August 2011 - Welcome Dinner for Palestinian and Israeli Students Hosted at St. George
On July 13th we hosted a dinner to welcome Palestinian and Israeli students who are participating in a special eight week summer program at Babson College. The program ‘Bridging the Cultural Divide through Entrepreneurship’ brings university students from the two communities together in an effort to, as the proposal states, “help transform zones of conflict into places where communities can regain security and hope for the future.” As a recognized leader in business education and entrepreneurship, Babson College has developed this unique program to recognize and encourage the common entrepreneurial traits that both Palestinians and Israelis share. The forty two students, almost equally comprised of Israelis’ and Palestinians’, will live, study and work together learning not only about business and entrepreneurship but also experiencing each other’s culture, point of view and aspirations.
According to its mission statement, the Babson College program will “teach, from both theoretical and experiential approaches, how to create a business venture from concept through sustainability or dissolution, thereby strengthening the role of the private sector to create jobs and promote economic development within the region.” It is envisioned that the experience of designing joint ventures and the personal relationships created this summer will continue when the participants return to Israel and the West Bank.
The participating students share high expectations for the success of the program and welcome the opportunity to work together in developing sustaining relationships. One of the students, Dana, expresses a shared hope when she states that she “believes that peace comes from inside not outside and this program is an amazing opportunity to be able to learn about the differences between cultures.” Dana hopes to be able to “create positive change in society through business.”
Another student, Stav, hopes to be involved in “an Israeli-Palestinian business cooperation in order to achieve a better life for both sides.” All of the students welcome this unique cross-cultural opportunity and look forward to taking away, as one of the students, Abdallah, states “more about how innovation can really change society, and work to create a better world.”
As a community whose origins are in the Near East and whose membership includes several Palestinian families, St. George sees this program as a promising ‘bridge-building’ experience and welcomed the opportunity to host a dinner for the participants. A traditional ‘middle eastern’ meal was served and several members of the parish and local Arab American community joined the students and their program directors to support and encourage the success of this innovative Babson College initiative. The students were already three weeks into the session.
Over dinner with an Israeli Arab Muslim boy, two Israeli Arab Orthodox Christian girls, a Jewish girl from one of the settlements and a Jewish boy from a remote farming village, I witnessed firsthand the fruits of the program. These students met each other for the first time here in Boston and admitted that they could never conceive of studying, living or eating together if it were not for this program. I was impressed as they communicated frankly with one another out of their own narrative and how they sought some common ground to build a relationship. I believe they exhibit great hope for a future of their own making.
The church was open and lit across the courtyard and most of the students found it inviting and stopped in. One of the Muslim girls commented on the icons of the prophets in the dome and recognized several of these sainted figures. A Jewish boy standing beside her shared a verse from Isaiah that they both spoke about. Another Jewish boy was struck with the icon of the Mother of God behind the altar. “More spacious than the heavens”, what does that mean? While referencing the Christian belief that the Creator became a creature, Gai looked up and said, “Of course, I get it, the one who holds the entire universe is suddenly contained in the womb of the Holy Mother, that’s a beautiful thought”. He looked around the church, studying every image and impression. “This is a very warm and welcoming place, Father, and I’m sure the members of your community are just as warm, thank you”.
The next day, the director of the program commented that the visit to St. George was the highlight of the students’ experience so far.
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