By Hope Vernon, 2014-2015 participant
I grew up in the Union of Reform Judaism, I spent every summer at Jewish Camp, and practiced leadership skills in the North American Federation of Temple Youth movement. In this upbringing, I have always felt a strong connection to Judaism and Zionism.
Fast forward to this past summer. I was living in downtown Seattle and went to my first I Stand with Israel Rally. The community was singing Am Israel Chi, I felt the energy of The Jewish Community and once again I felt at home with my people.
Then I reached the edge of the rally, and saw a line of police officers separating the celebratory Pro-Israel Rally and silent Free Palestine protestors on the other side. As I stood in the divide, I realized I didn't really understand these divisions; this situation we were in. What information was I missing? The only way to know the truth is to search and learn, first hand. For me this meant moving to the center of Jerusalem, Musrara on the West side of the Green line. Here, the separation is the line marked by the light rail track, and people aren't just divided for a few hours during a protest and then returning to their lives, these are their lives; and now mine.
Last night (on our very last night) we had a final picnic with the group in Jerusalem. We cooked, we laughed, we sang, we got awesome swag.
Thank you for a life changing, reality shifting, movement building, powerful 5 months. We know that we will see you all soon as we move forward in our work toward justice, peace, and self-determination.
This article originally appeared at the Rabbis for Human Rights site where additional images are also available.
Two weeks ago, the orchards at the Tent of Nations, a much beloved Palestinian owned educational and environmental farm outside of Bethlehem dedicated to understanding, reconciliation and peace, were demolished by the Israeli authorities. Despite reportedly having no legal standing, 1500 fruit trees were destroyed during the early hours of the morning on May 19 2014. Valerie Rourke Miller, a volunteer at the farm and a participant of Achvat Amim-Solidarity of Nations, gives her reflections on the incident.
Reflections on an Agricultural MassacreBy: Valerie Rourke Miller
The dogs barked that night. They howled over the sounds of a mechanized destruction as the sun began to rise over the hills of Palestine. No one thought much of it, as they slept through the racket. The barking they had grown accustomed to, sleeping snugly in their caves at The Tent of Nations.
The Tent of Nations farm lies a bit south of Bethlehem on a hill top surrounded by Israeli settlements. The rocky, sloped fields are not only the sight of Daher’s Vineyard Farm, but also house the growth of hope, education, and resistance. The 100 acres cultivates olive trees, fruit trees, and grapevines, but also works as an educational hub for local adolescents and international activists. Since 1991, the land has been under the threat of Israel’s seizure.
That morning, as the family and residential volunteers shared coffee, a phone call brought in the news of what the dogs had been barking at. Down in the valley four fields lay in ruins, the bulldozer tracks fresh on the newly leveled earth. Yesterday, these fields had stood bursting with ripening fruit. In fact, it would be the first season these trees would bear fruit after years of cultivation. Now, they were only mass graves.
This reflection was originally posted on the Masa Israel Blog.
By David Sklar, Solidarity of Nations - Achvat Amim
Over the last four months, I have been participating in a new Masa Israel volunteer program called Solidarity of Nations - Achvat Amim. Looking beyond the worn-out rhetoric of the conflict, this program initially attracted me by allowing me to see the harsh realities on the ground and meet the people who are working for real change in Israel and abroad. As someone who believes in the importance of dialogue and co-operation, I was particularly attracted by one of Achvat Amim’s main focuses, working with the Hand in Hand school in South Jerusalem. This school, a successful experiment in Arab-Jewish education, is one of only five in Israel. Since the beginning of January I have been teaching English as well as Drama. While learning to navigate through the chaos of the Israeli education system, (as someone coming from a structured Canadian upbringing), this school has given me hope for the future of Israel.
I started off eager and slightly naïve. I wanted to get into the “thick” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I wanted to devise a drama program about what my students have to go through on a daily basis and how the school has shaped their lives for the future. I wanted to witness the “other” and have them show me the conflict. Once I stated my intentions with my group, however, I quickly got my own crash course. The students paused, and rolled their eyes.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
The students started in. “They always want us to do that. No one gets it.”
Apparently, I wasn’t the first with this brilliant plan. Whether it is from the teachers, their parents, or donors from the school, the students felt that they always had to play up how they love one another and that they are “working for peace.”
Don’t get me wrong; they liked the school and even some of their teachers. But they didn’t see things from an outsider’s perspective.
“Karen isn’t my Jewish friend – she’s my friend. And Ruba isn’t my Palestinian friend I fought with yesterday; she’s my friend I got into an argument with.”
These students live their reality. For them, it isn’t about building bridges, or creating an abstract peace plan. They are friends and colleagues. They study together; they play together and get into fights. They care about their test this afternoon, passing and eventually graduating.
Their unprejudiced outlook on the situation is refreshing –here are people who come from different backgrounds and have different statuses in this country, and yet see one another not as political stats but as people.
My time at the school has been challenging, rewarding and made me want to continue teaching in the future. My students have given me the confidence to engage with intelligent youth and create a program that addresses everyone’s needs.
David Sklar of Montreal, Canada, is currently spending five months volunteering with Human Rights NGOs in Jerusalem with the Masa Israel program, Solidarity of Nations - Achvat Amim.
Our partners at Rabbis for Human Rights got in touch to write a little something about Achvat Amim!
Check it out at their page here!
Here are some excerpts:
Rabbis for Human Rights is pleased to be partnering with Achvat Amim (“Solidarity of Nations”), an exciting new 5 month long volunteer program for young adults in Jerusalem based on the Jewish values of “tzedek” (justice), “shalom” (peace), “tikkun olam” (repairing the world) and “achvat amim” (solidarity of nations).
Achvat Amim offers young adults the chance to live in Jerusalem while volunteering and learning about human rights, Judaism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Based on the core value of self-determination for all peoples, the program directly engages with the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while offering a framework for meaningful volunteer work and practical skills development with leading educational, community, and human rights organizations.
Program Director and co-founder, Daniel Roth on his hopes for the participants of Achvat Amim- Solidarity of Nations:
“I hope that Solidarity of Nations – Achvat Amim participants have positive life-changing experiences as individuals and a meaningful collective journey. I hope that we will actively connect our exploration of Jewish tradition, history and values with our vision and strategy for making a better world. I hope that our participants are connected to the struggle for justice and peace here and that they incorporate the value of self-determination for all peoples into their lives.”
Participant David Sklar of Montreal, Canada:
“Since arriving, I have never stopped learning to think critically about Israel and the conflict.
Every day, whether it is at the school, Hand in Hand, on trips throughout the region, or having meaningful conversation at home with our program leaders, I have always felt respected for my sharing my beliefs. I knew I chose a challenging program but I never thought it would reward me up to a life-fulfilling journey.”
Read the rest at Rabbis for Human Rights' page
Applications are now open for the next cohort of Solidarity of Nations - Achvat Amim.
News and Updates
We'll post updates about the program, interesting news and conversation starter here.