Tour Day Five: The National Cathedral

By EGM Contributor Tim Stoner

Thanks to the unflagging commitment of Canon missioner, Patricia Johnson, we have been given access to the Perry Auditorium in the second largest cathedral in the country for our fifth screening. The National Cathedral is as large as it is impressive. It is the sixth largest cathedral in the world and took 83 years to build. I try to get a picture with my iPhone and find it impossible to get the entire building in the frame.

At 6:00 PM, the dark, thick-beamed room fills up quickly. It is long and narrow, as medieval halls are meant to be. It becomes evident that extra seats will be required. Soon the room has reached its maximum occupancy, with over 200 people in attendance. There is a buzzing of expectant voices. This seems to be one of the most interested audiences to date and certainly the largest.

Dr. Mark Braverman has joined the panel tonight. His grandfather, a fifth generation Palestinian Jew, was born in Jerusalem and immigrated to the United States as a young man. Here, in this country, Braverman was raised in the Jewish tradition and formally trained in the field of clinical psychology.

Returning to the Holy Land in 2006, Braverman was transformed by witnessing the occupation of Palestine and by encounters with activists and leaders from the Muslim and Christian as well as Jewish communities. He is a co-founder and executive director of Friends of Tent of Nations North America, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting Palestinian land rights and peaceful coexistence.

He shares the news he recently received about Yonatan’s whereabouts: he is on a catamaran which will sail from Cypress with a small group of activists intent on breaking the Israeli blockade of Gaza. They are carrying humanitarian aid for the beleaguered refugees: musical instruments, toys, textbooks, and prosthetics. It is a nonviolent action sponsored by Jews for Justice for Palestinians. Their small boat is called the Irene, and is sailing a British flag.

“He is doing this for me and my people, who are in a lot of trouble,” he says. “Our situation as Jewish people is quite urgent. We are in peril, spiritually and physically, because of the Zionist project. It made a lot of sense before, but we must take a long, hard look at it now.”

Elik’s comments begin with this fairly pragmatic statement: “When speaking about nonviolence, we are not talking about some kind of abstract notion. These are pressing and serious issues.” Yet, there is an unusual earnestness to his delivery tonight. We soon find out the reason.

Elik has been online before the screening checking for updates from friends and fellow activists inside Israel. “Jerusalem is on fire and the situation is now extremely grave.” His words fall upon the audience. “Another cycle of violence is ready to begin.”

During the past two screenings, he has not been shy about sharing his opinions and frequently did so with language meant to not only engage, but to also challenge. This evening is no exception. “There is a deliberate attempt to set the region on fire,” he suggests. “This must be understood in the context of the peace movement and the headway it is making.” Elik asserts that we are witnessing “the old and brilliant trick of triggering violence to lay the blame for the failure of the peace process.”

Elik checks his phone throughout the question and answer time at the end of the screening. Apparently he is looking for something or waiting to hear from someone. When the message arrives, it triggers a very dramatic moment. “Tear gas was shot randomly into the window of a home and inside was a 14-month old asthmatic child who died,” he reports in a voice taut with emotion. “He was the son of a cousin of my dear friend, Aziz Abu Sarah.” Elik puts his phone away.

Appearing to move on, Elik describes the difficulties all groups committed to nonviolence face on a recurring basis. “Besides the financial and logistical difficulties, we face every day the challenge to turn this sorrow into constructive action.” With that his composure breaks. In a tone tinged with sorrow over the loss of an innocent life, he explains: “I am making this choice even now, for this baby is from my friend, who is one of the bravest men I know.”

Informal conversations follow the formal Q&A until we are advised that the Cathedral has been closed for visitors. I expected this tour to be physically draining but it is proving to be emotionally demanding as well.

I look at the tour schedule. Tomorrow we need to be ready by 6:30am to get to the airport to fly to Chicago for a meeting at the home of Lynn and Bill Hybels. Lynn has invited close friends to their home to watch Little Town of Bethlehem and dialogue with its director Jim Hanon, producer Mart Green, and subject Sami Awad.

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