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Gordon Fellman PAX 98a: Independent Study May 2012 The Threads That Tie Us All Together: The PAX Program and My Internship Experiences I. Introduction: Even before my first class in college, a university seminar about war and revolution in the Middle East, I knew what passions I was going to pursue; both at Brandeis, and for the rest of my life. Those passions were the Middle East, and coexistence and conflict resolution. For a time, I considered pursuing an IIM, an Independent Interdisciplinary Major, combining my two passions into a major in Coexistence and Reconciliation in the Middle East, or something to that effect. However, as I took more PAX classes and declared my minor, I formed a new plan. I was going to keep my major in IMES, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies and my double minor in PAX and Religious Studies. I wanted to keep my undergraduate focuses separate because before I could ever hope to start reconciling problems, I had to fully understand them first. In focusing my BA on the Middle East, I learned about the history of the area, its people, its customs, its political makeup, and its present struggles. It allowed me to become an expert in the area that sparked my desire to study reconciliation in the first place. As time passed and I took more and more PAX classes however, I slowly broadened my viewpoint and realized that my love for conflict resolution on an international level was much, much broader than just the Middle East. I will be entering George Mason University in the fall, pursuing a Masters of
it is meant to explore the extra-curricular applications of my experience in the PAX department. and the vision I have for the future. This independent study has a different focus though. following the path I am on thus far. my daily tasks. voting on bills. meeting dignitaries. I want to hone in on how working in these two places. my studies here at Brandeis. etc. is not one of those preconceived notions. the overall experience of the environment. I will then share what I’ve learned from all of these factors combined and how they’ve helped shape me into the person I am today. I worked as an intern at one of the Chicago branch offices of Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D) of Illinois’s 9th Congressional District. a program the Harvard Global Negotiation Initiative is developing.Science in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Spring 2012. and continuing through this summer. beginning this semester. These two experiences will be my focus. I am interning for the Abraham Path Initiative (API). Congresswoman Jan D. Also. that is to say that the staff were the 2 . I was placed in said office. II. what we helped contribute to. the people we dealt with. etc. one of the three offices Jan Schakowsky uses for her work and staff. relates to PAX. My office’s function was constituency services. Schakowsky: Interning for a Congresswoman comes with many preconceived notions of grandeur: press conferences. The PAX department led me here and I could not be more grateful. kissing babies. In the summer of 2010. important dinners and fundraisers. my future studies. all under the umbrella of the Harvard Law School. the purpose of the two places. Working in the copy room in the back of a storefront office on the north side of Chicago however.
We got dozens of calls everyday from constituents all over the district about every issue you can think of. mail service. Secondly. These qualities are also all essential parts of conflict analysis. and above all else. the issues that are the fundamental parts of a Congressperson’s job. copying. People called in to ask her to come to their event or to co-sponsor a project or charity they were involved in. and references to public institutions for disadvantaged youths. various government agency relations. I was seeing the work pay off in front of me. expressing their rage that a certain bill did not pass. These were the most important parts of my job for a number of reasons. Firstly. and basic underling tasks. People called in wanting to congratulate Jan for her work and thank her for her efforts. My job. or that she had voted “no” on an issue they wanted her to vote “yes” on. was to field calls and draft letters. 3 . ability to truly listen to others and come up with multiple solutions to their problems. These kinds of calls were the ones that had to be waded through in order to get to the real issues. family counseling. People called in to yell at us. Most of this work consisted of helping people with visa and passport issues. patience. Whether I was drafting a letter to a local passport agency asking them to issue a passport to a constituent who had been denied one.group of people who dealt most closely with the people who had elected Jan. even though they were a citizen. or writing to a visa office so that a family could be reunited. The calls I mentioned above that dealt with real issues were opportunities to do positive work. besides the expected file organization. my work allowed me to see what Jan’s job truly consisted of. Handling situations like these takes a certain level of calmness. my responsibilities in the office allowed me to actually help people.
they were set up with a case worker in the office for an initial interview. an appreciation for the work I’d helped do grew and developed into an even stronger 4 . or any situation we could immediately solve by ourselves. It was extremely empowering to be in these meetings. sitting at my desk every day. questions. and waiting that usually accompanies the political arena and government institutions and actually working to defeat it and get something done! III. that I was using skills I had learned in PAX classes and looking at a given situation from every possible angle in order to fairly assess and figure out how to solve it. I did not know. I was often the middleman between the full-time employees and the constituents that called in. This put me in a situation where I had the opportunity to practice truly compassionate listening. The Abraham Path Initiative: Thinking about my first internship in this way took time and reflection. bureaucracy.resolution. I could not see the bigger picture. I was given more responsibility and got to sit in on a few “initial interviews”. I was inadvertently learning essential life skills that would help in my aspirations for a future career. During that summer. and requests. a recommendation from Jan. at the time. After my internship ended and I returned to school and took more classes in my chosen field. and reconciliation. problems. tell me their stories and after I heard and copied down their messages. While it was clear my position was beneath that of Jan’s full-time employees. if they could be solved by a letter from our office. People would call in. facing all the red tape. As the summer went on. When working in the office. my role was integral in that I was technically the first person fielding citizen’s concerns.
understanding and growth. and a focus for positive media highlighting the rich culture and hospitable people of the Middle East. The Path also serves as a catalyst for sustainable tourism and economic development. These are not dry archaeological sites. The Abraham Path (Masar Ibrahim al Khalil) is a route of cultural tourism which follows the footsteps of Abraham / Ibrahim through the Middle East. and to recognize our shared humanity. these towns and cities trace the arc of Abraham / Ibrahim’s 5 . This led me to a number of opportunities. By retracing this journey. which has been kept alive for some four thousand years in the landscape and memory of this region. While the timing of my experience with the API unfortunately does not allow me the same post-experience insight as I now have in regards to working for Congresswoman Schakowsky. The Path follows a constellation of historic places in which Abraham / Ibrahim is an important part of local cultural memory. Taken together. with the Abraham Path Initiative (API) at Harvard’s Global Negotiation Initiative in their law school. a platform for the energy and idealism of young people. I am still currently an intern at API and will be through the summer. the Abraham Path provides a place of meeting and connection for people of all faiths and cultures. records the origin of a spiritual tradition shared by more than three billion people in the world today. it is still extremely relevant to PAX and my future career aspirations. to respect our cultural differences. inviting us to remember our common origins.drive to keep effecting change. The story of Abraham / Ibrahim’s journey. development. but living communities in which this story has been a source of meaning and inspiration for millenia. and my second internship. including studying abroad in Haifa University’s Peace and Conflict Management program.
and the Holy Land town of Hebron or Al Khalil. Seeing some of the world’s greatest minds working together. There are also major Abrahamic sites in Iran. Countless millions have traveled this way over the centuries. and which has found expression not only in the region’s historic sites. When I 6 . Being a part of such an amazing organization has truly made an indelible mark on me in the last few months of my career here at Brandeis. Mecca. By any measure this forms one of the most outstanding cultural itineraries in the world. the ancient oasis of Beersheva in the Negev desert. and the sites along the route continue to attract thousands of people every year. The present project simply brings recognition to a story which has always been part of this landscape. in a completely different way than I have ever seen. of course.journey across the Levant and stand witness to the shared heritage of the Abrahamic faiths. engaged in efforts to build a new vision of the Middle East. and hospitality of the Middle East. is the most promising and reassuring experience I could have ever had. My work at API will help people expose themselves to the Middle East. folklore. many for the first time. They include the old Silk Road towns of Sanliurfa and Harran in southeastern Turkey. including everyone and basing this off of a common ground. the pilgrimage city of Jerusalem. but also in the faith. This may seem to be a drastic statement. where Abraham / Ibrahim is buried. Iraq and Egypt. Working as an intern. the great Islamic centers of Aleppo and Damascus in Syria. It gave me hope for the future of our world. For Muslims the most significant place in the story of Ibrahim is. but it is true. my responsibilities revolve mostly around gathering updated information for the website and participant’s information packets.
the small differences between Christianity.have learned about or been to the Middle East. or the current Israeli-Palestinian confrontation. This is extremely important because of the undeniably important role religion plays in the region. like the API is attempting to do. Previously. I have never seen one that purposely tries to include the three major religions of the world all at once. and were simultaneously the reasons the conflicts in the region “could never be solved. I now believe that in order to effect any real change. or in any true understanding of the region. or a Muslim context. inclusive way. We must honor and respect all traditions present in a place if we are to make any progress there. and Judaism were blamed as the cause of all problems in the Middle East (and most other places in the world). is the only way to truly change anything. I am sure that there are organizations that try to visit the Middle East with no biases or religious pre-texts whatsoever. or conflicts in the region. religion has to play an integral role in any proposed solution to the conflict. however. never neither. never both. that the majority of experts understand how important religion is to the area. Islam. I felt the same way. I feel as though this opinion is completely understandable and for a long time. Acknowledging religion in a positive. it has always revolved around the history of conflicts in the area. My experiences have also always been either in a Jewish context. but ultimately judge the situation with recommendations to avoid religion because of the controversy and perceived impossibility of doing so. API strives to look at the Middle East through a lens that celebrates those small differences and reveals the many. I have found that in my experience with academic material pertinent to the region. many more similarities between all three 7 .” However. However.
I now know that I want to be the person different groups of people utilize when they are in conflict with one another. the Middle East. I now know what that really means. Personal Experience and Growth: Combining my two internship experiences with all of the books. I believe I am an expert in my own understanding of conflict analysis and resolution. constantly utilizing knowledge and tools I have collected along the way. I am talking about a deep sense of both importance and peace about my experiences thus far. Everything I have done has led me here. journals. and research I’ve read. The API is only one effort. An expert in what. documentaries. I now have a network of connections that can help to advance my career to a place where I can practice what I’ve learned in a real way. and the incredible amount of work it is going to take to make a positive impact on both. the films. and my own travels.religions. confidant. and the ones I know will come in the future. and television specials I’ve seen. mediator. but also that it is not 8 . or a certificate I can hang on my wall. even though I know for a fact that we are never done learning and evolving. but I am absolutely positive that I want to know it all. and I also know that I am not done learning what that will entail. those honors come in other forms. This is not a title anyone could bestow upon me. but I believe that it shows important growth in the “West’s” collective consciousness and holds promise for more to come. I believe I have the right to say that I am now an expert. IV. all of my combined knowledge helps form my constantly evolving opinions on conflict transformation and reconciliation. in one place. though? Well. I have learned that I am someone who wants to be everything to the people around me: friend.
and about the specific issues I was dealing with. millions of miles of red tape. The second internship instilled my belief that even though there are obstacles that will inevitably always be in my way. a door opens just a crack. and that sometimes. As long as this is the possible outcome. when it feels like no progress has been made and all is hopeless and lost. and the main reason I want to pursue a career in international conflict analysis and resolution. They want to understand each other. any amount of work to get there 9 . V. miscommunication. Even in the world’s most advanced democratic state. This fact has to be faced above all else. they want to learn from one another. both about the political and academic worlds themselves. and a vast amount of new information. not just hears a different opinion than their own. and seemingly trivial details become important. and then something positive has been done. This is both the main challenge with. The first internship opened my eyes to the reality of the real world and gave me a great understanding of the immense patience needed to truly get anything done. Conclusion: My internship with Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and my internship with the Abraham Path Initiative have both allowed me to learn new skills. If just one person’s opinion becomes open to change just a bit. I have learned that realistic expectations are key in matters of great importance. I can do good things in this world. gradual. and opposing opinions halt the natural evolution and progress of humankind. plain and simple. small.always possible to do it all. they want to grow and change together. or one set of ears actually listens and understands. I believe that majority of people on this earth are good and want good things for one another.
I have confidence in this because I believe I have seen these hopeful possibilities actualized in front of me. but when she calls in to her Congressperson’s office and asks for help from us. I know that I would be considered an optimist and an idealist by most people for the things I have said in this paper. They are the human threads that tie us together. struggling to get the US Government to allow her mother to come live with them and help out being told “no” by everyone to her requests for a visa for her mother does not care a bit about anyone else’s problems on the surface. working three jobs to support her three children. These things sound trivial. but the reality is that every step that helps anyone is a step in the right direction for all of us. my classes here at Brandeis. but in a real way that might look like a piece of paper. She is speaking for women. a conversation. or a smile and a handshake. The Congresswoman’s constituency office is the reality of that pledge. the day-to-day grind. for listening. maybe not in the traditionally celebrated way that ties up all loose ends and heals all wounds. for progress. A single mother living in a poor neighborhood. and all the moments of my life that have led me to all of it more than I could ever say in words. These things are the things that will gradually move us forward. but that is okay. real people’s voices with real problems and genuine belief in their own power to solve those problems. what it actually takes.is completely worth it. she is unknowingly helping out many others who have similar problems. The API is a pledge to honor this possibility. but that is what those handshakes and smiles are for. I have appreciated my time in both of these jobs. and change. understanding. that warm 10 . I believe I am a realist because I have to believe it.
and understanding of one another. love.us up to each other. that allow a path to be forged toward mutual respect. 11 . Thank you for being part of my journey.
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