Over the years, the efforts of Dr. Sabri Al Farrah and David Baron to persuade local Palestinians and Jews to talk over their differences always met the same harsh fate.
After a few months of discussions, an outbreak of violence in the Middle East would invariably destroy whatever goodwill had been built up and create even greater distrust and misunderstanding.
In the afterglow of the pact signed Monday between the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization, Baron, a rabbi at a Los Angeles synagogue, invited Al Farrah, a Glendale physician, to speak to his congregation Wednesday on Rosh Hashanah, one of Judaism's most sacred days.
Just before he addressed 800 worshipers at the Temple Shalom for the Arts, Al Farrah lamented that appearances such as his were prevented in the past by "certain things that would happen in the world."
"It's unfortunate that it took so long, but unfortunately events in the Middle East would tear us apart."
But he and the rabbi agreed that an opportunity for true change has arisen.
"We are living in a new era, a new world," Baron said. "If we can open up our eyes to this, we can make the peace work. We all have to make the effort to get together like this."
Rosh Hashanah begins a 10-day period of prayer and introspection for Jews concluding Sept. 25 with Yom Kippur. It is a somber time when Jews pray, attempt to make amends for past actions and seek reconciliation with family, friends, and sometimes, old enemies.
"It is a time when we believe in the power and possibility of change and try to make a clean start," Baron said. "So with everything that's happened recently, it has miraculous relevance now."
Because of the duration and bitterness of the conflict between Arabs and Jews, the rabbi and the doctor agreed that mistrust between the two groups will not end overnight.
"There are skeptics on both sides," Al Farrah told the synagogue audience. "This is a time to celebrate two peoples who have so much in common, who share the same God, the same Bible, the same customs."
Al Farrah, 60, who grew up in Khan Yunis, a small town in the Gaza Strip, was forced to leave high school in Jerusalem in 1948 because of fighting between Arabs and Jews.
I didn't think much of them," he says now.
"At that time, I thought they were people coming to take my home and kick me out. There were refugees all over the place. It was turmoil."
Al Farrah said his mind was changed after he came to the United States to study medicine at UCLA and met several American Jews among his fellow students. Those friendships led him to seek to engage American Arabs and Jews in dialogue, but the Six-Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973 interrupted his early efforts, which mostly revolved around discussion groups in private homes.
But he kept trying.
"There was a lot of hard feeling on both sides, but I thought, 'If we can't make peace here in the U. S., how are we going to do it in the Middle East?' "
Meanwhile, Baron, 43, a native of New York City who took his rabbinical training in Jerusalem, was no friend of Arabs.
"There was a time when I thought some terrible things about them," he said. "There is an ingrained hatred that is taught in both communities. Hatred is a very easy place to go."
Gradually, however, Baron began meeting in secret with Palestinians in the occupied territories and decided to work for peace through dialogue.
"Once you start talking to people, you can't hold stereotypes and you can't dehumanize them," he said. "They become real people just like you."
So last week, when word of the Israeli-PLO pact leaked out, Baron invited Al Farrah, whom he has known for about five years, to speak at his congregation's Rosh Hashanah celebration.
"What better way to celebrate than to have an old friend who happens to be Arab speak at Rosh Hashanah?" he asked.
Al Farrah called it "vindication. We always said it was possible, that there could be peace, and everyone said, 'No.'
"But we were right."