by Shaked Eisenmann (translated from Hebrew, originally written in July 2012)
I have just returned from two amazing weeks at the ‘Face to Face / Faith to Faith’ (F2F) summer camp in Holmes, New York. Only now, as I sit on the plane, can I begin to process what I and the other participants had the privilege of experiencing. I know and I’m sure that these two weeks will affect the rest of my life, and that these two weeks have shaped my personality in an extraordinary way that wouldn’t have been possible anywhere else in the world.
I think that what made this experience so incredible was having 50 teens from all over the world and with all kinds of personalities shut in together, completely apart from the rest of society.
I believe and I’m certain that behind the scenes of this program there are amazing people whose vision is so important and that they’re wonderful individuals! On the Face to Face program I learned how to listen–but really listen!– how to respond to the feelings of others and how to truly understand and relate to other people. These two intensive weeks together have created a sort of a warm and charming bubble.
The atmosphere at the summer camp was of sharing and love. The investment [of the staff] in all the activities, without exception, was evident, and you can see that they’ve invested thought in each and every minute. I know I’ll never forget anything from the camp, from the nice activities to the joint ‘song sessions.’ At the camp I met intelligent, wonderful people, who truly want to contribute and to help the world.
I feel that I have changed, by truly understanding that there’s a difference between politics and community. At the camp, I saw and learned from other countries that despite religious or political conflict you can also be real friends and forget about the conflict every now and then.
Before the camp, I saw Palestinians as enemies that I shouldn’t be in touch with at all, and I know that a lot of people still feel that way. I understand now how absurd that is, and how ridiculous it is that so many people in this world miss out on amazing friendships with amazing people just because of stigmas that don’t allow them to interact with the other side of the conflict. Every coin has two sides. Neither side will see the other and the two will probably not reach full agreement, but they’ll always be touching each other, and they can and should be friends.
I’m so happy that my eyes have opened and that I’ve understood this. Happy that I had to shut myself in with Palestinians for two weeks to understand this. I wish all teenagers in Israel and Palestine would go through such an experience and would understand this simple thing. I intend to talk about this with people close to me and far, and to explain what I understood, that I had the privilege of getting to know incredible people that are really human beings and not animals that want to kill me. We don’t have to share the same political opinions to be friends. I don’t know what it is exactly about the camp that changed me, but the fact is, it happened!
I think that I also matured a lot in every way. I learned to accept people that I never even thought I could make eye contact or speak with. Having to be in the same cabin with someone so different from me for two weeks lead to the creation of a very strong and supportive relationship!
During the excursion to New York City, I had a conversation with an Israeli guy living abroad. The guy really sounded to me like I would have sounded, a week or more prior to that conversation. He was like a mirror to me, and I’m glad I had that conversation. During the conversation, he asked what I am even doing in that camp, a question which I had asked myself… He asked why I would even be interested in speaking with Arabs, as it’s clear to all of us that they just want to bury us, and that there’s no chance that we’ll ever be able to reach friendship with them, and certainly not agreement or peace. He said that it was useless and that there’s no point in talking with them. I really don’t know where it came from, but I just felt that he was wrong and I felt the need to correct him. I told him and explained to him that I’m a proud Israeli, a Zionist, which abroad would be called pro-Israel, and that I believe in this 100% and am certain of it. What I also told him is that I now understand that in this conflict it’s an obligation to know the opinions of the other side, that it’s important to know what they’re feeling and to acknowledge that they, too, suffer.
I don’t think that the goal of this process is to become convinced by them, but to know a little and to research. If we want a solution to the conflict that’s doesn’t involve escaping to New York, we have to reach it with the help of the other side. It’s important to get to know the conflict and to look at it as if it were a mirror, to see what you have to change. This is the only way it will it be possible to live together and to talk.
This is how I changed. In the political area my opinions haven’t changed at all and I’m glad they haven’t, that wasn’t my goal. But I really did change, I grew up! I understood that I’m not alone in this conflict and that in front of me are people. They truly believe in their opinions and in who they are, they are people that are fun to be with, to hug, to receive help from, to cry on their shoulder and to create lasting bonds of friendship with.
I’m more than thrilled for the privilege of experiencing all these amazing things in the F2F program. I am grateful for every moment and every insight that I’ve reached. I’ve met people who’ll be happy to help me in anything I might want, people that are a treasure. Each one of them wants to make a difference and will make a difference in this world. There are, without a doubt, future leaders within the group, and the fact that they underwent this experience is a blessing to us all. I know I will also be affected for the rest of my life by this wonderful experience that I’ve been through. I’m a better person now, listening more, sharing more, accepting more.
I understood that, eventually, we all want a better life, and that it’s OK to compromise about principles in order to be able to live together, that we must talk to and take interest in each other in order to achieve results. I know that, even before the camp, I was a strong person who meant something to those around him. Even before the camp, I wanted a change, but at the camp I decided something: that I won’t run away, that I won’t sit at home and hope for the best, that I will act! Because I feel that we can! We can grow up and understand that we’re facing people.
I’m so happy that I can write this without putting in here stories about murder and about how the Palestinians are terrible and don’t deserve anything. I understand that I grew up and understood that we have to talk about the future and not just hurl sad stories at one another and at those around us. At the camp, I understood that I really want change and that I will undergo changes as I mature. For me the change has already begun. I understood that this is it, from now on I also have friends from the other side of the fence, friends with whose opinions I’ll never really agree and vice versa, but on the other hand, friends who’ll never forget each other and will never stop helping and being there for one another!
The camp gave me tools that will help me for the rest of my life, and people whose personalities will accompany me for the rest of my life. I learned to stand up for what I believe in without giving in, but also without hurting or humiliating others. The camp really was an experience for which I thank G-d. I pray and wish that in some way more people will become exposed to the fact that there’s nothing to be done about it, we live together and the conflict should be kept separate from the amazing friendships that can and should be formed between us.
I really remember what I thought before the ’Face to Face program, and I understand that that was because I didn’t have the first experience of meeting Palestinians. From the first encounter, I understood that it’s good and that this is what should be. My dream is to give more people the opportunity to understand what I now do. I can’t explain the level of happiness and satisfaction I have now after the special opportunity I got. To meet people of all kinds, but really of all kinds — it’s parable for the world like the parable of the Tower of Babel — so many people that despite all the stigmas and the conflicts do not need or feel that they have to start a war, but rather aim to develop friendships and to be close to each other. Like every parable, this reflects on all our lives. The people who were at the camp are people that can have so much impact in their communities, and I believe that is what will happen. And even if they don’t, at least there are now a few people in the world that have understood this, and this will definitely affect the rest of their lives.
At the camp I felt like I was at home, like I’m with the people that I want to be with for the rest of my life, and yet I see it as a great mission that we were dispersed to our homes to start working. I’m really excited. I’m so thankful to all the staff, who believed in us and helped us. Each one of them is amazing, someone who’ll change the world in some way, and in fact already has changed the world! The staff at the camp were always there and always knew who and what to be. They supported and hugged us and were like friends to us. I’m thrilled that this program exists, and I truly believe that with the years its impact will be felt all over the world. People all over the world are busy with themselves and their own opinions. When they can only understand that in front of them stands a person with a soul that just wants the same thing, the world will really look better, G-d willing!
So, reaching a perfect peace agreement in Israel will be difficult to do in the near future, but breaking the social barrier between the two sides is our job! I’m happy about what I did in F2F and I don’t know who or what guided my actions, but I’m happy for them. I learned so much from amazing people with rich experience. Thank you, thank you, thank you! This will certainly affect the rest of my life. I also learned how to love myself without hurting my relationships with others at all, I owe F2F so much!!!
Shaked Eisenmann is a participant in the ‘Face to Face / Faith to Faith’ 2012 group in Jerusalem, an inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue and social change program by Auburn Theological Seminary in partnership with ICCI.