Lauren Morgan, Program Director, Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council

Jan. 24, 2017 (Originally published in Spire, the magazine of Second Presbyterian Church)


Last January, I had the opportunity to go on my first visit to Israel as a part of a leadership mission with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA). As a member of the Jewish community, I’ve long wrestled with my strong belief in the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their homeland (Israel), my support for equal rights for Palestinians, and my conviction that a two-state solution, where both sides live in peace and prosperity, is the best hope for peace in the Middle East.


While on the leadership mission, I often felt a sense of despair – hearing from leaders of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) speak about the need to separate the people more, hearing from leaders of the Palestinian Authority about their lack of hope for peace or for local Palestinian elections, and driving along the wall that, on the one hand has saved countless Israeli civilian lives and, on the other, further divides two populations and makes more difficult the possibility for prosperity on the Palestinian side.


In the midst of this despair, I went into the West Bank and met Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger, an Israeli settler, and Ali Abu Awwad, a Palestinian Muslim from the city of Hebron. Hanan and Ali are doing something rare in the West Bank – they have formed an organization called ROOTS in order to bring together the local Israeli settler population and the local Palestinian population to work on joint initiatives that will plant the seeds of peace between the two groups. In less than four years, over 18,000 people have been touched by ROOTS programs, which connect communities and young people through their dual narrative program, and offer language courses so meaningful conversations between the two populations can take place. The results are tangible, constructive, and positive changes on the ground in the West Bank.


At a time when our country seems more divided than ever, I’m thrilled that we have the opportunity to bring Hanan and Antwan, his Palestinian Christian counterpart, to Indianapolis. The Jewish community is heartened to be partnering with Second Presbyterian (and other congregations) to bring this message of hope and coexistence to central Indiana. I know ROOTS will not only inspire us that there is still hope for peace in the Middle East, but also will serve as a reminder for all of us that knowing one another is the best chance we have for peace in our country and in our world.


For more information on the Roots program, including times and locations, please visit or click here.