(Source: “Life Together: Haifa Cultural Center Builds Community Among Arabs and Jews,” OnBeing.org, By Christin Davis | Wednesday, May 11, 2011 – 5:14am)
“I was raised in a pluralistic house,” said Assaf Ron, a Jewish man from Haifa, Israel. “An Arab was not cursed, he was a person.”
In a country where separation — even physical walls — between Arabs and Jews is common, Mr. Ron’s perspective stands out. News headlines included the murder of a Jewish settler family in the West Bank as Ron, 51, sat in his Haifa office, flooded by a strong sea breeze. Mr. Ron discussed his work as the executive director of Beit Hagefen Arab Jewish Center, a nonprofit cultural center in Haifa. Though he has no written job description, Mr. Ron said his overall role is to promote a need for mutual respect between people, specifically Jews and Arabs.
“My definition of coexistence is normalization, to respect the other’s narrative,” Mr. Ron said. “This is the biggest and hardest step on the way to coexistence.”
Beit Hagefen, according to Mr. Ron, is a “window to a multicultural community” where Jews and Arabs interact together. Despite living in the same city, he said, the two groups do not interact, so the center encourages and facilitates connections through activities in the local area.
The center has an art gallery, a library, and an Arab theater. It recently began a women’s walking club, a program bringing Arab and Jewish families together in each others’ homes, and a photography class that allows for young people to connect through their work. Founded in 1963, it is a non-profit organization supported by the Haifa municipality; the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport; and private donations.