Peace Begins Here/War Begins Here
by elana levy

Editor's note: people's names and "I" are purposefully
elana and kathleen invited the community to join them for a seder on the sidewalk in front of the Federal Building. Photo: Carol Baum

not capitalized in the essay below as per the author's request, unless they appear at the beginning of a sentence. It is unusual for the PNL to differ from standard grammar style, and we hope you consider the implications of this choice as you read.

Kathleen rumpf and i, elana levy, conferring at a raging grannies meeting, decided to spend 24/7 in front of the federal building in Syracuse during the Christian Holy Week and the start of Jewish Passover holiday. We arrived at the federal building Monday, April 10 at 7 am, and left the site on Monday, April 17 at 9 am. Both longterm activists, one out of the Catholic Worker tradition, the other Jewish Renewal and meditative practice, we spent many weeks planning our extended presence. We wanted to create peace, to, in fact, model "being peace," to furnish a positive, caring space in our actions, our signs, flyers and our residence.

One sign read: "War Begins Here," another: "Peace Begins Here," acknowledging that within each of us we can choose which we wish to bring forth, and, that within the federal buildings of the US too, the policy makers choose which to bring forth. We decided not to have any signs that were "anti."

Amazingly we were successful - although it is difficult to define what that means. We managed with the presence of many, many human angels to create a peaceful space where people chose to sit with us, tell their stories or just drink in the calm and timelessness. The one day that anyone counted, we had about 60 visitors.

Our staying overnight for a week moved people. Veterans of at least six wars - WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Gulf War and Iraq War - thanked us, letting us know how strongly they agreed with us, as well as many whose relatives are presently in the US armed forces in Iraq. Our second night, a young man stayed with us for hours, with tears letting us know how much he wanted his uncle to come home alive soon from Iraq.

The few times someone looked skeptical, once they read the "COST OF WAR" display board their demeanor altered:

US soldiers killed - 2,350
US wounded - 17,500
Iraqi civilians killed - 37,000
Dollars from Onondaga County alone used to conduct the war - $538 million

(Figures are from April 10. At the writing of this article, May 15, the figures had grown to: 2,442 US soldiers killed, 17,869 US soldiers wounded, 39,300 Iraqi civilians killed, and $546 million spent. Sources:,, We are aware that many of these numbers are way understated. Yet they are horrific enough, and from "credible" sites.

The Cost of War display board drew people into our space and into conversations, often of their own experiences and frustration with the war policy.

Since we left i have asked myself what made this week so powerful? Workers on their way to work, lunch or home stopped by, thanking us, asking if they could give us a donation ("no"). People would stop and ask us if they could get us something to drink. On Wednesday afternoon, a car pulled up, a woman stepped out with a bowl filled with maple sugar cookies. I asked if we knew her. She said, "No. I saw you on TV, and wanted to bring you something." Our Easter morning blessing occurred when a man pushing a shopping cart filled with bottles for deposit stopped alongside our site with two crisp dollar bills in his right hand, saying, "here's my donation. I saw you on the 11:30 TV news. I'm sorry i didn't get here sooner," roger charles smith. We humbly accepted his donation.

People wanted to feel a part of us. Many came by more than once to talk with us about their relatives in the war, or their own experiences. People we knew brought us meals, and we always had leftovers for the street people who spent time with us. It felt that when someone left after spending time with us, they were more peaceful.

So the powerfulness for sure was the people. And, we were there, all day and all night, with time to listen and engage, nothing else to do but be there. I did not feel like i was in Syracuse. We were anywhere, listening, talking, being fed, cared for, feeding and caring, deeply. I am so thankful to kathleen for her ability to engage the homeless who then had a place to stay for a while. And i feel so much gratitude to all those who supported us with their presence, their meals, flowers, tents, chairs and especially their love.

We received uncountable blessings as we sat those full seven days on the sidewalk on Clinton Street in Syracuse, New York. One example - our fairy godmother, aka nancy murray, came to visit us each and every morning, 7:15 am, with the question: "What do you want for breakfast?" And then proceeded to fulfill our wishes. On Saturday night, around 11 pm she also appeared to tell us the perfect name for us: "the vigil aunties."
A day later we received this haiku from her:

The vigil aunties
spreading warmth on cold concrete
set fire to Easter.

elana is a longterm activist in the tradition of Jewish Renewal and meditative practice.