In January and February of 2013, I was back in Israel and Palestine to try to do an update on Three Wishes, the book I wrote back in 2002 of interviews with Israeli and Palestinian kids. This last visit, I was able to meet with many more amazing kids.
A common theme I found among the kids I met was the way man of them searched to make sense of the world around them through some sort of creative endeavour. They talked about how the creative work they did helped them to feel sane when so much around them made no sense. They related their own creativity to the purpose they have in being alive.
Israel and Palestine are complicated places. The young people I met are looking for ways to be themselves, and to be not too damaged by what continues to go on around them.
Instead of putting the interviews in a book, I am going to put them up on this website.
The first one is with a girl, S. who is 12 years old.
These are her words:
S. - I used to live in California. I moved to Israel with my parents one and a half years ago. The city I lived in does no have a big Jewish community. Other cities do, so we were not isolated, but moving to Israel means we are surrounded by Judaism and can live a really Jewish life.
We live on a moshav near Tel Aviv. A moshav is like a village. It's really beautiful. Lots of fields and trees. Some of the olive trees are really ancient, and there are orange trees and lemon trees. Some of the people who live on the moshav work at harvesting the crops, and others do other jobs off the moshav.
We have a lot of family here in Israel, so it is really great to live close to them. And I like that the Jewish holidays are all celebrated here.
I'm learning Hebrew, of course. I take regular Hebrew classes. My reading and writing is getting better. Hebrew is a logical language, not like English, so things make sense. There are twenty-two letters in Hebrew, not twenty-six like in the English alphabet, and you read from right to left, which takes a bit of getting used to. Instead of vowels there are dashes and dots. I like learning it because it's the language used by Jews in ancient Israel, before the Romans, and it's also the sacred language of the Torah. Although Biblical Hebrew is different - the way the words are arranged is different. Like Shakespeare is different from how we speak English now.
But I'm still not a strong speaker, and people who grew up speaking it, like Sabra - the people who were born in Israel - talk faster than I can understand it. I wanted to have something fun that I could do in English, so that it would just be fun, not fun mixed in with the work of trying to understand what was going on.
In California I was involved with a lot of theatre, so when I heard about Glee Plus, I thought it would be perfect for me. Glee Plus is a musical theatre competition held all across Israel. We do singing, dancing and acting. I did a six-day training camp with them, and a three-day music video workshop.
Last May my team won the Glee Plus National Competition. There were seven of us on the team. We sang a song by Queen. We choreographed our own dance and we even made our own costumes. It was so much fun! It was so great to see kids who were really nervous get stronger and more confident during the competition. And my team won!
Last year it was really fun on the moshav because there were lots of girls turning twelve. Turning twelve if you are a Jewish girl means you do your Bat Mitzvah. It's a symbol of coming of age and taking on more adult responsibilities. My family are Reform Jews, which means we believe in the equality of men and women in religious ceremonies. One of the ways we show this is that girls read the Torah in the Synagogue during their Bat Mitzvah. This isn't a common thing for girls in Israel, but I was happy to be able to do it.
Along with the religious part, there are Bat Mitzvah parties. My party was wonderful - so much fun! We rented a little hall on the moshav. We had a DJ who's a beat box artist, and h taught me how to do the beat box.
I think I'll go into the army when I turn eighteen. Girls can do community service instead, but I think I'll go into the army. I think it would be good to spend time in the army before going to university because the army matures you and helps you decide what you want to do with your life. I'm not too worried about the dangers. You can be in the army and do jobs other than being a soldier, so I don't think I'd be in any real danger.
It was hard to leave California and come to a different life here in Israel, but I've made some really good friends here. I've never met any Arab children.