Today our group of Jewish teenagers from across North America met a group of Arab Muslim teenagers from Acco, a city in northern Israel. These Muslim teenagers are Israeli citizens who experience life as a minority in a country that is majority Jewish. The two groups (Jews from North America and Muslims from Israel) were able to share and compare experiences living as minorities in their respective countries. Specifically the participants on Ramah Seminar gained a new perspective on the complexity of Israeli demographics.
The Muslim teenagers were a little surprised to see Alexa when she walked in the room. While no direct conversation ever occurred between me and the Muslim teens or the Muslim teens and the Ramah participants, there was a non-verbal conversation of sorts. At first they were very confused and a few whispered quietly among themselves i Hebrew and Arabic. After a few minutes, they made eye contact with our Israeli tour guide. Our tour guide nodded, confirming their non-verbal question about her differences, and the whispering ended. All this happened over only a few minutes while the leader of the Cultural Center was making introductions and giving directions.
Since I never spoke directly with any of these Muslim teenagers about Alexa, I can only interpret their actions. I believe that they know what a person with a disability looks like and they know how to act around a person with a disability. They can identify these people who are “different” and they can be polite, appropriate, and even friendly. But probably not friends-with a person with a disability. It was a curve ball that she was here, surrounded by typical peers, and being treated as such. To interact with Alexa as an equal is confusing for them. However, as the program progressed and they split into smaller groups, each became more comfortable with each other. They exchanged information about their families, their music preferences, and how Israel makes them feel.
These sorts of programs are challenging. Parts of them feel awkward and contrived; yet ultimately experiences are exchanged and perspectives are shifted. And at the end of the program, everyone took a selfie to upload to Facebook. What more proof do you need?!