Hello! I am Eran Shapiro. I grew up in Montclair, New Jersey and I am 22 years old. I am a student at Northeastern University and I will be working with Dror Israel as a part of a school program this semester. Here’s the plan: I am going to be exploring the world of Dror, visiting schools, community centers, and a lot of the other amazing things that are going on over here. For the next few months, I am going to capture interesting and unique parts of Dror – what they are doing, thinking, teaching, and creating – and telling you all about them.
I didn’t know much about Dror before I got here. Well, that's not exactly true. From ages 9 to 11, my family lived in Har Halutz, a small community on the top of a hill near Karmiel. For two years I was a participant in Hanoar Haoved, the youth movement associated with Dror Israel. Besides giving me a strong foundation in Hebrew, those two years were the start of my relationship to this country. But…more about Israel and me later.
This week, I went to one of these youth movement meetings in Zichron Yaakov for a very special event – the 10th and 11th graders were hosting a visit from Hanoar Haoved members their age from the nearby Arab town Fureidis. In fact, the 80,000-member youth movement has chapters all over the country, with some 20% in Arab communities – making it one of the largest youth movements in Israel, and certainly the most diverse.
Many of you may have heard of Zichron, it is a well-known little town about 30 minutes south of Haifa. My host in Zichron, a young man named Noam, explained to me that while many people know the history of Zichron and its relationship to the Baron Rothschild, many tourists are not given the whole story. Rothschild supported several different communities in Israel, including Zichron. Despite that, the people of Zichron had many issues with the Baron and actually parted ways with him over differences in their vision for the future of the community.
Of course the controversies of the past have little or nothing to do with what Dror or Hanoar Haoved does in Zichron today. At the same time, my small conversation with Noam illustrates perfectly something I think is important to know about Dror: The people who are a part of Dror are deeply passionate about their communities and their history. Just about everyone I talk to is super excited to share their community with me, in all its aspects – positive AND negative. This is a part of what makes Dror so special. The love for Zichron and its history was palpable in my conversation with Noam and yet he spent absolutely no energy trying to sugarcoat or ‘spin’ it. Instead of the touristy spiel I might get from a tour guide while walking through the main street of Zichron, Noam got real about Zichron without sacrificing even a fraction of the depth and meaning of its history. In fact, he made it so much more interesting. I have a feeling this is more Dror’s style.
Like Dror, Hanoar Haoved has their own traditions, culture, and even language. For example, Hanoar Haoved calls the chapters they have in communities around Israel a “Ken,” which means nest in Hebrew. The day I arrived to visit the Zichron ken, they were preparing for a visit from some of the kids who are a part of the Fureidis ken, an Arab community just next to Zichron. (Noam told me they are close enough that you can hear the call to prayer from Fureidis early in the morning in Zichron.)
Four girls who are seniors in high school, two from each community, had planned activities for a group of 10th and 11th graders. At the start, one of the girls from Zichron explained in Hebrew that everything will be translated in both languages, Hebrew and Arabic. In a quietly beautiful gesture of community-building, she asked everyone to be patient and wait until everything was translated before they started reacting to the instructions. One of the girls from Fureidis repeated the same in Arabic.
The Fureidis-Zichron partnership is extremely new, so many of these kids had only met once before, if at all. As a result, most of the activities were focused on getting to know each other, having fun, and just hanging out. There were some yummy looking snacks on the side table, but at the beginning at least, everyone seemed preoccupied with getting to know each other, cracking jokes, and breaking the ice. The kids were slightly awkward at first but they quickly got more comfortable. Part of the
By the time Noam and I came back from a quick coffee, there was a balagan of kids laughing, working on different activities, and moving from room to room to put stickers on paper. The instructions of some of the activities were confusing to me, but the kids absolutely loved them. I stepped outside and watched as a group of kids tried to count together in Hebrew and Arabic. One particularly outgoing student from Fureidis kept making jokes in Arabic. Although I didn’t understand a word he was saying, I could not stop laughing because of the huge smile on his face.
As I watched all of this activity from the sidelines, I couldn’t help thinking how this is a picture of Israel that many Americans never see or could even imagine. There was a moment I found myself watching these kids playing and laughing together, but instead of just seeing kids being kids I could only see what was happening in front of me in the context of the larger socio-political world. Israel has become so steeped in politics for many of us on the outside, that it can be hard to see anything without a political filter.
These kids, however, were on a completely different page. This was, for them too, an exciting moment to get to know kids their age who live very different lives than they do. But, for the most part, it was just as awkward and fun and exciting and normal as meeting any new kid your age is. There were the show-offs, the quiet kids, the class clowns, the giggly kids, and the kids who couldn’t sit still. There I was, being an annoying American, thinking about how deep and amazing this was, but really it was just a bunch of kids running around being weird, silly, hilarious–kids! That was my biggest takeaway from seeing this roughly 2 hour activity. So much of what is going on in Israel, the conversations happening, the communities being built, the work on the ground being done to create a better world, when you look up close, it's just people being people. We, I am talking now especially about Jews outside of Israel, have an inclination to get all profound and deep when we look at the bridge-building happening within Israel. But really, when the bridge-building is at its most basic, when kids are just being kids, that is when it is at its most powerful.
I spoke with Noam a bit about whether they talk about the conflict and the divisions in this country in these meetings. We discussed some of the violence that happened this last May and how it has affected communities all over Israel. (Something I am sure I will talk more about in a later blog post.) We agreed that the best work, the conversations that carry the deepest impact, must come from a united community. How can you talk to someone about the things that you care most deeply about if they do not understand you? First, you have to understand one another and see each other as part of the same community. The initial building blocks of that ‘united community’ are still being laid down all over this country. That is what I got a sneak peek of in Zichron. Just a group of kids, who barely knew each other, just beginning to build something that might one day be tremendous. But, for now, it was just kids running around being kids.