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16 March 2007

Levins Teach Peace to the Middle East

By Jennifer Bacchus
Jacksonville News Staff Writer

Reprinted here in its entirety.

“The last thing I saw when I was leaving Lebanon was a little boy, probably about four years old in short pants with a pacifier in his mouth sitting on a curb with an AK-47 rifle across his lap,” said Sis Levin, a peace activist who works in the Middle East.

The image of this child, though jarring to many, is what many Americans expect from the Middle East – a land where war is often the norm. When Sis spoke at Jacksonville State University Monday afternoon, however, she let the audience know that isn’t all there is and there are people like her working in the region to teach those children a better way.

“Don’t believe what you hear,” said Sis. “The little ones play like our kids play cowboys and Indians. These kids play Israeli and Palestinian. They struggle and they struggle and then they swap.”

Sis, an Alabama native, got involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through her husband, Jerry, who was held hostage for a year in Lebanon.

“Jerry was the first and the only Jew, which complicated it because the Arab world and Israel are not really fond of each other,” she said.

During his captivity, Jerry converted to Christianity, in a large part because of Jesus’ teaching to “Love thy enemy.”

Those teachings became part of the foundation for Sis’ work in the schools of Palestine. She works with the Peace Education Mission, Bethlehem Model, to teach Palestinian children and teachers how to find non-violent solutions.

“It’s very gratifying and very exciting to see it work, and to see it work under the worst kinds of circumstances,” she said.

Sis got her doctorate in education from Columbia University where she learned to teach children systemically – that is, to train them to look for non-violent alternatives to situations from the time they begin school.

She brought a slide show with her, filled with images of the schools she has worked with, her fellow peacemakers and, of course, the children whose lives she makes a little better with each passing day.

As the images flashed onto the screen, she told their stories. The tale of a young Jew from the States who was so ashamed at Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians she chose to work at Sis’ school as a Yoga instructor as well as the tale of the child no one could touch who, through those Yoga lessons, learned to not only be near others, but trust them to touch her again.

The audience saw images of the classrooms, lined with affirmative messages, encouraging the children to change their world by adopting a peaceful attitude.

Her school teaches “reading, ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmatic” as well as another “R” – resiliency, which Sis defines as “the ability to respond to terrible trauma with resilience.”

Sis and Jerry spend most of the year in the Middle East, returning to their home in Birmingham on occasion to take care of stateside matters and speak to the public about their cause.

See story at The Jacksonville News's website: .

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