By Masada Siegel
n Germany, the land of my ancestors, the country where my grandfather
fought in World War One for the Germans, in 17 battles for three years
in the trenches and was awarded an iron cross for bravery, is where
I met Abdul from Syria in 2009.
Soon after my family narrowly escaped in 1938, Germany
turned to be a land filled with spilled blood and darkness. It is a
country for me of mixed emotions. A place where I have encountered people
from many places worldwide that still have not learned how the history
of continued hatred should be abolished from the planet.
I was in Berlin working on a project with my father
when we both met Abdul. He charmed me in our first conversation. After
he introduced himself he said, "I am from Syria; it is a country
in the Middle East next to Lebanon
." I smiled, and listened
to him speak.
Eventually, I giggled and said, "I know where Syria
is, I have a Master Degree in International Media and Communications
with a focus on the Middle East from Columbia University." All
the while thinking, "I am quite familiar with Syria; regarding
Israel, regarding their blatant lack of human rights and freedoms, their
sponsoring of terrorism. A myriad of thoughts went through my head,
but I never said a word.
Abdul was impressed; "Wow so many people have no
idea where Syria is, they have never heard of the country."
Although I have traveled the world and studied International
policy, Abdul was the first Syrian I ever had a conversation filled
The more we spoke, the more he enchanted me. Abdul is
devastatingly handsome, intelligent, charming, thoughtful and the kind
of person everyone would want to have in his or her family.
Over the course of the next few days, we spoke about
the Middle East, with Abdul sharing views that seemed moderate and logical
to me. I listened mostly, and did not share my Jewish- Israeli heritage
with him on purpose.
The last day of the conference, he said to me, "You
really must come to Syria and meet my family; you would love the people,
food and culture."
I thanked him and said, "I cant, I have an
Israeli stamp in my passport,"
"So get another passport," he responded smiling.
"Im half-Israeli and Jewish, I think I would
be a little nervous."
Suddenly the energy changed and the look on his face
went cold and suddenly the conversation changed to the Palestinians
and bombing Israel.
Our conversation became heated and I finally said, "Look
at me, do you like me? Because if you are killing Israelis, what are
you saying? You want to kill me and my family? Is that what you want?"
The dimension changed again, I now became the face of
Israel to Abdul. He shook his head, saying of course he did not want
anything bad to happen to me.
Over the course of the conference, we became fast friends,
but because of my background and profession we could never become Facebook
friends or email one another, it would compromise his security and the
safety of his family.
Over the past three years, we have met up at this conference
in Berlin. My father wanted to work on a project with him, but due to
American sanctions on Syria, they could never work together.
Economics builds bridges, and fosters understandings
between peoples, but sanctions are a tool to press leaders into acting
in accordance to the wishes of the international community. It made
me wonder, who does it really hurt, and what does it accomplish if we
always refuse to talk to one another?
Suddenly the face of international relations had changed
for Abdul and me. We were always happy to catch up at our yearly reunion
discussing life, love and work.
I always asked Abdul why he did not become a politician
in Syria, as he was the face the world should see from his country.
He has a good head on his shoulders and one who understood the world
in a comprehensive forward thinking way.
His response was always the desire to stay alive and
not walk around in fear for himself and family.
This year, I asked my dad if he thought we would see
Abdul at the conference. He shook his head and said, he did not know.
Watching the news worried me, and knowing contacting
Abdul would only make matters worse, I waited and hoped to see him.
Abdul did show up and my face lit up when I saw him.
"We were so worried about you. Im so happy to see you."
"Really, you were so concerned?" His face
started to glow."
Of course friends worry about friends."
The daily stories out of Syria that we hear are not
as severe in the area where Abdul lives, but he worries about the people
who work for him. He explained he interacts with security guards from
the government on a weekly basis and is always fearful. He never knows
what they want and what they will do.
"The regime will fall, its just a matter
of time, but it needs to happen already." He explained. "We
all just want to get on with our lives."
During the conference, a group of people from Morocco
came to chat with my dad. My French was not as technical as it needed
to be, so I found Abdul and asked me if he would help.
"Of course," he replied, and walked over and
started to translate from Arabic into English.
I started to marvel at the situation, and thought if
only world leaders could watch the interchange, a Syrian helping Jewish
Americans with German roots chat with Moroccans. The conversation left
all of us in laughter. Abdul even turned to me and started talking in
Arabic, forgetting Im not Syrian, not speaking the language. My
dad was having such fun with the Moroccans, he was invited to visit
Morocco and stay in one of their mansions. Needless to say, the conversation
was filled with smiles.
My father later said to me, "If governments could
see how well people can work together, maybe they would stop all the
nonsense we see on a daily basis."
Our conference wrapped up the next day, and my dad went
over to say goodbye to Abdul.
A few hours later, I also went to say goodbye to my
friend, and his eyes grew moist. (I was surprised.) He hugged me goodbye
and said, "Please thank your father again for what he said to me,
I really appreciate it, you have no idea how much it meant to me."
I said goodbye and asked him to please stay safe.
Later, I asked my father what exactly his conversation
was with Abdul that caused him to be so emotional.
My dad responded, "I told him if he needed assistance
for himself or his family, to get out of Syria in any way, to let me
know - and I would help him in any capacity he needed to keep out of
I shook my head at the irony of the world. Here was
a Jewish man whose family fled Nazi Germany married to an Israeli woman,
with family who has been shelled by Syrian forces in Northern Israel
offering to help a Syrian Muslim man, in any way if needed, to keep
himself and his family safe.
My father did not see nationality or religion, he saw
Abdul, he saw humanity, and he recognized a friend in need.
After breaking down countries, cultures, religion and
barriers, there was only friendship, and there was more that united
us then divided us.
Neither my father nor myself are politicians, just people
with perspective. The story and situation gave me hope. Maybe the world
can change one relationship at a time.
Masada Siegel can be reached at Fungirlcorrespondent@gmail.com