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Shmuel Benalal, of blessed memory

November 22, 2015

In Friday’s jihadist terror attack in Mali, a friend and colleague, Shmuel Benalal, was murdered. Shmuel’s body has not yet arrived home. The community here is in shock at the overwhelming loss.

Shmuel, a devoted educator, was a senior staffer at the Mandel Institute for Educational Leadership, where I am working as a mentor. In 2003, Shmuel invited me and Avi Shahaf to join him in advancing a system-wide initiative of the Serbian Ministry of Education in order to prepare a broad variety of stakeholders for embracing sweeping reform in the Serbian education system. Together, we developed a group of 16 English-speaking trainers who brought skills, knowledge, and a democratic spirit based on human dignity to an education system in transition from centralization to decentralization. The 16 went on to train 90 Serbian trainers, who relayed the model to 2,000 schools across the country. I returned to Belgrade with Shmuel to lead further workshops over the following several years.

Shmuel was a knowledgeable change-maker with a big heart. He was insightful, determined and bold in confronting the reluctant Ministry officials, and he excelled at finessing the system there, enabling fulfillment of our purpose. After workshop sessions, we would find a decent Belgrade restaurant and process the day’s work over hot peppers and delicious Serbian specialties. We laughed a lot.

The senseless terror that took Shmuel in his prime is harassing us at every turn. The terror engenders Israeli army reactions which in turn make more terror inevitable, as this 48 year occupation drags on. Thursday, four Israelis and a Palestinian were killed in two more attacks. Friday, unaware that the siege in Mali was raging, twenty Israeli and Palestinian activists from a variety of peace organizations met to develop skills, under the auspices of Allmep, the Alliance for Middle East Peace. We met at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, across a gully from northern Bethlehem, less than half a mile away. As we worked to map the complexity of the current Israeli/Palestinian reality, IDF tear gas guns shattered the quiet, clouds of gas rose from the Aida Refugee Camp just behind the concrete 24 foot wall that envelops Bethlehem. Friday prayers had ended in Aida, and youths were in the streets, protesting the occupation. Occasionally the crack of rifles firing live rounds and rubber-tipped bullets punctuated the thud of the gas-guns.

The workshop participants were disturbed, but we carried on, seeking the ways we might further join hands and to become a force that might impact upon what is happening here. We listened, we engaged, we muscled our way through the morass of the complications that concern hesitant potential partners on both sides. Eventually, the Aida disturbance calmed. As we admired the sunset from the patio, one Palestinian told of being attacked by other Palestinians when she commented in her facebook page about the red sunset: “How can you enjoy the sunset?” her talkbacker wrote, “Does it not remind you of the blood of our children?”

We are left here, choosing to enjoy a sunset while the blood flows. If we cannot enjoy a sunset, what are we struggling for? We must dance and sing, we must pray and hug, and we will overcome the hatred, together. We will live!

Yoav Peck





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  1. Jeff Goldstein permalink

    My prayers and blessings are with Shmuel and you May Everyone remember the sacred peaceand may we the peace workers on earth help to peace become a reality on earth! !

  2. Michal Schonbrun permalink

    Am so sorry for your loss and everyone else’s…

    Not easy praying for sanity these days..


  3. Jonathan Peck permalink

    Yoav -Sorry for your loss Sounds like a great guy. So sad.

    Jon Jonathan B. Peck (813) 523-1856

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