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By: Aliza Nussbaum Cohen

 

Nazareth. – February 3, 2018

Participating in a recent Hands of Peace seminar in Nazareth was intense, wonderful and difficult; similar to the summer experience in some ways, and totally different in others. On a Friday night in Nazareth, I found myself singing the Hands of Peace song with some of my closest friends and also a bunch of teenagers whom I didn’t know, but I knew shared a similar experience to mine.

Hands of Peace holds multiple seminars for Israeli and Palestinian alumni each year. Because I am in Jerusalem at the Shalom Hartman Institute’s joint Israeli-American gap year program, I was eager to take advantage of being nearby and having the opportunity to participate. The two-day seminar included four dialogue sessions, a self-guided tour of Old Nazareth, a lecture, and a storytelling workshop.

As in the Summer Program I had to find my place in dialogue. As an American, I cannot fully experience the conflict because I don’t live here permanently. On the other hand, I am deeply committed to reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

Because the seminar is short, it was hard for our dialogue group to confront sensitive and personal issues. However, unlike the Summer Program, the reality was present – not an idea for the future, but immediate. We were not just talking hypothetically about Israeli alumni joining the army at some point in the distant future, but how we feel about it now as many edge closer to their enlistment dates.

The social divide between Israelis and Palestinians was palpable. It also brought me right up to face one of my deepest inner conflicts. Does being empathetic to the Palestinian cause diminish my identity as a Jew who loves Israel, as a Zionist? It is a question I am grappling with now. I’m not sure if Israel can be Jewish and democratic simultaneously.

Leaving the seminar was hard, because I had so many unfinished conversations and didn’t know the next time I was going to see my friends. The experience of walking into the bubble of HOP dialogue and then exiting back into reality was intense. I am grateful to have participated in the seminar and look forward to attending the next one!

 

Aliza Nussbaum-Cohen participated in Hands of Peace in Chicago in 2015 and then again, a year later, as an XL in San Diego. Originally from New York, she is currently taking a gap year and studying at the Shalom-Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.