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The Women of Zeitouna Speak

Current Members


WADAD ABED*  Palestinian, immigrated to the US in 1968, active in efforts that focus on crossing divides and building bridges, community organizer, co-founder of Bustan-Al-Funun Fund to support Arab Arts in America,  past president of ACCESS board of directors, provider of strategic business and marketing support. 

“It is only through Zeitouna that I am now able to hear the voice of the ‘other’—her pain and her joy, realizing that it mirrors my own. Zeitouna has profoundly transformed me. I am now more than ever committed to becoming one.”


DIANE BLUMSON  Born in Brooklyn, NY, raised in a moderately observant, Zionist Jewish family. Lived in Israel  for a year studying at the Machon L’Madrichim  Chutz L’Eretz before becoming the programming director of Young Judea in Miami, FL. Happily married to Sarr, and proud mom of Andy and Michael. Love my work as a clinical social worker, educator and volunteer, all of which allow me to be involved in social justice pursuits. 

“My relationships with the women of Zeitouna affirm my belief that when we are willing to build and grow relationships, even under the most trying circumstances, we have opportunity to break down the barriers that allow us to demonize those we consider “the other.” The deep caring and respect resulting from that effort continues to be one of the most profound experiences in my life.”


IRENE BUTTER*  Professor Emerita, School of Public Health, University of Michigan, social change and peace  worker, aspiring Buddhist, co-founder of University of Michigan Raoul Wallenberg Lecture Series, child survivor of the Holocaust, author of Shores Beyond Shores: From Holocaust to Hope, My True Story, wife of Charles Butter, mother of Ella and Noah Butter, blessed with three precious grandchildren, Amelie, Shireen and Jonah. 

“Zeitouna has opened my heart to those who scare me, has helped me appreciate their suffering and recognize their innate goodness. Through compassionate listening we have transcended cultural and other barriers to celebrate life, each other’s humanity and true friendship.”


REBECCA EPSTEIN Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, raised in religious adverse, progressive secular, and Jewish Reform households during the Regan and Bush administrations; a deep admirer of fairness and justice in all its forms, I am a mother of two, a volunteer co-founder of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action Greater Ann Arbor, an immigrant and criminal justice activist, staff at the University of Michigan, graduate of the James Madison College at Michigan State University and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Being part of Zeitouna helps me understand painful parts of my people’s history and my people’s present, and where, inside, I need to build empathy, and where, outside, I need to build relationships with Palestinians where I live.”


LEONORE GERSTEIN*  Born in Massachusetts to parents committed to social justice. I lived with them and my sisters in Kibbutz Ein Hashofet, 1950-1955, continuing my education in Israel at Hebrew University and later in the United States. I have Masters degrees in Speech and Language Pathology and in English Literature and love studying poetry with older adults. 

“As time passes, I continue to cherish my bond with all the women of Zeitouna. Our individual experiences and opinions remain divergent. But now I feel the freedom that comes from my growing empathy and tolerance, even toward views that ten years ago felt threatening.”     


JUDY MUSKET Born in Detroit to a family that said, “You’re Jewish. Make sure you marry a Jew. That’s it.” I found a love for being Jewish by going to a Labor Zionist tinged camp in the early 60’s. I learned from the leaders about fighting for social justice and felt pride in the Jewish role in the Civil Rights movement and other just causes. I am a teacher of young children. I am married to Elliot Soloway, a professor at the University of Michigan. We have a son and grandchildren in Israel/Palestine and a daughter in Chicago.

“I always felt proud of Israel, the David of the Middle East. Only recently have I come to realize that David had feet of clay and may have taken advantage of Goliath. In Zeitouna, as a new member, my core beliefs have been challenged. This sometimes makes me shaky, but the women of Zeitouna are catching me before I hit the ground.. I feel I can come to understand a bigger picture than I know and can learn deeply how to refuse to be enemies.”


TAHANI OTHMAN I was born in my grandmother’s house in the West Bank, Palestine, during the time it was under Jordanian rule. I was raised in a moderate Muslim household and I am currently raising my children in a moderate Muslim home with my husband, Lutfi. I was lucky to find my calling as a teacher 25 years ago and teach fifth grade in my neighborhood school, Lakewood Elementary.

“Being in Zeitouna has provided me an opportunity to take a conflict that seems so distant and looming and make it concrete and manageable. Meeting with the Zeitounas biweekly and talking about a place that is near and dear to all of our hearts gives me hope that this may be possible on a larger scale. Proving that we can not only live together but thrive together is very empowering.”


HUDA KARAMAN ROSEN* Palestinian, living in America since 1962, advocate for social justice and peace efforts, retired  from health care and education fields, co-founder of Bustan-al-Funun: Foundation of Arab Arts in America, enjoy travel, reading, gardening, and the cultural arts. 

“Zeitouna, to me, is an important step on an arduous journey to peacemaking and respecting the other.”


GRACE HELEWA STEVICK I am a Palestinian American whose family had to exit Haifa in 1948. We lived in Lebanon until the Civil War again forced a departure for me and my family. In 1978, I immigrated to the United States to continue my education. During that time I met my husband, Tom. We have been married thirty two years and have two sons. My love of languages has led me to a career in translation. 

“Without ‘preconditions’, and through compassionate listening, Zeitouna helps me achieve inner peace which I hope can propel me to work towards peace between our people.”


LAURIE WHITE*  Filmmaker, social justice and peace activist, community organizer, psychotherapist, mediator, yoga practitioner, granddaughter of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, singer-song writer, step-mother and grandmother. I am the producer/director of a documentary about the group, Refusing To Be Enemies – The Zeitouna Story. 

“Zeitouna restored my faith in the power of the group —especially a group of women—to make a difference in the world. It certainly has made a difference in my world.”



“Zeitouna is an effort by some people to approach what to the rest of the world appears to be an intractable problem. What Zeitouna has done is teach us that there are first steps The first steps don’t solve the problem but they keep people in motion. Once people are in motion they provide a model for others.”

Richard Soble, Civil Rights Attorney