From Noahs bones to Israeli poems, women bond at peace congress

Among the women attending the Gather the Women Congress earlier this month in San Francisco were an Israeli woman and an Iraqi woman who became fast friends.

Born in Egypt, Ada Aharoni is a professor of conflict resolution, an author of 25 books and a poet who lives in Haifa. She is the founder and international president of IFLAC: PAVE PEACE, the International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace, and co-founder of The Bridge: Jewish and Arab Women for Peace in the Middle East.

Speaking of The Bridge, and her early efforts to reach out to Egyptian women, Aharoni said, “We were the ones who gave the idea to [then-Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat to make peace with Israel.”

At the Gather the Women Congress, which brought 330 women from around the world to San Francisco for a weekend of planning for a more harmonious and peaceful future, Aharoni pitched her idea to start a women-centered television network like CNN focusing on women’s peace initiatives.

“I was able to tell people about it, and they really liked the idea,” said Aharoni. Some women from Silicon Valley have signed on to help. “It will be called Women’s Satellite for Peace. I’m very excited about it.”

Aharoni was the only Israeli woman present at the gathering, and her poetry and work were extremely well-received, she said.

While at the congress, she met Katrina Michael, a non-Arab, Christian woman from Iraq. A petroleum engineer, Michael has met with President Bush and other White House officials as someone who survived a chemical gas attack by Saddam Hussein.

From the village of Alqosh in northern Iraq, she told j. about an attempt to safeguard the bones of the biblical figure Noah, which are believed to be buried in her village.

According to Michael, the citizens used to go light candles at this shrine where Noah’s bones are buried out of respect for their Jewish neighbors, who left for Israel in 1948.

A rumor was circulating that the government of Iraq was going to destroy the shrine because Saddam did not want any remnants of Jewish culture left in Iraq. So in the middle of the night, the Christians of the village went to the shrine, collected the bones, and buried them in a church for safekeeping.

There are about 300 Jews left in Iraq, and Michael said the bones safe for when they want to claim them.

Her villagers, she said, “are always thinking when they will come, we will tell them, ‘Please, take these bones; we’ve kept them all these years just because we respect you as our neighbors and your faith; we feel very painful that you left this village, as you are originally people of this village.”

With a new regime in place, Michael hopes Iraq will open to tourism, and that the shrine to Noah and a monastery from the seventh century will lure visitors to Alqosh.

“These two things will make it a great religious or great historical village for anybody to come here,” said Michael, “to see the civilization of our country from Mesopotamia.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."