After 2-year delay, students from Arab Israeli summer camp visit Dayton area

By Marshall Weiss, The Dayton Jewish Observer

“I don’t know what baseball is, but I’m trying to figure it out,” says Rawa’a Serhan, 18, a visitor to Day Air Ballpark from the Israeli Arab village of Majd al-Krum in the Galilee. Serhan just graduated from high school. She works in a plastic factory with her mother while saving money to attend a university.

When Serhan was first invited to participate on this trip more than two years ago, she couldn’t say no.

“People told me it’s going to be the trip of your life. And I believe them. It’s going so well,” she says. “It’s my first travel ever. There are a lot of trees. It’s green everywhere.”

Serhan, five other teens from Arab Israeli villages in the Galilee, and their chaperone visited the Dayton area July 19-Aug. 1 as the culmination of a summer English language program for middle schoolers there, facilitated since 2007 by Daytonian Dr. Marti Moody Jacobs and Jamal Assadi, chair of the English department at the Sakhnin Teacher’s College.

“This is the eighth group,” Jacobs says of the Dayton-Deir al-Assad Summer English Workshop. “With this group, we’ll have brought 58 different kids over here.”

This cohort is from the 2019 summer camp. Because of Covid, their planned April 2020 trip was postponed.

“We said we’d bring them over when things opened up again. So we did.”

Some are now in high school; others have completed high school and are preparing to attend college. In Dayton, they stayed with six host families.

“We can learn a lot from just visiting America,” says Wageeh Khalil, who is entering his senior year of high school in Sakhnin.

He notes their visit to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, “which told us a lot about slavery and slave history. It was something new that we hadn’t learned in Israel.”

The Freedom Center also made an impression on Osama Faur, 18, who graduated high school in the village of Rama.

“I realized how blessed I am that I was born here in this century, that today, we people at least have the ability to raise and send our voices — especially as minority voices — the minorities can ask and demand for the rights, freedom, and democracy.”

He’s not sure about his career path yet but is considering engineering.

“That’s why it was such a good idea to visit the University of Dayton,” Faur says. “I got to know what I should do to apply, the whole process for me to be an international student. I met some Arabs there.”

Dr. Marti Moody Jacobs (front, right of center), with visitors from Arab Israeli villages and some of the Dayton host families. Photo: Bonnie Kaplan.

While here, the group met with teens from Temple Beth Or, volunteered at the Dayton Food Bank with a Muslim youth organization, and met women who are leaders in Dayton’s Black community.

“I just enjoy being with the kids and helping them, giving them a different experience,” says Ellen Holroyd, who has hosted Arab Israeli teens in the program four times.

“The thing I’m really proud of is that the kids who have been over here, almost all of them are in Israeli universities or medical schools,” Jacobs says. “They’re doing really well. I think this seals their English and also, this lets them know the bigger world is open.”

The group’s chaperone, Husein Yousef, 21, of Deir al-Assad — a veteran of the program and now a student at Technion — says the concept of the program is “live together, believe in peace, and change society.”

“It’s a very beautiful and interesting experience to be in,” he adds. “Especially for us, as an Arab in Israel, we have so much conflict with our societies in the same place we live. I hope for having a better and more peaceful life in the future.”

To read the complete September 2022 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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