Tony Bing remembered as a man of peace

Beth Keiser Guest columnist

Fifty people from Asheville’s varied communities - including secular, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Quaker, Unitarian and “ethical culture” - gathered on Nov.21, at the Lenoir-Rhyne urban campus in Asheville Chamber of Commerce to reflect on and celebrate the late Tony Bing’s life and work.

Some - students and colleagues from Earlham College in the ’70s when he was dean of students and professor of English - had known him across many decades. Their stories illuminated outstanding human qualities he brought to his later leadership in peace studies and Middle East peace-building.

Most of us had known Tony only after he and his wife June retired to Black Mountain in 2001. James Aydelotte, who taught a course on Israel and Palestine at Warren Wilson College with Tony spoke of the educational value of his 36 or more sojourns to Palestine and Israel. His experiences in the West Bank and Gaza corroborated claims about the dire effects of Israeli’s militarized occupation on Palestinian lives and livelihoods.

Tony’s concern for peace and justice expressed in travel and writing also led to extensive involvement in peace-building organizations - international, national and local. With the late Ahmad Amara, a Palestinian educator on the Middle East and the Muslim faith, and the late Andy Summers, Presbyterian chaplain and peace activist at Warren Wilson College, Tony co-founded the Western Carolinians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East (renamed Just Peace for Israel/Palestine).

Among the many programs this group has provided locally, one film series was spoken of with special appreciation. “As so elegantly shown in the movie Tony once shared with us, ‘The Lemon Tree,’ our communities need people in them who come together with open hearts and open minds,” Bing’s friend Hashm Badr said. In the movie, a Palestinian and Israeli woman who may have never met one another come to understand one another’s pain. And that understanding promotes compassion and connection between them.”

Tony was important as well to the Mountain Area Interfaith Forum, of which he was a founding member. At the initiative of the Brotherhood at Temple Beth HaTephila, this group was formed to bring together representatives from faith traditions as diverse as possible, not only to learn from each other but to find ways to collaborate in strengthening community values locally. Tony was valued for his role in discussions that the forum facilitated about the sources of conflict and the possibilities for peace in Palestine and Israel.

What made an impact as great as his irenic and knowledgeable participation in such dialogues was Tony’s presence, calm and caring, often accompanied by his wife in her wheelchair. He was lovingly remembered for his attention to June as they coped with the effects of her dementia and a stroke.

The gathering ended, as it began, with camaraderie over delicious Middle Eastern fare from Jerusalem Garden Restaurant. We left encouraged to consider the next positive action that we could take, individually and in community. Hashim Badr’s words inspired hope that even in this dark time, if we follow Tony’s example, we can envision and realize possibilities of peace and justice:

“Every time I take a moment to stop and pay attention, I discover another blessing to be thankful for. Tony was one of those blessings,” Badr said. “He was loving and caring toward his family and friends. He was kind, well-spoken, and brave. He was persistent and never gave up. And we wanted to make a difference and encourage others to do the same.”

As the past weeks have shown us, it can be easy to feel angry or powerless when we see chaos in our world everywhere. But Tony didn’t feel powerless. He had vision. He saw possibilities of peace and justice in every situation. Our community is a better one because he played a part in it. It is said that hope is the only thing stronger than fear. As we celebrate Tony’s life today, my wish is that we carry on his hard work and vision, and light the path toward hope and peace for future generations.”

Active in Just Peace for Israel/Palestine, Beth Keiser is retired Dana Professor of English from Guilford College. She traveled to Israel/Palestine in 2007 with an interfaith delegation Tony Bing co-led.