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Tuesday 11 December 2007

Many Voices in Leeds

Many Voices

On a cold, rainy night in November, something extraordinary happened on
the Leeds University campus: close to 100 people met together under the
heading 'Many Voices'. It was an evening of conversation and listening.
What was special was that the participants were made up of members of
both the Muslim and Jewish communities in Leeds and Bradford.

The planning team was a model of diversity; there were two students from
the society Salaam-Shalom (Akram, a Muslim Palestinian and Laura, a
British Jewish student), myself – a Jewish community worker, Kamran who
works in the Muslim community in Beeston, and two Christians, Ed and Kay
who are involved in community and peace work on campus and in Leeds
through the inspiring Together for Peace Festival (of which this event
was a part). We met regularly and through the process of planning the
event, have become good friends – an amazing achievement over and above
anything else.

As one of the organisers of the event, I can testify that its planning
was not easy and we came across many obstacles; not least the fact that
the original evening was going to see one Israeli and one Palestinian
representative from the organisation 'One Voice' take the stage and talk
about their life experiences and hopes for the future. When One Voice
cancelled their UK tour, we were forced to examine carefully our aims
for the evening, and if there was a way we could meet those aims in
their absence.

This was where the idea of 'Many Voices' emerged; that we each have our
own stories and connection to the situation in Israel and Palestinian
areas, and that the evening could model how we can all listen to each
other, and, in the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, "learn the art of
conversation from which truth emerges from the process of letting our
world be enlarged by the presence of others who think, act and interpret
reality in ways radically different from our own."

We decided to begin the evening by four of us speaking from our own
experiences, with the aim of modelling for everyone who came that this
is a safe space to be open and honest about how we feel about what's
happening. We also invited Nir, an Israeli student to speak on this
panel, in order to get a balance of perspectives; Akram and Nir could
talk directly about growing up in Jerusalem (although different parts of
the city), and Kamran and I spoke from our viewpoints within our faith
communities in Britain.

The next part of the evening was facilitated discussion in small mixed
groups, encouraging everyone to think about the situation and share
their own experiences and feelings, as well as the conflicts that exist
in their own minds regarding what's going on. This proved to be an
invaluable experience because it enabled different people to listen to
each other without interruption and debate, as well as proved that no
one truth exists, even within someone's own thinking and beliefs.

What I found most valuable was witnessing the conversations once the
event had officially closed. People did not want to leave and business
cards were being exchanged, ideas for projects were being sown, and
friendships were being formed across the communities. It was a really
wonderful experience to watch and know that I had been part of making it

Anna Dyson
Youth and Community Development Worker
Sinai Synagogue, Leeds


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