Remember a time when you felt frightened, a time when you felt vulnerable, anxious, frustrated, and hurt. Now remember a time when you made a difference; a time when you changed the lives of many or even the life of just one. I remember that time: standing excitedly before the Western Wall for the second time in my life. But this time was different. I was linked hand in hand with my new friend Manar from Lakiya–an Arab community within Israel. There we were: two different people, two different religions, standing side-by-side, both capable of respecting and understanding each other’s radically different lifestyles.
My trip on JITLI (Jacobs International Teen Leadership Institute) enabled me to make this difference. Ten Jews from San Diego, ten Jews from Shar Hanegev, ten Arabs from Segev Shalom, and ten Arabs from Lakiya, all put together on a two-and-a-half week program in Israel discussing current events, debating political actions, and bringing together teenagers from many different religions from all over the world to realize one thing: we are all human; we are all brothers and sisters, daughters and sons; we all have feelings, traditions, morals, and loyalties; we all care about our family, our religion, and we want what’s best for our people. We want a country with land that we can work, food that our siblings can harvest, opportunities that our parents can enjoy. We want a home for our people.
I realized all of this as the Arabs were standing respectfully next to the Jews at the Western Wall and the Jews were standing respectfully next to the Arabs at the Dome of the Rock. That moment was worth the year long preparation for this trip; it was everything I could have asked for: understanding, respect, friendship, peace. Some could say JITLI gave them hope for a brighter future of peace and co-existence. Some could say JITLI brought them an abundance of multicultural friends. Some could say that JITLI enabled them to debate with all their heart, and hear first hand experiences from the other side. I believe that JITLI enabled us to make the difference. JITLI gave me the opportunity to shape the program in any way we wanted. There was no magical “JITLI tool” that pushed us to progress, that pushed us to become friends. We filled those two-and-a-half weeks with heated debates, respectful discussions, and life changing friendships because we were trying to lead by example. I hope the world follows.