July, 2007 – On the first day, kids mingled with the friends whom they already knew. But by the second day new friendships were forming and the kids were beginning to interact in mixed groups. The camp schedule was packed with soccer, social and dialogue activities. Soccer was played every morning and every evening. Moreover, whenever the kids had a

 free moment, they would kick a ball around or create pick-up games anywhere they could find the space. Soccer activities were coordinated by the Maccabim Association, the educational and community services arm of famed soccer club Maccabi Tel Aviv. Their experience in soccer and coexistence programming is bar none. The soccer programming is designed to emphasize team elements over individual skills, compel strong team dynamics and develop a sense of collective pride, providing the platform for open dialogue and communication among all our participants.

Kids also took part in many social and educational activities, where they learned about themselves and each other. These activities were run by Kaleidoscope Initiatives, an educational organization based in Israel. Kaleidoscope uses a community-wide approach promoting the development of social and emotional competencies, pro-social behaviors, reduction of violence, and academic achievement. Using the kaleidoscope as an ongoing motif with which to reflect on the variety of populations within communities in Israel, and on the dynamics of diversity, the approach was integrated into formal and informal educational activities. When asked, “What did you learn about yourself in these sessions?” the kids were eager to answer. “I learned that I like to learn in this classroom!” exclaimed one boy. “We are all family,” said another participant.

We took a day trip where the children visited a mosque and a synagogue to learn about each other’s religious and cultural histories. We also were invited to have lunch in the “Peace Tent” where its creator spoke to the children about his experiences building it himself, stone by stone, over the past 11 years.

Another important aspect of the camp were the social activities such as daily swimming that didn’t focus on soccer or Arab/Jewish conflict but allowed the kids to simply hang out. This is when many of the friendships really flourished. On the day trip, the kids visited an authentic Australian zoo before rafting on the Jordan River. The experiences the kids had both on the field and in the classroom provided the platform to allow them to enjoy this time as true friends.

On the last night of camp, we invited all the families to enjoy a barbeque and celebration of the week’s events. The kids were excited to introduce their parents to everyone and tell them of their experiences at camp. The evening included interactive soccer activities with the kids and parents, a comedy routine and a soccer quiz that the kids put together themselves. It also included a stunt show by Eyal Horns, a world famous ball handler who left our campers breathless with his athleticism.

One very special guest in attendance was Loni Herzikowitz, owner of the Maccabi Tel Aviv Football Club and Chairman of the Maccabim Association. Loni spoke to the kids about the beauty of Israel and how wonderful it was to see Arab and Jewish kids living together so harmoniously over the past few days. He encouraged them to be living examples of coexistence to all the people in their lives.

As camp ended, the kids were as sad that camp was over as they were excited to be going home to their families. Their parting comments were extremely heartwarming and positive and when asked if they wanted to come back next year, every hand in the group shot up into the air.

“I don’t want camp to end!”

“We really learned a lot about how similar we all are.”

“I got to meet new friends that I normally would never have met.”

Soccer for Peace would like to thank everyone at Maccabim Association, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Kibbutz Barak’i, and Kaleidoscope for their expertise and help in implementing Camp Coexistence 2007.