Every so often, serendipitous events occur that lead to transformative experiences. While I already planned to spend a year in Israel as a Dorot Fellow working with Arab Citizens of Israel, I did not expect to become an instrumental part of a project that would also connect me to my hometown of Baltimore and to the memory of Daniel. With the hopes of expanding the partnership between Baltimore’s Krieger Schechter Day School and Deir al Assad’s Junior High School, I was brought on board as the project’s on-the-ground coordinator. My role included serving as the “middlewoman” between the schools, providing planning assistance for the Assadi’s trip to the US and Schechter’s trip to Deir al Assad.
My participation in this project allowed me to immerse myself in the Deir al Assad community and build lifelong connections. In addition to coordinating the partnership, for five months I spent two days a week in the village learning Arabic and leading an English club for 10-20 eighth grade girls at the Junior High School (all of whom participated in the meeting with their peers from Baltimore). Together, my students and I learned the lyrics to popular American songs. We shared our weekly highs and lows. We played every sort of icebreaker and word game that can be found on Internet ESL forums. They shared with me their deep love for Korean pop music and gave me an insight into the life of a 14-year-old Arab Citizen of Israel.
To Mamoun and Efaf Assadi, who spent a week in residence at Schechter sharing their experiences, language, and culture with students, I became a daughter. Every week, they welcomed me into their home, fed me delicious food, taught me Arabic, and connected me to people in the village. Ever since their trip to Baltimore, a picture of Daniel sits in their living room – a reminder of the inspiration for so many new friendships. Mamoun and I have birthdays just one day apart. Our birthdays are around the time of Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish New Year for the Trees. So, we bought a grapefruit tree, which we planted together at the Assadi’s home. To his family, the tree is known as “Shajarat Jenna”, Jenna’s tree. Literally and figuratively, I’ve grown lifelong roots in this place and with these people.
Jenna W. 2014
Jewish Day School students and teachers from Krieger Schechter Day School visited Deir al Assad May 2014. Their reflections:
As our class exited the bus and stepped onto the campus of the Deir Al Assad Middle School, I became both nervous and excited. Although the olive branch they extended towards us, literally and metaphorically, was beautiful, its’ peaceful message was truly inspiring. The symbol showed that we would be infinitely connected because we we’re all teenagers navigating the same world. As we continued to converse with them, I realized the olive branch was true. We joined hands in favor of peace between Jews and Arabs. I know (everyone in the Krieger Schechter Class of 2014) was inspired by our visit to Deir Al Assad, our movement for a better world.
When the Krieger Schechter Day School class of 2014 visited Deir Al Assad Israel, outstanding connections were made among two diverse cultures that usually have limited relations. Bonds were formed, friendships were created, and smiles were contagious as we laughed and got to know each other. We quickly discovered our similarities and celebrated our differences. We learned about a culture that is practiced halfway around the world, and realized the value of communication. We were taught to not judge a book by its cover and to keep an open mind. As students, we were given an extremely unique opportunity, not only to travel to the land of Israel, but also meet and understand other teenagers of difference.
When I heard we would be visiting the Arab school in Deir Al Assad, I was excited, although I didn’t know what to expect. I wondered how our (often very sheltered) students would react to meeting the Arab students for the first time, and I was curious how our hosts would greet this group of American children. If I had had any doubts about a meaningful, peaceful experience, they all vanished when the students from Deir Al Assad welcomed us with open arms and presented each of us with an olive branch. This gesture meant so much more than the traditional symbol for peace, however. It meant friendship, respect, and a desire for connection. And although our visit was far too brief, we certainly experienced all three during our time at Deir Al Assad.
While the students quickly formed bonds with their new peers, running through the halls together and holding hands, the faculty was lucky enough to meet with the principal in his office. We shared delicious food, coffee, and most importantly stories of faith and beliefs about education through peace. We were privileged to sign the contract that represents the school’s mission statement, expressing our desire for peace and tolerance of all people. It was an experience I will never forget.
And what would a meeting of this significance be without a meal? The faculty rejoined the rest of the group, only to find the American students and the Arab students sitting side by side, completely unified in their newfound friendship. We enjoyed a wonderful meal of hummus and pita, although the children spent less time eating, and more time exchanging social media information! I truly hope that they will stay in touch, though, because their connection gives us hope during troubling times, it gives us hope for positive change, and it gives us hope for peace. I would live to thank our gracious hosts, and I can’t wait for my next visit to Deir Al Assad.
Z.F., ‘04/KSDS faculty
It was very clear to me from the first moment that we entered the school that this visit was very, very important to the headmaster, the teachers, and because of them to the students as well. I immediately saw that great time and preparation took place in order to assure maximum success to this special meeting and program. The words of Mr. Yusuf, the headmaster and the enthusiasm and involvement of the teachers in welcoming us all, the efforts to break the ice quickly all showed how much they valued this opportunity.
I also think that our students gained a new perspective and understanding that we are all the same in what we wish to have in our lives, and I hope they will be the future ambassadors to promote these ideas as they grow and move to new places in September and beyond.
I hope that we can reciprocate and continue this dialogue in the next 8th grade trips to Israel.
M.R., KSDS faculty