Media / Coverage
Ruth Ebenstein was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago, while she was nursing her third baby in three years. After her surgery, someone invited her to a support meeting of Israeli and Palestinian women who were recent breast cancer patients – and survivors. She developed a close friendship with a woman named Ibtisam, who lives in Abu Dis outside of Jerusalem. They now lecture together, and their enduring friendship will be the backdrop of Ebenstein’s forthcoming memoir.
TRANSCENDING CONFLICT: AN UNEXPECTED FRIENDSHIP ACROSS THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN DIVIDE
What could unite Ibtisam, a Muslim woman living in the West Bank, and Ruth, an American-born Israeli and religiously observant Jewish woman living in West Jerusalem? Could their friendship exist against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
In early December, we were presented with an unexpected and unique opportunity to welcome Ibtisam and Ruth to share their personal story of friendship. They were brought together by breast cancer when they met at an Israeli-Palestinian breast-cancer support group, the Cope Forum. They sat next to each other in the Forum, and discovered that their life stories were very much alike, and "though cancer catalyzed the connection, human chemistry gelled it."
Ibtisam was dressed in the traditional hijab and she spoke English. As she spoke she began to cry, overwhelmed by the warm and respectful welcome the students offered. Both women did not downplay the on-going tensions and stressful issues in Jerusalem: checkpoints, permits, and the escalation of terrorist attacks. Their personal and forthright manner of speaking enabled the students to identify with their feelings of anxiety and fear, and the students admired their courage to continue the friendship. Amid their serious raconteur, there was laughter too, as the women also shared humorous anecdotes.
Our students and the Ramaz family, like Ruth, are passionate Jews and Zionists, and perhaps we too can find ways to "...foster unexpected friendship(s) across the Israeli-Palestinian divide." The students expressed their appreciation with the hugs they gave to Ruth and Ibtisam at the end of the program.
Kudos to Lauren Katz, Director of Alumni Relations who suggested we invite Ruth, her childhood friend from Michigan, and to Ms. Dana Barak, Hebrew Language Chair who arranged for the junior grade to attend.
Jewish and Muslim Sisters Are Doin' Coexistence for Themselves
Sisterhood of Salaam-Shalom conference attracts record crowd of women from two faiths working to build bridges, but Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains ‘elephant in the room.’
December 12, 2015 — by Debra Nussbaum Cohen (Princeton, N.J.)