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Middle East Peace Programs

Cross-Cultural Learning for European and American Youth in Israel

Israel-2014-07-16-Jerusalem Interfaith Forum

Daliat El Carmel, Israel - Sixteen youth from Europe and the Americas visited sacred and historic sites in Israel July 14-31, 2014, and spent several days in a Druze community doing service projects, teaching good sportsmanship and engaging in cross-cultural dialogue. The visiting youth from Italy, England, USA, Sweden, Denmark and Venezuela were part of the "Special Task Force," a gap-year experiential-learning program.

Teaching values through football

During the week, the visiting youth participated in a Religious Youth Service-type service project in a Druze village in the north of Israel, Daliyat El-Carmel.

The visiting youth split up into four teams and visited visited four schools and gave presentations on values with examples drawn from football and coached the students based on these values.

It was a unique opportunity for personal interaction with the Druze, who live in communities in Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The host families showed warm hospitality and the visitors felt deep affection toward them.

Cross-cultural dialogue

An evening discussion focused on the current situation between Israel and Palestine--including Israeli, Druze and international perspectives. The participants were divided into three groups led by local Religious Youth Service leaders Koriel Ben Zvi and Liel Shmueli along with Jungyong An, a Religious Youth Service volunteer from Korea. Once the discussions were concluded, the three groups came together to share their findings.

Kori’s group emphasized the importance of cultivating an understanding heart, noting that problems exist in and between many countries, not just between Israel and Palestine. How to make an impact and push change forward was considered important by the group. Negative judgments made by other countries or their citizens by focusing on who is right and who is wrong are a major part of the problem, according to the group’s consensus. A young woman named Analisia, from Denmark, said that most of the international community assume that the people of her country are happy, based on the fact that they are externally wealthy. However, most people there are very unhappy, she said, because they lead their lives without any meaning. She wondered what she could do to change this situation.

Liel’s group expressed the importance of setting an example and also the heart of caring for others; big changes cannot come without first setting an example and developing an internal well-spring of about others. Another point was that it would be useful to bring more young people from the international community to Israel for service projects. To the locals it would give hope and encouragement while to the international people it gives a sense of connection to the heart and struggles of the people of the region; through learning to know each other and cooperating, a sense of community can develop. The group kept asking themselves how they could help and came to the conclusion that each of them should take more responsibility within their communities after returning home from Israel; that through an attitude of giving, positive changes can take place in communities which could even affect the world.

Jungyong’s group added that connection and cooperation between the youth of Israel and Palestine offers the best chance of moving forward and leaving hatred and fear behind; by working together they could develop and strengthen a heartfelt connection that would help to sustain both communities through difficult times. The group thought that a good medium for this could be sports activities. They also expressed and emphasized that education is a very important aspect of growth for the younger generation and that the children are inheriting their parents’ hatred and prejudices, which too often lead children in the wrong direction--not toward peace but rather to continue the cycle of hate.

Overall, the discussion was thought to have gone very well, and the international youth felt they came out of this meeting with a fresh perspective about the situation between Israel and Palestine and with the heart to cooperate and strive to make a positive change for the future.

Visiting sacred and historic sites

On July 22, the European and American youth departed Daliyat and began a pilgrimage tour around Israel. This gave participants the opportunity to delve into the past and connect to prominent figures of the past and their stories in these significant places. Robert Haines led this part of the experience, along with tour guide Andre Ceresnjes and Miri Kamar, former secretary general of UPF-Israel.

Before the trip, many of the participants' parents were very concern about their children's safety, but the local organizers living and working in Israel gave assurances that nobody's safety would be put in jeopardy. The days were jam-packed and time often became an issue, but things either went smoothly according to plan or an alternate plan was created.

For many in the group, the main reason they wanted to visit Israel was to connect to Jesus, be in the places he was, and gain insights into his life. It led participants to question, “What am I doing? I could do so much more!"

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