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.”
RANDA NASIR AJLOUNY I was born in Jerusalem to Palestinian parents.I lived most of my life in Amman, Jordan with my parents and three brothers due to the deportation of my father from Palestine. I studied theater arts at Earlham College and have been living in Ann Arbor for the past 23 years with my husband Paul and daughters Nadia and Zeina..
“Zeitouna to me made me realize the importance of exploring different methods of healing through the use of Dialogue. The safety and integrity of the our meetings is a gift I never take for granted.”
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.”
DEBORAH FIELD I was raised in a secular Jewish community in Philadelphia and now an active member of a Reconstructionist congregation. I was a history professor at Adrian college for many years and am now teaching at the University of Michigan.
“I joined Zeitouna in 2023. Through developing frendships with these inspiring women, I am learning to listen deeply and grapple with difficult issues.”
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.”
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.”
ELLEN C. SCHWARTZ was raised in a minimally-observant Jewish home. After earning a Ph.D. in Byzantine art, she taught art history for 41 years at Eastern Michigan University. Now retired, she continues her love of teaching through the tai chi school she co-owns. After eight years in Zeitouna’s outreach organization, the Beth Israel-Zeitouna Conversation Group, Ellen was invited to join the core group in 2024.
I have always believed the way to understanding on a large scale lies in forming personal relationships with those of differing backgrounds and beliefs. Zeitouna is giving me this precious opportunity.
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