By Avital Sampson-Mofaz
As Rosh Hashanah draws near, we are all preparing to celebrate the holiday, have a festive meal, and enjoy the very symbolic foods and blessings. The apples and honey, tzimmes and honey cake – all these are eaten with the hope for a sweet year to come and the hope that we increase our good deeds in the coming year. Ahi Israeli is truly a step in the right direction.
Achi Israeli (Hebrew for My Israeli Brother) is a unique program run by the Hinam Center and supported by the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ. The program’s objective is to build tolerance in Israel by having young adults from various sectors live together in an ultra-Orthodox, an Arab, an Ethiopian, and an Orthodox national religious community.
The Hinam Center works to promote a tolerant society through knowing the “other.” Yaron Kanner, CEO of Hinam, believes that, “Short meetings with people from different parts of society don’t provide enough to overcome mutual fears of the other, so we decided to create a program where youths live for a month in each community.”
In each of the host communities, the group conducts experiential activities related to questions of identity and society. The members volunteer in the community, but mainly live with the community and learn about its world through structured activities, joint social projects, meetings with key figures in the community, and more.
This program is a perfect partner with one of Global Connections’ platforms – Kedma – which promotes cohesive and shared society in Israel. The program was adapted and revised to suit our objectives. It was shortened to one month (one week in each of four communities with which we have long-time relationships and partnerships) and it was limited to 12 participants representing a variety of ethnic groups.
Amir Shacham, Associate Executive Vice President of Global Connections, wrote about the unforgettable and emotional experience as the group began their journey in Horfesh, here.
So, what makes a young person take some time-off from his/her life and join this program? Here are the stories of some of these young people…
Tamara is 18 years old. Her family made Aliyah from Singapore two years ago. Her parents are Israelis whose work took them to Singapore 25 years ago. Tamara studied at an international school in Israel, where one of the interns, who worked as a guide in Achi Israeli, told her about the program.
I have six free months until I join the army, so I wanted to do something interesting. In Singapore there is not much wild nature, so I wanted to travel and hike while getting to know Israel and the people.
I have always studied at international schools, so I did not get a chance to really know Israelis. This is, in fact, the only Israeli group I have spent time with. I am really enjoying myself, improving my Hebrew and meeting new people. I play the ukulele, so every evening I played along with my new friends. It felt really nice, how in just a few weeks’ time, we are very much at ease with one another.
This program has made me feel more Israeli, more connected, and my Hebrew is much better.”
Hanan is 18 years old. She is a Muslim from the Deir al Assad village. Hanan organized, spontaneously and in a joint decision with all members of the group, a weekend in her village. And so, all the members enjoyed an exciting weekend in an Arab village, attending an authentic Arab wedding, meeting new people, and having an unforgettable experience.
A year ago, three young people from my village took part in this project. I am active in the community center, and that’s where I heard about the project.
I am about to begin my national service at Israel’s President’s Residence, so I have a few free months. I am a regular and very active participant in meetings and workshops with various groups such as Jews, Americans, etc., but these were all short meetings, and I wanted to be part of a more extended program.
This is a great opportunity for me to improve my Hebrew. I love reading Pirke Avot (Tractate Avot) in Hebrew, and challenged myself during the project to learn at least five new words in Hebrew every day. In turn, I taught Arabic to the other participants. We did dialogs and games and it was fun.
I have never met a Druze. I have never spent a night in a Jewish place. This whole month was “wow.” Every single day was something new.
Itamar is 29, from the Jezreel Valley, and is a student in a program for Jewish American Studies.
I found out about the program through Facebook and it seemed interesting. Though I am 29, the idea of getting to know new communities really appealed to me.
I think that all the members in this project share a common trait – curiosity. We all want to learn more and know more. This program offers a unique opportunity to get to know firsthand and up close different communities that live in the same country. This is a great group, which connected in a short period of time. All the members share the common objective of doing something meaningful.
Noa is 22 and lives in the northern city of Yokeneam. She works as the guide of this group. She was released from the army about 18 months ago.
I did not want to go abroad just yet. I felt that I don’t know much, as I’ve always been only with people who share similar views and ideas.
Watching the news raised many questions. Seeing the ultra-Orthodox raised questions: Why do they dress up this way? Who are they? Who are the Arabs in Israel? I needed answers, and then I heard about this program.
The program was not just fun. It was not a vacation. It was irritating. It was disturbing. It was challenging. Rejecting is the easiest. Listening, watching, putting one in the others’ shoes – that’s the hardest thing to do. But in order to form an opinion, you need to understand first.
It was an interesting and intense experience. It was a different experience in each community. We have all learned so much.
Avital Sampson-Mofaz has been working as interim office manager in our Federation’s Israel office.