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News: United for the Suffering

Hospital benefit transcends Mideast politics

By Justine Reisinger · August 9th, 2006 · News
  Rabbi Abie Ingber (left) and Andy Hajjar are raising funds for Mideast hospitals.
Justine Reisinger

Rabbi Abie Ingber (left) and Andy Hajjar are raising funds for Mideast hospitals.

Two old friends are sitting around a restaurant bar and eating fresh sesame bagels, discussing the difficulty of finding a decent bagel in Cincinnati.

One is Jewish. One is Lebanese. They are "waging peace around the bar," according to Rabbi Abraham Ingber, who often visits Andy's Mediterranean Grill in Walnut Hills, owned by his friend, Andy Hajjar, a Lebanese Christian. But with Israel invading Lebanon, more than friendship brings them together now.

Along with Hajjar's brother Majed, the pair are organizing an Aug. 15 benefit for two hospitals, one in Israel and one in Lebanon. Every dollar spent on food and drinks will go to the hospitals on both sides of the battle zone. Servers will donate all tips they receive, belly dancers will provide entertainment and there will be a silent auction of locally created, peace-themed art.

Ingber brought the idea to the Hajjar brothers shortly after the war began.

"I just fooled around, went online, came in and presented my ideas," Ingber says. "They were tremendously excited. Both our hearts are broken by these events.

We want to see peace, and at least until then we want to help victims."

Money raised at the benefit will be split between the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya and the Tel Shiha Hospital in the Hajjar brothers' hometown of Zahle in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

For Andy Hajjar, the benefit is not about politics but innocent victims.

"Most people on both sides are innocent civilians suffering," he says.

Ingber wanted to see what he could do with his friends to put politics aside and foster support for victims of the fighting.

"We wanted to see if we could get the community to come out and support the innocent victims of the war on both sides," he says.

For both friends, the benefit is not just about the money raised but also the symbolism behind their collaboration and the dialogue that it can help promote.

"The symbolism that Jews, Arabs, Israelis and Cincinnatians can come into this place and benefit the emergency services the hospitals need to provide (is powerful)," Ingber says. "We're giving people a way to respond to what's going on and what they're watching in the news."

Ingber predicts the event will liberate casual friends to be able to discuss what's going on in the Middle East. Majed Hajjar also sees the benefit as an example for what can be accomplished when differences are set aside.

"We want to show ... that we can get together as brothers and sisters and that any problem can be solved peacefully," he says.

Andy Hajjar believes the example he and Ingber are setting has a positive impact on those who come into the restaurant.

"We are raising awareness," Hajjar says. "We are two different people who have come together, are friends and are making peace with each other. We're raising money for a good reason and are helping people overseas."

The two first became friends five years ago when Ingber was on the search for authentic Middle Eastern food. The two formed an instant bond and have been able to discuss anything since, he says.

Ingber thought of Andy and Majed as soon as the fighting broke out. Andy Hajjar was in Lebanon visiting family when the attacks first began and had to return home early. He had to wait in Jordan for five days for a flight home. Majed Hajjar had planned to visit Lebanon Aug. 3 but the trip had to be canceled after fighting began.

For Ingber, keeping quiet during the fighting was impossible. For the son of two Holocaust survivors, keeping silent in times of need isn't an option.

"I know what happens when the world turns a deaf ear," Ingber says. "I don't want to see that happen again."

Though the friends might seem to have conflicting interests in the war, they feel they have the same vision and hope for the end of the war: peace on both sides.

Jamie Reid, one of the many servers who have agreed to donate tips to the benefit, has high hopes as well.

"I think it is a really good idea," he says. "Hopefully, we can raise a lot of money."

Having seen Ingber and Hajjar in action, Reid expects the night to be memorable.

"Even if just their friends come, it will be insane," he says.

Planning the event and working together has been a positive and experience for all, Ingber says.

"We both feel very, very good about what we are doing," he says. "Here we are, waging peace around the bar. We've been smiling ever since we hatched the idea."

The benefit for Middle East hospitals is from 5 p.m.-midnight Tuesday at Andy's Mediterranean Grill. Send contributions to Hospital Benefit for Peace, c/o Hillel, 2615 Clifton Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45220.


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