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By Judith Rosenbaum
Photos by David Rendell
In the seemingly intractable roil of Israeli-Palestinian relations, there are, albeit rarely, faint, hopeful glimpses of the possibility for understanding and rapprochement. This summer, thanks to a grant from the Puffin Foundation, Ltd., the 15- and 16-year-old CITs at Camp Kinderland in Tolland, Massachusetts were able to learn about and respond to one such possibility.
On July 22 they hosted an overnight visit of twenty-four teenagers, Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinians, and their staff. The visitors were from Givat Haviva, which brings young Israeli Jews and Arabs together and supplies them with cameras. By taking pictures of each other in their own homes, and through weekly meetings, they learn about lives that, in their words, were “so close but so far apart.”
Their visit to Kinderland sparked enormous excitement: a huge welcome banner was instantly composed, and CITs raced to meet them as they stepped hesitantly from their vans. Shyness seemed quickly overcome on the ten-minute walk to their campsite, as they asked each other eager questions, and shared the burden of carrying luggage. The initial excitement lasted throughout the visit, despite downpours, despite the strictures, on a few of the visitors, of Ramadan. The Israelis caught on quickly to the games our CITs taught, splashed happily in the lake despite the rain, and played killer games of soccer.
Activities cemented friendships, but perhaps the most significant understanding took place during more serious exchanges, in an icebreaking activity called Concentric Circles, and subsequent discussions. Guests and hosts spoke and listened as each responded to questions such as: Why are you involved with “Through Other Eyes”/with Camp Kinderland? What is something that you think was unique in your upbringing? Tell your partner something about your family. What’s a favorite childhood memory?
On the second afternoon, the visitors spoke with our first-year CITs, in wide-ranging, unscripted discussions. Some of our old Olympic murals urging peace between Israelis and Palestinians attracted their curious attention, and explanations followed. In all the exchanges, the Israelis seemed as eager to learn about us as we were to learn about them.
Our guests left with warm messages of gratitude; shedding tears, girls hugged like lifelong friends; boys (forbidden by Israeli staff to embrace) shook hands fervently. Was the exchange significant? Several days later, a CIT wailed, “I really miss my Israeli friends!”
Judith Rosenbaum is a member of the Jewish Currents editorial board and a staffer at Camp Kinderland. David Rendell also works at Kinderland and is Southern New Jersey coordinator for Amnesty International.