From Sochi to Jerusalem: Venues of Shared Civic Values

The 2014 Winter Olympics is not the only example of "excellence, friendship and respect" to be found of late. Earlier this month, hundreds of young volunteers from nearly all sectors of Israel’s young adult population gathered at Ma’ase Center’s two-day Shared Encounters seminar in Jerusalem, the second of three such meetings during their activity year, to discuss Identity & Belonging in Israeli Society. Ma’ase is a grantee of the Federation that fosters multi-cultural understanding in Israeli society.

They numbered 600 volunteers, each representing a different swath of Israeli society: Jews, Druze, Arabs, secular and religious young adults, new immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, native-born Israelis, young adults from Israel’s periphery and urban centers. They gathered to talk, listen, and answer the question: What does it mean to be Israeli?

Such encounters rarely take place in Israeli society but, for two days, hundreds of young adults got together and attempted to understand one other, competing against a reality that sometimes perpetuates inequality for many of those in attendance.

Through the Shared Encounters program, Ma'ase leverages participants' common volunteering experience and personal values to build a bond, bridging social differences and nurturing respectful dialogue and cooperation. The hope is that walking this road together will bring about social awareness and social change.

Participants were challenged to reach beyond the realities of daily life and ponder, "What type of society do we want?"  Discussions were held in small mixed groups, each with two facilitators who guided the breakout sessions in both Arabic and Hebrew (and English, when needed).

The young volunteers embraced the unique opportunity and discussed complex and painful issues openly and with a willingness to listen and learn the other's position.

How does it feel to live in a country that is not yours?
What are you doing to integrate into the country?
Why don’t all Jews learn Arabic, like all Arabs (almost) learn Hebrew?
Should Israel continue to be a Jewish state?
What are our shared values? Where do we differ? How do we account for differences?

The depth of discussion and the willingness to listen and share were inspiring. After hearing feedback from facilitators and youth leaders who helped create the program content, Ma’ase organizer Racheli Hertal notes that, “There’s a feeling that the dialogue between the participants has reached a higher level of exposure and intimacy since December’s seminar. The facilitators knew how to contain loaded issues such as those revolving around belonging and language, and lead honest and respectful discussions that allowed all  voices to be heard.“

One young Ethiopian volunteer concluded in her address to all the youngsters at the end of the seminar: "If we will know to look at others as equals, we will discover that the opportunity to bring about big change is in our hands. The burden of proof is on us and we must act.”

The third and final Shared Encounter meeting will take place this May. In the interim, social media will unite the young participants, who have already created several WhatsApp groups online, not only to exchange ideas about a shared society, but also to swap real news that can be celebrated by their newfound peers from around the country (eg. “I finally got my driver’s license!”)

Together with Ma’ase, the Federation is proud to make Shared Encounters possible as we continue to advance a just and democratic Israeli society.

To learn more about the Federation’s grantees in Israel, and the work we do there, contact Siggy Rubinson at 415.512.6429.


February 25, 2014