TOLEDO, Ohio — Anne Abowd, Jo Hollingsworth, and Sister Paulette Schroeder are longtime peace activists who, though living Northwest Ohio, have their focus on another part of the world. One way that they practice their religious emphasis on social justice is to bring speakers in, with the help of other groups and organizations, who give words about struggles in places where the U.S. is involved through military action or financial support.
Two speakers returning to the Toledo area are Kathy Kelly, who has made frequent trips to the Middle East and Afghanistan, Friday through Sunday, and Daoud Nassar, a Palestinian Christian farmer, Nov. 1-4.
Sister Paulette, a Tiffin Franciscan sister who founded Project Peace in 2011 after returning from three years living in Hebron in the West Bank, said that some people ask, “Why don't you stay right here and work on the stuff that's going on right here? That's the big dilemma oftentimes in their minds.”
Ms. Hollingsworth, who lives in Fostoria, said, “We bring them in to help inform people so they can get to understand what is going on over there.”
Sister Paulette's understanding started in 2005. “I was very, very, very ignorant of the Middle East,” she said, “but I knew that I wanted to put my feet where my mouth is.” She was in her early 60s then, and before age became an obstacle for her, “I really wanted to go to a place where there was risk involved,” and she found an organization called Christian Peacemakers that took people to the Middle East.
“The more I got into it and found out, my myths were just being shattered all over the place about Arabs, about Palestinians, about the wall [separating Israeli and Palestinian areas], about security, about the leadership of these countries, about how people live … and I fell in love with the people,” Sister Paulette said. “I saw these people disgraced and put down and humiliated and kicked, and I saw the intrigue that is endemic to the occupation [by Israel], and you just can't turn away from that stuff once it becomes so real.”
Ms. Hollingsworth expereienced the antiwar movement when she was a University of Michigan student in the late 1960s but it was the war in Iraq that started her activism. “I found some sisters, literally, in Tiffin. [The Sisters of St. Francis.] Some of us stood on various corners protesting that war. As for Israel/Palestine, I had heard about it but I questioned how sincere these people were and how much it was possibly antisemitism, which in my mind is absolutely unacceptable.” A friend went to the Middle East, and she attended his presentations after he returned and became more aware of the issues.
Then, “this gets very ecumenical,” Ms. Hollingsworth said. “Trinity United Church of Christ in Tiffin donated $500 to the Tiffin area Pax Christi,” and she took the lead in organizing a conference on the Middle East in 2010. Later, Ms. Hollingsworth went to the Middle East with the organization Interfaith Peace Builders.
Mrs. Abowd, from Ottawa Hills, said she became aware of peace and justice issues during the Vietnam era, when her husband was a cardiologist in the Army, “and I just sensed the futility of what we were doing and the horribleness of seeing what looked like little boys in Army gear and carrying guns around the base. He never had to go to Vietnam, but so many of our friends did.” While she was raising her children, she “didn't get involved much until the Iraq war was starting,” and her friend Maryse Mikhail “awakened so many of us to what was happening, and she began the peace movement in Toledo,” Mrs. Abowd said.
All three women recognize there are differences among religion, culture, ethnicity, and in other ways regarding the Middle East.
"Of course you have to distinguish between Judaism and Zionism,” Mrs. Abowd said. “My children constantly say, 'Don't use the word Jewish when you're talking about Israel necessarily, because it's not all of the Jewish people. There's some heroic Jewish peace activists and rabbis and so forth who don't agree with Zionism, what Zionism is about; it's two different things. In fact, Zionism is sort of the opposite of what Judaism teaches. … You don't want to say this is a Jewish problem; you want to say it is a Zionist problem.”
“We can't just do our faith and that's it,” Sister Paulette said. “Our faith flows out into action.”
Kathy Kelly will speak about Afghanistan and Gaza Friday at St. Bernardine Home, 1220 Tiffin St., Fremont, at 7 p.m.; Oct. 26 at Elizabeth Schaefer Auditorium, 190 St. Francis Ave., Tiffin, at 7 p.m.; and Oct. 27 at the University of Toledo McQuade Law Auditorium, 1825 W. Rocket Dr., at 6 p.m.
Daoud Nassar will be present at a fund-raiser in Fostoria Nov. 1 from 7 to 9 p.m.; cost is $30. On Nov. 2 he will speak at Hope Lutheran Church, 151 W. Center St., Fostoria, preaching at 5 p.m.; dinner at 6; and presentation at 7. On Nov. 3 he will speak at Sylvania United Church of Christ, 7240 Erie St., Sylvania, at 1 p.m., then at 7 p.m. he will be at the University of Toledo Student Union, 2965 W. Centennial Dr. On Nov. 4 Mr. Nassar will speak at Bowling Green State University at 7 p.m.