Northwest Yeshiva High School (NYHS) junior Didi Desmond said it was an eye-opening experience when foreign delegates from the Sharaka nongovernmental organization visited the Mercer Island school and spoke with students about their hope for peace in the Middle East on the afternoon of Jan. 26.
The Sharaka members who represent the Muslim and Christian Arab communities deeply connected with the students while sharing their “heartwarming reflections about their experiences from their first trips to Israel,” according to Beth Jacoby, NYHS director of admissions.
After witnessing Sharaka’s potent presentation two nights before at the Bikur Cholim Machzikay Hadath synagogue in Seward Park, Jacoby invited the delegation to visit the campus and made arrangements with StandWithUs — an international, nonpartisan education organization that supports Israel and fights antisemitism — to solidify the visit.
Desmond noted about the crucial all-school assembly at the Jewish high school: “It definitely helped soothe, I think, the general atmosphere of sort of fear amongst the school that’s sort of been building up for a bit. Just hearing their personal accounts of how they sort of overcame their personal biases, or changed people’s personal biases around them who they grew up with, I think that was very impactful, at least to me.”
According to its website, Sharaka — which means partnership in Arabic — is “working to shape a new Middle East, built on dialogue, understanding, cooperation and friendship.”
“Overall, the visit was a shot of much-needed hope during a troubling time,” said Jacoby, adding that a sense of peace was in the air for the students to grasp in times of battles between Arabs and Jews that they witness in news reports. “They heard from Muslim and Christian Arabs who are friends of Jews and friends of Israel.”
As the NYHS students learn about modern Middle East history in their classrooms, they were able to add additional — and firsthand — accounts from Sharaka members to their knowledge base. One of the subjects they are delving into is the United States administration-facilitated Abraham Accords, which pursues “a vision of peace, security, and prosperity in the Middle East and around the world,” according to its declaration.
Sharaka Executive Director Dan Feferman, who spoke at the NYHS event, examined building peace in the Middle East during his appearance on Ari Hoffman’s show on Talk Radio 570 KVI: “What you need is a regional and international approach pushing both sides to come to that middle meeting point and say, ‘This is the best you’re gonna get — we all need to move on.’ The Abraham Accords, I feel, was a step in that direction by more countries in the region saying this conflict has held all of us back for too long.”
NYHS senior Becca Benezra noted that her prime takeaway from listening intently to the Sharaka members was that “not every Arab or Muslim hates Israel or the Jewish people.”
She added: “Learning that there are people in Arab countries who support and love Israel and the Jewish people gave me hope that there will be peace in the future.”
Bringing the presentation directly into the students’ domain, the Sharaka unit addressed how to deal with anti-Israel social media posts that the teens may encounter online. Avoidance was one suggestion, said Benezra, adding that those posts come from a place of ignorance and aren’t worth the mental and emotional energy it takes to try and educate the posters.
“Instead, they said that it is important for us to post verified information that is aimed at achieving peace and safety,” she said.