The Open House in Ramle - a peace education center in Ramle, Israel
 

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Massa – Masar 2016 – The Journey


From March 13th – 16th, a group of 30 Israeli teenagers embarked on a Journey to engage with diversity and become closer together. The unique opportunity of this Journey rests in the fact that our teenagers represent Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faiths. Their experiences and identities center around the diverse cultures and environments through which they have been raised.

Like Israel/Palestine itself, our teenagers embody separate yet overlapping identities – it is the goal of the Massa- Masar program to expose our students to multiple narratives regarding the complexity of living in conflict. Through our Journey to towns and villages that practice living together – in both peace and conflict – and our conversations with leaders in social justice, we were able to illustrate to our students that change is possible.

This year’s participants came from the cooperation of 3 high schools: (1) The Christian Orthodox School, (2) Terra Santa School of Ramle and (3) Givat Brenner High School.

After much anticipation, our group of students finally met for the 4 – day Journey into Israel’s complex mixed heritage on March 13th. We convened outside the Christian Orthodox School in Ramle in the early afternoon. At this point, any observer would be able to sense the mixed emotions of our students: confusion,excitement, fear, shyness, and laughter.

Our first stop in Ramle was the studio and home of local artist Nihad Dabeet. Here, the students were able to learn about the creative and communal powers of art. After the visit to Nihad Dabeet’s studio, we were welcomed into the “Open House” an exceptional model of Jewish – Arab coexistence. The “Open House” functions as a preschool that embraces young children of all communities (in fact, some of our students attended this preschool themselves).

Visit to Open House

Dalia Eshkenazi who grew up with her Israeli Jewish family in what is now the “Open House” founded this center for peace education. Dalia explained to our students how one day, in July 1967, she answered a knock on her front door only to find three exceptional Arab men asking to visit inside the home. The men told Dalia of their own journey and revealed that the home had belonged to their family for several generations years before; at that moment, Dalia faced a choice and she decided to accept the men inside. Ultimately, a strong friendship developed between the two families who together decided to consecrate the home as a center for social justice and integration within Israel. Dalia’s story clearly struck a chord within the hearts of both our Jewish and Arab students’ again, this experience represented a first step on their Journey to discovering the possibility of peace. The night was spent at Wahat al- Salam – Neve Shalom where we enjoyed a delicious dinner, played interactive games, and began to know and understand one another.

A visit to the Old Town of Ramle

The next day was spent in Jerusalem where the students had the opportunity to visit cultural and historical sites of significance to both Arabs and Jews. Through this dual platform, our students began to see how their seemingly separate identities could be easily bridged together through a common history. In Jerusalem, we spontaneously met three women soldiers who told of the struggles serving in a conflict zone, and a male soldier who expressed admiration for our project.

Additionally, we spoke with a Jewish woman of a mixed neighborhood that blessed our mission, and an Orthodox Jewish man who prayed with his infant child. That night, we all came together to celebrate Shabbat dinner at the ecological Essene Farm located in the mountains of Jerusalem.
Before resting for the night at the farm, our youth participated in an activity where they were able to share symbols of their own identities with one another.
Our third day was spent in the beautiful nature of Israel. We began the morning with a relaxed hike through the nature surrounding the Essene Farm, and in doing so, learned the value of appreciation for the environment. After the hike, we returned to Wahat al- Salam – Neve Shalom for our last evening together where we enjoyed a beautiful, traditional Arabic dinner and came together for an exhilarating drum circle. We began our final day with a seminar on the relation of the Abrahamic religions held within the Spiritual Center of Wahat al- Salam / Neve Shalom. Dafna Karta Schwartz spoke of the ways in which our students’ respective religious identities demonstrate a universal human bond.

Overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem

Our last day ended in the Jewish village of Nataf with bittersweet emotion. Earlier in the day, we had visited a mosque in the Arab village of Abu Ghosh and later a synagogue in Nataf. Here, the students observed how despite differences in customs and beliefs, fundamental ideas of spirituality could be connected. The Journey ended with a picnic in a local park of Nataf. After eating, we broke out into small groups with the students to discuss their feelings on ending the Journey. Our final goodbyes were made as we all took turns telling what we loved of one another and how we had impacted each other through the Journey. Because we had heard many stories of the injustices and suffering associated with living in a conflict zone, the students eyes opened beyond their typical experience.

This change in perception allowed the young adults to connect with one another despite their previous biases. Ultimately, it was through the process of connection, this Journey with one another, that they reached a vision for Jewish- Arab peace.

Overlooking Mt. Zion