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Heroes of Coexistence

Let us now praise famous men, wrote the Jewish scribe, referring to Abraham and other patriarchal heroes of ancient Israel. Let us now praise less famous men and women who are heroes in their own way for Israel today and tomorrow.

We refer to those friends of Israel of all faiths who work to restore and extend the peaceful and enriching coexistence of Jews and Arabs that has to survive repeated challenges these days. The latest invitation to divisiveness is conflict over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to go ahead with a massive housing plan in Jerusalem despite Palestinian objections.

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But the unsung heroes of coexistence always have been inspired rather than deterred by the voices of division. To mention only one on our own Boston doorstep, the late Gisela Wyzanski worked indomitably for years on behalf of the Fellowship in Israel for Arab-Jewish Youth. It preceded The Abraham Fund with which it has joined forces to further coexistence through offices in New York and Jerusalem and advisory committees in other cities. Last fall the fund honored former Prime Minister Shimon Peres with its first Pioneer of Coexistence award. And Mr. Peres commended fund members in words that might apply to all workers for coexistence:

"They are trying to add to the great strength of understanding and peace in the Middle East and elsewhere by reminding us that Abraham was not just a great leader but a good father. And, if we are his sons, the time has come to reestablish a family-like relationship."

Mr. Netanyahu sent a letter of support to the fund, and it is to be hoped that he too may become known for actively fostering coexistence.

Meanwhile, just what do the seldom headlined pioneers of coexistence do? The Abraham Fund's projects range from a forthcoming US tour of panelists on the state of coexistence in Israel to support for Arab entrepreneurs in Israel, where Bedouins now make kosher bread in an automated factory.

The New Jewish Information Network, based in Canada, offers such links as Talknow, an e-mail get-acquainted facility for Israeli and Palestinian children and Arab and Jewish children elsewhere.

On an international scale, the New Israel Fund, established in 1979, has contributed more than $35 million and given technical assistance to more than 200 nongovernmental organizations working to promote Arab-Jewish coexistence and other fundamental values such as human rights. One example is Netivei Ahva (Friendship's Way): The Jewish-Arab Association for the Child and Family. It offers educational and social activities in the mixed Arab and Jewish neighborhood of Jaffa.

A school for peace located between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Democracy instruction for residents of the West Bank and Gaza. Educational groups of Jewish and Arab teenagers who share apartments for "one year of life for coexistence," after which they become counselors to the next groups. Here a little and there a little - or quite a lot in some cases. Organizations dedicated to coexistence offer ways to come together. Let us now praise those who listen to the voice of coexistence as well as those who utter it.

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