After finishing the 2014 IAS and moving back to her hometown of Detroit, alumna Lindsay Acker took it upon herself to get to re-know the city, which she had been away from for several years. Immersing herself in the Jewish community where she grew up and starting to understand the landscape of interfaith relations, Lindsay also began to get to know the Detroit metro area’s Arab and Muslim community, one of the United State’s oldest, largest and most diverse. Lindsay, who came out of IAS program with full professional fluency of the Palestinian dialogue, was a surprising figure in the Arab community, there are few activate interfaith initiatives between Jews and Muslims in the area, and even fewer Jews who speak fluent Arabic! Through getting to know the community, Lindsay has even picked up knowledge of Lebanese and Syrian dialects; quite a setting to jump into after spending half a year really getting to know the language.
As her exploration of the two communities continued, Lindsay saw the importance of building bridges and starting conversation—especially in the context of a renewing Detroit, a city that is going through major transformation in many aspects. When Lindsay met Tarik, a Palestinian from Gaza and a fellow musician, the two instantly connected. Soon, after meeting several times over Jam sessions and shisha, a new interfaith group, Muslim-Jewish Forum of Detroit was born.
The group, now about half a year old, defines themselves as “an interfaith community of young, determined, and idealistic Muslims and Jews from, or living, in the Detroit area. We are a group intent on creating change and promoting understanding between our two communities and serving our city of Detroit through local service and educational initiatives.” In the last months, the group has participated in volunteer work with other local organizations doing social justice and community work as well as hosted several of their own events. The largest gathering to date was an interfaith Passover Seder, attended by young about 25 Detroiters. At the Seder, a first for many of the attendants, the group discussed the Passover story and shared different perspectives. The Forum is currently in development and growth phase, building their visionary and leadership board as well as new projects and initiatives. This month they will be hosting their first book club, hosting a dialogue on David Eggers Zeitoun. For more info and to get involved check out the Forum’s Facebook.
This semester, one IAS participant, Roman Dagesh, a certified swim coach with 14 years of experience as an international competitive swimmer has expanded his program experience by offering weekly swim lessons in Umm Al-Fahem. The students, ages 6-12, are taught basic swimming skills from bubbles and breathing to breath strokes and, most importantly, how to feel comfortable in the water—with the hope of preventing panic near deep water or at the sea.
Dagesh who grew up in Israel, was born to an Arab-Israeli father and Ukrainian mother, but did not grow up hearing or speaking Arabic at home. Through a former IAS participant, Dina, who he coached, Roman learned of the program and decided to take up study of his father’s mother tongue.
Partnering with Givat Haviva and Al Wahaa pool, Umm al Fahem’s first sports complex and recreation center, Roman teaches subsidized lessons to 3 groups of 6 swimmers every week. Each group has 10 lessons, with a total of about 100 children participating over the course of the project.
Envisioning the project, which he titled “Swim Against the Tide,” and his time in Wadi Ara, Roman hoped to address the scarcity of organized sports program in Arab-Israeli communities. This lack is especially seen with swimming, a missing skill that has lead to a disproportionate number of drowning accidents in the Arab-Israeli community. In working with the students and communicating with their parents (there was a special ceremony held for all participants and organizers several weeks ago), Roman has stressed the possibilities which swimming offers—becoming a part of a communities of athletes, cross-cultural exchange and opportunities like university scholarships.
This project, like the experience of language learning (especially a language as foreign to most of our students as Arabic), has not always been easy. Though Roman is not a stranger to Arab culture, having grown up with family in the Galilee, he was not entirely prepared for some of the challenges of the unknown. Al Wahaa’s pool culture is very different than that which Roman is used to. As is teaching when there is a large language barrier—discipline can be a difficult, which is of course extra nerve racking in a pool environment. Despite the challenges however, Roman has found the experience eye opening and complementary to the IAS experience. “It’s being a real immersive experience, which is unmediated, seeing a glimpse of Arab society, which is different than an organized trip [or even spending time with host families, who are of course making an active choice to connect with the foreigners who participate in IAS].” To read more about the program in Arabic (!), click here!