Jan 23, 2015  By Clare Stern  Category: Education,

Caravan for Democracy: Affecting change -- in hearts and minds

Photo: Will Baxley

In Sderot, Caravan for Democracy participants view drawings by kindergarten students that reflect rockets and the desire for peace so they can play with their Palestinian neighbors.

As you may have read on our blog, the JNF-sponsored Caravan for Democracy trip enables college students of all faiths to see, taste, and explore Israel firsthand. Here, a couple more participants of the recent 10-day mission recount their feelings upon seeing the Gaza border town of Sderot and encountering the magic of the Old City of Jerusalem for the first time. These students are an inspiration!

Witnessing 'defiant perseverance' 
By Sara David, Flagler College

We heard how civilians drive with their radios off and seat belts unbuckled to make every second count, and how parents must choose which of their children to grab during the 15 seconds they have to find shelter in case of an attack. Hearing these accounts poignantly humanized the strikes and casualties I had previously only known as numbers and statistics. 

Fortunately [the day we visited Sderot], there were no missile strikes and we did not hear any alarms. Instead, we heard the sound of construction as new commercial and residential buildings went up all around us in the distance. Despite the constant threat of an attack, the residents of Sderot are working to further develop and populate the area in defiant perseverance and Zionist spirit.

'I leave with a burning passion' 

Words cannot describe how I felt both driving up to the Old City and once my feet touched the pavement outside the Old City. To be in a place of such mixed emotion and history ranging from sadness to joy, where past and present, tradition and modernization meld seamlessly around each corner, is in itself overwhelming to think about. 

At the Holy Sepulchre we heard so many different languages, people wearing different garbs, from different faiths, etc. This was not just for Christians. This is a place for the human spirit to be awakened. "Despite the differences and conflict, you will find community here," explained our tour guide.I thought this was going to be the highlight of my trip since I myself follow the Christian-Episcopalian liturgy. But my spiritual life was only just now awaking from sleep. 

Next stop was the Western Wall, where Jews and non-Jews, religious and non-religious stand side-by-side sending their hopes, dreams, and wishes for peace to The Divine while hearing the Muslim call to prayer pleading for the same. The first thing that came to my mind was the word was "ubuntu." To have ubuntu is to recognize that your humanity is bound to another's humanity, for we can only be human together. While sending my own hopes, I heard the two people next to me and one was speaking Spanish and English. Both uttered the word "peace" in their respective languages. When we think of peace, I think it is important to remember that we are dealing with the human heart and relationships, not just land or political slant. We are meant for togetherness.

While I have had the privilege and gift of seeing, tasting, and hearing the heartbeat of this beautifully complex country, I leave with a burning passion to start my journey to help heal humanity through relationships. To create a world of understanding and respect. Religious-studies scholar Diana Eck often refers to the word "credo" in interfaith work. The interpretation she offers is "to give your heart over too." When I return to the States, I intend to embody this notion of giving my heart and hands in service to others to create a more understanding world. 

My deepest thanks for supporting this program. It changed my mind and heart in more ways than one. 
Photo: Will Baxley
Visiting the Old City are Caravan for Democracy participants (from left) Alex Banks, Terryn Mills, Clare Stern, and Sneha Walia.