The December gathering was, as ever, a special occasion. Almost half of the participating members were Palestinians. Several Israeli and Palestinian members, who joined our organization in past few months, arrived to the seminar, contributing to the overall good feeling shared by organizers and participants alike. The seminar took place over three days - from Thursday afternoon to Saturday evening. Many felt the seminar had closed a circle as a similar seminar took place in January 2004.
The seminar’s goals were described in a short note that each of the participants received upon their arrival at the seminar:
Any meeting of the Families Forum members is always a way to connect, bringing us closer. Not only is it a meeting of members who share a common fate, but also of members who share the path of hope. To be a member in the Families Forum is a choice, which symbolizes the decision to take the personal tragedy and to gather strength from it in order to promote reconciliation. This decision can give each and every one of us a meaning to our life after bereavement…
In every joint seminar there is an effort to further learning order to acquire more tools which can assist us in fulfilling our mission of promoting reconciliation. This is the goal of this seminar as well.
This time a large part of the schedule is dedicated to the difficult task of "getting into the other side's shoes". This task brings with it the need to touch points of disagreement. We hope and believe that the lectures and the discussions following them will be held in the spirit of our Forum – in mutual respect, listening, tolerance and empathy.
The seminar also included a theatre play dealing with the subject coexistence, a presentation on the Forum's activities during 2004 and personal stories, insights, thoughts and feelings about the experiences of members who took part in the different activities.
During the free time between activities members were spending their time together, enjoying the informal and warm atmosphere of the seminar strengthening the bonds and weaving another thin and delicate thread of friendships. On Friday, the seminar’s second day, several of the Palestinian members traveled together to the Temple Mount (Al-Aqsa Mosque) to pray. For many, it was the first time they were able to reach this holy place and they were extremely moved and exhilarated. In the evening, the fourth candle of Hanuka was lit both by Israeli and Palestinian members together symbolizing the unity of The Families Forum. The light of the candles was a reflection of the warmth and affection that was felt throughout the seminar.
By the end of the seminar, we all felt by all the there was a strong will on the part of the participants to take an active and meaningful role in future activities of the Families Forum during 2005.
© All pictures by Eyal Ofer, 2004 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org