Reflections from the Newest Dialogue Facilitator

Sarah Perle Benazera
Storyteller, Dialogue Facilitator, and Educator

Over 12 years ago, I came to the Arava Institute as a student, not knowing what to expect. The two semesters I spent at Ketura changed me. During those 8 months, I learned about myself and those around me; I also had to unlearn, question, listen and find my own voice. In the middle of this identity crisis, I made friends from Palestine and Jordan for the first time and heard new stories about the history I thought I knew. I also heard the different voices of my Israeli friends and understood that the truth was never really objective. Despite the multiple misunderstandings and hurts, we managed to build our community… my Christmas at the Arava Institute was my first real Christmas and I loved decorating our plastic Christmas tree while listening to Christmas carols in Arabic.

After my two semesters at the Institute, I left the kibbutz overwhelmed, full of questions, and a little relieved that it was over. I was 22 and I needed to rethink the way I existed in the world and lived in this country.

In October 2018, I came back to the Arava Institute after a long, busy, rich, eventful and challenging journey. I am now a dialogue facilitator and I have spent the past 8 years working with Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs from all around the Middle East.

Joining the Peace-building Leadership Seminar (PLS) facilitating team was one of the most exciting and scary professional decisions I took in. It was about coming back to a place that has played a crucial role in my life, it was coming back to a place and to a community that changed me and that I loved.

First I met the two co-facilitators: Michael and Baraa. If the Institute was looking for the most diverse team possible, they succeeded! And our differences became a strength. This last semester was the biggest ever with close to 60 participants from 10 different countries.

They all came to the Arava Institute for different reasons, with different expectations, coming from different backgrounds, and carrying different narratives. Throughout the semester, we witnessed and followed their evolution. They shared stories or they stayed quiet, they allowed themselves to be vulnerable or they didn’t. They talked more, or less. The asked one another questions, they listened, sometimes they struggled. As an alumna, I have the chance to understand what the students are going through. Their experience is unique. They live, study, eat, work, hike with people they would have never met elsewhere. They are stuck together, for better or for worse, and they are constantly asked to challenge themselves on both the academic and the personal level. My main goal this semester was to make sure they all felt comfortable enough to make their voice heard during PLS.

At the end of the school year in June, I felt incredibly humbled by the students’ strength, vulnerability, and their mix of optimism and doubt. As we parted after their graduation ceremony, I thought about all the challenges they went through in their months here and how much they have already achieved. I hope we gave them enough tools to continue their journey, and I thank them for making me a better facilitator.

My co-facilitators and I now know one another better, and we are looking forward to continue working together. A new journey begins each semester, and I am thankful for being part of it.

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