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Arab and Jewish Israeli Students Visit Baltimore Area to Promote Dialogue and Democracy

Alan Feiler, Editor-in-Chief

Mar 10, 2023

Galilee Dreamers visit Baltimore

Dr. Rachel Revsin-Ravid (center), director of Galilee Dreamers, talks to Baltimore supporters of the program with Maayan Meir (right) and other participants. (Photo by Steve Ruark)

Before joining the Galilee Dreamers program, Ahmad Zaroura, a chatty Arab high school student from the northern Israeli city of Nazareth, admits he hated Jews with a passion. “No offense,” he said with a reassuring smile to nearby Jewish listeners.

The primary reason was because his family was forced to flee their home village of Zippori during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, he said.

By participating in the Galilee Dreamers, “I realize the blame is not on the Jewish people but the government and the military,” said Ahmad, 18. “I got to know the Jewish perspective, and I changed my mind. I’m a listener now. As soon as we started to meet in Israel, I learned not to hate. The people who are violent don’t represent any of us. We’re all human, and we have to find a solution that makes everyone happy.”

Ahmad was among 15 Arab and Jewish high school students from Israel who met on Wednesday night, Mar. 8, with approximately 100 local supporters of the Galilee Dreamers program at the Owings Mills residence of David and Sandy Abramoff.

Formerly known as Sparks of Change, the three-year Galilee Dreamers program is spearheaded by the Oranim International School near Haifa. Now in its seventh year, the program annually brings together Arab and Jewish high school students from the Galilee region to the United States and other countries to discover common ground and meet peers from around the world. The program was co-founded by Dr. Desmond M. Kaplan, an Israeli-American psychiatrist born in South Africa who now lives in Baltimore.

“In view of the multicultural reality in Israel, the Galilee Dreamers program sees in its vision the need for optimal communication to break barriers in an era of ongoing political conflict between Jews and Arabs,” reads a program statement. “The program promotes a long-term commitment to living together in a society made up of different identities.”

Rabbi Paul D. Schneider, former headmaster of Krieger Schechter Day School, serves on the Galilee Dreamers advisory board and coordinates programming in the U.S. (Photo by Steve Ruark)

During their U.S. tour from Mar. 3-12, the Galilee Dreamers visited myriad points of interest, schools, cultural centers and houses of worship while meeting with peers and others in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

While in Baltimore, the delegation also met with students at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, Krieger Schechter Day School and the Park School.

“It’s a difficult time because there is so much darkness in Israel right now,” said Rabbi Paul D.. Schneider, former KSDS headmaster, who coordinates programming for the Galilee Dreamers in the U.S. and serves on its advisory board. “People are looking for light and a better tomorrow for all of the inhabitants of Israel.”

Alluding to Israel’s current political turmoil, he said the program represents Israel as “a democratic country – that’s what we’re fighting for. … We now have the most beautiful delegation. They’re getting to know each other panim el panim, face to face. It’s just beautiful.”

During the reception, Chizuk Amuno Congregation’s Rabbi Joshua Z. Gruenberg welcomed the Galilee Dreamers to Baltimore and praised the spirit of their mission.

“When we see you, we see not only what is possible but also what is needed,” he said. “We are very concerned about Israel right now and about democracy. We need civil discourse. You are showing us what is possible. We know a better tomorrow is possible. We look to you, and we hope you feel God’s presence because you are performing divine work.”

Dr. Rachel Revsin-Ravid, director of Galilee Dreamers, said the road to coexistence and peace between Israeli Jews and Arabs faces many serious roadblocks. But as someone whose Holocaust survivor grandparents helped build the state of Israel with Arab neighbors and friends, she said she believes the future in the Middle East could still be positive.

“Yes, there are obstacles. We are upset, we are in pain,” she said. “There are issues with the West Bank. Some of these kids will go into the [Israeli] army next year. Some will go to university or become volunteers. We’re proud of all of them, and we’re here to build a new story. We need to learn to listen to each other’s narratives so we can live together.”

Standing in the Abramoffs’ living room before the crowd of supporters, the young Galilee Dreamers repeatedly spoke about the program’s transformative impact. Several of them said they feel their generation will be responsible for crafting a long-lasting and meaningful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Sabath Beit Halachmi (far left), who lives in Baltimore, chats with Galilee Dreamers Rama Zuabi (center) and Rim Ahmoud. (Photo by Steve Ruark)

“I’ve learned to respect other people and their cultures,” said Maya Nachum, 17, a resident of the northern Israeli city of Karmiel. “[Galilee Dreamers] is an important model. Together, we can solve all of this and respect each other.”

During her three years in the program, Yaara Ariav, 18, also of Karmiel, said she has learned a lot about the power of communication and fellowship. “The biggest thing I’ve learned is that nothing comes from here,” she said, pointing to her head. “I always look for the logic of a situation, but from this program I learned it all has to come from your heart. I’ve learned that if I want to do something real, it has to come from [the heart].”

Rama Zuabi, 18, of Nazareth said the program has taught her to “be like a believer. It’s taught me to hope for a life where we can live together as Arabs and Jews and stop the violence and suffering. We have to put our hands together and work it out. I believe we can have a better life. We just have to listen to each other.”

While visiting the U.S., Karmiel resident Shir Tsabari, 17, said she has been frequently texting with her friend, Hanan, back home. She noted that while Hanan wears a hijab, the customary head covering of Muslim women, Shir – who is a member of the Conservative Masorti movement in Israel — tends to wear long dresses worn by traditional Jewish women.

“I love her so much,” Shir said of Hanan. “I’ve been telling her all about the trip.”

Shir, who will serve in the Israel Defense Forces next year, called Galilee Dreamers “a start. We can’t change everything in one day. They call Israel Palestine, we call it Israel. They have their point of view. I try not to talk to them about politics, and I try not to judge them. It’s not always easy.  But we’re teenagers and we can talk about many other things, and find humor in things.

“We should always be able to talk,” she said. “It’s the only way.”

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