Written by Noa Baum
I grew up in Jerusalem, Israel. When my grandmother heard the word “Arab” she’d spit and say “may their name be erased”. Her son was killed in the war of 1948. On the green grass of America I met Jumana, a Palestinian woman who also grew up in Jerusalem. Our kids grew up together, without the fears we grew up with. Over the years we started to share our personal stories of growing up in the same city on opposite sides.
She told me how when she was 10, she saw a 14 year old boy being beaten by soldiers and driven away. She said it was the first time she felt hate and understood what that word meant.
For me, hearing this was like being hit in the gut. Those hated soldiers, that terrified and haunted her entire childhood, were my people, our boys, everyone that I knew that turned 18 and went to the army including my brother.
It was hard. But I kept listening because she was telling me her story.
Even when we found ourselves arguing about our contradicting national narratives, we were able to laugh, “look at us! We’re becoming defensive again!”, and continue to talk. We continued to talk in spite of differences, of not always agreeing, because we had heard each other’s stories.
This powerful experience propelled me to create A Land Twice Promised a performance piece of our personal stories that echo the contradictory national narratives of our people. I’ve performed this story all over the USA, in Israel, and Europe. I’ve heard many responses, as contradicting as those national narratives:
An Israeli woman wrote to me that it was the most powerful experience of her life; An American Jewish woman yelled, “It’s a disgrace!” and walked out in rage; A Palestinian man said this only shows the suffering of the Jews. An Israeli told me I’m only showing the suffering of the Palestinians. Another Palestinian man came with tears and embraced me: “That was my story you just told, exactly as I remembered that time…”
I continue to be concerned when people hear my story as unbalanced, but I am oddly glad that those responses come from “both sides.” I am grateful and reassured by many who have felt that the story has brought them new perspectives or understanding.
Peace can be a risk. It asks us to make compromises, to go beyond our comfort zone and venture into the unknown. Since we often have a certain picture of a situation and specifically of our enemy, it is hard to imagine something different.
When you can’t imagine what it would look/feel like, it’s hard to take the risk for peace.
But stories invite us in to imagine different realities. Storytelling can break through assumptions and stereotypes and allow us to see the humanity of “The Other”. Listening to someone’s story is in itself an acknowledgement of his or her humanity. I have learned that by shifting the focus to personal story, I can invite people into a different realm, where it is possible to listen deeply past opinions and frozen perspectives and allow space for change.
A Land Twice Promised is an offer of my choice. I am not here to represent The Suffering of The Jews or The Palestinians. I am here to tell about my experience. I choose to speak the truths of our friendship and the stories that emerged from it. That is what I have to offer as a storyteller. I am here to give personal testimony that transcends the rhetoric, and through it I hope to call to all of us to listen. The path to peace has to include the listening to the experience of The Other through which we can discover our common human experience. In this specific conflict it also means to recognize and acknowledge the existence of parallel narratives, two perspectives to the same historical events. This Storytelling Performance – and reading my book that gives a fuller picture of my journey – invites others to experience some of the compassion that is needed for healing and peace.
My hope is that more people will choose to use the healing power of storytelling: listen to each other and acknowledge the story of the other. It is the stories that call out for all of us to surrender prejudice and fear, turning instead to listening, compassion, dialogue, and peace.
Noa Baum is a storyteller, author, educator, and public speaker. Born and raised in Jerusalem, she studied theater at Tel Aviv University and with Uta Hagen in New York, and received a Masters of Arts in Educational Theater from New York University. She is a recipient of a Storytelling World and Parents’ Choice Recommended Awards and numerous Individual Artist Awards from the Maryland State Arts Council. Her work was seen at The Kennedy Center, Mayo Clinic, The World Bank and the US Defense Department, National Storytelling Festival and many congregations, universities and organizations internationally. Her memoir A Land Twice Promised: An Israeli Woman’s Quest for Peace was published by Familius in June 2016.
She lives in the Washington DC metropolitan area. To learn more visit: http://www.noabaum.com Attend her performance of the Land Twice Promised on Saturday, January 14, 2017 at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center beginning at 7:30 p.m. To learn more and to order tickets click here.