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Talking Peace: A Moving and Provocative Documentary

Talking Peace : A Moving and Provocative Documentary

By Cheryl F. Coon

Video Review of Talking Peace . A documentary by Mark Freeman. Produced by Mark Freeman; 200. Distributed by The Cinema Guild ( www.cinemaguild.com ). 27 minutes. Downloadable discussion guide at  www.markfreemanfilms.org .

There is a charming Talmudic tale, told by a rabbi who appears in the video Talking Peace , about two parties to a dispute who seek help from the rabbi. The rabbi listens to one of them and says, "You're right." Then the other gives his side of the story, and the rabbi says, "You're right." The rabbi's wife, listening to all of this, says to her husband, "How can you say that he's right and he's right? They disagree so much but you say that they're both right?" The rabbi says, "You're right, too."

Mark Freeman's moving and provocative documentary Talking Peace challenges us as Jews and non-Jews alike to see that in any dispute there "is right on both sides, probably more than wrong on both sides." The documentary chronicles the effort by a husband and wife who live in San Diego and who represent both "sides" of the Middle East conflict (one is a Jew and the other an Arab) to find new ways to communicate. In the informal setting of the living room, they invite people from all backgrounds to come together to get to know each other, with only one rule: to listen to each other. At the heart of this approach lies nothing less than a fervent belief that only conversations like these, between people from all sides of a conflict, can bring the cycle of violence to an end.

Talking Peace brings us into the living room to become part of the conversation. We meet the participants and hear the ways in which each of them is connected to the conflict--one man lived in a refugee camp; another is grieving for his niece, who was killed in a terrorist attack. The others, who include a businessman, a teacher, an artist, a karate instructor, a physicist and an engineer--are connected through their backgrounds as Jews or Arabs. The video also offers some background into the history of the conflict, arguably through a less-than-ardently pro-Israel perspective.

This is not an easy video to watch. Our family, composed of two adults and two teenagers, watched and found ourselves in a heated discussion afterwards. As an interfaith family, it's not surprising that I, the Jewish adult member of the family, felt less comfortable about the documentary's portrayal of Israel's history than did my husband. But perhaps because the message of the documentary is to listen to each other, we found ourselves working hard to be respectful and open to each other's views as we talked about what we each believed. As I thought about it later, it's a relevant message for any interfaith family--to listen to each other respectfully.

You will hear statements in Talking Peace that, if you are Jewish, may make you uncomfortable. For example, Rabbi Levin comments on the beliefs about Israel's history and the reason for the continuing plight of Palestinian refugees with which he was raised, and then says, "Israeli journalists had begun exposing truths about the way in which Israel was founded and created and about its wars and so on that didn't jibe with the party line that I have been brought up with." It's hard to resist the impulse to reject statements that do not match your own, particularly when the subject is Israel and the Palestinians. Yet if you fail to listen to the pain of all the participants, you will have missed the point--it's not about who's right, but how we can come together to create peace.

Talking Peace offers an opportunity for families, different generations, Jews and non-Jews, Christians and Muslims, to take a look at what they believe and what others believe. It's a chance to consider whether we can risk being open to each other's heartfelt beliefs and whether the stakes are worth it. It isn't an easy video, but the conversations it will inspire offer a tremendous opportunity for self-reflection and personal growth.

Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.
Cheryl F. Coon

Cheryl F. Coon is the author of Books to Grow With: A Guide to the Best Children's Fiction for Everyday Issues and Tough Challenges. Cheryl lives with her husband and children in Portland, Ore.

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