The Heart of Peace
1 • Enemies in the Desert
“I’m not going!” The teenage girl’s shriek pulled everyone’s attention to her. “You can’t make me go!”
The woman she was yelling at attempted a reply. “Jenny, listen to me.”
“I’m not going!” Jenny screamed. “I don’t care what you say. I won’t!”
At this, the girl turned and faced a middle-aged man who seemed torn between taking her into his arms and slinking away unnoticed. “Daddy, please!” she bawled.
Lou Herbert, who was watching the scene from across the parking lot, knew before Jenny spoke that this was her father. He could see himself in the man. He recognized the ambivalence he felt toward his own child, eighteen-year-old Cory, who was standing stiffly at his side.
Cory had recently spent a year in prison for a drug conviction. Less than three months after his release, he was arrested for stealing a thousand dollars’ worth of prescription painkillers, bringing more shame upon himself and, Lou thought, the family. This treatment program better do something to shape Cory up, Lou said to himself. He looked back at Jenny and her father, whom she was now clutching in desperation. Lou was glad Cory had been sent here by court order. It meant that a stunt like Jenny’s would earn Cory another stint in jail. Lou was pretty sure their morning would pass without incident.
“Lou, over here.”
Carol, Lou’s wife, was motioning for him to join her. He tugged at Cory’s arm. “Come on, your mom wants us.”
“Lou, this is Yusuf al-Falah,” she said, introducing the man standing next to her. “Mr. al-Falah’s the one who’s been helping us get everything arranged for Cory.”
“Of course,” Lou said, forcing a smile.
Yusuf al-Falah was the Arab half of an odd partnership in the Arizona desert. An immigrant from Jerusalem by way of Jordan in the 1960s, he came to the United States to further his education and ended up staying, eventually becoming a professor of education at Arizona State University. In the summer of 1978, he befriended a young and bitter Israeli man, Avi Rozen, who had come to the States following the death of his father in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. At the time, Avi was flunking out of school. In an experimental program, he and others struggling with their grades were given a chance to rehabilitate their college careers and transcripts during a long summer in the high mountains and deserts of Arizona. Al-Falah, Rozen’s elder by fifteen years, led the program.
It was a forty-day course in survival, the kind of experience Arabs and Israelis of al-Falah and Rozen’s era had been steeped in from their youth. Over those forty days, the two men made a connection. Muslim and Jewish, both regarded land — sometimes the very same land—as sacred. Out of this shared respect for the soil gradually grew a respect for each other, despite their differences in belief and the strife that divided their people.
Or so Lou had been told.
In truth, Lou was skeptical of the happy face that had been painted on the relationship between al-Falah and Rozen. To him it smelled like PR, a game Lou knew from his own
corporate marketing experience. Come be healed by two former enemies who now raise their families together in peace.
The more he thought about the al-Falah/Rozen story, the less he believed it.
If he had examined himself at that moment, Lou would have been forced to admit that it was precisely this Middle Eastern intrigue surrounding Camp Moriah, as it was called, that had lured him onto the plane with Carol and Cory. Certainly he had every reason not to come. Five executives had recently left his company, putting the organization in peril. If he had to spend two days away, which al-Falah and Rozen were requiring, he needed to unwind on a golf course or near a pool, not commiserate with a group of despairing parents.
“Thank you for helping us,” he said to al-Falah, feigning gratitude. He continued watching the girl out of the corner of his eye. She was still shrieking between sobs and both clinging to and clawing at her father. “Looks like you have your hands full here.”
Al-Falah’s eyes creased in a smile. “I suppose we do. Parents can become a bit hysterical on occasions like this.”
Parents? Lou thought. The girl is the one in hysterics. But al-Falah had struck up a conversation with Cory before Lou could point this out to him.
“You must be Cory.”
“That would be me,” Cory said flippantly. Lou registered his disapproval by digging his fingers into Cory’s bicep. Cory flexed in response.
“I’m glad to meet you, Son,” al-Falah said, taking no notice of Cory’s tone. “I’ve been looking forward to it.” Leaning in, he added, “No doubt more than you have. I can’t imagine you’re very excited to be here.”
Cory didn’t respond immediately. “Not really. No,” he finally said, pulling his arm out of his father’s grasp. He reflexively brushed his arm, as if to dust off any molecular fibers that might have remained from his father’s grip.
“Don’t blame you,” al-Falah said as he looked at Lou and then back at Cory. “Don’t blame you a bit. But you know something?” Cory looked at him warily. “I’d be surprised if you feel that way for long. You might. But I’d be surprised.” He patted Cory on the back. “I’m just glad you’re here, Cory.”
“Yeah, okay,” Cory said less briskly than before. Then, back to form, he chirped, “Whatever you say.”
Lou shot Cory an angry look.
“So, Lou,” al-Falah said, “you’re probably not too excited about being here either, are you?”
“On the contrary,” Lou said, forcing a smile. “We’re quite happy to be here.”
Carol, standing beside him, knew that wasn’t at all true. But he had come. She had to give him that. He often complained about inconveniences, but in the end he most often made the inconvenient choice. She reminded herself to stay focused on this positive fact—on the good that lay not too far beneath the surface.
“We’re glad you’re here, Lou,” al-Falah answered. Turning to Carol, he added, “We know what it means for a mother to leave her child in the hands of another. It is an honor that you would give us the privilege.”
“Thank you, Mr. al-Falah,” Carol said. “It means a lot to hear you say that.”
“Well, it’s how we feel,” he responded. “And please, call me Yusuf. You too Cory,” he said, turning in Cory’s direction. “In
you. Please call me Yusuf. Or ‘Yusi,’ if you want. That’s what most of the young people call me.”
In place of the cocksure sarcasm he had exhibited so far, Cory simply nodded.
A few minutes later, Carol and Lou watched as Cory loaded into a van with the others who would be spending the next sixty days in the wilderness. All, that is, except for the girl Jenny, who, when she realized her father wouldn’t be rescuing her, ran across the street and sat belligerently on a concrete wall. Lou noticed she wasn’t wearing anything on her feet. He looked skyward at the morning Arizona sun. She’ll have some sense burned into her before long, he thought.
Jenny’s parents seemed lost as to what to do. Lou saw Yusuf go over to them, and a couple of minutes later the parents went into the building, glancing back one last time at their daughter. Jenny howled as they stepped through the doors and out of her sight.
Lou and Carol milled about the parking lot with a few of the other parents, engaging in small talk. They visited with a man named Pettis Murray from Dallas, Texas, a couple named Lopez from Corvallis, Oregon, and a woman named Elizabeth Wingfield from London, England. Mrs. Wingfield was currently living in Berkeley, California, where her husband was a visiting professor in Middle Eastern studies. Like Lou, her attraction to Camp Moriah was mostly due to her curiosity about the founders and their history. She was only reluctantly accompanying her nephew, whose parents couldn’t afford the trip from England.
Carol made a remark about it being a geographically diverse group, and though everyone nodded and smiled, it was obvious
that these conversations were barely registering. Most of the parents were preoccupied with their kids in the van and cast furtive glances in their direction every minute or so. For Lou’s part, he was most interested in why nobody seemed to be doing anything about Jenny.
Lou was about to ask Yusuf what he was going to do so that the vehicle could set out to take their children to the trail. Just then, however, Yusuf patted the man he was talking to on the back and began to walk toward the street. Jenny didn’t acknowledge him.
“Jenny,” he called out to her. “Are you all right?”
“What do you think?” she shrieked back. “You can’t make me go, you can’t!”
“You’re right, Jenny, we can’t. And we wouldn’t. Whether you go will be up to you.”
Lou turned to the van hoping Cory hadn’t heard this. Maybe you can’t make him go, Yusi, he thought, but I can. And so can the court.
Yusuf didn’t say anything for a minute. He just stood there, looking across the street at the girl while cars occasionally passed between them. “Would you mind if I came over, Jenny?” he finally called.
She didn’t say anything.
“I’ll just come over and we can talk.”
Yusuf crossed the street and sat down on the sidewalk. Lou strained to hear what they were saying but couldn’t for the distance and traffic.
“Okay, it’s about time to get started everyone.”
Lou turned toward the voice. A short youngish-looking man with a bit of a paunch stood at the doorway to the building,
beaming what Lou thought was an overdone smile. He had a thick head of hair that made him look younger than he was. “Come on in, if you would,” he said. “We should probably be getting started.”
“What about our kids?” Lou protested, pointing at the idling vehicle.
“They’ll be leaving shortly, I’m sure,” the man responded. “You’ve had a chance to say good-bye, haven’t you?”
They all nodded.
“Good. Then this way, if you please.”
Lou took a last look at the vehicle. Cory was staring straight ahead, apparently paying no attention to them. Carol was crying and waving at him anyway as the parents shuffled through the door.
“Avi Rozen,” said the bushy-haired man as he extended his hand to Lou.
“Lou and Carol Herbert,” Lou replied in the perfunctory tone he used with those who worked for him.
“Pleasure to meet you, Lou. Welcome, Carol,” Avi said with an encouraging nod.
They filed through the door with the others and went up the stairs. This was to be their home for the next two days. Two days during which we better learn what they’re going to do to fix our son, Lou thought.
2 • Deeper Matters
Lou looked around the room. Ten or so chairs were arranged in a U shape. Lou sat in the first of these. Jenny’s father and mother were sitting across from him. The mother’s face was drawn tight with worry. Blotchy red patches covered the skin on her neck and stretched across her face. The father was staring vacantly at the ground.
Behind them, Elizabeth Wingfield (a bit overdressed, Lou thought, in a chic business suit) was helping herself to a cup of tea at the bar against the far wall of the room.
Meanwhile, Pettis Murray, the fellow from Dallas, was taking his seat about halfway around the semicircle to Lou’s right. He seemed pretty sharp to Lou, with the air of an executive — head high, jaw set, guarded.
The couple just to the other side of Pettis couldn’t have been more in contrast. Miguel Lopez was an enormous man, with tattoos covering almost every square inch of his bare arms. He wore a beard and mustache so full that a black bandana tied tightly around his head was the only thing that kept his face from being completely obscured by hair. By contrast, his wife, Ria, was barely over five feet tall with a slender build. In the parking lot, she had been the most talkative of the group, while Miguel had mostly stood by in silence. Ria now nodded at Lou, the corners of her mouth hinting at a smile. He tipped his head toward her in acknowledgment and then continued scanning the room.
In the back, keeping to herself, was a person Lou hadn’t yet met—an African American woman he guessed to be somewhere in her midforties. Unlike the others with children in the program, she had not been outside to see them off. Lou wondered whether she had brought a child, worked for Camp Moriah, or had some other reason for being there.
Lou turned to the front of the room, arms folded loosely across his chest. One thing he hated was wasting time, and it seemed they had been doing nothing but that since they’d arrived.
“Thank you all for coming,” Avi said as he walked to the front. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you in person and to getting to know your children. First of all, I know you’re concerned about them—Teri and Carl, you especially,” he said, glancing for a moment over at Jenny’s parents. “Y...