NOT A PEOPLE PERSON

It’s not that I talk that much; it may be that I shouldn’t talk at all.

I’ve been hoarse since coming to Israel, and chances of regaining my voice before leaving early am on Friday are slim. I caught a cold right after arriving. It left, returned, left again, but my throat has been consistently sore, my voice rasping and descending into bass. “You sound like Tallulah Bankhead,” Bernie used to say on these occasions.

Last night I couldn’t be quiet. Bernie’s son, Marc, my brother, and I went down to the home of our friends, Iris and Tani Katz, not far from Ramat Gan, and met with a handful of people who knew Bernie and at some point were involved with his madcap schemes for getting everyone in the world to experience the oneness of life. The evening was gracious, the food generous. We sat in their living room and people talked about how they first met him, how they last met him, and what we all took away.

Sami Awad was there from Bethlehem, able to travel through Israel with legal (though temporary) permit, growing a beard. He’s often talked of how going to Auschwitz-Birkenau changed his sense of peace-making forever. It was great to see Ibrahim Abu el-Hawa from Mt. of Olives, or Hajj Ibrahim, known practically around the world for his hospitality to guests coming from all corners of the world. Or Gabriel Meyer, who remembered our big meeting in 2000 in Tantur, right on the border of Israel and the West Bank, where he incubated his idea of an annual Sulha, or reconciliation ceremony, between Jews and Arabs, which later took place year after year in northern Israel. And Michal Fuchs, who has been working on behalf of Arab villages and cities in Israel for many years.

Many dreams dreamt; fewer fulfilled, but who cares? “If I can move things just the narrowest of hairs-breadths,” Bernie used to say, “that would be plenty. Believe me,” he’d repeat again and again, “that would be plenty.”

When we come together in small gatherings like this one we positively relish how different we are from each other. We love the different cultures on display, the different foods, teasing each other about what languages we speak and what we miss (If by next year you learn Hebrew, I’ll learn Arabic!). At the same time people show each other photos of their growing children or grandchildren (Ibrahim has 38) and talk of the people they have in common (You know Tiokasin Ghosthorse, too? Where did you meet him?).

Some will go on doing the same things they have till now, while others, like me, face uncertainty and change. But whatever we call it, we trust the one pulse that beats in all of us. We could feel it, and not just when Gabriel played his song on the guitar and we came in as chorus, not just when we picked up the bread, oil, and olives (basic staples to this region), not just when we found ourselves, clad in different clothes and memories, seated once again in one big circle. And in that circle we wait our turn, and then present ourselves again and again: who we are, what we do, who was the man who connected us.

“I’m not a people person,” Bernie would tell me over and over. “You’re more of a people person than I am.”

Indeed, he was clumsy at parties, either hiding in corners or affecting a joviality that seemed contrived. But he was a magnet wherever he went, drawing people not just go himself and the work, but perhaps most important, to each other. And even when he’s gone, they delight in meeting each other once again, perhaps seeing some reflection of him in each other’s face.

In his absence, what will bring us together now?