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January 4, 2021 5:39 am

An Abrahamic Family Reunion

avatar by Gary Schiff / JNS.org

Opinion

Israeli model May Tager, holding an Israeli flag, poses with Dubai-resident model Anastasia Bandarenka, holding an Emirati flag, during a photo shoot for FIX’s Princess Collection, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sept. 8, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Christopher Pike.

JNS.orgOf all the efforts that US President Donald Trump made that benefited the Jewish people, the most meaningful and lasting may be the orchestration of peace agreements between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The benefits of those accords for security and business are hugely significant.

Perhaps even more meaningful and lasting are the personal connections and cultural implications, as Israelis shift to closer relations with their Abrahamic cousins. These peace deals, then, will not be so much government-to-government agreements as they are people-to-people ones.

As Emirati billionaire businessman Mohammed Alabbar noted recently, “You need to come and meet my mother and I need to meet yours … if you want to know what peace means.”

A microcosm of what is beginning to occur between the countries of the region can be seen in an Israeli tour-guide school. I am blessed to be part of an English-speaking class in which 40% of the students are Arab Christians and Muslims, along with a mix of haredi, national-religious, and secular Jews.

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It is important to note that the class is rigorous and thorough in delving into all aspects of the history of Israel, including a strong emphasis on Zionism. Given the opportunity of numerous excursions and lessons, invariably the conversations among traditionally oriented Jews, Muslims, and Christians go much deeper — sometimes involving discussions of common roots and DNA links.

One Arab Christian showed me his DNA printout, indicating that he is 35% Persian Jewish. One Jewish student shared DNA tests that show his common ancestors are from the Arabian Peninsula.

An Arab-Muslim student shared with me that his family was part of a clan in Hebron whose members found tefillin in their basements, and whose great-grandmothers lit candles on Friday evening. Another speculated about how his family may have converted because of the challenges of dhimmitude (a sanctioned second-class status under Muslim rule) in previous centuries.

We also share in each other’s joys when there are weddings and sorrow surrounding deaths. We talk about how God/Allah has returned us (the Jews) to our ancient homeland, the Land of Israel — how He has returned the Jewish people to this “neighborhood” and put us together in this class.

We talk about our common traditional values and heightened concern for some of the progressive social programs being currently pushed in the schools. Once, when a lecturer was insisting that evolution was random, the student WhatsApp group lit up with cross-cultural comments about how there had to be a grand designer.

We ask each other very direct questions about matters of belief and how we see certain passages in the Jewish Bible, Christian Bible, and Koran. We talk about the nature of free will in Islam vs. Judaism and even Islam and Christianity’s historic treatment of Jews. We have direct discussions about what can be done to stop the incitement that breeds terror attacks. Because of the amount of time that we spend together, we have formed friendships that deepen our understanding.

Take that local experience and multiply it internationally by hundreds of thousands, and you can anticipate the knitting together of a new Middle East. There are 700,000 Israelis of Moroccan descent, many still with memories from or connections to Morocco. When individuals reconnect, societal bonds strengthen. I spoke with one Israeli businessman who told stories of how his Muslim colleague in the United Arab Emirates showed him Jewish artifacts and family heirlooms from centuries ago.

Our sages have indicated that as we approach messianic times, our story will mimic that of Isaac and Ishmael, who came together to bury their father and achieved an understanding. Israel is in the process of moving closer to its natural roots in the East. This could be Trump’s greatest legacy — moving the Jewish nation back to its traditional moorings by helping us connect with our traditional neighbors. The peace accords are the catalyst for long overdue rapprochement and friendships with our Abrahamic cousins.

Gary Schiff is a former manager and director with the US Forest Service. He is currently a Jerusalem-based consultant and guide connecting Israeli and US natural-resource interests. He is also an Israeli tour guide student.

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