A Step Beyond

A Step Beyond
Nomi Teutsch, Shatil Fellow at ICCI
Written on December 6, 2012

Following ten months of intensive dialogue and group work as part of the Face to Face/Faith to Faith (F2F) program, this year’s participants took a big step today: sharing their experience with their friends. Their willingness to bring their peers into the space they have created together strikes me as incredibly brave, because of both the universal challenges of being a high school-er and the specific challenges of peace work here in Jerusalem. Today’s group consisted of the 13 F2F students and 24 of their friends, many of whom had never before experienced dialogue or sat down with members of the other group.

After icebreakers and some social time, the students ran an activity where each person had to write down various identity words that they felt applied to them (e.g. woman, man, Palestinian, Israeli, religious, secular, homosexual, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, human, etc.) and rank them according to their importance.

F2F students hold up words for their peers to choose from

F2F students hold up words for their peers to choose from

The students then broke into small groups and talked about why they ranked their identities how they did. The most exciting thing about this conversation, and those that came later, was watching the F2F kids make the leap from participants to facilitators. They continually showed how much they have internalized the guidance they have received over the year from Miki and Sameh, the group’s leaders. For example, they beautifully guided their peers to speak personally and specifically as opposed to abstractly or generally, and to speak to each other as opposed to the translator.

The other activity I got to witness was a “spectrum” game, where one end of the room stands for “agree” and the other stands for “disagree.” The organizers read a series of statements in response to which the students placed themselves wherever they saw fit along the spectrum. Some of the most powerful statements that the students responded to were: “I have experienced an instance of racism,” “I feel safe in my home,” and “I think I personally can change the reality here.”

In response to the last question, about making change, a Palestinian participant in F2F went all the way to the “I agree” sign. When asked why he chose to stand there, he said:

I’m standing here because I think I can make a change by being an activist, and influencing others by sharing what I know. My dream is to one day be the Minister of Education and change the way that education happens here. I might not be able to change the other side, but at least I can have an impact on my side. And maybe there are Israelis like me on the other side that will do the same.

It seems to me that he, and all the students who participated today, are already making a change by choosing to show up and communicate with the other. I am excited for the friends who were challenged and stretched by their first dialogue experience, and proud of our students for the leadership and expertise they displayed. Though their F2F year ends this month, I know this is only the beginning for them.

Miki Joelson, F2F co-facilitator, also shared with us her impressions of this event:

Today was an amazing day. We got to see our participants take charge, becoming the bearers of the message we have been giving them for the past year. It was incredibly moving to watch some of them facilitate dialogue, making sure participants speak about personal experience, ask questions without accusing or generalizing, and feel comfortable to really express their selves. Some struggled between being a facilitator and a participant, some told me afterwards “wow, being in your shoes was hard work, but I loved it!”

I’m so incredibly proud of them and of the year-long work that reflected from the way they conducted themselves today!

Also, this amazing number of 24 guests (very balanced – just over half of them were Palestinians, the rest Jewish-Israeli), out of expected 26, showed me our group’s determination for spreading their experience but also the strong will of many more teenagers to take part in such an experience. Some of the guests spoke of the change they saw in their friends in the past year and it was clear they came out of curiosity.

So, two projects out of three completed with success and with participants saying they wish to do more volunteering and facilitating dialogue. The third project, dealing with sharing their experience in F2F through the media, will hopefully bring some fine products soon (a short clip and a blog post). We’ll keep you posted.

This is a special group, no doubt, and it was a special year. Thank you ICCI for enabling us to do this work and for participating in it.


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