By Abe Roisman
The IRAC office is in a really nice building. It has great lighting. As much as I love it, it’s great to spend a day out in the shetach.
Last week I went with Keren B’Kavod to a high school in Shfaram, a city in the Galilee that is home to Muslim, Christian, and Druze communities. A group of Jewish students from Haifa met us there, and together, after a few activities to get to know one another, we packaged over 100 boxes of food for the upcoming holidays–Eid al-Adha, Christmas, and Hannukah.
This was the best program I’ve ever seen that brought Arabs and Jews together in Israel.
I studied Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis, where I studied the history of the State of Israel, especially the situation of minorities in Israel. I spent a year living in the Middle East, and during that experience I was able to participate in and witness many different projects that brought Jews and Arabs together to meet one another, learn about each other, and walk away with good memories that they would carry with them in order to hold onto some hope when a new issue might come and divide the communities even further.
But that was the problem. They always walked away and rarely walked back. The programs made the mifgash, the encounter, but there was rarely a situation when people could walk away from it saying they really knew someone from the short experience, that their situation felt different because they were no longer on one side of a line or the other.
Enter Keren B’Kavod, a humanitarian aid project of IRAC that has no lofty goals of creating world peace or ending decades of conflict. In fact, in the program that we ran last Wednesday, the organizers never even told the 15-year-old kids “you are different” or “the purpose of you being together is to see that we can overcome this separation.” They were all there, as equals, to package food and supplies for families living in extreme poverty. Each student, regardless of their ethnic background or faith, was just as capable of filling those boxes, just as each of the people receiving our support were just as needy of it.
As the program ended, all of our participants walked away having accomplished something together. They helped underprivileged people in their society, and they did it together. The same group of students from these two schools will be meeting a few more times this year to do the same thing, but now they know each other. Some of them are friends on facebook with one another, some have phone numbers and email addresses, and others may have been too shy to ask this time but certainly will next time.
I felt great being a part of this program, and I look forward to going back for the next set of holidays. I can’t wait to watch these new friendships progress. I really feel like this group of nice, outgoing kids have an opportunity to grow up in a way that most Israelis aren’t able to, and I hope that this has an impact on the direction of Israel’s future.
While IRAC’s work is very important in affecting change in policy and helping individuals to obtain their rights, let it be known that IRAC is also inspiring young people to deflect every wrench thrown at the system in order to build a better future where there is no need for organizations like ours.