Photo: bruce shaffer
ENCOUNTER equips Jewish communal leaders with experiences and perspectives necessary to contribute constructively to the transformation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a simple, but too-often overlooked, strategy: listening. Encounter’s work is part of the Nathan Cummings Foundation’s efforts to strengthen Americans’ constructive role in advancing peace in the Middle East.
In its flagship program, Encounter brings rabbis, students, lay leaders, and other stakeholders in the Jewish community on organized two-day visits to the Palestinian communities in the West Bank. There, participants meet Palestinian community leaders, visit schools and neighborhoods, experience cultural activities with locals, and engage in safe, facilitated dialogue within the Jewish group. As Judaism is at the center of Encounter’s mission, participants also engage in Torah study and (optional) Jewish prayer. Staff are trained experts in conflict transformation, skilled at facilitating conversations across political and religious divides. Encounter has established itself as an honest broker, and participants in Encounter’s programs span the religious and political spectrum.
Encounter’s founders started from the realization that many in the Jewish community, especially in North America, had never even met a Palestinian, let alone shared a meal with a Palestinian family or heard from a Palestinian community leader. This vacuum has contributed to a failure to find real solutions and has discouraged younger generations of Jews from engaging in the “Israel project” completely. Unlike other projects that bring Jews and Palestinians together, Encounter stresses that it is not a dialogue organization. Rather, Encounter’s mission is to facilitate “listening as a transformative methodology.” By absorbing Palestinian narratives without having to either debate them or accept that previously held beliefs are false, Encounter participants are safely able to integrate new perspectives within an affirming, pluralistic atmosphere.
To date, over 1200 Jews have taken part in Encounter trips to Bethlehem, Hebron, and East Jerusalem, creating a vast alumni network supported by a recently launched North America program. Encounter alumni, 80% of whom are in their 20s or 30s, partake in training and networking meetings, visits to Capitol Hill and the Knesset, and advanced-level follow-up trips to the West Bank. Encounter is transforming how North American Jews learn about the region’s history, and contribute to its future. The Nathan Cummings Foundation is proud to support Encounter to pursue their mission.