Nearly 140 teenagers at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin devoted a day last week to simulating real-time events as plans move forward by the Palestinian Authority to bring a vote on recognition of a Palestinian state to the UN General Assembly in September.
The program was one of many Israel education opportunities supported by JUF's Israel Education Center for the past eight years at Ramah.
Rising high school freshmen and sophomores divided into more than 20 groups to role-play a long list of countries, parties and advocacy groups as they grappled with multiple perspectives on the complex issues facing Israel, the US, the Palestinian Authority and the world. After learning about the issues and focusing on their particular group's perspectives, campers engaged in a flurry of bilateral and multilateral meetings aimed at restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. When these efforts failed, the UN General Assembly convened.
"I had to think out of the box," said Alana Spellman, a sophomore at Chicagoland Jewish High School who played the role of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. "I realized there are many sides to the story.
"It's important to be educated on something that's going to happen soon," said Jacob Hirshman, a sophomore at the Latin School in Chicago. The simulation helped campers understand the complex issues involved in Israeli-Palestinian affairs, and prepared them to follow news developments after they return home from camp next month. This experience at summer camp also serves as both a tool for Israel education as well as a connection point for the beginning of involvement in further Israel experiences with the JUF.
"JUF's Israel Education Center (IEC) strives to integrate young Jewish leadership from summer camp to high school programs, up and through their college experience and beyond," said Israel Education Center Director Emily Briskman. This integration can be reflected in the fact that several alumni from the IEC's Write On for Israel program now play a role in the summer camp experience as camp counselors and organizers of the simulation program that took place. "As these students and other campers move on to college, early engagement with these programs connects them with Israel advocacy and with continued opportunities for their future," she said.