This summer, I worked as a camp counselor at an integrated Arab-Jewish summer camp in Ecalled Project Harmony which is a program of the Max Rayne Hand in Hand K12 school, whose mission is to create a strong, inclusive, and shared society in Israel through a network of Jewish-Arab integrated bilingual schools and organized communities. Project Harmony is a summer camp that holds the same values and mission, but focuses on English learning for children in 4th through 7th grade.
My responsibilities as a counselor started with curriculum building and training sessions on the complexities and challenges of teaching at an integrated school/camp. We also learned a lot about varying aspects of the conflict such as the technicalities and hierarchies of citizenship, residency, etc. for Palestinians living inside Israel proper and within the West Bank. Many of the kids at Hand in Hand live a politically charged life as a student at an integrated school. Conceptually, integrated schools are still becoming normalized in Israeli society and are subject to heavy criticism from Haredi communities. Project Harmony is meant to be a space for the kids to take a break from conflict and discourse, have fun, and learn English.
Every day of camp was an adventure and I eventually learned to come to school ready for anything. There were many, many challenging days where I felt unqualified, defeated, and hopeless. But on the other hand, there were also many rewarding days when I was genuinely moved by a conversation or interaction with my campers and felt so happy to be there. Watching them learn, play, laugh, and even fight with each other in a safe and relaxed environment was truly a beautiful experience. I came into the space with so many expectations about the politics of integration and Israeli society that were challenged during my time as a counselor. I also entered looking for answers to a lot of questions, but left with less answers and even more questions. I learned so much about the humanity of the conflict and am now able to reshape the framework through which I learn and form opinions about it. I also discovered a lot about my identity as a Jewish person and my relationship with Israel. I put immense time and energy into making camp the best that it could be for my campers and at the end I learned and grew just as much, if not more than they did.
It’s incredibly difficult for me to articulate just how much I gained from Project Harmony, and I don’t know that there will ever be an end time to my processing and reflecting. I do know that it has affirmed my passions for social justice and education, and strengthened my interest in Middle Eastern culture and politics. Some potential topics for a senior thesis I have contemplated include: educational disparities in the West Bank and Gaza vs. Israel proper; Jewish transgenerational trauma post-Holocaust and its implications in peace & war; the erasure of Bedouin society and culture in a Jewish majority state; and more. I’m looking forward to continuing my education and experiences in Israel through coursework at Carolina, conversations with professors, and independent research. I’m incredibly thankful to have had this opportunity and can’t express my gratitude enough to the Global Studies Department and the selection committee for this life-changing award.