The ethnic groups that eat together...
The immigrant founder of a local coexistence organization is turning his web site into a platform for developing real-time interpersonal interaction. MEPEACE, a two-year-old nonprofit founded by New York-native Eyal Raviv, last week celebrated its second annual interfaith Iftar and Shabbat dinner, which took place in Beit Jala near Bethlehem, with over 130 Israeli, Palestinian and international guests. About 35 people attended the 2008 event.
"It shows that people are interested in the possibility of peace and honoring one another," said Raviv, who immigrated with Nefesh B'Nefesh five years ago and lives in Tel Aviv, about the event's success. He says the dinner, which commemorated 9/11 and included discussions about Ramadan and Shabbat, was graced by guests from across the West Bank, East and West Jerusalem, and up and down Israel. Jewish and Christian visitors from places like Australia and Cyprus also attended.
At the heart of Raviv's organization lies the Web site mepeace.org, which the 33-year-old likes to call the "Facebook of peace," as members create personal profiles and connect to other members, similar to the popular social network. Currently, more than 3,000 self-declared "peacemakers" are registered at MEPEACE, most of whom are Israeli or Palestinian, Raviv said, with the numbers evenly split between the two groups.
"On the site, Israelis and Palestinians and international peacemakers connect with one another," said Raviv, a former yeshiva student who said he was inspired to create MEPEACE after he met a Palestinian for the first time while attending the London School of Economics. "There are almost 2,000 live discussions," he said, adding that more than 1,000 blog posts have been uploaded to the site as well as 550 videos and 4,440 photos.
Raviv stressed his members are not all like-minded. He noted the presence at the dinner of his friend David Hermelin, the head of Likud's youth division, who, according to his Facebook profile, is a fan of the right-wing Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky. "We're peacemakers of different stripes, each with our own opinion," he said. The point is to create a safe space for people who want peace to come together. It's not just one choir - the idea is to create beautiful music and I think we're enabling people to come together and harmonize."