Six guest speakers from Israel visited Stuyvesant on Wednesday, February 29, with the aim of providing students some insight into the real face of Israeli culture.
The speakers began their tours around the United States as part of Faces of Israel, an initiative to introduce diverse members of Israeli society to those who are only familiar with the Israel they see on television. It is composed of a group of volunteers from different socio-economic backgrounds, professions, and religions who have spoken to communities around the world. Their goal is to correct what they believe to be the media’s flawed depiction of Israel and Israelis.
“Faces of Israel gives ordinary people in the United States an opportunity to meet one-on-one with ordinary people from Israel, to interact with them, exchange ideas, and to ask questions,” social studies teacher Michael Waxman said.
Waxman organized the event after the group contacted him through e-mail. The presentation was open to all students and faculty who wished to come. Various social studies teachers attended, as well as foreign language teachers, mathematics teachers, guidance counselors, and other members of the faculty.
“[The seminar] sounded interesting because it was a nice learning opportunity for classes to meet representatives from other countries and to get [the speakers’] perspectives,” Assistant Principal Social Studies Jennifer Suri said.
Guidance counselor Audra Parris agreed. “What we usually hear on the news is about [the fighting between] Israel and the Muslims, and it’s all about the violence,” Parris said. “These people came in and gave a different perspective on the night life, what it’s like in Israel, how people [in Israel] help one another, and how the military helps everyone, no matter what culture they come from.”
The delegates introduced themselves and presented their backgrounds and experiences to the audience. Guest speaker Kinneret Beltzer began by sharing her experience in the Lebanon war as a soldier who provided aid and relief to civilians still living in the warzone. “The most surreal moment for me was when we were boiling a pot of Turkish coffee in the streets while buildings were on fire and [bombs] were going off,” Beltzer said.
Guest speaker Esther Solomon, a women’s rights advocate, spoke about how her experiences growing up as an Orthodox Jew have led her to try to unite the Orthodox community. “My English is not so good because when I was a little Orthodox Jewish girl, I was learning in a school [that] was only girls. In our community, girls and boys do not learn like you,” Solomon said. “It was next to a British boy’s school [that had an] army camp so the principal didn’t allow the girls to learn English.”
Next, David Zviel shared his experiences in the Israeli Defense Force as a combat medic during the 1980s. He highlighted a relationship that he had with a handicapped Arab pre-teenager while working as a medic. “We started talking and we had this immediate connection,” Zviel said. “[The bond between Arabs and Jews] is a lot of what Israel is about. On one hand, there is distrust, but on the other, it is growing.”
The seminar was aided by a PowerPoint presentation that included images of daily life in Israel, maps, facts, and videos. “[Before the presentation] I never knew that the land of Israel was so culturally diverse,” freshman Daniel Zabari said.
Following the presentation, the group ran a question-andanswer session, during which students asked about the Israeli military, daily citizen life, and the status of non-Jewish peoples in Israel. Waxman provided translations from Hebrew to English when necessary.
“The students looked very engaged and into the topic and discussion,” Parris said. “They left with a better understanding of Israel, as opposed to the negative aspects presented in the media.” The speakers also enjoyed the experience.
“They [Faces of Israel] expressed that they felt at home here,” Waxman said. “The students were inquisitive and the turnout well exceeded the relatively small space provided.”