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New Story Leadership class of 2015 team members, Palestinian Muhanad Alkharaz and Israeli Sivan Atzmon.Photo by Josh Marks
New Story Leadership class of 2015 team members, Palestinian Muhanad Alkharaz and Israeli Sivan Atzmon.
Photo by Josh Marks

Temple Rodef Shalom and the McLean Islamic Center last week hosted young Israeli and Palestinian leaders who spent the summer in Washington working together on building a better future for both communities.

The five Israelis and five Palestinians spoke at the Falls Church synagogue on July 29 about their experiences during the seven-week program with New Story Leadership for the Middle East, an organization celebrating its sixth year of bringing Israeli and Palestinian students to the United States to promote positive solutions for the people of the region.


New Story Leadership founder, president and CEO Paul Costello said the program is modeled after similar initiatives in Northern Ireland and South Africa.

“A conflict is a system of stories that you have to create and keep sustaining to want people to hate each other enough to kill each other,” said Costello. “If you want to change that situation, you have to do something about changing the stories.”

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Before the participants shared their stories, Temple Rodef Shalom Rabbi Jeffrey Saxe congratulated McLean Islamic Center co-founder and board member Dr. Maqsood Chaudhry on the community center obtaining the zoning permit and completing the process for a move to Tysons Corner.

Temple Rodef Shalom and McLean Islamic Center have a “twinning” relationship established with help from the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, according to Saxe.


Sam Simon and his wife Susan, both past presidents of Rodef Shalom, attended the event.

“We love the social justice program and particularly the idea of bringing different people together,” said Sam Simon. “I think the ultimate hope for peace is getting young people from different backgrounds to understand and know each other better, so we’re glad to be here to support that.”

Eman Abushabab, from Gaza, talked about having never met an Israeli civilian before the program.

“The only time I met an Israeli was a soldier at a checkpoint while I was traveling and we didn’t talk. How can we have an idea of the other side when we didn’t even talk? So I think this program is just a great chance given to all of us to know the other side,” said Abushabab.

Yaara Elazari discussed having to fly across the ocean to meet people from Gaza, Bethlehem, Hebron and Ramallah.

“For the first time I had the chance to hear what their lives look like, not from books or from news but firsthand with smiles and tears,” said Elazari. “We learned to listen and to absorb the other side’s narrative even if it was contradicting things we were used to.”

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