Melissa Weintraub, 32
Rabbi, Israeli-Palestinian reconciler, terror and torture expert
Like many life decisions, Rabbi Melissa Weintraub’s work was determined by an element of destiny. She had always been interested in peace-building, but it wasn’t until she encountered a group of Palestinians in Beit Zahor, outside Bethlehem, as a student in 1996 that the path to her future coalesced. “I went [to the village to see an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue group] and was mind-blown and moved and really deeply impacted by the Palestinians and Israelis in that group,” says Weintraub. “Curiosity drove me there, and a deep commitment to the Jewish people,” she says. “I felt a real sense of calling in hearing their stories, felt right away that my destiny was going to be wrapped up with theirs, building that nonexistent bridge.”
After six years of living in Israel and rabbinical training at JTS, she developed the idea for Encounter (http://encounterprograms.org) an educational organization that provides Jewish leaders from across religious and political spectrums a chance to engage with Palestinians – and each other.
“Our mission is every bit as much about catalyzing dialogue within the Jewish community as between Jews and Palestinians,” she says.
Encounter brings together “unlikely suspects” to talk directly and “build an environment that creates a safe enough container religiously and emotionally that they can hear the narrative of the other and take it in,” she says of the Jews and Arabs who have met over the four years of Encounter’s existence.
As for the future, Weintraub will continue her reconciliation work and plans for “Encounter having become a laboratory and catalyst for all kinds of projects and helping to restore a healthier spirit to the internal Jewish conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and [playing] a role in moving the peace process forward.”
Favorite City (other than Jerusalem): Luang Prabang, the Holy City of Laos.
Liquid Obsession: Passionate about a significant number of the 850 kinds of Belgian beer.
In a Past Life: A Pakistani Qawwali singer and a Sufi musician.