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.
I am a participant in Solidarity of Nations - Achvat Amim, a new Masa Israel program based in Jerusalem. We are a group of North Americans trying to bridge the gap between Palestinians and Israelis. We work within coexistence groups, exploring the West Bank, East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem. We have talked intimately with leaders from Combatants for Peace and Rabbis for Human Rights, about their lives here in Israel-Palestine and what brought them to this work. During the Holidays we went Olive Harvesting in a Palestinian village. We've also spent time at the Tent of Nations, meeting with a Palestinian- Christian family whom for generations and generations have devoted their land and lives to peace activism in Israel-Palestine.
Once a week, we spend the school day at Yad B'Yad the Max Rayne bilingual school for Jews and Arabs (k-12), teaching English. In addition, each of us have personalized placements around the city focused on the peace initiative and bridging the gap. I work with the Jerusalem Youth Chorus and Leadership Youth Group at the West Jerusalem YMCA.
I really enjoy this work, within Achvat Amim, there are always new people to meet and many conferences to go to. In the past week, I observed the Palestinian-Israel Journal Conference; and participated at The Jewish Agency's Conference “The Gaza Conflict: What's eating young Jews?”
I followed my intuition, and chased after my wandering soul. I wanted to challenge myself, to learn more, and to know more.
I will always be a Zionist, and most importantly I am a person. We are a Masa Israel program that is committed to Coexistence work. This program has opened my perspective and challenged me and this is just the beginning.
Learn more about Achvat Amim, which means “Solidarity of Nations” in Hebrew. You can find us at www.achvatamim.org and apply at http://www.achvatamim.org/application-form.html. You can also contact the Program Director, Daniel Roth at email@example.com.
As well, apply for generous support from Masa Israel at http://www.masaisrael.org/programs/solidarity-nations-achvat-amim
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