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36 Under 36: Forward-Looking Rabbis: Rabbi Melissa Weintraub

by Carolyn Slutsky
Published on May 21, 2008 in The New York Jewish Week

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://​encoun​ter​pro​grams​.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.

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Our Mission

Encounter is an edu­ca­tional orga­ni­za­tion dedi­cated to strength­ening the capacity of the Jewish people to be construc­tive agents of change in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Moti­vated by the relent­less Jew­ish pur­suit of hokhma (wis­dom) and binah (under­stand­ing), Encounter cul­ti­vates informed Jew­ish lead­er­ship on the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict by bring­ing…

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