Webster defines community as ‘a group of people who live in the same area (such as a city, town, or neighborhood); a group of people who have the same interests, religion, race, etc.’ By this definition alone, the majority of our team could be classified as they were part of the running community having spent weeks training and sweating in preparation for an event which would not only show solidarity for the Palestinian plight but which would also initiate and cement friendships with like-minded fitness enthusiasts.
Not a runner, I nonetheless observed that our 14-person, diverse team became a community through various processes including negotiating time in the two bathrooms (despite the fact that each morning we had to simultaneously exit our hostel someties as early as 6:00 a.m.) or noting and celebrating strengths and accomplishments during evening ‘debriefs’. Indeed, we were from various races, age groups and socio-economic levels – true of any community – yet our team shared a common goal – not unlike Israel before 1948.
In fact, although unforgettable moments were numerous, particularly notable was the observation of a Palestinian speaker. Prior to 1948, Christians, Jews and Muslims coexisted side-by-side, not only assisting and participating in their neighbor’s celebrations and daily life but also benefiting from the diversity which the other brought to the mix. As a Christian boy, our presenter recalled the countless times that he’d been rewarded with a cookie or a sweet for merely flipping on the light switch for his Orthodox Jewish neighbor who was prevented from doing so because of Sabbath regulations. Sadly, Israel’s sense of national community has ended abruptly and harshly, leaving in its wake the estrangement of neighbors who were once devoted to each other despite the multiplicity of their cultures and faiths.
While many visitors likely recount Israel’s architecture and history upon returning from a visit, I’ll be forever impacted by the effects of fear and exclusion-ism on national unity and to this end will pray that God, who invented the notion of fellowship, will soon restore community in its truest sense in Israel.
by Linda Varmette