Unification News for April 2005

Dancing & Serving For Peace in Jerusalem

by Michael Balcomb

I wanted to share with you another of Service For Peace's recent successes in our peacemaking work in the Middle East. We will be inviting a group of young Israelis, Jews and Arabs, to Washington and New York in July and again in Janury 2006. If your schedule happens to bring you to either city, I hope you will be able to join us!

Twenty-four young volunteers from the United States have just come home from a two- week visit to Israel at the invitation of the Municipality of Jerusalem Youth Department, having completed the first phase of the new Jerusalem-US Multicultural Project (JUMP). The US team consisted of a mix of volunteers from Washington AIDS International Teens (WAIT) and Service For Peace.

This initiative tested a new approach to solving youth problems common to both Israel and the USA, including ethnic and religious conflict, unequal educational access, and AIDS prevention, through a combination of international cultural exchange, performing arts, and community service.

The Power of Service

The team alternated between performances and simple but meaningful service projects, playing with children at Hadassah Cancer Hospital, planting trees in Beit Shemesh, and cleaning the converted bomb shelter that serves as a studio for our partners, the Jerusalem International Dance Troupe.

At the Hadassah En Karem Hospital we did singing, breakdancing and juggling for children and seniors being treated for cancer or recovering from surgery and their families. The young patients were both Jewish and Arab. We saw their faces change from worry to relaxation and enjoyment through just a few minutes of playing with them. Many patients offered prayers or thanks for us, and several decided to entertain us, wanting to make us laugh, too! It was a beautiful experience. Micha Nes, the choreographer of the International Dance Troupe whose own son is now receiving treatment for brain cancer at the hospital, had tears in his eyes when he saw the patients' reactions. He said: "You had made so many people happy, including my son."

Reaching Out to Different Communities

The two week program had four elements: joint performances with the Multicultural Dance Troupe of Jerusalem, service projects, visiting and learning about the Youth Department's outreach programs, and learning about the history, culture and lives of the Jewish and Arab people in Israel. We did a total of 19 exciting performances.

Everywhere people were deeply moved. Youth of all ages were dancing and jumping with us many times joining us on the stage while their parents, teachers and other adults looked on with tears of joy and hope in their eyes seeing how the performances affected their children.

Next Steps

The project was successful in creating a network of partners who are interested in continuing working together. We connected with several dozen organizations including schools, peace groups, AIDS organizations, the governmental bodies, and humanitarian groups.

Our focus now turns to the return trip to the US, planned for July 2005. We'll welcome a group of 24 led by Shabtai Amedi, Director of the Municipality's Youth Department and Yigal Amedi, Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem both of whom have said that the project has already exceeded their expectations and showed enthusiasm toward our future partnership.

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