Thursday, August 20, 2009

"One Small Step in the Process of Peace-Making"

For two weeks in July the village of Rechnitz, the apricot-growing center of Austria, became the center of reconciliation, tolerance and peace as eight Leo Baeck 11th graders from Haifa set up house with their Palestinian and European peers in a "Dialogue 4 the Future" seminar. The Leo Baeck group was accompanied by their High School principal together with representatives of the Bereaved Families Circle, a group of Palestinians and Jews who have lost loved ones in the conflict.

Small steps during those early ice-breaking days - pronouncing each other's names correctly, house and camp rules for all, soccer and table tennis,
learning about siblings, hobbies, meeting the mayor, yodel music, drama workshops… The developing friendship between Sagi from Israel and Allah from
Ramallah; the common bond – mosquito bites!

On the 4th day the students began opening their hearts, expressing their personal and group goals using English as their common language. "Feeling safe together and knowing what the other thinks and feels," was a thread that ran throughout the process culminating in their mission statement, "It is our goal that we will all take part in an honest discussion that will help us to learn more about our different beliefs and change the way we understand each other."

Leo Baeck Principal blogged, "Day 11 was the reason we came here, the day when we went deep into the heart of the conflict… It was moving and painful, quiet and respectful… There are large gaps between us and yet within them there is a willingness to find common issues, and solutions. When the discussion ended everybody hugged, some cried."

The village of Rechnitz will remain as it always was, but for the 27 young people from Haifa, Ramallah, Hungary and Austria, who hugged and wept when they parted at the airport, those two weeks in the summer of 2009, were just the beginning. Follow up activities are already in process to ensure that the dialogue did not end in Rechnitz.

Leo Baeck believes that as the permanent Israeli "Dialogue 4 the Future" partner it can pave the way to a better future.

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