in Boston and yes, he would be happy to share the paper. We were chatting amiably, but when I mentioned I lived several months a year in Israel, conversation ceased. He muttered “occupier” under his breath, and not to be outdone I muttered “terrorist,” in lieu of anything else, like six year olds hurling epithets on the playground.
We continued in silence as I peeked at the headlines. He was reading the book reviews when something about John Steinbeck caught my eye. I mentioned enjoying Steinbeck, and suddenly we were sharing teaching experiences when the bus stopped at a Sbarro’s,
where we continued our discussion over coffee.
Horrified, I saw the bus leaving. I ran out screaming. Faud looked nonchalant; all he had was his toothbrush in the paper bag, while I had clothes, important papers, and a new laptop in two large suitcases on the bus. Ironically, Faud with just his toothbrush had more than I after the bus left.
Imagining my luggage at the Canadian border, I finally reached a real person at the bus company, telling me another bus would arrive in three hours. I told my daughter I’d be late and Faud called his uncle, who wasn’t home and probably assumed Faud wasn’t coming.
Faud had no place to go, so I invited him to my daughter’s for dinner while he contacted his uncle. There we were, the “occupier” and the “terrorist,” discussing the range of American literature from Hawthorne to Hemingway. I was relieved to see my luggage in the station in Boston, but Faud’s uncle wasn’t there. We arrived at my daughter’s and started cooking the Shabbat mean, which we had to prepare before sundown.
Faud was interested in our explanation of the Sabbath rituals and shared practices from his Muslim tradition. “This has been special,” he said, echoing our feelings. Faud’s uncle arrived for dessert, and we laughed about our misadventure, which gave at least two people the opportunity to take a step toward peace.