It happened during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish 'three weeks' of semi-mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple and for the exile of the Jewish people to the four corners of the earth. The Memnosyne Institute, the Roots/Shorashim/Judur Initiative and Seminar Ramah in Israel joined forces to provide a really unique experience for almost 300 American high school students spending their summer in Israel. Because of the sheer number of students, the program was spread over two days, with roughly half of them participating on Wednesday July 15 and the other half on Thursday July 16.
The almost two hour program allowed the students to become face to face witnesses to national and religious reconciliation. They met Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and Mr. Ali Abu Awwad. Both of these men were and remain residents of the West Bank, a tiny sliver of land fiercely disputed between two peoples. The rabbi is a Jewish settler and Ali a Palestinian activist, son of a refugee family. We would expect them to be enemies - and in the past they were. But no longer. They opened up their hearts and allowed the students to become part of their riveting stories of personal transformation. From the questions of the students, their interactions with the speakers after the event, and the long discussions among themselves that the kids conducted on the buses back and then late into the night, it is clear that the story of personal transformation of Ali and Hanan became a catalyst for deep thought, introspection - and perhaps even transformation - among many in the room during these two days.