As tensions flared in the Gaza Strip on Friday, Israeli Consul General Jacob Dayan spoke to students at Amino South Los Angeles Charter High School about Operation Unity, a program that is aimed at raising awareness about diversity between Latino and black Americans and Israelis.
The program tries to break down misconceptions that people have of Israel and Israeli and Jewish stereotypes, officials said.
“There is this saying in Hebrew, ‘In order to know where you go to, you must know where you come from,’” Dayan said. “It’s about shattering stereotypes and meeting the people and making the personal connections.”
The program allows students from the Los Angeles Unified School District to travel to Israel for six-weeks. They live and work in a cooperative environment of a kibbutz — an agricultural collective.
Teens who participate in the program are chaperoned by two teachers, live with an “adopted” family, and get school credit for their experience.
Dayan used the opportunity Friday to reach out to Los Angeles students to promote unity between the two countries. He spoke on a day when tensions again flared in the Gaza Strip. The Associated Press reported that two Israeli soldiers and a Palestinian civilian were killed as a gunbattle between troops and Palestinian militants widened.
Dayan said he believes that Operation Unity could help youth shatter stereotypes.
Students who have participated in the program have learned that Israelis have stereotypes about Americans and vice versa, officials said.
“One of the major things that our kids learn is that they can’t believe everything they see on television,” said Cookie Lommel, founder of Operation Unity.
Although she’s never been, Magdalena Gonzalez, a junior at Amino, believes Israel is a dangerous place. All she knows about the country is what she learned through the news.
“I think it might be a perfect place to live, but the fact is that the United States is over there and they are having bombings,” Gonzalez said. “I believe it’s a calm place. The people who live there I have respect for. They’re good people. But there are things going on over there.”
Dayan said that many people base their perceptions on what they see on television.
“Israel is such a safe and fun place,” he said. “When you tell that to people they say, ‘Really, is that the case?’ For me, seeing is believing.”
Amino junior and student council member Melissa Valdez said she wants to go.
“Before, all that I knew was that it was a small country,” Valdez said. “I learned that it’s just like California. I feel that we should be united and we should visit each others’ countries.”
Gordon Gibbings, Amino’s principal, loves the idea of fostering cultural education.
“Projects like Operation Unity are important for our kids to get out into the world and really see what’s out there,” Gibbings said.