Peace activist and journalist Ruth Ebenstein inspires cherubs

A woman speaks to a small group of journalism students in a lecture hall.

Writer and peace activist Ruth Ebenstein (left) takes questions from cherubs after giving a presentation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Photo by Andrew Rowan

Ruth Ebenstein, Israeli writer, historian and peace activist, was among the pivotal guest speakers that came to cherubs this summer. Ebenstein described how she forged a powerful friendship with a Palestinian woman named Ibtisam Erekat who, like her, had overcome breast cancer.

Ebenstein said she wanted to share how she pursued journalism in an unconventional way.

“I come in to tell a story, to challenge preconceived notions people may have about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to provide an example of the different way you can take journalistic training and writing,” Ebenstein said.

Ebenstein said she hoped her story would help the quality of the cherubs’ interviewing.

“My intent was to share my personal story in hopes that it would prompt cherubs to think about the others in their lives and what prejudices we bring to every interview setting or media setting with the hope that being conscious of it would help us interview everyone with greater openness and humility,” Ebenstein said.

Elizabeth Link of Washington, Illinois, said she appreciated learning more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Hearing about how she crossed paths to combat some of the most segregated areas in the world and still make friendships through that was moving,” Link said.

Jacob Strier of Scarsdale, New York, said these connections are key to a future without conflict.

“Dialogue is the most important solution, although hostility on both sides often makes it difficult to discuss the issue,” Strier said. “But what was special about Ruth was that her friendship transcended the conflicts to a personal level. She saw Ibtisam not as an enemy but as a sister.”

Madeline Rosenberg of Chappaqua, New York, reread her notes from Ebenstein’s speech and recalled how inspired she felt hearing Ebenstein speak.

“Ruth said, ‘You need to recognize your own biases and prejudices,’” Rosenberg said. “That was something I wasn’t thinking about before her speech.”

Annalise Myre of Washington, D.C., said she felt connected to Ebenstein. When Myre was growing up with her family in Jerusalem, her mother, too, battled breast cancer. She realized their connection was closer than she thought when she spoke to Ebenstein after the presentation.

“I started telling her how both of my parents are journalists, and she said, ‘Oh my gosh, what are your parents’ names?’” Myre said. “I told her my parents’ names, and she just stopped mid-sentence and said, ‘I’ve met you before.’ She is best friends with my kindergarten teacher and remembered meeting me, my mom and my sister in a market.”

Ebenstein said she was impressed by the cherubs’ questions after her speech.

“Cherubs ask the most insightful, thoughtful questions of anyone, and I was blown away by the thoughtfulness and the sensitivity,” Ebenstein said. “You feel tremendous hope for where journalism is going today when you hear the questions cherubs ask.”

Rosenberg said Ebenstein taught her that journalism can change the world.

“She said journalism is writing to change things, which I didn’t think about before coming to cherubs because I had such little journalism exposure,” Rosenberg said. “So I didn’t think that journalism could change things. But it does.”

Link said Ebenstein’s speech shook her.

“I keep this jar, and I write down nice things that happen every day,” Link said. “After her speech, I wrote ‘Ruth Ebenstein is absolutely amazing’ and put it in my thought jar.”