Voices from the past: American Jewish peace pioneers tell their stories

[pullquote]Surprisingly, the story of this nearly 50-year-old movement has never been told, leaving the present generation without lessons that can inform today’s activists.[/pullquote]Welcome to the first blog posting from The American Jewish Peace Archive: Stores of Israel-Palestine Peace Pioneers (AJPA). I founded the project a year ago in order to document, through oral history, the stories and lessons from American Jewish peace activists of the 1960s through 2000s. As an activist, I always found myself intrigued by listening to those who came before me.
Many of the activists worked in now defunct national Jewish peace groups such as Breira (1973-77), Project Nishma (1989-97) and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom (2003-09), and others in peace groups that still exist today, such as Americans for Peace Now (started 1981) and Israel Policy Forum (started 1993). For some, their activism came through century old groups that began as affiliates of pre-State political groups such as Ameinu (started 1905) and Partners for Progressive Israel (started 1919). Still others became involved through multi-issue Jewish groups such as the radical Jewish movement of students and young adults (late 60s through late 70s) and New Jewish Agenda (1980-92).
Surprisingly, the story of this nearly 50-year-old movement has never been told, leaving the present generation without the benefit of stories of courage and vision, and lessons that can inform today’s generation of activists. Subsequent postings will include highlights from individual interviews.
In upcoming posts, you will hear from the following activists and more:

“In 1972 I started to introduce people on Capitol Hill to the wide range of thinking in Israel about how to achieve peace with Palestinians. This was a point at which the two-state solution was pretty much not even on the agenda. I brought MK Meir Pa’il to meet Senator Jim Abourezk, from South Dakota who was of Lebanese decent. My memory is of Jim bringing out his guitar and them singing together. Although their camaraderie was far from a high level political exchange, it was also deeply gratifying. I would replicate that in a heartbeat.”

— Rosalie Riechman Pressman, Lobbyist for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (1968-72), founding board member of Breira (1973-77), Middle East Peace Education Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee (1973-75).

“In June ’87, representing Washington Area Jews for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, I went to Tunis to meet with the PLO in what may have been the first delegation representing Jewish organizations. Hilda Silverman represented New Jewish Agenda, and Mary Appelman represented the American-Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace.
“We had gone to bed after traveling all day when there was banging on our door. The unexpected visitor said , “You are meeting with Arafat in twenty minutes.” We threw on clothes, and got into a car. It zigzagged through Tunis as if trying to lose an imaginary car that was tailing us and brought us to a nondescript building. Without any security check – we were ushered into a room with Arafat and several of his top people.”

Jerome M. Segal, member, Washington Area Jews For Israeli-Palestinian Peace (1982-89), Founding Executive Director of Jewish Peace Lobby (1989- present)

“We realized the night of the signing of the Oslo agreement when Arafat was here with Rabin there was nothing happening at night except receptions at the embassies. The news broke on Thursday morning, and the signing was happening Monday. We had Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday to organize what became an event at the Washington Hotel for seven hundred people – Jews and Arabs of all stripes, including the president of AIPAC.”

— Tom Smerling, Founding Executive Director of Project Nishma (1989-1997)
Other posts in this series:
Tom Smerling, Israeli Palestine Peace Pioneer, Part 1
Tom Smerling, Israeli-Palestine Peace Pioneer, Part 2
Rosalie Riechman Pressman, Israel-Palestine Peace Pioneer
Jerome M. Segal: Israel-Palestine Peace Pioneer

5 thoughts on “Voices from the past: American Jewish peace pioneers tell their stories

  1. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR DOING THIS. The time that I was active in New Jewish Agenda (NJA) and Jewish Committee for an Israeli Palestinian Peace (JCIPP) was one of the most meaningful times of my life. Maybe I can remember some of these stories and share them!

  2. Such an important issue — has dropped off the international radar, an observation and lament shared with my partner in a related conversation last night. Look forward to reading and learning from future blogs. The power and value of “listening” is so important.

  3. Thank you Steven. I hope to eventually have my own project website where people can share their memories maybe a year from now. Stay tuned for the weekly profiles of activists from the 60s through the present.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.