Jewish and Arab high school students learn the values of brotherhood
“Personally, I want to say to the world, Arabs and Jews can live together,” said Shadi Darawshi, an Arab Muslim, who spent 10 days visiting America’s East Coast with a small delegation of Jewish and Muslim Israeli high school students.
Before this trip, Darawshi, a high school senior, said she rarely spoke to any Jewish people.
Seven Israeli students, who said they have few chances to get to know one another in their home country, spent time in Washington, D.C., Montgomery County, Baltimore and Philadelphia in an effort to promote coexistence and friendship, explained Roberta Bell-Kliger, head of the International School of Oranim College of Education, who led the delegation.
“In Israel, it’s pretty separate. They don’t go to school together,” Bell-Kliger said. Students attend either a Hebrew-speaking school or an Arabic-speaking school.
The students visited synagogues, religious schools, a church and a mosque and also spent time touring museums and popular city sights. Each night, they stayed with host families. This is the second year that Sparks of Change, a nonprofit in Baltimore, sponsored the trip.
The students spent the afternoon of April 5 at the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring, where they toured both the mosque and its medical clinic and shared a dinner of Afghani food with Muslim teens from Montgomery and Howard counties.
Amit Tal, a Jewish 16-year-old, said she has been pleasantly surprised with her experience. “I expected there would be more fights between us,” she said. Instead, “We became friends. We really respect each other. That helps a lot.”
Tal is optimistic that the teens will go out of their way to make sure they get together from time to time when they return home to Israel.
Klil Michelson, an Israeli Jew, believed the students got along so well because they talked about normal teenage things rather than politics, he said. “Our conversations are from teen to teen.”
The seven students strove to show everyone they met in America that they were just teenagers and not as bad as the international media portrays them. Israel is not just about war, several of the students noted.
“I wanted to show a little more realistic presentation,” said Michelson.
Ghader Tawafra, 16, agreed. “I came here to show my real life,” she said, adding she greatly appreciated how everyone listened to what her fellow students had to say. “Wherever you can speak, they respect you. “In Israel, you cannot” speak so freely,” she said.
“We came here to show the world the reality of coexistence between Arabs and Jews,” noted Murad Darawshi, a high school student who loves soccer. He knows Jewish people in Israel, but “we do not hang out together,” he said.
Several of the participants were impressed with the young people they met in America, noting they aren’t rude like many Israelis are. They also were surprised to note that American drivers obey the speed limit and traffic lights, which is not the case in their country, they said.
American drivers “are more careful in the streets. In Israel, we are driving fast,” and have lots of accidents, Darawshi said.
The students seemed both confused and surprised to learn about the Muslim Community Center’s medical clinic, which has 17,000 annual patient encounters, said Dr. Rashid Chotani. Israelis have universal health care and don’t have to worry about coverage costs.
The students also spent time at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville.
To participate, they had to be recommended by their schools, write an essay about what coexistence means to them and be interviewed. Once chosen, they met to prepare for their trip.
Evelyn Kadosh, who attended the program last year and was a chaperone on the current trip, noted, “These students live five or 10 minutes away [from each other], and their only interaction is when they go shopping.” Kadosh, who is Jewish, explained that Jews and Arabs frequent one another’s food markets so they can get certain ethnic foods.
“We must take action and cooperate, and teach our children to accept others.”