This article was originally written for an alumni newsletter for participants of programs provided by Yahel –Israel Service Learning. In addition to the results of the 2016 presidential election, this post was influenced by my recent participation on the Yahel Social Change Program as well as my current internship at Seeds of Peace.
Months after leaving Yahel, I not only miss Israel, but I also feel concern for the country I returned to. I feel that during my nine-month stay in Israel, both my country and I changed immensely. During my Yahel program, I gained an appreciation for diverse cultures and the ability to constructively engage in dialogue with individuals who think differently from me. Conversely, with the recent election, America has become significantly divided and there has been increased animosity toward those who look and sound different from the white majority. This has brought me shock and anger, and has informed me of the need to apply the lessons I learned from Yahel to my home community.
While living in the mixed city of Lod, I met multiple individuals with vastly different life experiences from my own. I worked at an Arab school three days a week and I collaborated with Arab university students my age and formed strong bonds while discussing our mutual interests. Additionally, while volunteering at a local community center and young adult center, I met and befriended both religious and secular Jews, many of whose families immigrated from African and Middle Eastern countries. I especially appreciated talking to Ethiopian immigrants and learning about their arduous journeys to provide better lives for their families. Through all my encounters, it became clear that minority communities such as Muslims and immigrants are extremely benevolent and in need of love and support.
I am unsettled seeing such communities now feel threatened in America, a country I have admired for its inclusiveness and diversity. In response, I feel the responsibility to work toward greater compassion and understanding among all individuals. I recently started working at Seeds of Peace, an organization that brings together members of conflicting parties to engage in impactful dialogue. Despite only working for four weeks so far, I have already seen the organization’s tremendous influence in connecting those divided by embittering conflicts. For instance, through my work in its Programming department, I have seen how Seeds of Peace attracts a variety of constituents, including Israelis and Palestinians, to participate in its yearlong activities. I am inspired by Seeds of Peace’s commitment to building bridges among bitter rivals, and I look forward to increasing my involvement in its efforts to promote peace in this country and others.