Onteora High School students recently hosted some very special guests—fellow teenagers who traveled from the Israeli region of Galilee to dispel misconceptions, combat biases, and promote their dreams of inclusion, tolerance, and peace.
The eight visiting students—four who identify as Jewish and four who identify as Arabs—were participating in the Galilee Dreamers, a program developed by the Oranim International School in Israel.
On January 31, the Dreamers dropped in on a number of Onteora classes, including ones focusing on global studies, European history, human rights, government, and human geography. The resulting conversations ranged from the peace process to New Year’s parties, segregation to snowmobiles, religion to right-on-red driving habits.
The visitors talked about how at home in Galilee, Arab and Jewish youth typically live segregated lives. They go to different schools, practice different religions, socialize separately, and speak different languages at home.
The Galilee Dreamers program, they suggested, was an opportunity to break through that separation. “I’m definitely making friends,” said 16-year-old Gali Mordechay. In the essay she wrote when applying to the program, she said, “I would really like to get to know the Arabs who live close to me, because I don’t know a lot about their customs and culture. They are so close to us, and yet I know almost nothing about them.”
Fellow Dreamer Adan Khalaila, 16, expressed a similar sentiment. “We are living five minutes from each other, but we don’t know each other.”
Mohammed Aborya, 16, mentioned his hopes for an end to the conflict in his homeland. “Our purpose is to show people we want to live in peace,” he said.
Onteora teachers found the visit to be extremely educational. Global Studies teacher Alicia Curlew said, “I thought it was a great opportunity for our students to learn about another place through the eyes of teenagers,” she said.
“It’s such an amazing opportunity,” said Global Studies teacher Brian Connolly, who explained that the idea for the visit was brought to him by Grade 11 Onteora student Sophia Roberts, who put him in touch with Rabbi Jonathan Kligler of the Woodstock Jewish Congregation. Rabbi Kligler’s sister-in-law, Dr. Roberta Bell-Kligler, is Director of the Oranim College International School.
“The goal of the program,” Mr. Connolly said, “is to make connections and to build a peaceful future in Israel and Palestine and the world.” The Dreamers program has extended an invitation to the Onteora High School government to visit Galilee, he added.
Sophia, whose family hosted two of the Galilee Dreamers, said she learned a lot from the students’ visit. “I didn’t realize there could be a part of Israel where Arabs and Jews were living peacefully,” she said.
Onteora’s Boiceville campus was just one stop in the Dreamers’ 10-day itinerary, which also includes stays in Philadelphia, Woodstock, and New York City.