By: Seth Frankel, Carlsbad, CA – July 11, 2018
Outside of Pacific Ridge School (PRS), a crowd of people had gathered. As day turned to night, the eager and curious group awaiting a bus grew and signs appeared among them, as might be usual for when a winning sports team returns home, or when exuberant parents wait for their kids to come back from summer camp.
The bus people were waiting for had been loaded at LAX three hours earlier with young adults and their heavy luggage. These young adults had travelled almost 24 hours from the Middle East, from Tel Aviv airport in Israel or from the West Bank through Jordan, meeting in Istanbul for the final leg of the trip. Their arrival was just the beginning of the unforgettable journey that is Hands of Peace.
This Wednesday night was a night of many firsts. For some of the teens it was their first time in America, or first time out of their country, or even first time out of their city. And they were not travelling with a group of schoolmates or friends – in fact they are frequently portrayed as enemies. This bus to Pacific Ridge Academy was filled with Palestinians, Palestinian Citizens of Israel, and Jewish Israelis on their way to join an American youth delegation to take part in a 19-day program that would push them to their limits, challenge them, frustrate them, inspire them, and much more. They were on their way to the Summer Program of Hands of Peace – the beginning of a life-long journey.
As the bus approached PRS, generous families who will host the Israeli and Palestinian participants for almost three weeks awaited them eagerly. Welcome signs were raised high, and the cheering began as the big white bus came up the hill. Exhausted yet curious young people piled off the bus. Some, here for the second year, ran to meet their American friends from the year before, like long lost family members. These “XLs,” who had been selected to come back for a second year, gave the first year participants a peek at what was to come. The first years got off the bus shyly, looking around the sea of Americans and following the sound of their names being called.
As they found their hosts, they started to realize that they were being welcomed with open arms into this foreign country. Among the people there to greet them were alumni from the five years that Hands of Peace has had a San Diego site (there has been a Summer Program in Chicago for 15 years). “It was great to see old friends as well as make new ones,” said Sydni, an American XL.
As they moved towards the cars taking them to their host family homes, their physical journey was almost complete, but their Hands of Peace journey was just beginning. The journey is all about opening up discussion about peace in an area where those conversations are sadly lacking, and helping these brave kids understand that with grueling work and an open mindset, peace is possible. The fact that these kids are willing to try something so foreign to them indicates that they are ready to make these conversations happen, not only in San Diego, but also back home, where it is needed the most.
Everything felt a little different that night at PRS. As the bus rolled up the street to the waiting crowd of gracious hosts and alumni, the special feeling in the air solidified. It was time for important work to be done. As one journey ended, another one was to begin the next day. “I never expected to make such good friends so quickly with people from so far away,” said Lour, one of the participants, “But I’m nervous about what is to come.”
Seth Frankel was a 2014 Hand, 2015 XL and is now a student at the University of Oregon. He is working this summer as the Hands of Peace Marketing Intern.