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For two weeks, we have housed an exchange student from Israel.   Why was he here with 20 of his friends?  It’s interesting.  Let me tell you about him and about the Hand-in-hand program that brought them here.

There is a program in Israel called Hand in Hand.  Briefly, Hand-in-Hand currently has four schools in Israel (Jerusalem, Galilee, Beer Sheva and Wadi Ara) where Jewish and Arab students are educated together beginning in kindergarten and continuing through high school.  All classes are taught by both a Jewish teacher and an Arab teacher.  There is an Arab principal and a Jewish principal in each school.  All of the students speak Hebrew, Arabic and English.  In the highly segregated society that is Israel, these schools are an amazing anomaly.  

The Hand-in-Hand program was co-founded by a man named Lee Gordon who lived in Israel for many years.  Lee currently lives in Portland, Oregon and has a son that goes to school with my son at the Metropolitan Learning Center in Portland.  Several months ago, Lee put out an email telling the parents of the 7x8 classes that a group from the Hand-in-Hand school in Jerusalem was coming to Portland and that we would have an opportunity to host a student if we would like to.  Our family talked it over and decided that we would like to be a part of the fun and adventure.  

Over the next weeks, we met with the other host parents.  The host youth, including our son, met during the day at school to discuss plans and activities.  We planned and thought and dreamed up ways to make Portland appear captivating and beautiful in the frequently dull, gray, wet months of spring. ;-)  

Finally – the day arrived.  On Monday the 29th, the Israeli students met their host families at the school and we were off for a two week romp.  Their schedule has been absolutely packed.  School with their host student.  Ice skating and bowling with the 7x8 class.  Adventure camp with their host students.  Shopping and skiing and dining out.  You can read a little bit about their trip here.

It was interesting talking to the Israeli kids about their home and their school.  To them, sometimes, "It’s no big deal."  And then at other times, you can see that they know that it is a very "big deal" indeed.  They know the world is watching their little spot on the globe.  They know that they are different from what most of the world sees and believes. They have been wonderful ambassadors for "the possible."  They know that they can steer the future.  And, then again, maybe it’s all about 12- and 13-year-olds from any old place laughing together and having fun.  A kid is a kid is a kid.  

And now our incredible time has drawn to a close.  Thursday evening, the host families, the Israeli students and their teachers, along with teachers and students from MLC all gathered to say goodbye.  It was full of fun and football and skateboards and tears and hugs and basketball and speeches and cupcakes and thanks to oh, so many people.  Many spoke.  All of us laughed.  Nearly everyone cried.  Then, yesterday morning, all of the host families gathered at the airport at 6:30am with their new Israeli children.  More hugs and promises.  More tears and laughter.

It has changed lives, this two week adventure.  Now, for those who previously had no connection to Israel and Palestine, when the news talks of violence, there are faces to picture.  Much loved children to hold tightly in our thoughts.  Brave and funny and loving young people to cause our hearts to constrict with the prayers and thoughts of far away violence.  But above all of that – there is hope.  The hope that this small program can make a difference.  The hope that the light that these children emanate will somehow pierce the darkness that fills the news cycles.  The hope that our now much-loved friends will find a crack in the segregation through which they can blossom and grow and seed other fields with acceptance and understanding.  

It’s quiet here tonight.  Our only child, KidCJB sits reading.  How different from the laughter and hilarity and sharing of the last two weeks.  We miss our sweet, funny second son.  My heart aches a bit as I hold him and his family in my thoughts as they welcome him home and learn of his adventures here in our damp, gray corner of the world.

If I could ask one thing of those who choose to enter here, it would be this:  I wrote this as a paean to the tiny, utopian hope that exists in these schools – to the faith and belief in the goodness inherent in humanity.  Please, I would beg you not to turn this into another I/P flamefest.  These kids, their families, their teachers and the courage of all involved in this effort are deserving of more than that.

To all of you:  السلام والأمل , שלום ותקווה, peace and hope.

Update: Sadly this diary, too, has been hijacked.  Ah, well...  My gratitude to those who chose to behave like the children in the diary instead of like the adults who are arguing below.

Originally posted to CJB on Sat Apr 10, 2010 at 04:58 PM PDT.

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