Seeds of Peace

Last month I have started my journey with Seeds of Peace. As a new staff member in the Jerusalem office, it was essential for me to join the 2016 Seeds of Peace’s summer camp which took place in the forests of Maine. 
During the first week of July, we had our staff orientation. I quickly realized that a fair amount of counselors were returning counselors who knew the drill of peace fairly well. But I was surprised by fellows who never been to the “region” most of the kids were about to arrive from. Somehow, with all my years outside of The land, it conquers 80% of my soul at times, especially the times I go to a peace camp.
I guess I wasn’t expecting the other counselors to be too different from me in this regard.  Not sure what I was expecting exactly. But they ended up being a sweet mixture of special backgrounds and talents. I hope these people will stay in my life forever 🙂 
We were all in the forest for the kids and their extraordinary experience, that, more than anything, made me feel in the right place.
Kids came from Israel/Palestine(West Bank and Gaza), Egypt, Jordan, US and the UK. We welcomed them with the most noise I’ve ever heard or produced with my lungs. Cheerful screams and hugs were flying around when each delegation stepped out their buses.
For some, it was overwhelming, confusing even, others appeared very confident and in control. I was somewhere in the middle. But as a counselor, I just kept smiling for hours.
The Israeli delegation, of two buses, were mostly kids from my area. Hamerkaz. And evenדרום  השרון.  In short, Kfar Saba and the much smaller towns around it. When I was their age, my mind pumped with Jewish solidarity, bible stories and shadows of doubt, that tiny area was my life. Those days seem far away, but they aren’t really. 
I didn’t say this out loud because the counselors were supposed to keep neutral as if we came to this world in our olive green t-shirts and peaceful sing-song minds. Kids are smart though and I’m really bad at being mysterious so it didn’t take them too long to figure me out.

All the photos here besides the ones with a flower beneath them are with credit to Bobbie’s Pictures from SoP Intl Camp
As the first couple of days rolled in, I found myself comforting and joking with kids from places I used to associate only with wars. I wasn’t at all surprised by our similar concerns and happy moments. I was a homesick kid too. Today, I am just a few years older.

Sport and art activities alongside daily dialogues of discussing the conflict came one after another. I was making art with people who weren’t sure what to do or never used clay before, they ended up creating marvelous things.

When I was really happy about someone’s work I became a bit childish or overly joyful. It happened at meals too, when we shared pudding. It happened everywhere if I wasn’t too tired.

I was yelling Yallah and Khalas on everybody here and there because it was incredibly more effective than English. But English was everywhere and people stuck to it more than I was expecting, even those who struggled with it.
After hard dialogue sessions, however, people run back into the shells of their native tongues. Frustrating and aching in Arabic or Hebrew, crying and seizing each other in small groups.
We as counselors were there to listen and bring back the English, alongside with trust. Trust is so fragile to maintain. It wasn’t easy and sometimes I felt bare and useless in the face of someone’s hurt or anger.

Who am I to convince them to “trust the process”?

Back when I was a teenager, I felt like my “side” was lying to me, even using me. But I didn’t know much about the “other side”. Later on, I was angry with the “liberals” for twisting Jewish history. Eventually, I learned that being a person means more than taking sides, seeing the world in black and white or being angry. I learned that each person, everywhere, and on each “side”, has a story.
We cannot ignore people’s stories because they will catch up to us in the end. Because in Israel/Palestine we are all connected and taking sides gets us farther away from peace.

Our hatred and fears, our conflicts, are not bound to last forever, but they cannot solve themselves.

The process is long.

Historical facts, myths, and world views aside, being so far away from home in an environment that challenges your basic beliefs and constantly pushing you out of your comfort zone, is hard at any age. Being there in the forest with those brave kids, I cherished them.

Soon, the spirit of togetherness dominated the camp and every person had a meaningful place in our young community.

It was beautiful, yet filled me with sadness.

How far away is this place from home? Sometimes it felt so far, too far. How will these kids face home? Home is cruel, home is anguish.  But home is also home.

Overall, I have had a special month in a special place surrounded by dear people. It is only the beginning for each one of us and I look forward to our next meeting in the holy land. 
I am hopeful, I am inspired. 

A visit to the Arava

I don’t think I’ve been to the Arava previously more than twice. But really, I don’t remember.

I wanted to write a long detailed post about my short visit to Lotan two weeks ago. But I didn’t. And as time passes and new stories are piling up in my net, I thought maybe I should, at least, post some of my photos already(!!).

Kibbutz Lotan lies in the deserted beauty of the Arava (or Arabah in Arabic), south of the country, 35 minutes north to Eilat, and what looks like 12 steps from Jordan. It really looked like you could just go visit. I could see lights from all those little houses on the mountains at night. Jordanian houses. I was trying not to think whether or not they want me dead, but I did.
I didn’t see the army anywhere, but I was told they are slacking around the rocks somewhere.

Founded in 1983 by a Reform youth movement, Kibbutz Lotan is one of the youngest Kibbutzim.  Its small population has consisted of some families, volunteers, students, grasshoppers, and hippies. Ok, I won’t say the word “hippie”. They don’t like to be called that.
About 150 people in general and all share the theme of caring for nature, dwelling in the beauty of the desert, and Reform Judaism (which means hippies). Honestly, Kibbutz Lotan is so freaking cool. One of the most unique places you could find in Israel.
It is a community dedicated to environmental consciousness. It does an amazingly creative job in order to keep its values and visions alive. Full with Ideology and good will, the people there stay focused on the goal of creating a new healthy society and peaceful living with nature and their neighbors.
Together with the different Bedouin communities and even Jordanian university students (who tell their parents that they go to Cyprus when they come here), they work on a variety of sustainability projects to keep the area as calm as possible. I was definitely impressed hearing about this.  But I am not sure how it goes, I will invest more into it and tell you at some point.

I am considering moving to this Kibbutz for a year and do some earthy works in the near future. But it’s only an option. My other options seem to be moving back to the States or Japan, drastically different places. Because that how it works when you are young and privileged.

I almost forgot to mention that I went on the Lotan trip with my adorable Achvat Amim group. I also share an apartment with these guys in Jerusalem and I love them all, really. Such an Intelligent bunch.

We were hosted in The Bustan neighborhood of the Kibbutz, which is made up of 10nish mud/straw/clay domes, a shared outdoor kitchen, and .. composting toilets! Which means doing it outside in a hole, but a very stylish one. The houses were built as part of the Green Apprenticeship program, this is also where students stay and other fellows who like mud.

Where you brush your teeth.

The no-water composting toilets we used were an adventure. A great way to save water in the desert but I also kept imagining myself falling into them. 
We also used a solar oven. I guess we could have given this thing a try too:
The laundry machine 
All of these low-tech systems that supposedly bring high impact result were very inspiring to me. But  mostly they made me feel like I stepped into Wonderland.

Yes. Work for nature, Human. 
It’s not all here for you, you are here for it. 

The actual translation…