Nothing can connect people like a whole week spent together, travelling around the country and sharing life stories! Young people in Germany and Israel have diverse cultural, religious and national identities. Many of them come from families with a migration story or have experienced migration themselves. Under the motto “Your Story Moves!” a group of young adults from Germany and Israel started the first part of an exchange program in order to discover each other’s society and life context in the frame of migration stories.
The program which took place 22-28 October in several parts of Israel was one of the milestones of the project “Living Diversity in Germany and Israel” in cooperation with the German organization Dialogue at School and the Israeli organization “Arab-Jewish Community Center Tel Aviv-Yafo”. What these two organizations have in common is the focus which they put on the topic of education and shared existence in a diverse society.
More than a multifaceted country: After an afternoon of getting-to-know-each-other, the group hit the roads of south Tel Aviv on a tour offered by “BINA – The Jewish Movement for Social Change”. A few meters away from the modern downtown area, next to the skyscrapers and the cosmopolitan cafes, a new part of the city opens up. South Tel Aviv is an area where gentrification and migration collide. A difficult area which is challenged by social and economic inequality in a city that grows fast. “Same as our Kreuzberg a decade ago”, mentioned a participant from Germany, referring to an area of Berlin which is characterized by a great diversity of people from every corner of the world along with the challenges that derive from it. The tour ended up in the unique Bialik Rogozin School, a school which includes a wide range of demographic groups and offers a great number of opportunities to kids from migration families with low socio-economic status. The participants saw firsthand how this school gives a home and a sense of belonging to more than 1000 children. The school makes them feel valued and empowered and sheds positive light to their life stories which are often overshadowed by fear and prejudice by the majority society. The group entered a school class and asked to hear about the countries of origin of the kids. Sudan, Eritrea, Vietnam, Philippines, Ghana, Russia, Darfur, South America, to name only a few. “What about you?” the kids wanted to know. “Germany and Israel…but also Turkey, Armenia, Greece, Poland, Lebanon, France, Philippines, Gambia, Ukraine” answered the group, again…to name only a few. A real map of the world.
How is this in your country?: The day continued with lectures about the migration history of Israel, talks with experts who deal daily with diversity in their field of work but also interactive methods where the participants were experts for their own country and gave an overview to each other about topics such as multiculturalism, religion, education system or the army service. “Before this discussion I had very firm opinions about the structures of the Israeli society. I thought there is only the jewish-arabic conflict that dominates the discussion. I now realize that the country is a lot more complicated. I knew very little about the inner-jewish aspects. Hearing the different but also controversial sides on how young Israelis perceive their country today made me gain more empathy and understanding about the complexity of this area” mentioned one of the participants from Germany. On the Israeli side there was a clear surprise about the fact that Germany as well is a very diverse country where the topic of multiculturalism, identity and belonging is still a reason for hot political and social debates.
The program continued with a half-day trip to Jerusalem where the participants could get a firsthand experience of the unique religious diversity of the country where in less than one square kilometer they could visit the most significant sites of the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
Why do we remember and what do we choose to remember?: An important part of this exchange program was the topic of remembrance and dealing with the history of the Shoah. How do we remember today and why is this important to us? Before visiting the Moreshet Holocaust and Research Center the group participated in an activity which shed light to very individual stories related to the Holocaust. Some participants were biographically related and some had learned about it at school. Some were active in the field of remembrance and others felt that “sometimes it is too much”. What was clear was the need to create a culture of remembrance where every story can be heard and every biography can be valued. During the visit at Moreshet, the group took part in educational activities which raised awareness on the challenges of creating an inclusive culture of remembrance where every individual feels represented but which also respects the singularity of the atrocities of the Holocaust.
Your story moves!: Walking tours around mixed cities such as Akko and Haifa created a unique map of the diversity of stories in Israel. But it was the individual biographies of the participants which made it clear that the two countries have more than one narrative, more than one storyline. More than anything, they had a lot in common! All of the participants had experienced “otherness” at some point or the other in their life. Either because of their nationality, their religion, their background or their gender. Finding space to talk about these experiences is not often the case. During a “living library” each of them shared a chapter of their life book. Individual stories were told which in their daily life are neglected by the majority society. And they were all treated with curiosity, respect and were embraced from the others. “This could have been my story. Learning about the others made me learn more about myself” is a quote that was heard several times during the exchange. Migration stories can create unique bridges of encounters and relationships among young people from Germany and Israel. We take the valuable moments with us and look forward to welcoming our Israeli friends for the second part of this project in Berlin!