By Rachael Sauceda
(as part of our Stories of Inspiration series)
Yehuda Lapian is a 26 year old student attending Hadassah College in Jerusalem and is halfway through his B.A. degree in Political Science. Unlike most of his colleagues, Yehuda has participated in an ICCI program and has come to have a better understanding of “the other.” Yehuda, who is Jewish, was born in America, but at the age of one moved to Israel and has lived in Jerusalem ever since. Growing up in a pluralistic household, his parents always taught him to “live and let live,” and that you have to remember there is pain on “the other side.” It was with this pluralistic view of the conflict that gave Yehuda the courage and curiosity to learn more about his neighbors.
There were many moments in his childhood and adolescent years that could have drastically changed Yehuda’s outlook of his neighbor, especially growing up during a time when suicide bombings and terrorist attacks were frequent occurrences in Jerusalem. Often times, the conflict in the region taught him that Palestinians were the enemy, but his pluralistic views at home kept him grounded. However, as a teen he witnessed the aftermath of a suicide bombing in a local restaurant. Like most people after such a catastrophic event, Yehuda lacked the ability to find meaning in the situation and immediately grappled with the thought that whoever committed this act must really have hated the local community. This moment was both confusing and challenging.
After serving in the army and beginning his university degree, Yehuda realized just how many Arab classmates he had and that he knew absolutely nothing about his “neighbor.” He knew he couldn’t speak their language and he didn’t know who they were. It was from this moment that he became more interested in seeing the bigger picture and becoming better informed.
Yehuda had gone his entire life without contact with a group of people who made up a significant percentage of the population in his city. It was with this realization that he became aware to the ICCI. Yehuda heard that ICCI emphasized addressing “the elephant in the room,” and professionally combined the mixing of diverse views with relationship building. The Jerusalem Inter-religious Young Adult Forum (JIYAF) program that Yehuda participated in continued throughout the summer and was composed of seven Jews, seven Palestinians, and fifteen German students. The group participated in many joint activities that included touring villages that had been evacuated by the Israeli army, attending a Shabbat dinner, and creating discussion time in which the participants felt comfortable to share with the others their reflections. Through the program, the participants were able to better know each other and talk candidly. “Each side heard horrible things about the other and it was extremely difficult,” Yehuda reflected. The group facilitators asked challenging and emotional questions that enabled the participants to better know “the other.”
Yehuda compared his ICCI experience to his previous experience in other groups that focused on dialogue and reconciliation. He concluded that the other programs romanticized the idea of understanding the other. Unlike ICCI, the other groups never really addressed the major issues.
After participating in the program, Yehuda felt motivated to continue to meet his Arab neighbors. While proud of his religion and nationality, Yehuda came to understand the importance of understanding and empathizing with the suffering of others. As an alumnus of one of ICCI’s young adult programs, Yehuda can truly say that ICCI changed the way he thinks and has made him question what he thought he previously knew. ICCI didn’t change who he was, but impacted aspects of his life that affected his outlook on those around him. With the tools acquired through ICCI, Yehuda now has the ability to spread his positive outlook to the world around him.