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Koscher leben...

Aktiv gegen Nazi-Propaganda!
Jüdische Weisheit


Israel-Austria 2004

Nili Gross, Israel

This article about "identity project", which was conducted in the 2004 school year, was written four months after the project ended. With four months' perspective, insights have been gained that were not visible during the project or right after it ended. I assume that as time passes – every participant, teachers and students alike, will have more insights into the process, and the influence that the project has had on them.

There is no doubt that the project was fulfillment of a dream for me, and I know that it was so for my co-entrepreneur, Mrs. Evelyn Bohmer as well. What moves me to this day is the fact that both of us, sitting on two different continents, conjured this vision on our own. Without even knowing each other, our dreams joined and became one, and together we made it come true, in a way that sometimes seems as if it all happened by chance. The road we took until the project was finally on its way was long and paved with obstacles; many joined us and many deserted us to walk alone on a path that was long and tedious. What kept us from giving up was the uncompromising faith that we were on the right road, and that we wanted to take a part, even a small one, in touching a child's soul.

Education touches the soul. Education does not mean dictating faith or a given doctrine, but rather making a person ask questions that don't necessarily have answers, and knowing that it is his duty to always ask questions and to doubt. Doubting gives an option to confront reality, which sometime seems unchangeable. That's why education is, to my mind, the turning of children into grown men and women who are critical and aware of what is happening around them It was satisfying that, at last, a wonderful staff from Austria and Israel was assembled.

The team was composed of teachers from Alpen Adria, Ibn Sinna and Ramot Hefer schools, and some professionals. Moreover, a filming crew who were making a documentary film about the project joined us, and although they observed us from the outside or through a camera lens, they became an inseparable part of the project's entity.

The choice of the three different youth groups was not coincidental: The meeting between a group of Jewish-Israelis, Arab-Palestinian-Israelis who live between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and Austrian youth- who live on the boarder of Austria and Slovenia, was a meaningful meeting, on which I will elaborate later.

Samach, Manuela, Alex

Boat Race on the lake

The theme and name of the project was "Peace Camp" - a process of researching identities. The process was divided into two parts. The first part, in which every team worked separately with a teacher-guide on the research of personal, family and group identity. The second part included a meeting of the different groups in a ten-day camp in Austria, where the results were processed through different arts: dance, music, drama, and plastic art.

During the camp the participants got to know the Corinthian County, where we were hosted, through exploration of nature, geography and history-study activities. Debates about identity, politics and history were conducted, and the processing of it all was held in a psychological-analytical session at the end.

Why was the identity research chosen? We carry many diverse identities throughout our lives. To some we are born and they are unchangeable- like gender, family and ethnic identities, and some are given to us after birth, without our personal choosing, such as religious and national identities. Most of the communities in which we live do not allow a real search or doubt in regards to identities, because the change of identity threatens their stability. But without real exploration into our identities, we can never really fulfill ourselves in a satisfying way. We have to understand that we usually can't choose most of our identities, so we have to learn how to balance them.

Practicing for the show's dance

Manuela's self identity art work

Part understanding our identities and the way they are chosen happens when we meet other identities, different from our own. Sometimes we build our identity by negating a different one. In this case, casting a negative shadow on a different identity gives a sense of meaning to our identity and this creates a bond between the people who carry it. In this way we sometime de-legitimize the culture of the different identity - the language, music, colors, and clothing. These topics were discussed in the different debates throughout camp: The Austrians spoke of the struggle the citizens of Slovenian origin had undergone, wanting the street signs to be written also in the Slovenian language, alongside the German language; and we discussed the fact that Arabs in Israel speak Hebrew, whereas the Jews do not speak Arabic. (The Jews learn Arabic only for the reason of spying on the enemy, and not for communicating and getting to know the Arabs.)

Many important questions were raised concerning the identities we carry: Do we live in peace with all of them? Are we capable of denying some of them and if so, are others willing to accept this denial? The holocaust was discussed in this context: When Jews were murdered because of their Jewish identity, even though some of them had no connection to it and some even denied it. Another topic was associated with the holocaust – the understanding that the Austrian group was composed of a third generation holocaust perpetrators. The question "how much guilt do you carry?" was raised. The understanding that the Jewish group was composed of third generation holocaust survivors raised the question of the "victim" identity, to which they are attached, alongside with the "aggressor" identity they find hard to admit. Both the Austrian, Jewish and Arab groups understood that the holocaust plays a crucial part in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that it has an effect on the Israeli's lack of trust in the Palestinians to this very day.

Playing music in the free time

Left: Planting an olive tree

The question of how reliable is media-information in wartime was raised, as well as the reliability and veracity of different topics learned in school. It seemed to the Austrians that they knew Israel's history better than the two other groups, even though these groups live in Israel.

There is no doubt that there is much that can be added about the important and interesting processes that came up during camp. My priority is not necessarily giving answers to these questions, but rather the asking of the questions, even the ones that were left hanging in the air after all the debates and activities were over. There is no doubt that these questions keep working their effects on the project's participants, long after the project's end.

A personal dynamic, which is not less important (and maybe even more), was created between the participants, beyond the working hours. The interaction between them, in the little free time they had, was rich, loving and respectful. The social connections and friendships that were formed will not soon, if ever, be forgotten. Even three months after the end, the participants still keep in close touch. It is understood that the Arab group, who have no Internet connection, are having a harder time keeping in touch, but those who can - do so.

The participants learned about the big differences between the groups, which stemmed from the different identities, but they also learned about what is common to them all as human beings. The social connections were built because of their ability to see beyond their differences, and because of the recognition that difference is not necessarily negative. Many and different identities create a richer and more beautiful reality, one which does not need to be threatening.

There were unexpected things - things that we needed to handle on a day-to-day basis. It turns out that the most basic needs like food and hygienic habits, which are also different due to cultural conditioning, presented difficulties, much like the other activities. We needed to overcome these differences in order to deal with the spiritual needs of the soul. We also dealt with perceptual and cultural differences between staff members, who had to function as guides and leaders of the project and also solve the problems amongst themselves. Identity differences, it turns out, touch every part and quality of our lives, and dealing with them isn't easy when we meet people who are different from us. We overcame these problems as well, and the evidence for this is our strong will to keep on working together in the future.

This project has touched the hearts of 26 teenagers in all, but in my eyes each and every one of them is a world of its own. I aspire and hope to keep conducting more projects such as this one in the near future, with new groups and also the old ones. Today, after the project has proved that we can make dreams come true, even when on the surface it seems impossible, I am full of hope that we can continue this important educational work. I hope that others will also believe in our purpose and agree to help us in the future.

I thank my loyal partner, Mrs. Evelyn Boehmer-Laufer, The President of "Hadassah-Austria", Mrs. Susanne Shaked, and her husband, Prof. Dr. Josef Shaked, who guided the psychoanalytical large-group-sessions, with all my heart. I thank the staff of teachers from the different schools for their efforts, their hard work and their undiminished faith in the success of the project. I thank the artistic team, the participants' parents who put their trust in us, and the wonderful participants who are the reason the project succeeded more than anyone expected. I thank the documentary film production team - the producer, the director, the cameraman and the soundmen, who became a wonderful part of our daily routine in camp, and of course the generous supporters of the project - Karl Kahane Stiftung, the Austrian Ministry of Education and others.

????? 02-11-2004

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