My friend Nasra Hussein just came back from a scientific conference in Austria where she met other scientists, from places like Saudi Arabia and South Africa, who were shocked to discover that she, a Muslim Arab, was living and working with Jews in Israel. Nasra, who just received her Ph.D. under the supervision of a Jewish advisor, explained that she works at Nahariya hospital (bombed by Hezbollah during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War). The hospital staff that consists of Ethiopian Jews, Druze, Muslims, Christians and Jews.
After my conversation with Nasra, a thought came to me. I've lived in New York City, London and Paris. In every city, there are different ethnic neighborhoods. Paris has its African neighborhoods; New York City has its Spanish and Asian neighborhoods; London has its Arab neighborhoods. On an average day in your town or city, how many people of other religions and races do you meet?
I live in Western Galilee, Israel, home to about 1 million people, split almost 50-50 among Arabs and Jews.
The other day -- an ordinary day -- I got up and brought my car over to the auto repair shop in our village, owned and operated by a Muslim man, Nasser. Nasser employs about 15 people in his shop, including my friend, Jasmine (more on her in a minute), several mechanics (Muslims and Jews) and a Rumanian Christian woman who, after meeting a Muslim man studying medicine in Bucharest, married him and moved to Israel.
From there, I went to Akko -- home to about 50,000 people, of whom 30 percent are Arab -- to visit my friend, Janan. She was the first Druze woman in Israel (if not in the entire Middle East) to receive her Ph.D. Janan is founder of Akko Vision, a dialogue group consisting of Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze women. (I'm a member of the group.) There is also a Baha'i woman. (Unlike in Iran, where the Baha'i are persecuted.) The group's lasts initiative was a visit of women from Bethlehem.
After meeting with Janan, I went to the market in the Old City of Akko where I walked through winding, ancient alleyways, Arabic music playing, incense burning, guys smoking water pipes, the smell of coriander and fresh pita bread. I stopped to buy blue ceramic dishes made by Armenian craftsmen from a Christian couple who own one of the largest tourist shops in the Old City. I learned that there's only one country in the Middle East with an increasing Christian population and that's Israel. (In Iraq, Lebanon and Libya, Christians have become victims of religious persecution. There has been a spike of attacks against Christians since the Muslim Brotherhood gained power in Egypt. In Gaza, Christians face attacks daily.)
Then I called Jasmine, Nasser's sister, who manages the auto repair shop and just found out she's pregnant. She will get full pre-natal care -- everything -- via Israel's National Insurance Program. If she'd been unable to get pregnant, she would have been able to receive treatments through government-sponsored facilities that serve all religious sectors in the country.
In the afternoon, I went to work at the Easy English Academy, where I teach English to Arab and Jewish students. One of my students is Nasra, working to polish her English. She is now furthering her research with another nurse from Ramallah, across the border in Palestine.
Finally, after dinner, I spoke to my unofficially adopted Ethiopian daughter, who has lived in Israel for about 20 years. She came to Israel with her family to avoid further religious persecution by the Ethiopian government. In Ethiopia, she knew it was time to go to school when the sun made a certain shadow off a tree and now works in an Israeli bank in computer security. She married a man whose parents are from Afghanistan and Rumania; their wedding was a wild celebration of distinct and vibrant cultures.
Diversity makes life rich. How many different people have you spoken to today?