Is Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger Safe?

Penny S. Tee Article

The deaths in Gush Etzion, and Alon Shvut, strike me deeply.  The horror is immense and has hit me closer to home.  Some of you know that one of the peace activists in my book is an incredible man named Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger.  He lives in Alon Shvut.  This is where the recent killings took place.  Surprisingly, he established a peace organization named Roots with another kind, intelligent soul, a Palestinian named Ali Abu Awwad.  They live and work in the West Bank.  Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger is an Orthodox rabbi, Zionist and settler – a description that I’m sure each of you will react to uniquely, in an individual way.  Ali Abu Awwad is a Palestinian peace activist. This fact too, may cause an automatic reaction.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict often causes visceral responses.  Whose side are you on, if any?  Ali studied Ghandi, Mandela and Martin Luther King while in jail in Israel.  Additionally, he has had tragic personal experiences.  He was shot by a drive-by Israeli shooter, and also has lost a brother who was killed at a checkpoint by an Israeli soldier.  They both have undergone extreme personal transformations in thought and deed, ultimately resulting in their work together to bring about Peace in their homeland.  The local participants in their movement sometimes risk their reputations by participating and have to remain anonymous to protect themselves and their families from others who might try to stop them from associating with one another.

I met them both while researching peace activists for my book.  In fact, Rabbi Hanan and Ali are going to be on a fundraising tour at the end of March 2016. I have been hard at work trying to raise funds so that they can do their presentation to our Orange County communities. The current plan is that we will invite temples, mosques and anyone else interested in Orange County to hear their presentation. Afterward, we want to break up into smaller groups to discuss not only what they heard but also to express what it’s like to read in the papers and hear on the news comments about Jews and Palestinians.  What is it like to be a Jew or Arab and hear the atrocities being committed by their brethren?  Anyone interested in helping or willing to donate, please contact me at

But for now, I look through the papers and search for Hanan’s name – thankfully it’s not there.  But there are several injured and their names are not identified.  I wonder.  Of course, I’ve messaged and emailed him – but there’s been no answer.  I’ve messaged others that know him, again, no answer.  There are lots of sensible reasons that this could be other than that he is hurt.

During these tragic events, it has been Shabbat.  He is an orthodox rabbi – I doubt that he would use his phone.  Then again, in this situation, surely God would forgive him.  I believe he probably knew Rabbi Yaacov Don, 51, an Israeli from Alon Shvut, who was killed.  There have been funerals and memorial services for the victims.  So many people to try and console.  I know that he’s probably helping others.   Still I’m worried. I want to know that he is safe. I have conversations with myself to think pleasant thoughts.  Even the 12-hour time difference is frustrating.

I think, this is a bitter taste of what Israelis and Palestinians must go through when one of these atrocities happen.  They worry until their families are accounted for and safe at home.  Heartbreakingly, they don’t always get good news.  Hell, they worry when they go to the grocery store or off to school.  What a way to live.  I’m waiting for my happy ending – finding out that he is just fine, just very busy.  So as we enjoy our Saturday night and our kids look forward to a week off of school, I wonder how he is, and how the families who have lost loved ones are doing.  How else could they be?  How would you feel if you had lost a loved one in such a senseless way?  Next week, we will sit around our Thanksgiving tables and give thanks for our lives.  We will be safe.  We will be free.  For now, I wait for a text from him or one of his friends.  L’Chaim! (To Life!).

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