Featured photo: Steve Feldman at the wall between Israel and Palestine. (courtesy photo)

Winston-Salem’s Steve Feldman likes to describe himself as a “basic, Jewish-American physician.” But in reality, he’s much more than that. A historian, an activist for human rights, a writer, a Libertarian, a candidate for Congress. And perhaps, most of all, an eternal optimist, a dreamer.

Feldman’s new book, Bent Toward Justice, is a semi-fictional novel that chronicles his struggle with, and eventual abandonment of, the dichotomous idea of good and evil. As an American Jew, Feldman says he grew up being taught certain “truths” about Muslims and Palestinians — most of which, he says, are untrue.

“I grew up in Hebrew school,” Feldman says. “I was inculcated that Arabs were evil, and they wanted to kill all Jews, which wasn’t hard to believe because Jews had been killed in places all over the world throughout history.”

But as time went on, Feldman traveled to the Middle East and Palestine through his work as a dermatologist; the old teachings from his past gave way to new realities.

The first time Feldman visited Israel was after he got married in 1983. His wife’s relatives were well connected: One of them was a minister of public works while another was the water minister of the country. On a tour, Feldman remembers seeing a valley of farms and a forest. As a child, he remembers collecting dimes to send to Israel to plant those same trees.

“I had helped to plant that forest,” he remembers thinking.

But something didn’t quite add up. In subsequent trips, he was never shown where the Palestinians were living. He had been taught that in 1948, when Israel was founded, the Israeli government begged the Palestinians to stay but that they had chosen to leave.

“Something was missing from my understanding,” he says.

Eventually Feldman started doing his own research; he read books, listened to podcasts, found primary sources that documented how the Jewish forces had committed atrocities against the Palestinian people.

And the trees he saw in the valley?

“The trees were planted where the Palestinian villages had been,” Feldman says.

On Thursday, Feldman will be at Scuppernong Books in Greensboro to promote Bent Toward Justice.

The book chronicles one Murray Schwartzman after his escape from Poland after World War II. While the main character doesn’t have the same background as Feldman, his personal journey of reconsidering his own personal prejudices is drawn from Feldman’s own life.

It’s even something he teaches in medical school.

“I’ve seen how people in different groups get siloed and separated into other compartments,” he says. “And people get weird ideas about people in those compartments, and that leads to all kinds of conflict and errors in judgment.”

Steve Feldman is a dermatologist, historian, activist, author and a Congressional candidate. (courtesy photo)

Stemming from his passion for bridging divides, Feldman created Promised Land, an online Jewish museum of the Palestinian experience 10 years ago. Through multiple YouTube videos, the museum walks viewers through the historical context of the conflict between the Israeli government and Palestinians. Pictures and records of the area combined with resources for people who want to learn more, the museum offers deep insight into not only decades of history, but into Feldman’s personal philosophy.

“I have become the ultimate optimist about people in other countries,” he says.

He recalls his trips walking through the food district in Ramallah and getting a haircut in a Palestinian barbershop. And all the while, he points out the glaring contradictions he continues to see today.

“At times we’ve had the most progressive rabbis say we support Israel even while they are dropping bombs,” he says.

Despite his disagreement with how many Jews still view Palestine, his calls for peace are fundamentally rooted in the belief that “there are good people on both sides of this conflict.”

He doesn’t believe that some people are inherently good and others are evil. Feldman says he’s seen people in all parts of the world, and they all want the same thing: peace and safety for their families.

And soon enough, he thinks that will happen in Palestine, too. 

He believes that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will invite Hamas back to the negotiating table, end the genocide and allow Palestinians to come back to their homeland. The Israeli government will rebuild villages, offer compensation to families to live in certain areas and that will lead to not only peace, but economic prosperity. If there are any conflicts, they’ll be adjudicated by members of the Parents’ Circle, an organization of Israeli and Palestinian parents whose children have been killed in this conflict.

“I expect that I could see it in my lifetime,” Feldman says.

And as an eternal optimist, there’s not a shred of doubt in his mind.

Feldman will be at Scuppernong Books in Greensboro on Thursday from 6-7 p.m. to promote his new book, Bent Toward Justice.

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