Baltimore Jewish leaders welcome envoy from PLO

September 14, 1994|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Sun Staff Writer

On the eve of Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the Jewish religious calendar, Baltimore's Jewish leadership welcomed a representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization yesterday -- an event that would have been unthinkable until one year ago.

The warmth of the PLO greeting and the Jewish reception reflected the earnestness of hopes for the fragile, year-old peace process in the Middle East.

"We sail together or sink together, and I really believe we sail together," said Washington-based PLO representative Hasan Abdel Rahman, in remarks that won a burst of applause from Jewish leaders.

Mr. Rahman, the first PLO official ever to address Jewish leaders here, was the guest of the Baltimore Jewish Council as it commemorated the anniversary of the signing on the White House lawn of the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

He shared the podium in the downtown offices of the Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore with Nimrod Barkan, minister of public affairs of the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

Introducing them, Rabbi Joel H. Zaiman, president of the council, read the Declaration of Principles at the heart of the agreement and said, "These are wonderful words. And it is wonderful to be able to celebrate the enunciation of these words between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur."

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins today at sundown.

Mr. Rahman and Mr. Barkan also noted that the anniversary celebration occurs during the High Holidays -- a time of introspection and new beginnings for the world's Jews.

"The day of reckoning" that is Yom Kippur calls Jews to "consider our relationship with our Creator and with our neighbors" in the Middle East, Mr. Barkan said. He called the peace agreement "the most important development for the Jewish people since the founding of the Jewish state."

Mr. Barkan said in an interview that he believed 80 percent of the Jewish community in the United States support the Israeli-Palestinian initiative. But there remains, he said, a strong undercurrent of mistrust of the PLO that must be overcome.

Israelis "have the responsibility, both morally and politically," to make the agreement work between the longtime bitter adversaries, he told Mr. Rahman. Speaking directly to his PLO counterpart, the Israeli official said, "Your success is our success."

That did not mean there were not underlying disagreements between them. And both speakers acknowledged some thorny, unresolved questions, such as the sovereignity of Jerusalem.

Yesterday's celebration was opened by Richard Lansburgh, chairman of Baltimore's Jewish federation. In the invited audience of about 100 were representatives of other faiths, including Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop P. Francis Murphy of the Baltimore archdiocese.

There were some emotional moments. Mr. Rahman, who was educated at universities in Puerto Rico and New York, told his listeners that he had recently returned from a long-awaited month in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel. "I was unable to go back to the country of my birth for 30 years," he said.

Likening the peace process to "the birth of a child," the PLO representative said, "The process is irreversible. It has only one way to go, forward. But we need to nurture it, to take care of it."

The program concluded with the singing by Judi Tal, an Israeli native living in Columbia, of a song she helped compose and performed in Washington a year ago to celebrate the signing of the peace agreement. The audience joined her.

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