Breaking Down Borders: Youth Self Discovery

by American Friends of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam
Vetted

For the ninth consecutive year, NSWAS youth participated in in a three-week intercultural youth leadership program at the Artsbridge Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Nadine Nashef and Karin Shbeta used their experience and knowledge as youth leaders at the Nadi to help guide 30 Israeli, Palestinian and American participants through an inten-sive leadership program aimed at building partnerships and overcoming cultural differ-ences.

Using art and open dialogue, the program challenges preconceived notions of cul-ture, religion and friendship.

“We had in mind a small village composed of inhabitants from different communities in the country. Jews, Christians, and Muslims would live there in peace, each one faithful to his own faith and traditions, while respecting those of the others. Each would find in this diversity a source of personal enrichment.” Father Bruno Hussar

For the ninth consecutive year, NSWAS youth were a central part of a three-week intercultural youth leadership program.

Held at the Artsbridge Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, NSWAS youth brought their considerable youth-club skills (Nadi) leadership skills to their work as counselors, helping guide 30 Israeli, Palestinian and American youth through an intensive leadership program.

Focused on building partnerships and overcoming cultural differences through art and facilitated open dialogue, the program challenges preconceived notions of culture, religion and friendship.
In August, an international educational organization offering social action programs in Israel, concluded their Onward Israel Diversity & Pluralism summer internship program with time at NSWAS. With 35 years and counting of peaceful coexistence, pioneering educational, social, professional and spiritual programs, NSWAS is an invaluable resource and, more significantly, it is an inspiration for international and local peace-based work.


The Winsipration Day award, given in recognition for outstanding work and dedication toward peace, honored the community and projects of NSWAS at their annual ceremony in Austria. A Palestinian-Israeli journalist and A Jewish- Israeli educator, both longtime residents of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, were present to receive the award. The work of the NSWAS community is having an impact in Europe that may begin as an inspiration, but it will deepen over time to serve as a role model.

Father Bruno Hussar, whose vision 40 years ago led to the creation of this Oasis of Peace, hoped that “people would come here from all over the country to meet those from whom they were estranged, wanting to break down the barriers of fear, mistrust, ignorance, misunderstanding, preconceived ideas - all things that separate us - and to build bridges of trust, respect, mutual understanding, and, if possible, friendship. This aim would be achieved with the help of courses, seminars, group psychology techniques, shared physical work and recreational evenings.” The Pluralistic Spiritual Center and Museum play an important role in building a secular/spiritual bridge. The Forest of the Righteous plan creates a unique tribute memorializing “the righteous”, those who have acted in tragic times to save the lives of others, risking their own lives and the lives of their loved ones. The museum initiated the planning sessions, which were attended by members of the community along with artists and educators. On March 12, over 150 Jews and Palestinians from across Israel, East Jerusalem and Bethlehem attended a full-day seminar focused on cultivating the competencies that can grow out of conflict areas, building skills for transforming the conflict. Among the participants was psychologist Ahmed Tawahina from Gaza, making his first visit to Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam. The presence of this father of eight, who helps individuals and groups deal with trauma in the Gaza Strip, made a significant contribution to the seminar. The day of meetings and discussions ended with participants planning to create a group of Palestinians and Israelis collaborating on collective trauma. In early March, a group of 30 Jewish, Muslim and Christian teenagers participated in a leadership program at the Spiritual Center (PSCC ) in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, in cooperation with “Open House” in Ramle. The program called Masa/Massar fo-cused on developing young adult Palestinian and Jewish leadership for Israel. The journey included opportunities for connecting through the arts, faith traditions and cultural history. Partici-pants dialogued about the impact of current issues on themselves, their country and the sites. Hiking to a Chris-tian convent, the tomb of Saint Elizabeth, the mosque in Abu Gosh and the synagogue in Nataf, participants had significant conversations with representatives of each site. “The message is that we can dare to create structures that can bring people together in equality.” The group spent two group reflections at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam’s Pluralistic Community Center. As they moved between the dif-ferent sites, communities and people, again and again they returned to the core question of what they were learning. “The focus throughout the journey was on finding places where we can meet, respect each other, discover ways that we can enrich each other and create a reality in which there is hope for everyone.” These young adults are becoming builders of trust, tolerance and mutual respect for their lives and the future of their communities.

Building Circles of Trust in the next generation.

In early March, a group of 30 Jewish, Muslim and Christian teenagers were led by the Pluralistic Spiritual Center (PSCC) at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, in cooperation with “Open House” in Ramle, in the program Masa/Massar,  focused on developing Israeli Palestinian and Jewish young adult leadership.

The journey of discovery this Spring included opportunities for connecting through the arts, faith traditions and cultural history. Whether at the house of the artist Nihad Dabeet, the Open House in Ramle, or a walk across and through in Jerusalem, there was dialogue about the impact of current issues on themselves, their country and the sites. Whether hiking to a Christian convent and the Sanctuary of the Tomb of Saint Elizabeth, the Mosque in Abu Gosh or the Synagogue in Nataf, at each stop, participants had significant conversations with representatives of that site.

 

Sabbath was celebrated with a dinner on a farm close to Jerusalem. The blessing of the food was made according to the different traditions of the religions, in Hebrew and Arabic.

            “The message is that we can dare to create structures that can bring people together in equality.”

 

The group spent two nights in group reflections at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam’s Pluralistic Community Center. As they moved between different sites, communities and people, again and again they returned to the core question of what was learned from the encounter that could be brought into their lives

“The focus throughout the journey was on finding places where we can meet, respect each other, discover ways that we can enrich each other and create a reality in which there is hope for everyone”

 

We look forward to training the many participants who hope to become peer-leaders for future journeys.  They will become builders of more trust, tolerance and mutual respect in our future generation.

Sometimes, the best information about a program is found in the voices of the participants themselves. We hope to have raised sufficient funds to hold our next multi-day  Masa/Masar soon, as the conflict continues to give evidence of the need for this program.  So, while we prepare for the coming one, we want you to get a sense of the ‘Journey” (Masa/Masar) program in the participant’s own words.

           https://youtu.be/rc8efuLQHNc

But, while we wait, the Spiritual Center and its Peace Museum have been busy Breaking Down Borders through public multicultural and multi-faith programs like the one on the Shoah, the Rebirth and the Nakba where borders are taken down as participants learn from one another and see through the eyes of the other.  On November 18 the Museum and Pluralistic Spiritual Center held the third in the Peace Museum’s project: "Remembering the Righteous," honoring those who acted in different places, all over the world, to save the lives of others.

The first two programs explored the holocaust and the Armenian genocide, remembering the righteous and sharing stories of heroism. The most recent program focused on the topic of Palestinians who saved Jews during the events of 1929.  Avraham (Avrum) Burg, former speaker of the Israeli Parliament and former head of the Jewish Agency, shared the story of his mother and her family, who were saved by a Palestinian family’s heroism during the Hebron massacre.

           

We look forward, soon, to being able to engage another several dozen Israeli Palestinian and Jewish young adults in breaking down their borders and helping to transform the conflict person by person, family by family.

Links:

 

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Organization Information

American Friends of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam

Location: Glendale, CA - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.oasisofpeace.org
Project Leader:
Abir Elzowidi
Operations Manager
Glendale, CA Israel

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