by Paula Bu, intern at ICCI
Each year, ICCI partners with the Auburn Theological Seminary to bring together Palestinian and Israeli teens from East and West Jerusalem through the Face to Face/Faith to Faith program. Throughout this yearlong dialogue and leadership program, these teens engage in various activities and discussions during the meetings and even travel to upstate New York in the United States for two weeks in the summer. There, they have the opportunity to meet other youth from regions of conflict such as Ireland, South Africa, and certain communities in the United States.
Thanks to the facilitation of Miki Joelson and Maisa Zoabi, this year’s Face to Face/Faith to Faith program is well underway with an opening seminar and two meetings already under their belt. I had the opportunity last week to speak to both facilitators. From my discussions with them, it clear that this program is not one that is only rewarding to the teens. Even as she is finishing up her Master’s in Jewish Art History, Joelson is intensely involved in Face to Face/Faith to Faith with the conviction that dialogue between different people who live in the same place is crucial and with the hope that she can provide opportunities for youth to meet others who offer unique personal narratives. Also a graduate student, Zoabi is pursuing a Master’s in Policy Administration and Education while using her role as a facilitator to learn how to lead dialogue groups that are based on honesty, respect, and the simple fact that all those involved are human and equal.
So far, the program has been progressing well. Joelson was particularly moved by a preliminary meeting in which the parents of the teenagers were also involved. The parents shared stories about their family’s history that sometimes their children were not even aware of. In addition, the opening seminar, which took place over the course of a Friday, Saturday and Sunday, had prayers and study sessions led by a priest, rabbi, and sheik to build awareness and knowledge about the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religions. Following the seminar, two bi-weekly dialogue sessions strove to keep it personal amongst the students. An activity that exemplified this involved drawing a timeline marked by meaningful events that were important to their own personal history.
Since there have only been a few meetings of the group so far this year, the relationships among the teens are understandably cautious, though they are getting along. Zoabi explains that while they have fun, talking about religion or the conflict in Jerusalem can lead to some tension. Joelson notes that one must realize that other factors, including the fact that after all, they are teenagers and that some are not accustomed to speaking with the opposite gender or with people they do not know, can influence the dynamics of the group.
Future meetings are planned to include more discussions about the issues involved with conflict in Jerusalem as well as learning more about each others’ religions. If the accomplishments of this year’s Face to Face/Faith to Faith program so far are any indication, we look forward to hearing more good news about the development of fruitful relationships and thought-provoking dialogue amongst these students.