Storytelling, peace building at first YDS Peaceweek

Casey N. Cep ’13 M.Div.

During the second week of November, YDS celebrated its first Peaceweek: “Voices and Stories: A Collective of Hope and Struggle from Israel and Palestine.” Clergy, educators, musicians, and students from around the world gathered to share their experiences of seeking peace in a challenging region. 

GroupLaura Fitzpatrick-Nager ‘13 M.Div., one of Peaceweek’s main coordinators, was inspired to organize the conference for the YDS community because of her interfaith marriage and her travels to Israel and Palestine last spring with her home church, the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme. “It was really powerful meeting people there who were struggling with daily life under occupation but still promoting peace,” she said.

“I’m graduating this year and felt this was an important, maybe final, opportunity to explore what interfaith ministry is all about,” Fitzpatrick-Nager added. Going forward, Peaceweek is intended to be an annual affair.

Fellow Peaceweek coordinator Daniel Meyers ’13 M.Div., who also visited the region last year, echoed Fitzpatrick-Nager: “I wanted to do something around my experiences—to find a way to share the stories of those I met.”

Meyers is currently completing a supervised-ministry internship in the Yale University Chaplain’s Office and collaborated with various undergraduate communities—Arab Students Association, Jews and Muslims (JAM), Muslim Students Association, Students for Israel, and Yale Friends for Israel—to broaden the reach of Peaceweek. 

“A lot of these students know each other but maybe never had an opportunity to share their personal stories,” Meyers explained, “They’re committed to interfaith dialogue and conversation, and this would give them a way to join the conversation.”

Facilitating that conversation was a task that Meyers and Fitzpatrick-Nager took seriously. The conference’s narrative approach was meant to defuse some of the tensions associated with the conflict.

“Our hope was that with a narrative approach we could privilege every voice, even those that don’t often get heard,” said Fitzpatrick-Nager. “Personal testimony is moving; it can move through stereotyping and invite responses from a pastoral perspective.”

Meyers added, “I’m very interested in how we can talk about contentious, political issues with the language of stories.”

Both emphasized how difficult it was to orchestrate Peaceweek’s many voices. “Going into this, I was a novice at organizing a conference,” Fitzpatrick-Nager said, “It was difficult to find voices that represented a variety of perspectives with the time and travel constraints that we had.”

Despite these challenges, Fitzpatrick-Nager and Meyers succeeded in offering YDS a mosaic of voices. Speakers included: Anat Biletski, professor of philosophy at Quinnipiac University and Tel Aviv University; Omer Bajwa, the coordinator for Muslim life in the Yale Chaplain’s Office; Rabbi Noah Cheses of the Slifka Center for Jewish Life; Maria Khoury, Palestinian Christian and educator; Soher Reihani-Bisharat, dean of students at the Nazareth Academic Institute; George Saadeh, deputy mayor of Bethlehem and founder of the Parents Circle; as well as Sallama Shaker, YDS visiting professor of Middle East and Islamic Studies

“When putting together a conference like this, it’s difficult to allow speakers to speak for themselves, but also to own the role of organizer,” Meyers said. “I’ve found that a hard place to be.”

“But the tensions that come with this are important to sit with,” said Meyers, who feels called to chaplaincy. “In the space where there is hurt, there’s been lot of learning for me about how to be in dialogue.”

For Fitzpatrick-Nager, the tensions of the week were eased by Peaceweek’s concluding musical celebration and community dinner. “We followed the final panel and prayers from the three Abrahamic faiths with a meal and music,” she said, “and it just gave me hope for what can happen with dialogue.”

Peaceweek owes its success to wide support across the Sterling Divinity Quad, with sponsors including Dean Greg Sterling, Interim Academic Dean Carolyn Sharp, ISM Director Martin Jean, the YDS Student Council, the YDS United Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ Student Fellowship, YDS Community Life Committee, and the Episcopal Peace Fellowship.

December 2, 2012
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