Family gathering

Seeds of Peace Caf inaugurates the year with Jerusalem stories of friendship and unity.

seeds of peace 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy photo)
seeds of peace 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy photo)
s the final rays of the summer sun drifted through the large windows, participants of the Seeds of Peace Caf gathered in a luxuriously appointed room at the American Colony Hotel. The Seeds of Peace Caf , a program run by the organization Seeds of Peace, is a forum for individuals from Jewish, Arab and Christian communities to become acquainted with each other in an apolitical environment. "The Caf allows people to learn about each other's customs," explained Dorothy Gitter Harman, co-coordinator of the Seeds of Peace Caf . This event, the first since the closing of the Jerusalem center and the inaugural gathering after the summer break, featured descendants from two of the oldest and most prominent Jerusalem families - the Alamis and the Havilios. The Seeds of Peace Caf program was initiated last February, this being the sixth meeting. The title for the evening was "Tales of Prominent Jerusalem Families: Jewish, Christian and Muslim as told by Muhammad Alami and Abraham Havilio, Lovers of Jerusalem and Marvelous Story-Tellers." As the participants found their seats, music floated above the conversations in the room, accenting the mixture of Arabic, Hebrew and English with a Mediterranean rhythm. Teenagers sporting the green Seeds of Peace T-shirts punctuated the mature, distinguished crowd with a sense of youth. Harman called the program to order and reminisced about a time in Jerusalem when Arabs, Jews and Christians "lived, labored, laughed and experienced life together," before introducing the men who lived during this period and remembered what that life was like. "The idea is to have Jews, Muslims and Christians meet and talk about different things in which politics does not have a place, to get together and get to know each other," said Dr. Muhammad Dajani, co-coordinator of the cafe with Harman. "We are here to talk about coexistence during a time in the past when conflict did not exist, when we lived as one." Avraham Havilio, 76, a man whose presence emits the type of wisdom gained through experience, then took the microphone. Speaking with sweeping hand gestures, he introduced his tales with the title, "Once Upon a Time." Havilio opened his presentation by expressing his belief that talking and understanding each other - even if in disagreement - is the beginning of ideological unity, "because understanding is the first step toward agreement." His voice filled the room as he recounted the history of his family in Jerusalem, beginning in 1265. He emphasized that his family was always involved in both the commercial and communal aspects of the city, and distributed pictures of family members and artifacts documenting his family's illustrious Jerusalem heritage. Havilio Sweets, which was sold 10 years ago, has been a feature of the Jerusalem landscape for about 250 years. The company operated out of a small factory in Jerusalem and was sold by stores in the area. Havilio called upon his friends in the audience to share memories of their father's and grandfather's era. Dr. Ali Qleibo, himself an expert on the ancient families of Jerusalem and author of a book on the subject, told of a time when "Jerusalem was not segregated, it was one city and we coexisted as a matter of the course of life, it was a time when people interacted on a personal level." Another friend of Havilio's, Albert Hazan, born in Jerusalem during the 1930s, recounted school boy adventures with Arab and Christian friends. "We would walk the streets of Jerusalem with joy, not fear," he reminisced. "My stories of Jerusalem are the stories of the love of two boys from two different worlds." Hazan expressed wishful sentiment that the stories of past cross-cultural friendships "blossom into friendships of the future." Havilio concluded his stories and turned the microphone over to Dr. Muhammad Alami, who immediately commented that he is too much of an academic to tell stories, admitting he is "too young to know the stories firsthand, but not too young to know what society was like." Alami, in his early 60s, explained that historically, connection to society focused on associations with institutions, all of which were religious and created the great families of Jerusalem. However, he added, when the institutions collapsed in the 19th century, the dynamic of the families and society changed. Alami remarked that "during the Ottoman Empire, the city was very calm" and society was unchanging and "stagnant." The floor was then opened to all for comments and stories. As Havilio had hoped, by the end of the evening it was clear that all in attendance had a better understanding of what Jerusalem life was once like. As the evening concluded, attendees mingled and shared their own stories and memories of old Jerusalem. Their conversations of times past drifted into the evening sky.