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Peace Vigil

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Last week, I stood with local Palestinians for a prayer vigil outside Orlando’s historic St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church on Rosalind Ave. My father and mother were members of this church, had listened to many a Sunday sermon, and gladly dropped green bills in their collection baskets. In death, they were honored from that same altar: “Stand with us this night, Mom and Dad.”   

Father John Hamati was a new pastor then, but on this night, decades later, he delivered a quiet but passionate speech about our need to respect and recognize that both Israelis and Palestinians were suffering. Both groups, he said, were losing children to war. We need to stand against war of any kind. Thank you, Father

Holding lit candles, we stretched across the length of the block, offering Orlando a somber line of spirit-filled Palestinians. Young and old Middle Easterners stood quietly around me, light in their eyes glistening from the flickering candles. 

It was a night filled with dim hope for making any sense out of a distant killing that we knew made no sense at all. Many of these youngsters had relatives and friends living in the Gaza ghetto, utterly lacking so many things that we here in America take for granted.

Words from Clarissa Pinkola Estes echoed within me as I held tight to my candle while standing on these church steps: “One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul …”

Life isn’t fair, I used to tell my students. But that night, we stood shoulder to shoulder against all evidence to the contrary, determined to make it more fair. 

Another speaker, a Jewish father quietly conveyed his own pain noting television’s grotesque images of mangled Palestinian children, their lives snuffed out by Israeli bombs, no matter that he had relatives living in Israel feeling unsafe themselves. This man’s words deeply touched me. But more, his willingness to cross the ethnic bridge, to come here to speak humanely was a testament to his own soul, especially when so many of his American Jewish counterparts were speaking otherwise.  

I looked up to a bowl full of bright stars that balmy night, the same stars shining over those troubled Mideast lands. One shooting star captured my attention, flashing directly over us. “Is that you, Dad?”

I was reminded of Jesus’s sermon on the mount: “I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was naked and you clothed me, in prison and you came to visit me.” I have always loved this Christian injunction. When is my country going to heed this law of love for these suffering Palestinians?

Cars whiz past. Orlando police stride up and down, keeping everyone calm which for the most part, we are. Seeing those police, my thoughts go to the Gaza children now gawking at the fully armed Israeli soldiers telling them where, when and how they can travel and be allowed out of their confinement. Suddenly, I see the same scene now through the eyes of a Jewish child gawking at frightening uniformed SS troopers, while her parents are being herded into convoy trucks. 

How can all this be? When will it stop? Will it ever stop? 

The vigil ended peacefully. To all the prayers, we voiced the great Amen.

Driving home, I couldn’t help but wonder if any Amen could signal the change we so desperately needed.


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