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March 16, 2014

by Doris Strub Epstein

            The two Israelis, Rabea and Ortal, one Druze and one Jewish, charmed the congregation  at the Friends of Jesus Christ  Church Sunday  with their sincerity and enthusiastic participation.  They even took parts in the Purim play written by one of the members.  They are from Wordswap, a “dialogue for the open mind”,  two of an extraordinary group of eight Israelis, Jewish, Bedouin, Muslim and Druze, that blitzed Ontario campuses, synagogues and churches, with face to face interaction, with words not speeches, with conversation not lectures. 

            To reach out and connect, they offer their hand, or a cup of coffee. Gimmicks help break the ice. like sunglasses with I Love Tel Aviv written on them, fortune cookies with a fact about Israel inside.  They talk about the real life in Israel – politics, culture, serving in the army, their families – with all its warts.  They answer challenging questions.

As diverse and multicultural as Israel, they, by their very presence “expose the lies promoted by the anti-Israel groups”, states Meryle Kates, Executive Director of StandWithUs Canada, the organization that sponsored and organized the group of young Israelis.  Moreover, “Jewish student leaders are grateful that they feel empowered to continue their work and to stand up for Israel.”

WordSwap began last year and was found so successful, it will continue to  be a yearly event.  Coming just before Israel Apartheid Week poisons the campuses with anti-Israel propaganda, distortions and out and out lies,  many say their presence has acted like an anti biotic, educating and empowering the students and community.

Rabea, 22, is a Druze from the village of Hourfish in northern Israel.  He is studying  computer Science and Economics at Tel Aviv University.  Like all Druze youth, he served in the IDF.  “We decided, we have equal rights as citizens (of Israel) so we accept the duties of citizens the mandatory army service.”   He was astounded by the misconceptions and ignorance about Israel.   “I couldn’t stand it.  I had to do something about it, ” he said.   At the University of Ottawa he spoke at length with one of the organizers of IAW there, suggesting to him to have a pro Palestine Week instead of being against Israel.  “He admitted finally that I had opened his eyes a little bit.”

Ortal Tamam, 25, comes originally from Netanya.  She studies medicine at Ben Gurion University.  Orit was shocked by the hatred she witnessed during the eight day visit.  Some, knowing they were Israelis, refused to talk to them.  The audience at the church was visibly moved when she told them as a combat paramedic in the IDF, she was ordered to treat everyone no matter what side, equally.  She was also part of the delegations Israel sent to help in the catastrophes in Haiti and the Phillipines.

“I had a very rough year, ” she told the people, who got further insights in what life is like for Israelis who live with the spectre of terrorist attacks.   Twenty five years ago her uncle, a soldier, while hitchhiking home on  leave, was kidnapped and later murdered by four Arab Israelis.  As part of the peace talk,s the government released 104 prisoners.  Among them were the four who shot her uncle.

“The other side gets them (the terrorists) and gives them money and makes heroes out of them.”

Despite the exhaustion from the intensity of the eight days and the pressure of having to catch up at school, Rafea says it was well worth it “bringing Israel to them, I believe we changed many minds.”

StandWithUs advocates for Israel on campus and in the community. It’s particular focus  is students on all campuses.  It has 18 chapters world- wide including Israel.

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