It is mid-term orientation. After 2 days of lectures and diplomatic advocacy in East Jerusalem, all 33 EAs board a bus at 1:30 PM for our 2 day road trip. It is unintentionally timed to coincide with the first big storm of the season. Pouring rain and high winds hamper visibility. It is cold and damp. Our destination is the small village of Wahat al-Salam / Neve Shalom, perched on a hill midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Translated “Oasis of Peace,” this community was established in the early 1970s as an intentional village made up of an equal number of Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Israelis ~ both citizens of Israel ~ who have chosen to share life in this place. As our host, Daoud Boulos, said to us, “We are a model of what a one state solution could look like. Our community is based on mutual acceptance, respect, and cooperation. It’s not always easy, but it is possible.” The village currently has about 60 families with plans for another 80.
The bilingual, binational elementary school began in 1984 and is the first of its kind in Israel. Today it enrolls 250 children ~ 90% come from surrounding villages. Due to the school’s maverick approach, it took 16 years for Israel’s Department of Education to grant it official recognition. The school is based on the principle that each child’s unique identity should be nurtured while at the same time fostering a respectful knowledge of the culture and traditions of others. Inspired by this model, similar schools have recently been launched.
Among the numerous initiatives developed by the community is the School for Peace, established in 1979 for the purpose of engaging in “encounter work” between Jews and Palestinians. In its 34 years of operation, over 60,000 young people have attended School for Peace encounters. Programs include: training facilitators, hosting seminars for empowering Jewish and Palestinian women, and providing year long graduate courses in cooperation with four Israeli universities.
As the day draws to an end, so does our meeting with Daoud. Returning to our bus, we notice that the rain has let up for the moment. We are warmed by the coffee and tea that has been provided and decide to take a quick walking tour around the community. As we pass the School for Peace, the skies open once again and we run for cover. Thirty-three EAs huddle together under the school’s awning. We are fortunate that the Founding Director, Nava Sonnenschein, still happens to be in her office at day’s end. She greets us warmly, provides us with pamphlets, and talks with us about the important nature of their work ~ to be agents of change. The rain lets up again for a moment, and we dash toward our waiting bus. The wind howls. It is still cold and damp outside ~ but inside we are warmed by the hope that is made tangible in this place.
It’s raining once again as the bus winds its way down the hill. I think of all that has gone into the creation of this “Oasis of Peace” ~ the vision, the dream, the intentionality, the commitment, the willingness to work through the hard places, the desire to celebrate the other, the values of respect, equality, justice and reconciliation nurtured here ~ I think of Nava’s passion ~ to be an agent of change ~ And I remember Daoud’s words: “It’s not always easy, but it is possible” ~ And I reflect ~ Most things that are worthwhile are not easy.