Introducing our 2017 Visionaries, Len and Libby Traubman
Pioneers of grassroots peacebuilding and founders of the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue
For Len and Libby Traubman, dialogue and listening isn’t something they do, it’s who they are. We experienced this first-hand when we convened to interview them about their work, and they instead asked us questions and wanted to hear our stories, listening intently and graciously. Len and Libby believe strongly in the importance of giving value to others’ voices by listening to their stories, even those of our so-called enemies. As they often reminded us, “ ‘An enemy is one whose story we have not heard.’ ”
The Traubmans got involved in this work in a relatively unconventional way. They did not study peacebuilding or conflict resolution. Libby received a Master’s in Social Work, however she told us honestly that she could not recount two things that she learned. Instead, they became involved in the work of dialogue simply by modeling humanity and authenticity throughout their lives, careers and marriage. Len comes from a Jewish background and Libby grew up as a Presbyterian. Despite their families’ restrictions on who they might marry, Len and Libby fell in love, and in the end it was this love that triumphed. In 1969, two years after getting married, they saw for the first time the image of the earth from outer space, a particularly pivotal moment for them. They were inspired to waste less resources and plant their own vegetable garden with the intent of “thinking globally, acting locally.”
Throughout the ‘70s, while raising their children, they began to explore other faith traditions, marched for Middle East peace and addressed social issues. In the 1980s, in the midst of the Cold War, their lives took another turn that set them more firmly on the track they are on today. With the threat of nuclear war looming, they helped found the successful Beyond War Movement, “insisting that all conflict be resolved without violence – no bombing, and for us no spanking.” They were invited to join American Physicians for Social Responsibility on their trip to the Soviet Union. Describing this experience at a Commencement Address held at Notre Dame de Namur University earlier this year, they said:
“We experienced equal humanity, and realized that ‘an enemy is one whose story we have not heard.’ We returned home inspired and alive – not kidnapped, poisoned, or imprisoned as our parents feared. We learned that conflict resolution begins with first knowing the other human being. ‘Who are you? Tell me your story.’ This kept working when we brought together Armenians and Azerbaijanis, Blacks and Whites here in San Mateo, and in 1991, Israelis and Palestinians.”
This propelled them into founding the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue, which they and others host in their own living rooms. Since its start 25 years ago, there have been over 600 meetings. Through these conversations, the innate interconnectedness that human beings have with each other has been confirmed by the participants who experience firsthand this oneness. By both sharing stories and learning to listen to others, those involved are experiencing a fundamental principle held by the Traubmans that “Listening is a great act of love.”
Naturally, this work has extended beyond the walls of their home. With their own community of Muslims, Jews and Christians in San Mateo, they hosted the Bay-Area Dinner-Dialogue for 420 Palestinians and Jews. Along with Camp Tawonga, a Jewish summer camp near Yosemite, they co-created the first Palestinian-Jewish Family Peacemaker camp, bringing together youth and adults from fifty different towns in Israel and Palestine. Having also traveled to facilitate several hundred Muslims and Christians in central Nigeria, they continue mentoring worldwide and facilitating civil engagement while maximizing the power of Internet video technology especially with diverse Asian and African relationship builders.
“Who are you? Tell me your story.” Asking the question and actively listening to the response opens the way to healing. It provides the space for disputing parties to see each other’s humanity. It heals divisions and fosters a realization of our innate oneness. It is at its core an act of love that ultimately will heal our ailing world. Living the model demonstrated by Libby and Len demonstrates the value of active listening: giving voice to others and hearing their stories has a natural ripple effect that supports the vision that so many of us hold dear, that of a world at peace. It is within reach if we all commit to its practice.
Be sure to check out Len and Libby’s website and if you would like to subscribe to their newsletter, highlighting human success stories in relationship building around the world, then email them directly at LTraubman@igc.org.