It was a tranquil scene when Duane and Rizek were sitting on the terrace of the Jerusalem YMCA looking at the monumental building with its amazing architecture and landscaped buildings. As the sun retreated into the early dusk, their discussion began to center on the peace programs initiated at the Y. Thoughts and emotions came to the forefront. Duane was an excellent listener and he sensed there was angst in Rizek’s voice. He sat remembering the stories about when, at the age of early teens with the war ended and a truce established, Rizek and seven other Palestinian boys- Muslim and Christian were paired with Jewish boys of the same age and brought together by the Y director to clean up the Y grounds after the damage from the war. Rizek had told Duane that the exercise deeply influenced him to pursue the concept of building goodwill and respect for others.
“That was when I decided to make it my life work and dream of peace building in our troubled region” Rizek said, as if he knew what Duane had been thinking.
“Could you tell me about your time in the convent?” Duane asked.
Rizek spoke in a hoarse voice, feeling a lump in his throat as he recalled the day when he and his parents, sister and elderly aunt and their close friends grabbed a few belongings and took refuge at the Rosary Sisters Convent, a mere two hundred yards from their home. For months no one knew their whereabouts. “Each time the Israelis searched for us, the nuns would push a huge cupboard in front of the two rooms we were living in. After six months we finally were free to go home. “Rizek cleared his throat and then went on. “I remember my parents standing in complete shock at the picture facing them. The house was totally gutted and everything we had was destroyed, even our pictures that could never be replaced”.
“But you went on and fulfilled your dream” Duane said- reaching out to clasp Rizek’s hand. “You worked and became director of the Y and served it 50 years! Just think of the way you built a program like you had experienced as a child and expanded it to Pre-School, Summer Camp, After School programs, Young Adults, Father and Son, Mother and Daughter events and Senior Activities and general cultural activities, all initiated for Israelis and Palestinians. And all this in the confines of the YMCA where all could feel equal and welcome in every respect.”
Duane continued with leading questions as the lights on the terrace and on the Tower gave a shimmering hue to the beauty of the columns representing the forty years that the Israelites spent in the desert, the forty days of Jesus in the wilderness and the forty followers of the Prophet Mohammad. “Do you have hope for the future?” Duane asked.
“lf I didn’t have hope, I couldn’t have established the Moderate Voices for Peace . The program for Palestinian and Israeli young adults, which continues on even to this day!” Rizek answered with a strong clear voice.
– by Rizek Abusharr
``I remember my parents standing in complete shock at the picture facing them. The house was totally gutted and everything we had was destroyed, even our pictures that could never be replaced``
The Jerusalem YMCA was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Rizek Abusharr was awarded the Martha Laub Prize for Tolerance and Democracy by the Jerusalem Foundation. His friend, Duane Waters made a film about Rizek and his work called: On the Frontline of Peace. Rizek and his wife, Alice moved to Pilgrim Place in 2006 and visit Jerusalem annually. He keeps in close touch with the YMCA. and is a sought after speaker worldwide.
– by Constance Waddell