[This interview originally appeared in Italian, and has been translated for this website.]
Where and when were you born?
In North Carolina, USA, on May 31, 1975. Now I live in Jerusalem, Israel.
What is your occupation?
Executive director of Encounter in the Middle East.
What is your cultural formation and your previous work experiences?
When I was 14, my family moved to Kenya. Living in Africa for 4 years shifted my outlook from an American to a global perspective. I seek a balance between commitment to my Jewish community and immersing myself in the world around me. I spent ten years in New York City as a labor organizer, political campaign manager, and worked in international development before I came to Jerusalem.
Who is behind the project Encounter and how many years ago did it start?
Encounter was founded by Rabbis Melissa Weintraub and Miriam Margles in 2005. They had a vision of bringing Jewish leaders to Bethlehem to see “the other side”. The first program was such a success that there was immediate demand for another program.
What kind of programming does Encounter do?
Every month, we bring 40 Jewish participants to meet Palestinians in their home communities. We work to transform fear into understanding to enable Jewish leaders to fulfill their roles as religious peace-makers.
What motivated you to undertake your mission?
I originally didn’t want to get involved in this work. I thought that the conflict had to be solved by Israelis and Palestinians without American involvement. But the American Jewish community is already very involved. I participated on an Encounter program in May 2006, and realized that I wanted to play a positive role to ensure that Jewish American involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is informed and compassionate.
The next event in your year’s schedule?
We are organizing a program called “Taking It Home: How to bring your Middle East experiences back to your home communities in America”. This is a workshop to train our alumni how to share their experiences. The majority of Jewish Americans have never met Palestinians, so our participants bring something unique to their home communities.
What do you think about the concept of “clash of civilizations”?
The meeting of difference civilations is only a “clash” when individuals fear difference. When we transform fear into curiousity, instead of a clash we have an exchange of ideas. This can be strengthening and beautiful, not destructive.
Is terrorism a result of despair?
I don’t know what terrorism is born from. Many people transform despair into nonviolent activism and community building. Some people feel despair and engage in violence. Violence will not solve this conflict. It is our collective responsibility to seek out a new, creative way to co-exist on this land.
What was the last country that you visited and what were your impressions?
In January I visited Turkey. I appreciated being in a predominantly Muslim country that integrates values of liberalism and religious practice.
A question that people usually ask you?
Do you really think anything will ever change in the Middle East?
I strive to find compassion for all people. I truly believe we are all sacred creations, and that everyone is on earth to bring their own spark of light into the world. I try to help people find that spark in themselves.
I love to dance. Usually in private!
Something that changed your life?
I was in downtown Manhattan on September 11th, 2001. Watching the attack on the World Trade Center was the most awful day of my life. Finding elements of grace and healing in the aftermath opened my eyes to an entirely new way of being in the world.
Your favorite writers?
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, John Irving, Julia Cameron, Iyanla Vanzant.
A thought to conclude your interview?
I look forward to the day when the Holy Land reaches its full potential of being a sacred place where people of all faiths and all practices can celebrate, worship, learn and love in safety and harmony.