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Friends group bid to build bridges between Israel and Palestine

PUBLISHED: 10:22 12 December 2012

Chani Smith (left) and Judith Elkan of Friends of the Bereaved Families Forum. Picture: Polly Hancock

Chani Smith (left) and Judith Elkan of Friends of the Bereaved Families Forum. Picture: Polly Hancock

Archant

Once a month at her home in Hampstead Garden Suburb, Judith Elkan devises new ways of helping to bring together the people of Palestine and Israel.

She is chairman of Friends of the Bereaved Families Forum (FBFF), a UK-based group supporting the Parents Circle Families Forum (PCFF) which works with bereaved families in Israel and Palestinian territories to help heal the wounds of decades of conflict.

Every month, the FBFF’s steering group of Muslims, Jews and Christians, meet at Ms Elkan’s house to plot the group’s course and discuss future and ongoing projects.

After almost a decade of work, the FBFF has brought many bereaved Palestinian and Israeli parents to speak at synagogues, mosques and university campuses across the UK.

They have also taken their message of reconciliation and peace to the House of Commons and to the Lords.

“I’ve always been passionate about building bridges and creating reconciliation between our two peoples,” said Ms Elkan, an Israeli Jew who settled in this country more than 40 years ago.

“I feel very deeply for the Arabic culture and think it would create such a fruitful enrichment for both people if we had peace.”

Ms Elkan and friend Chani Smith, also an Israeli Jew, co-founded FBFF with others in 2003 after hearing a bereaved PCFF parent talk about the loss of a son during an address at the New North London Synagogue in East End Road, Finchley.

Ms Elkan said: “I was so moved that I invited people to come to my house to see whether we could do something to support the work of the bereaved families group.”

The PCFF was founded eight years earlier by an Orthodox Jewish father whose 19-year-old son, an Israeli soldier, was murdered by Hamas militia.

It now represents 600 Palestinian and Israeli families.

The project has personal resonance for Ms Smith, who explained: “A very close friend of mine was killed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem.

“It shook me to do whatever I can, I couldn’t just go on thinking how terrible the situation is. When Judith suggested supporting the group it just made sense to me because I could see hope in this work.”

The FBFF is currently working on educational programmes to bring to UK schools and Ms Elkan wants to expand membership and raise money for the PCFF’s work abroad.

“The amazing and innovative work in Palestine and Israel costs a lot of money and we really need to support that,” she said.

To find out about Friends of the Bereaved Families or how to donate, visit www.familiesforum.co.uk or call 07966 145 098.

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