This summer, 30 Model UN students from all around Israel attended Jerusalem Peacebuilders interfaith leadership camps in Connecticut, Texas, and Vermont. Of these students, two were chosen to continue on to NYC for a week of meetings and speeches to present the Debate for Peace Model UN program at mosques, synagogues, and at the UN.
Khetam Kalash, 16, from Kfar Qara, and Omri Weinstock, 16 from Petah Tiqva, were selected from hundreds of MUN leaders to attend the JPB camp in Houston, Texas. After an intensive ten day program of camping, dialogues and workshops on religion, citizenship, and coexistence with Jewish, Christian and Muslim peers, Khetam and Omri flew to New York to continue their trip as representatives of Debate for Peace.
On Monday August 14th, the students received a behind the scenes tour of UNHQ, including visits to the Security Council and General Assembly chambers and spoke at an interfaith summit organized in their honor by the Consulate General of Kosovo and led by Ambassador Teuta Sahatqija, and First Secretary Ines Demiri (a member of the Kosovo Jewish community). Also in attendance were Rabbi Bob Kaplan, Sheikh Dr. Omer Salem, Imam Ismaeel Malik, and Jewish-Muslim activist Julie Naftal. That evening the students met with a Holocaust survivor on the Upper West Side, who challenged them with tough questions about how future generations could improve on the conflict in the world today.
Tuesday began with more introspection, as the delegation visited the 9/11 Memorial, the American Indian Museum, and Federal Hall, where George Washington was first sworn in, now adjacent to the Trump Building. From there, they traveled to Queens, for a wide-ranging discussion on interfaith relations with Imam Shamsi Ali and members of his Indonesian Muslim community. That evening the students spoke at White Meadow Temple in New Jersey, where an audience of 40-50 Jewish community members asked questions for nearly two hours.
On Wednesday morning the delegation held a consultation on potential interfaith implementations in the NYC area. They then headed to the Center for Jewish History for an explanation of the Diarna project on Jewish heritage sites in Arab countries by coordinator and lead researcher Eddie Ashkenazie. From there Rabbi Yehuda Sarna took them on a tour of the NYU campus, focusing on the new Multifaith Center and its implications for interfaith dialogue on campus. After a break for lunch, the group got an insider’s tour of Grand Central, and then went to see the Late Night Show with Seth Meyers being taped at Rockefeller Center.
Thursday was the last chance to take in some sightseeing, with the Staten Island Ferry, Roosevelt Island tram, Chinatown, and a visit to the NY Public Library. Taking the subway to Brooklyn, the students visited Coney Island, where they watched a Brooklyn Cyclones game. During the game Khetam and Omri were called on to the field to sign “Take me out to the ballgame,” and the group received a special scoreboard welcome.
On Friday the students visited Masjid al-Eman in the Bronx, where they attended Juma’a prayers and spoke to Sheikh Musa Drammeh and his diverse community about interfaith leadership and how to engage in difficult discussions on sensitive topics. That evening the group attended Jewish prayers and shabbat dinner with the Ramath Orah community on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The next morning, Khetam and Omri addressed the Ramath Orah community following the Torah reading, speaking about their experiences in MUN conferences and the JPB summer camp. At the end of shabbat, the group had dinner and havdala with Jessica Goldberg and Asaf Gal, friends of the program. On Sunday, after 2.5 weeks of travel, the students boarded their flight back to Israel.
Throughout the trip the group was met by local Jewish and Muslim activists, as well as friends who traveled from as far away as Maryland, Rhode Island, and Syracuse, NY to spend time with them. Feedback was tremendous, with audiences blown away by the poise and candid nature of the students, and the strength of their message. Local activist Julie Naftal, who hosted the group for the last day of their trip, said “The trip gave the students several opportunities to meet with people from various backgrounds and religions, and after hearing them speak, I feel more optimistic about the possibility of peace, knowing that they will be leading the way. They are the future.”
At the end of August eight Debate for Peace youth leaders will be attending an address by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in Tel Aviv, and in October six students will join DfP founder Steven Aiello to present the program’s achievements at the European Parliament in Brussels. For more information about the program, please visit the Debate for Peace website: debateforpeace.wordpress.com
Founder, Debate for Peace