Breaking Down Borders: Youth Self Discovery

by American Friends of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam

In August, “Breaking Down Borders” meant welcoming The Earth Caravan, a Japanese Buddhist group commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. From Hiroshima, they carried with them a message of hope: “Our goal is to light a flame of peace in everyone’s heart” and, carrying with them a lantern that had been lit in Hiroshima, they lit candles at the Spiritual Center Peace Museum.

Young and old, members of the village and invited guests, all gathered at the Peace Museum- decorated with garlands of a thousand origami cranes, reflecting the tradition of a Japanese legend and the famous story of radiation victim Sadako Sasaki, symbolizing peace, love and compassion. Buddhist chants for universal well-being, translated into Arabic, Hebrew and English and the song “Share” (composed by the group’s founder, Ryokyo Endo and translated into 16 languages) became one more way to bridge barriers of distance and language.

  “The Caravan shares the mission of the Peace Museum: presenting ways of life, thinking and ideas that promote our common humanity and presenting a more hopeful path, lighting the way to the future for all of us.” Dyana Shaloufi Rizek,  Peace Museum director 

Here was what the Japanese pilgrims saw: Jewish and Palestinian Israelis together offering the vision of borders already broken down, of peace being built day by day and of a joyful inclusion of yet another language, another way of seeing, a living vision of “a flame of peace, lit in the heart.” We look forward to the next Breaking the Barriers worshop later this Fall. 

During May 7th to the 11th, the Pluralistic Spiritual Community Center in collaboration with Open House, Ramle organized a four day Breaking Down Borders journey for 30 Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Teenagers. The purpose of this journey is to empower young leaders, have them learn about diversity together, meet ‘the other’ face to face, and bring hope to all.

The four day journey began with a visit to the Orthodox School, the old town, and a local artist’s home in Ramle. Making their way to Jerusalem, the group took a walking tour the next day, meeting with an ultra-orthodox Jewish woman in Mea Shearim. The group discussed with her what it was like to have grown up within an ultra-orthodox community. Later, the group went on to visit the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarakh and listened to the young activists who spoke of their struggles of protecting their community. In addition, the group listened to members of the Ethiopian Church community.

The next two nights were spent in Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam, learning about the shared Arab-Jewish community, meeting nuns from the nearby Beatitudes Christian community near Latroun. On the last day, the group met with an imam of a large mosque in Abu Ghosh and then representatives of Nataf, a mixed Jewish religious and non-religious community. The final experience of the journey was a visit to a synagogue, where the group listened to hazanic singing.

A month after the journey, the Givat Brener kibbutz hosted the group for a heart-warming get together where the participants shared hugs along with their own stories and experiences after their journey together.

“I would like to live in a mixed city, step by step. I don’t think this would totally solve the conflict, but hatred does not have to be a part of it.” (16-year-old participant)

“This journey changed me. I will always ask questions. I will try to help everyone. I don’t promise but I will listen and try. It is important to hear before you judge.” (16-year-old participant).

In the ongoing conflict-transformation work that is led by members of NSWAS, the Pluralistic Spiritual Center sup-ports the connections between spirituality —whether introspective or expressive— and the work we can do as part of healing the conflict. The Spiritual Center has de-veloped a Museum, Gallery and Archive so that the inte-gration of the arts and the spirit will have a permanent home.
On March 10, 2015, the Wahat al-Salam/ Neve Shalom Museum, Gallery and Archive extended an open invita-tion to its inaugural event: “Remembering the Righteous: For the sake of humanity and in memory of the righteous who acted to save lives in different places of genocide.” At-tended by many of all faiths and from many cities and towns in Israel, the program offered presentations and discus-sions honoring the memory of Palestinians and other Arabs who saved the lives of Jews, honoring the memory of Jews who saved lives of Palestinians and other Arabs and an introduction to the movement "Gariwo: Gardens of the Righteous Worldwide." A variety of works designed for this focus will be on long-term display.
The Museum and Gallery is the home for a new program, "Artists Creating Peace,” where 20 Palestinian and 20 Jewish artists will spend several days and a long weekend together at the Museum and Spiritual Center, building networks for ongoing connections among Jewish and Palestinian artists, and jointly creating a piece of public art which will then be on exhibit. Museum Director Dyana Shaloufi-Rizek is currently cre-ating opportunities for engaging younger and older participants in the Museum and archive work.

Continuing the work from last year in developing a network for young Arabs and Jews dedicated to working toward a peaceful society, the Pluralistic Spiritual Center is raising funds and planning a series of 12 weekly encounters and a one 2 day encounter for 10th graders from the Givat Brener Highschool (Jewish) and the Tera Santa (Arab) in Ramla.

The Open House in Ramla and the PSCC will be collaborating to bring together youth from both sides to meet, address stereotypes, and recognize the human aspect within the conflict so commonly ignored in today’s society.

The PSCC will also be investing its efforts in working with youth between the ages of 16-25 focusing on ongoing workshops, experiential tools, creative activities and spiritual work. The developing program will be based on tools from the Mastery School for Leadership which will be run by 4 graduates from that program.

Thank you for your continued support in sharing our vision of bringing youth together to develop understanding, peace, and a viable future for the future leaders of this world.

Most young Jews and Arabs in Israel live in separate communities and attend different schools; they dont know about each other but believe in stereotypes and ignore commonalitites that exist between them.  This program provides young people with an opportunity to meet and develop trusting relationships.  It promotes values of of respect for differences and builds a sense of justice.  Whith thses new skills, young people are more employable and less likely to want war in their country/communities.

The participants travel together for 6 days to different symbolic places.  Activites address identity, diversity, recognizing each other's humanity and empowering the young participants both in formal and informal ways.  They become more tolerant and understanding of one another. as they build a peaceful society.

The program creates a network of young people who will know the other side of the story and be aware of the shared heritage of the different cultures that exist in the region.  Participants will take from the program a will to advance dialogue and peace in their communities and in their shared society/country.

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Organization Information

American Friends of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam

Location: Glendale, CA - USA
Project Leader:
Abir Elzowidi
Operations Manager
Glendale, CA Israel