An article of faith Faith can emerge from the words and actions of ordinary people

This is a republication of an original article written by Amira Beeber in the Cavalier Daily on Monday, March 21, 2011.

This past spring break, I participated in a service trip to Israel through the Hillel Jewish Center and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. I, along with seventeen other University students, spent the week volunteering in the northern city of Nahariyya, a beautiful coastal city that is a mere six miles from Israel’s border with Lebanon. Because I already had spent a year volunteering in Israel, I did not expect to gain much from this experience besides pure enjoyment, but in light of the events that occurred there this trip had a significant impact on my life.

Nahariyya faces many economic difficulties, in part because of a large immigrant population. Alongside members of this immigrant community, we worked to refurbish apartment complexes in one of Nahariyya’s poorest neighborhoods, doing everything from plastering to painting.

What made this job unique was that each group of four students was assigned one Arab contractor to oversee the project and two elderly Russian immigrants to assist us. These Russian immigrants only recently had come to Israel following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and many had struggled to learn Hebrew, creating an extreme language barrier. But from this frustrating situation came something amazing.

Despite the perceived communication problems, I noticed that our contractor, Abbed, and the two Russian men seemed to understand each other perfectly. One would yell in Russian, the other in Arabic, and somehow an agreement would be made. I watched, stunned, as these men from completely different backgrounds were able to work together to better their shared community.

Before I saw this communication, I had been struggling to interact with both parties individually. I was able to speak freely with Abbed in Hebrew, and exhausted my knowledge of Yiddish when conversing with the Russians, but shied away from speaking to both parties simultaneously. However, this one moment reminded me that human interaction is so much more than a shared language — it thrives on mutual respect for one another.

On Friday night, we were invited into the homes of community members for a Sabbath dinner with warmth and hospitality. As I returned to the hotel that night, I remember reflecting on the trip and feeling comforted. Though we were in Israel during a time of unease — felt especially in Nahariyya, which was bombed heavily during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 — there was so much hope for a better future. Even among grown men, who have had decades to harden their opinions, there was still the ability to live together and work peacefully.

The next morning, our last in Israel, we were informed of the tragedy that had occurred the previous night. Just as we returned to the hotel after a night of enjoyment, so too did the Fogel family return from Sabbath festivities to its home in the West Bank. That night, as the family members slept, two terrorists broke into their home and brutally murdered them. Udi Fogel, his wife Ruth, and their children Yoav, 11, Elad, 4, and three-month-old Hadas were stabbed to death simply because they lived in the West Bank. After their 12-year-old daughter Tamar found them and reported the crime, news of the incident spread throughout Israel.

People’s reactions ranged from disbelief to anger, and yet when Ruth Fogel’s father Rabbi Yehuda Ben-Yishai was interviewed he stressed that he would not seek vengeance or harbor hatred. “I have worked in education many years, and as an educator, I try to strengthen and teach people faith,” he explained. “I understand that I cannot be satisfied with words and that I also must implement the same principles on which I have educated others. This is a test of my faith.”

The rabbi’s words seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Because the Western world has failed to cover this story adequately, its citizens have lost the opportunity to learn from it. Situations like this make my hope falter. How can I maintain faith for a better future when the murder of five innocent people does not warrant the same outcry of condemnation that the construction of a housing unit receives? Has the world truly chosen to deprive these people of the respect they deserve?

As University students, we must understand that “faith” is not defined by religious beliefs but rather a unified hope for a better future. It is the same faith that connected the Arabs and the Russians who failed to communicate verbally but were truly able to understand each other. It is this faith that we must encourage in the hope of achieving a future compassionate coexistence.

We can all learn a valuable lesson from the interactions of some gentlemen in Nahariyya and the words of a mourning father. Every life is precious, and between every person there is some common ground. Search it out and cherish it.

About the Author

Amira Beeber is a second-year College student.