Inspiring Stories

June 4, 2004
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by Carol Grosman

“And this is why you were created, to search for the hidden sparks, wherever you may find them.”
— adapted from Howard Schwartz, “Gathering Sparks,” Gabriel’s Palace.

I DIALED Sami al Jundi’s cell phone number in Jerusalem and heard peals of laughter and loud music when he answered. “Hello Carol,” he shouted over the joyful noise. “It is hard to hear you, I am sitting in Ashkedinya’s [a bar in East Jerusalem] — it is Ned’s birthday. Call me in two hours. It will be quieter. Then we will talk about your article on hope.”

This explosion of merriment echoed in my mind after I hung up the telephone. I thought of the many Americans who give me dark looks when I say that I live in Jerusalem. Americans primarily experience the situation in Israel through the media, which focuses almost completely on violence and politics, painting a very grim picture of life in the region. They don’t have many opportunities to meet the people or see the normal or inspiring sides of life here. While I have experienced some very despairing days in the past three years, there are many aspects of my life and work that sustain me and give me hope.

I started working on Jerusalem Stories in October 2002 when photojournalist Lloyd Wolf and I, a storyteller and conflict resolution practioner, began interviewing and photographing Jerusalem residents, speaking with them about life during the past few years of conflict in Jerusalem. Through this process, I have witnessed countless examples of resilience, strength, humor, devotion to justice, love, kindness, generosity, trust, and potential for change and transformation. The capacity of the human spirit to transcend adversity inspired me.

• • •

Sami al Jundi is a peaceworker who helped create the Middle East regional program for Seeds of Peace. While he and his family have suffered over the decades from the Israeli Palestinian conflict, he isn’t bitter. He chooses to work to create love and trust between Palestinian and Israeli young people. His capacity for loving “the other” and his brilliant and effective work in organizing the Seeds of Peace program give me hope.

Shmuel Shefaim is a Jerusalem bus driver, driving people around the city he loves. Shmuel was injured badly when his bus was blown up; he is still recovering. When he had recovered enough to return to work, the bus company offered him a desk job. Shmuel was determined to return to driving the bus. When I met him, he was driving part-time. He told me, b’ezrat hashem, with the help of God, he would be full-time again soon. His bravery, resilience, and humor are inspirational.

Lana Abu Hijleh’s mother, Shaden Abu Hijleh, was killed in Nablus in October 2002. Lana, her father, and her brothers have chosen to seek justice through legal means and media exposure, not through violence. Their value for human life and justice and their moderation, restraint, and wisdom are exemplary.

Emmanuel Stein was interviewed the day before he was drafted into a combat unit in the Israeli Defense Forces. He chose a combat unit because he wanted to be in the position to interpret, as humanely as possible, orders concerning Palestinians. His concern for human rights and dignity are impressive.

Huda Ibrahim is an old woman who sells olive oil for a living on Salahadin Street in East Jerusalem. Huda smiles when she sees me and takes my hand. She gives me fresh figs and refuses to accept payment. Her health is poor, and yet she crosses three checkpoints to come to Jerusalem to sell olive oil. Her strength and generosityare enduring.

The Women’s Tehilim (Psalms) Group is a group of Israeli Orthodox Jewish women who gather weekly to recite the entire book of Psalms. They began to do this at the beginning of the current hostilities as a way to take action on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people. Traditionally, religious Jews recite psalms in times of trouble to call for God’s intervention. These women meet on Thursday nights at 10:00 P.M. After busy days, they come together to support each other and the Jewish people. I am inspired by their faith and devotion to their community.

• • •

Before I went to Jerusalem in 2001, I asked one of my teachers if it was difficult to maintain hope while working in some of the world’s most violent and seemingly intractable conflict zones, including Nicaragua, Somalia, Northern Ireland, and Colombia. He looked at me quizzically as if it were a question he didn’t relate to and said, “It’s going to take a long time, but I never lose hope.”

I asked what made him willing to risk his life in these places of violent conflict. He answered, “When you know the people and you care about them and their families, you want to be involved in creating change, in building a better future.”

I often meet heroes in Jerusalem. They give me hope. I believe that sharing their photographs and stories can enable others to feel empathy and understanding amidst these dire times.

“And when you find these hidden sparks, reveal them, join them together and raise them up. And then the world will be made whole again.” — adapted from Howard Schwartz, “Gathering Sparks.”

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Carol Grosman, a Dorot Fellowship alumna, is writing a book of interviews with Jerusalem residents using photographs from Lloyd Wolf’s collection. She is Director of Jerusalem Stories, a peacebuilding initiative. For more information, please see

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