This past summer I was accepted to be part of a program called The Jacobs International Teen Leadership Institute-JITLI. Ten American Jews, ten Israeli Jews, and twenty Arab-Israelis, together we were to travel for three weeks in Israel while working to set aside our differences, build an understanding of each other’s lives and cultures, break down stereotypes, and accomplish a goal of coexistence. JITLI managed to take us out of our comfort zones and place us in situations and discussions that truly made us analyze the world in which we individually came from in relation to the rest of the world. We were all chosen for a different reason, each one of us being unique in our own ways. But we were all here with a common purpose-to learn, teach, and discover.
When I found out about this program, I immediately wanted to, and felt I needed to apply. Not a day goes by since the conclusion of the trip that I don’t recall a memory, thought, argument, or friendship that occurred during the progression of the trip. I think about the days spent visiting the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the south of Israel where the Muslim participants live, and meeting their families and uncovering how they really live. I remember the same conversation I had with all of them. “I have four brothers and six sisters”, or “I am the oldest out of twelve children”, they would explain to me. Their faces fluttered when I responded that I only have one older sister. I recall preparing the traditional Jewish, Friday Shabbat dinner with all the Jewish participants, and explaining to the Arabs the meaning behind it, while they taught us about the Koran and the significance of praying five times a day. I can still picture in my mind the night we saw rockets, less than half a mile away, being fired from Gaza into Israeli territory, and the heated debate that was sparked between the two religions from witnessing the horrific event. Never will I forget passing the security checkpoint and standing in front of the entrance to the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem-“the mosque of all mosques”, wearing a hijab- the traditional Muslim head covering. I learned that in the twisted world we live in, no race is superior to any other. No person should have the right to degrade someone else just because they dress differently, speak a different language, or believe in a different g-d. I have realized the importance of being understanding; the importance of accepting other people’s differences. JITLI taught me that.