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Dr. Grauer's Column - Rumi, We Need You Now

Step into the heart of the Holy Land with students bridging seemingly impossible divides. From celebrating in Jerusalem to flying peace kites in the West Bank, witness their quest to understand and process conflict. 

Rumi, We Need You Now
(Shalom and Salaam, Hands of Peace)
By Stuart Grauer

Today I am going to describe a little of how I deal with enormous complexity and discord, such as this situation entails. 

The Grauer School's Expedition to Israel - 2008

In 2008, I embarked on a journey with several students from The Grauer School to an incredibly fascinating region known as "the Holy Land." Facilitated by Pastor Bill Harmon, our world religions teacher and community ambassador (who has an endless set of global peacemaker connections), this venture was labeled a "Peace Mission." Given the longstanding conflicts in the area, such a label might seem incongruous. However, our goal was to witness and understand the modern complexities, and experience the ancient fascination, firsthand. 

The situation was palpably tense during our visit. Southern Israel faced frequent rocket attacks, predominantly from Hamas. Meanwhile, tensions simmered on the northern border with the Shiite militant group, Hezbollah. One silver lining? Ongoing peace dialogues between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, even though trust was in short supply due to previous political upheavals. Another silver lining: what a beautiful miracle is the land of Israel! 

In all this backdrop, our students had the unique experience of celebrating with both Israeli and Arab students. One day, we celebrated the formation of Israel in Jerusalem at the Hand in Hand dual language immersion school for Arab and Israeli children. The next day, most of our group crept through the tense border to fly peace kites with Palestinian students, marking what they term Nakba: “the catastrophe.” Same event, complete opposite understandings.

Such juxtaposition highlights the resilience and strength needed of the young souls living in this region. Inside of every apparently intractable conflict, there for the peacemaker to find is always the wide-open space of paradox, embedded. The spirit of these teenagers who greeted our students on both sides of that border, given the circumstances they were growing up in, is inspiring. Youth can feel like the only hope there is. But there is more.

Audrey Grauer and partner in Jewish-Arab dual language/culture immersion school, Jerusalem - 2008

Resilience is defined by psychologists as the ability to bounce back from adversity, trauma, or stress. Teaching resilience is pivotal—it can be taught, and Grauer teachers discuss this regularly. Not only does it provide students with a mental toolkit to face challenges and find their inevitable paradoxes, but resilient students also tend to excel academically and maintain healthier social relationships.

The current global landscape is rife with events that can be overwhelming for young minds, and for me. The propensity to align with one narrative over another can lead to confirmation bias, and dead endings, even hatred. Resilient students learn the importance of continuous inquiry, emphasizing the value of balanced information and cognitive flexibility: i.e., an open mind.

It's paramount for educators and parents to nurture teen curiosity even if it goes outside of our boxes for a while, to teach big values, to promote cognitive flexibility, and to provide open spaces beyond judgement. Immersion in the Socratic Method, a mainstay of a Grauer education, encourages students to embrace uncertainty and continuously search for a wider truth.

Following our Israel trip, and for some years, some of our students participated in a state-side sequel to the Hand in Hand School, called Hands of Peace. Hands of Peace spent the last twenty years bringing Israeli and Palestinian children to San Diego (and also Chicago)—plus they sent some of our local youths to Israel to study peace. The program has 840 alumni. 

Despite the world's uncertainties, we can remain committed to instilling hope, teaching resilience, and believing in humanity's capacity to find solace and unity through curiosity.

While we will not eradicate human conflicts soon, we can stay on a mission to elevate the human spirit. Despite the world's uncertainties, we can remain committed to instilling hope, teaching resilience, and believing in humanity's capacity to find solace and unity through curiosity. It is amazing to me how closely aligned curiosity is to kindness, which Einstein called the highest form of wisdom. It’s a magic triad: curiosity, kindness, wisdom.

On that Grauer School trip to Jerusalem, a local paramedic we met shared, "The situation in Gaza is heart-wrenching: devastation everywhere." That was 16 years ago. Since that time, I have visited war-torn, earthquake ravaged, hate infested, industrially polluted, environmentally degraded, global health crisis zones, and bombed out areas, but almost no one I have ever met in those areas had a significant hand in any of the devastation. That’s almost always the work of big governments and corporations (a finding supported by continual investigations, historical accounts, and research over time. They create bureaucracies where people can behave shamelessly, claiming they are doing their duty, while ceding personal responsibility to impregnable, unapproachable entities which are often motivated by greed or fear.) 

Watching individuals entangling in politics, borders, and money in the Holy Land is heartbreaking and confusing. I’ll never forget a haunting photo image I took home with me on that trip: an Israeli soldier in his fatigues, Israeli army standard-issue Galil assault rifle strapped to his back, walking towards the “Wailing Wall” to pray while putting a prayer yarmulke on his head. I want to name the photo: Peaceful Force. Gentle Violence. Then, across the West Bank border, my partner was a 12-year-old student. We flew peace kites for Nakba and, when I asked him what his peace wish was, he looked sweet and said, “I wish they will stop killing my family,” and I have that photograph to name, too. Comparable images are on both sides of almost any manmade border. That’s what those borders do. They create victims, kite flying victims.

Flying peace kites in the West Bank town of Bethlehem - 2008

That’s a little of what I remember about Israel and I’m sure, around the dinner table, people could say, like whenever you address a complex issue, all sorts of things: that I could have emphasized one side more, or that things are more complicated than that, or that peace programs are bogus, or that I’m just an optimist, or that the real and diverse locals on the ground know the real stories. And those people are all right. So, I’ll keep studying and probably never get it just right. But those stories are what I saw with an open heart, I’m moved to pass them along to you, and you may pass them along, too.

I am forever astounded by the paradox of what we call humanity. Down here on the ground, I still find good, real people talking it out. Those are the real warriors, starting over, seeing the promise, keeping it real, keeping their hurting and vulnerable hearts open, and making sure their kids have a school. Resilience seems like an essential core value at every school.

Dr. Grauer at the Grauer Garden Farmstand offering produce from the school's garden to families - April 3, 2024

The Hands of Peace program had its last day this week. Now. Of all times. They have closed down their shop. So, I am writing this column to tip my hat to their work and honor the impact it has had on some former students I know. Meanwhile, there are now six Hand in Hand Schools all around Israel. It’s amazing how there can be hope in hopelessness, success in failure. Possibility in impossibility. How can this thing called human be possible, but for perseverance? We embrace the permanence of conflict and it dissolves into paradox—there will be a path to smiling again.

Hands of Peace said, as their mission: “We believe the way to create impactful and lasting change in society is through cultivating young leaders who are committed to serving their communities.” And although Hands of Peace has closed, we can keep doing that in our school. 

Let’s close with this teaching from Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic, from his poem: "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there." I hope this is where the Hands of Peace leaders and alumni can be now, along with all my past students.

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Photos for Dr. Grauer's Column

The Grauer School's Expedition to Israel - 2008

Audrey Grauer and partner in Jewish-Arab dual language/culture immersion school, Jerusalem - 2008

Flying peace kites in the West Bank town of Bethlehem - 2008

Dr. Grauer at the Grauer Garden Farmstand offering produce from the school's garden to families - April 3, 2024

Fearless Teaching® Book
by Dr. Stuart Grauer


Fearless Teaching® is a stirring and audacious jaunt around the world that peeks—with the eyes of one of America’s most seasoned educators–into places you will surely never see on your own. Some are disappearing. It is a bit like playing hooky from school. You will travel to the Swiss Alps, Korea, Navajo, an abandoned factory in Missouri, the Holy Land, the Great Rift Valley, the schools of Cuba, the ocean waves, and the human subconscious—oh, and Disneyland.

There you will find colorful stories for the encouragement, inspiration, and courage needed by educators and parents. Fearless Teaching is not a fix-it book—it is more a way of seeing the world and the school so that you can stay in your work and focus on what matters most to you.

"Grauer’s writing reminds us that Great Teaching, singular, rare, unusual, is something that should be sought after and found. Thank you.”
Richard Dreyfuss, Actor, Oxford scholar, founder of The Dreyfuss Initiative

Click here to order Fearless Teaching® today

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