The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always been a point of separation between generations of people, but Simon Lichman has put in twenty years to help break down this separation.
On Thursday, Sept. 22, visiting Israeli Scholar Simon Lichman presented a look at his program in the Middle East that worked to bring together two cultures and nations through a deeper understanding of their own culture and playtime with other schools.
“I wanted to first see if children couldn’t be brought into contact with their culture in a way that wasn’t pressure from above,” Lichman said, “then I thought if we can do that we can also help children understand by enjoying their cultures and learning about it. They can be introduced to those people who they imagined to be, if not enemies, people who make them feel uncomfortable.”
In the two-year program, students work an hour a week in class to learn about their heritage and every five to six weeks they come together during a joint session to play games in mixed groups.
During these mixed group sessions language could easily become a barrier, but Lichman rarely found this an issue.
“It surprised me that language barriers were not a problem,” co-president of Hillel Club sophomore Jenna Cohen said.
Sometimes the learning process is slower than expected during the joint sessions.
“Building slowly and moving slowly is fine,” Lichman said.
When the group from the other culture arrives, the children are welcomed with open minds in a non-hostile space.
“Eventually you have parents teaching their own versions of games the children know; this is while the children are in foreign, possibly hostile space, eating strange food, being played with by their parents and grandparents. They are not worried about Jews and Arabs anymore; they are just totally taken by the atmosphere. You’ve got to create the right atmosphere,” Lichman said.
During the program, many children build lifelong bonds with other students who they might never have had a chance to meet otherwise.
The response to the program by the large group of students, faculty and community members in the Alumni Room was amazement of how well the program worked.
“[The most interesting part is] how long it’s been going on and to hear about the changes he has actually made with the adults more so than the children,” said sophomore Maxwell Gatyas.
Lichman, a traditional Jew, had troubles at times going to certain areas in Palestine, but for the most part found little trouble with government intervention in the program.
“It was a very nice way of looking at trying to combine two different cultures in a friendly environment, and it really showed how environment is so important in creating a friendly atmosphere,” co-president of Hillel Club junior Mollie Phillips said.
The program does not avoid talking about religion, but brings up the subject during the second year of the program, giving students a deeper understanding of their own religion as well as a better understanding of other religions.
Lichman, here this fall term, is currently teaching an anthropology/education class: Applied Folklore to Cross-Culture Education.