There were many dignitaries on the speaking roster for the 2016 Heart to Heart community reception at Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple July 26.
Carolyn Bennett, federal minister of indigenous and northern affairs, Julie Dabrusin, member of Parliament for Toronto Danforth, and Toronto Coun. Joe Mihevc all spoke. The keynote address was delivered by Bob Rae, former premier of Ontario and former leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.
But the true guests of honour were the 22 Israeli teenagers who participated in the sixth summer session of Heart to Heart, a joint program run by Camp Shomria in Perth, Ont., and Givat Haviva in Israel.
Heart to Heart brings Jewish and Arab Israeli teenagers to Canada. They spend two weeks living together at Camp Shomria and a week in Toronto, where they are billeted in intercultural pairs at the homes of local Jewish and Arab families.
The teens – most are 15 and live in the north of Israel – all attend an intercultural school program run by Givat Haviva, a non-profit educational institute founded by Hashomer Hatzair and dedicated to promoting Jewish-Arab dialogue and reconciliation.
More than 200 supporters of Heart to Heart filled the Holy Blossom social hall to meet the Israeli participants and hear first-hand about their two weeks at Camp Shomria. The teenagers were dispersed among the various tables so that people could meet them.
Later, the group sang an anthem they co-wrote, and four of them participated in a panel discussion about their experiences at camp.
Rae, a longtime member of Holy Blossom, noted that after spending time with the Heart to Heart participants, he was encouraged by how much they enjoyed and appreciated the program.
It was an opportunity for them to explore cultural stereotypes, he said. “The truth is that no matter what they thought the ‘other’ was like, many things were not the case and [they discovered] that the ‘other’ was not so bad after all.”
He suggested that dialogue between two peoples is key to coexistence. “We may never have a perfect world, but working together can solve many problems.”
Dawit Demoz, a Heart to Heart counsellor, said it took the group members about a week to warm up to each other. But by the second week they had really integrated with the camp and each other. “They did not want to leave the camp. They were crying when they left.”
He said one of the most meaningful programs was the examination of each group’s national anthem. Upon discovering that Hatikvah makes no mention of Arab Israelis and Fidai (the Palestinian anthem) excludes Jewish Israelis, the teens created their own inclusive anthem, which they performed at the reception.
Reema Massry, an Arab ESL (English as Second Language) teacher at an Israeli Jewish school and a Heart to Heart chaperon, said it was natural for her to be involved in a program that promotes better understanding between Jews and Arabs. “This is what I do in my job and in my personal life.”
She said the Heart to Heart parents are really interested in preserving the teens’ relationships, and these adults are even planning a big welcome at the airport to attract media attention in Israel. “They want the whole country to know about this program.”
The participants became very close, she said, pointing to the bond between Khalil Majadly, 14, an Arab Israeli, and Ori Margolis, 15, who is Jewish, as an example of the intercultural friendships formed.
“He’s like a brother to me,” Margolis told The CJN, as Majadly smiled and nodded in agreement. “We are definitely going to see each other in Israel.”
The 2016 Heart to Heart community reception was hosted by Hashomer Hatzair/Camp Shomria, Givat Haviva and Holy Blossom.
Community partners include Darchei Noam synagogue, ICNA (Islamic Circle of North America) Sisters Canada, JSpace Canada, Congregation Shir Libeynu, Oraynu Congregation, Temple Emanu-EL, Shema & Iqra (the Jewish Muslim text project), Intercultural Dialogue Institute, First Narayever Congregation and Peace Now.