Student Stories

Hand in Hand

Welcome to the next installment in our Summer Postcards series! We’re asking our students what they’re up to and how they’re making the most of this summer. Today, we're hearing from rising third-year Lexie Tabachnick, who has spent the summer in Jerusalem working at Project Harmony, a theater camp for Arab and Jewish children. 

-Jessen O'Brien and Susie Allen

You know how sometimes you’re so busy you forget to track the effects of your efforts and you wake up one day to find you’re knee-deep in the final stages of a project you never imagined would actually manifest?  And all of a sudden you realize you’re in a strange, Twilight Zone of a country—not exactly war-torn, but not exactly Switzerland—with politics more complicated than you could have ever imagined and communities of distinct but also overlapping cultures made up of individuals who sometimes hate each other and sometimes don’t?  No?  That’s just me?  Oh.  Then I guess I should explain a little more about what I mean.

This summer I found myself the co-director of Project Harmony, a theater and music camp for Arab and Jewish youth in Jerusalem. Starting in December I spent countless hours writing in preparation—grant proposals, curriculums, calendars, partnership offers, you name it.  By no small miracle, we managed to raise almost $8000 through grants and personal donations by friends and family.  Furthermore, we received a pledge of full support from the Hand in Hand school of Jerusalem—one of the only Arab-Jewish integrated schools in the country.

When I began this project, I knew it was complete with the lofty ideals requisite in a summer of volunteer work.  War is bad, peace is good, and education is the answer.  But that’s about all I knew.  We taught our campers as much as we could, but I think they taught us much more.

The first thing I noticed about talking to our campers is that these particular pre-teens are extremely self-aware and sensitive to the issues of their communities and their country.  They are more than willing to share their thoughts about the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the checkpoints, the region’s prospects for peace, etc.  From them I learned how completely saturated life in Israel is by politics, history, and conflict—it is inescapable, even for children.

Jerusalem is a city of tension.  There’s beauty, sure, but it is either controversial or delicate; it’s a deeply divided city with quarters and borders barely crossed even by tourists, and groups on both sides constantly posturing for confrontation.  Children bear the weight of this tension as they grow up under pressure from the status quo and the lefties and the media and their families and their friends.  Furthermore, everyone is aware that the world’s eyes are on Jerusalem—what will spark the next round of violence?  This is not an easy place to grow up.

My interest here is not in prescribing a solution to the conflict based on a few months of visiting places and talking to people—I’m not quite so bold.  I do, however, have a few wishes.  My wish both for the very special children I’ve met and for those I have not is that they may enter adulthood strengthened by the challenges they grew up with and also that they may find a path in which they can let the lightness of life outside of politics flourish and bring them joy.  I can only hope that our camp this summer provided them with such a reprieve—a silencing of adult arguments in favor of laughter, bracelet-making, and water fights.  If I have accomplished that, my summer was successful.  If I have accomplished that, no matter whether or not I understand what brought me to this place, I understand how worthwhile my work here was.