Breaking Down Borders: Youth Self Discovery

by American Friends of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam

This Massa–Masar program focuses on developing leadership among Jewish and Arab young adults aged 18 and older. It will include up to 20 young adults from Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salam and more from outside the NSWAS community.

The goal of the program is help these young people become conscientious and creative leaders who will be able to develop and implement new programs that will promote equality, freedom and human rights for all citizens of Israel.
Massa–Masar The Journey New Direction 2013-4 will give participants the tools and confidence to work with others and will focus on building transformational leadership, helping a new generation build a different future.

Once they have a knowledge base on the Arab-Jewish conflict, participants will then be empowered to gain practical experience — first by facilitating a group that encourages personal growth and development.

Massa-Masar will be a six-month program structured around six intensive seminars featuring experts from different disciplines. Each month, there will be a day-long seminar on the following subjects: techniques of group facilitation; how to tell a story and how to listen to someone else’s story; the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict; interpersonal communication skills; the study of different ethnic groups; skills for changing personal perspectives for leaders of the future.

Between these day-long seminars, the participants will meet with a group leader who will invite them to share their thoughts, questions, stories of personal growth, and reflections on the group process they are experiencing. They will develop ideas for projects promoting peace and human rights, and when they return to their homes, they will be able to create and implement these projects with the children and young adults of their communities.

We look forward to witnessing the emergence of new initiatives by and involving young people throughout the county. The communication skills and creative techniques fostered by Massa–Masar will, we believe, form the foundation of such initiatives. 

Youth from Massa-Massar project
Youth from Massa-Massar project

This school year, partly thanks to a donation from the Global Network of Religions for Children, the Massa Massar (Journey) program continues.  The three day leadership workshop was a collaboration between The Pluralistic Spiritual Centre of WAS-NS, The Sulha Peace Project and the Open House in Ramle. Its intention was to provide a platform for open dialogue, leadership training skills and the development of genuine heartfelt connection between 20 Israeli Arab and 20 Israeli Jewish youth, ages 14-17. The youth came from cities as diverse as Haifa, Ramla, Lod, Modi'in, Jerusalem and WAS-NS itself. The workshop was run in both Hebrew and Arabic.

The first 2 days of the workshop took place in WAS-NS and on the final day there was a tour of key cultural and religious sites in Jerusalem.

The uniqueness of this leadership workshop was felt from the beginning by the introduction of the devoted group of people who worked tirelessly to ensure that the experience would reach the participants in a way that would have a deep and lasting effect. The facilitators were made up of people involved in peace work such as Elad Vazana who has spent the last ten years working on meetings between both sides. It was also facilitated by participants from previous leadership workshops who continued their work when their workshop finished and returned to facilitate the growth of others. One of these participants, Bissan Salman, age 20 from Ramla described how important it is for her to continuously learn more about those different from her in order to understand 'the other'. 'It is a huge puzzle, you need to know all the pieces to fit it together.'

This combination of the older and younger generations ensured the authenticity of the experience for the participating youth. In intimate group sessions which split the participants into four, it was clear that the facilitators were there not to give the answers, but to ask their questions and to open a space where the youth felt comfortable to bring their own questions and experiences. Together, they explored what it means to be part of a side, to experience discrimination, to overcome their own personal prejudices. The smaller groups provided a safe space for the youth to share their experiences with their peers. Angie Wahab, age 16 from Ramla shared how she was here to show that not all Arabs are on the bad side whilst Ofir Haimovich, a young Jewish girl from Zikhron Ya’aqov explained how she wanted to open her heart in all directions.

The young people brought with them a wide range of experiences in terms of their connection with ‘the other side’, Jewish or Arab. Zoe Kahana, age 14 from Pardes Chana was educated in an Arab and Jewish school and felt blessed to grow up with parents who believed it was right to give her the opportunity to meet others and overcome any stereotypes.  She came to the weekend to make friends and to interact with her Arab counterparts in a natural way. 'I want my friendships to be natural,' she said, 'We shouldn't have to think if someone is Arab or Jewish, just if we get along and want to know each other'.

Andrawes Alkalah, a 15 year old Christian Arab from Ramla has been going to WAS-NS every Summer for the last 9 years. He also attends the Open House in Ramla once a week and feels that the leadership workshop is very important in order to celebrate being human together. He said, 'It isn't an option for life to continue the way it is now for Jews and Arabs here. We have to come together to strengthen our connections and understand that everyone is a person, everyone is worthy.'

Massa-Massar visits Jerusalem
Massa-Massar visits Jerusalem
Massa-Massar at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam
Massa-Massar at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam


Dafna Karta Schwartz
Dafna Karta Schwartz

A few months after the passing of Abdessalam Najjar who headed the Pluralistic Spiritual Center of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, we are happy to announce that Dafna Karta-Schwartz will now be leading the Center. Dafna is a teacher, therapist and facilitator for groups in conflict. She has a long experience in spiritual development and drama therapy. She has lived in the Jewish-Palestinian community of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam from the 1980s. Dafna will be assisted by a small team of volunteers who will help her with the budget and with organizational issues at the Spiritual Pluralistic Center.

Unfortunately, the past months have left the Center in a dire financial situation and we will have to actively fundraise to make sure projects, especially the Massa-Massar program for young Jews, Muslims and Christians in Israel, can be relaunched. Our goal is to implement a new journey for about 20 young Palestinians and Jews from all over Israel next year. 

We appreciate your support and want you to know that it continues to be critical to the success of the program. 


The Pluralistic Spiritual Center and the Massa-Massar project recently faced the tragic loss of the Center's Director, Abdessalam Najjar. Abdessalam had been the first Arab to join the unique Jewish-Palestinian community of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam in the 1970s. He was instrumental in the creation of the various educational institutions of the "Oasis of Peace:" the Primary School, the School for Peace and finally the Pluralistic Spiritual Center. Lately, he was focusing on developing the Center's programs in mediation and interreligious dialogue in Israel.

The money raised in the past few months from generous donors like you on GlobalGiving will be used to prepare a project this year, in the hope that we will succeed to raise further necessary funds. The staff of the project will be Vivian Rabiah (coordinator), Evi Guggenheim (representative for the Global Network of Religions for Children), and Dorit Shippin (the previous GNRC coordinator). The team considers widening the circle of participants to include young people from other countries, in order to convert the program from a local to an international level. Cooperation is currently being discussed with a German youth organization.

Thank you for your support of the important work of the Pluralistic Spiritual Center and its Massa-Massar program. You are making a difference!


As the staff is working on preparing the next Massa-Massar Journey, we wanted to share what Dorit Shippin, who is in charge of the project, wrote after the last day of a previous Journey:

"The concluding session was, fittingly, a farewell session. Statements by the participants suggest that they underwent a meaningful experience. Nearly all the youngsters mentioned "firsts": They said it was their first visit to holy places in Jerusalem, or their first visit to such places as part of a mixed Jewish-Arab group. Muslims entered a mosque with Christian friends for the first time; all the Arabs were visiting the Western Wall for the first time. It was the first time the Arab youngsters met a Jew wearing a kippah who defends Palestinians and, in the name of his faith, struggles for justice for all. It was the first time the Arab participants heard about the Holocaust from the perspective of the suffering of children, and the first time the Jewish participants had shared this pain with Arabs. And so on and so forth.

"The Arabs in the group were older and hence more able to express themselves and were expecting more self-disclosure from the Jews. The Jewish participants were surprised by how articulate the Arabs were and by their joie de vivre. One of the participants noted that the encounter itself was the most interesting part.

"Here are two sets of quotes from a Jewish girl and an Arab girl in the group:

"Jewish girl: It was hard to get up early every morning. We were in all kinds of special situations with the Arabs, and that was a chance to see how they really are. I understand that they are like us; they want contact and we really were able to make contact despite the distancing between the two groups. We spent a week as if on another planet, like in a greenhouse. Every one of you is smart, amazing and beautiful.

"Arab girl: In the Holocaust museum, I identified strongly with the terrible things that happened to the Jewish people. It was written beautifully there: "Our love was like the wind, we did not see it but we felt it. The hatred passes, but the love always remains." And I say: even though there are conflicts between our peoples, they will pass – and the love between people will always remain.

"One of the chaperon’s told the members of the group, "As you were together on this Journey – that is how the world should be." Thus ended the Journey; the journey of life goes on. We hope that each of the participants will take this experience with them, back to their lives, with respect and appreciation for those who are different from them and with respect and appreciation for themselves; and we hope that they will want to work toward a more beautiful and more just world."


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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