‘I just wanted peace there,’ student says after trip to Israel

Hartman shares her experience through Local Business Giving Day.

Studying abroad in Israel was a life-changing experience for Mimi Hartman.

During the fall semester of her sophomore year, the Mercer Island High School (MIHS) student learned about her Israeli heritage while visiting Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Gaza-Israel border and other areas.

While hearing eye-opening stories about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the land, Hartman knew she was going to tell her own story and make a change when she returned to Mercer Island soil.

“I feel like a completely different person. I feel just so much more grown into myself being away from home and in my community where I felt so accepted,” said the MIHS junior. “Overall, it was really amazing to make connections with other Jewish teens my age. After going there, I kind of had a compassion for both sides (in the conflict). I just wanted peace there.”

And now as a DECA project through her advanced marketing class, the passionate, confident teen is organizing a Local Business Giving Day on Nov. 20 to spread her hope for peace in the Middle East. Participating Island/Eastside businesses will donate a percentage of their day’s revenue to the Arava Institute.

“The main goal of this organization is to bring Palestinian and Israeli youth together to perform agricultural tasks, providing an opportunity for them to bond and form friendships,” Hartman said.

Businesses on board at post time are the Island’s Sano Cafe, Island Books, Hip Zephyr and Au Courant Salon & The DEN and Bellevue’s Seattle Sun Tan. Au Courant owner Barb Hovsepian said her business is proud to support Hartman, who has put “time, due diligence and pure heart” into her vital endeavor.

“In a world where unrest is prominent, I find it encouraging to see the work and rewards that is derived from the teachings at Arava,” Hovsepian said.

Hartman wants to both promote her cause and the businesses who are joining her on the important day.

“They’ve been doing a great job. I know it’s hard with COVID and everything. For them giving a percentage of their revenue is amazing,” said Hartman, adding that the Arava Institute aims to unite Israelis and Palestinians in a moving, monumental gesture by planting trees in Israel where the conflict began.

“Literally at the root of the problem,” she said. “So they’re both coming together and become friends and kind of bond together in general, and kind of stop the hate between the two opposing sides because we’re truly all cousins in general.”

Through Hartman’s journey to Israel, she followed in the footsteps of her siblings and mother, who all participated in the program during their high school years. Following COVID protocols, the students quarantined for two weeks after arriving in Israel and they traveled in a pod of 70 people during their stay.

Hartman, a StandWithUs intern, said they were safe during their trip. In Sderot, they visited a playground that featured a large caterpillar structure that once acted as a bomb shelter. That moment stuck with her.

“It was supposed to be a happy little play area when it was actually just like protecting them from bombs, which was really interesting to think about for me. It was definitely moving,” Hartman said.

For more information on the Arava Institute, visit https://arava.org/