- The Washington Times - Monday, March 28, 2005

Home-schoolers from Maryland, Virginia, California, Ohio and North Carolina were part of an educational and humanitarian exchange program with the municipality of Jerusalem in February.

The Jerusalem-United States Multicultural Project, or JUMP, was a joint project between WAIT (Washington AIDS International Teens); Service for Peace; and Jerusalem’s youth division, including its Multicultural Dance Troupe.

Of the 21 youth participants, more than half were home-schooled. The trip was both a working trip and an educational one. The group was trained before leaving in the HIV/AIDS information and performing-arts techniques of the WAIT team in order to perform throughout Israel. Also, participants studied Israel itself: the people, the history and the nation’s situation.

Because the U.S. group was partnering with the Multicultural Dance Troupe, languages became important for us to learn. Hebrew, Arabic and English are official languages in Israel, and there are 1 million recent Russian immigrants and several hundred thousand immigrants from Ethiopia, Morocco and other nations around the globe. The children picked up key phrases in Hebrew and Arabic and taught a lot of English, as well.

During the trip, we were able to visit many of the natural and historical wonders of the region. We visited the ultrasalty Dead Sea, a half-mile lower than sea level, and the refreshing Ein Gedi springs, which are right next door.

We toured the tunnels under the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem that reveal the covered sections of the Western Wall of the temple, and we learned about the ways various religions and populations transformed the architecture and infrastructure of the city.

You can’t be in Jerusalem without learning about the faiths of the world. This comes not just in the historic buildings and sites clustered so tightly that they sometimes are on top of one another. It’s in the clothes people wear, the foods they eat, the shops that are open at different times, and the passages and expectations of their lives.

We say America has freedom of religious expression, and yet that often becomes a sort of dilution of all faiths. In Jerusalem, all faiths are expressed like a spicy stew filled with diverse ingredients that maintain their individual expression but exist in awareness and closeness to one another.

Many of the students kept photographic, video or written records of the things they experienced and learned throughout the trip as part of a study project. One young man created a photo record, taking about 8,000 pictures, from which he chose several hundred and created a written narrative.

One girl took video and interviewed participants along the way. Another focused on learning the dance moves and choreography of the Multicultural Dance Troupe. The boys from the United States learned capoeira, a martial-arts dance form. In turn, they taught break dancing to the Israeli boys.

We also met with city and national leadership, visiting city hall and the Knesset, the legislative body of the country. We were addressed by leaders in medicine, education and community outreach. We were welcomed to a Bedouin community, a settlement of the formerly nomadic peoples, and shared a traditional meal, even learning to eat with our hands.

We met students from the Druze populations of the northern section of the country and joined in some of the traditional dances, the Debkas. We performed for, and worked closely with, people of nearly every population throughout the country.

The group learned that Israel is much richer — and much more challenged — than is indicated by the simplistic news reports of bus bombings and military actions. The children our group worked with may have been Palestinian, native-born Israeli, Russian immigrants or Ethiopian immigrants, but to the U.S. visitors, they became Davna or Mahmoud or Lara, each with a personality, a sense of humor and cool moves.

A trip like this teaches much more than the geography and history of a country. It also imbues students with a sense of the traditions, daily life and family structures. Also, to have an opportunity to teach and to serve in the other nation is extremely valuable because so much more is learned when we teach.

Educating youth to be citizens of the world helps create different futures for our nations. Projects like this are valuable not only for the people who participate, but also for their families and for the process of international communication.

Textbook learning can’t begin to rival experiencing a country and culture firsthand. We home-schoolers can take advantage of unusual opportunities and pass on our discoveries to others at home.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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