‘Together in Dialog’ – Some thoughts from our seminar with the ‘Technion’

“Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be”.
Gibran Khalil Gibran

This year was the start of the second decade of ‘Mabat’ activity. However, it is not the duration of the time in which we have been fertilizing multicultural dialog that is so significant. It is the fact that we keep growing, learning and developing. If it’s the number of the educational institutions that we work with that keeps growing, if it’s in the new connections and international collaborations with multicultural activists that we are acquiring and if it’s in the methodology that we are still developing and perfecting that we use as part of our various programs.
This time we wanted to tell you about a new programing we had the chance to experience with for the first time this year.

Last September we’ve got the opportunity to try a new model of activity for the first time with brand new partners – a 3 days seminar for a group of students from the ‘Technion’.
Just a moment before the start of the academic year, Arab and Jewish students from all the faculties came to stay with us in a luxury hotel in Nazareth in order to grasp a deeper familiarity with their neighbors in the campus.

While building and preparing to that seminar, we had our doubts about the pros and cons of a 3 days seminar opposed to our regular form of activity, in which we meet the students once a week throughout the whole academic year. On the one hand, the seminar enables a lot of informal opportunities for the students to get to know each other better, weaved in with some intense experiences and activities. On the other hand, we have wondered if such a short of a time will be enough for the students to be able to deal with the sensitive spots that shape their perception on the other culture.
We’ve been so happy to witness all these doubts fade away already in the first day. The students maintained a brave and safe debate on the most deep and rooted issues that shape their perspective on one’s another, on the conflicts that interfere with their sympathy and understanding of each over and on the place of the cultures and the rituals that come with them in the public sphere.

Testing the student’s coordination skills

Of course, that between the serious and fruitful discussions that we upheld we wanted to weave in some fun and lighter experiences that the students could try together.
At the very beginning of the seminar, in a deliberate attempt to break the ice, we took the students to participate in an outdoor experiential learning workshop. Followed that, we drafted together a ‘Group Contract’ that stated guide points for desired and adequate discourse that enables dealing with sensitive topics in a safe space.
We’ve been so impressed with the coordination abilities of the participants that were expressed in the workshop that in the same evening we brought in ‘Laugh-Yoga’ session. We are happy to say that they passed the flexibility test as well.
After all that exercise, we felt in danger of making them too healthy, so we introduced them with ‘Kanafeh’-making workshop, which boosted the moral of the group as same as the sugar-level of everybody’s blood.

The stuff that dreams are made of

At the second day, following a long session of dialog, we went to tour Nazareth with the guidance of one of our excellent guides. We’ve asked to deal in our tour with questions about the unique theology of Nazareth, and the special link hidden in the holy places in that city between the Jewish religion, Christianity and Islam.
We’ve toured the Basilica of the Annunciation, where by the Christian narrative were placed the home of Virgin Mary. From there we went on to see the Synagogue Church, which today is a part of the Greece-Catholic Church, however is placed on the believed location of the Synagogue of Nazareth in which Jesus used to learn and pray. We’ve finished the tour by witnessing The White Mosque, the oldest Mosque in Nazareth.
It was fascinating to hear the discussions of the participants, that had representation for all the three religions, about the common sources of those religions, and about what would have change if there would be a wide recognition in Israel for that common ground.

People from Haifa need their stairs

At the third and last day of the seminar we’ve tried to conclude this experience, and to hear from the students what they’re going home with that’s different from when they arrived. We thought that it would be better for the words of the students to speak for themselves:

“The best thing I take from this seminar is the belief that change is possible! It was very encouraging to see that there are people from the other side that hold a similar purpose to mine, and I go home with the hope that we are the people that will begin that change”.

“(I go home with) the awareness for the consequences of the state’s actions on the Arab society, something I didn’t understand in the same altitude before. Also, the acknowledgment that there are much more Arabs that do seek for this discourse and connection than I had thought. They just lack the opportunity. And, most importantly, new friends”.

“A hope for a better future in the campus! This seminar proved that the moment that Arab and Jewish students get the chance to get to know each other, they break all the prejudice and eliminate the alienation between them”.

Two months later, after we have all returned to our day-to-day life and to the studies, we’ve met again with the students in order to see if the seminar have led to a change in the relations in the campus.
We’ve been so happy to hear from the students that the bonds that they made during the seminar haven’t ended there, but otherwise, flourished and deepen in the last two months. Since the seminar the students scheduled themselves numerus social gatherings, and even met for a beer at the campus’ bar.
We’ve been excited to hear that they had asked the administration for a follow-up program in the campus in order to deepen the familiarity between them and in order to introduce a greater number of students to the program. Our partners in the administration backed the initiative and we are currently working with the students on the next round of activity.
We are so proud of the students that have participated and took the initiative with an admirable seriousness and deliberation. We are positive that this effort, to bring multicultural dialog to the ‘Teachnion’, have just started – and a big part of the credit for that is in their favor.