Two final activities awaited us on the last full-fledged day of #Israel2016, the first of which was a trip to the Orchard of Abraham's Children in Jaffa. The Orchard is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 2011 by Ihab and Ora Balha; its primary mission is to create a sense of community and connectedness between Israelis and Palestinians.
Ora met with us in the morning and showed us around the classroom facilities at the Orchard. The nonprofit's staff teaches Israeli and Palestinian children aged twelve months to six years, divided into four sections by age. The teachers also comprise a mix of Israelis and Palestinians, and Ora explained that teaching by example is a large part of the Orchard's ethos. Another component is learning about humans' connection with nature, as the kids are typically from urban areas. To this end, an outdoor portion of the Orchard houses a garden and a flock of chickens, along with a goat that was just chilling.
Ora, a Jew, and her husband Ihab, an Arab, recognize that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one based upon racism, among other things, and believe bringing kids from both sides together at a young age in an educational setting will help them see they aren't all that different from one another. It's inspiring work, in my opinion, and it's good to see someone taking up the helm.
After grabbing a quick bite of turkey shawarma, we stopped in at PeacePlayers International's spring fest, where elementary-aged children were busy participating in a variety of sports-related activities. Peeps from our group jumped into basketball drills, kick boxing, and other ditties. It was the final hurrah of our sports-themed journey in Israel and Jordan, one that's left a good deal of us burnt out to the max (or maybe that's just me).
The evening consisted of my solo excursion to the beach for a quick dip in the Mediterranean, followed by a farewell dinner in Jaffa at this real classy joint where we had our final fill of pita bread, hummus, and some scrumptious meat skewers.
If I had to sum up the whole experience with a handful of adjectives, they would be these: enlightening, tiring, scorching, breathtaking, humorous, convivial, and... promising. There are people and organizations — the Peres Center for Peace, the Orchard of Abraham's Children, PeacePlayers International, the Truman Research Institute, Mayor Salam of Nazareth, and our very own Professor Rosentraub — who, in spite of stiff roadblocks, have not given up on the idea of peace in the Middle East.
It is a prospect that has proven to be elusive for decades (indeed, centuries); a prospect that remains out of reach every time someone involved turns to violence; and one that at times seems utterly impossible not only today but for the foreseeable future. Though things may not exactly be looking up right now, I am left with a positive notion: as sure as enemies of peace will continue to exist, so too will individuals looking to build bridges — via sports or otherwise — continue their efforts to connect and create a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.
Israel (and Jordan), it's been real, it's been fun, it's been exhausting; and now it's time to go. Signing off.