Growing up the only religious Jewish family in our neighborhood and one of less than a handful of identifiable such students in a public high school of 2,000 people I found myself in a peer group full of first generation immigrants and racial minorities in America. Those childhood friends and experiences gave me the permission to feel comfortable, from a very early age, exploring differences and celebrating diversity as a source of curiosity and wisdom. When I was a first year undergraduate at the University of Chicago I was employed through the Neighborhood Schools Program which gave me the opportunity to teach and work at some of the most run down schools on Chicago’s South Side. There I was confronted with forms of financial poverty, institutional oppression and violence, segregation, and the ramifications of daily violence in post slavery social orders. There I also met some of the brightest and most curious students I’ve ever known, whose loving families were profoundly disadvantaged in their ability to access equal opportunities for their children in “the land of the free”. The brutal force of those experiences caused me to reflect on what I wanted to do with my life, and subsequent to that I have been involved in inner-city teaching and community organizing for the past fourteen years.

 

In addition to my educational and life experiences here, I am a dual citizen of Israel and I have had the opportunity to spend significant parts of my adult life living in Israel. There I have taught in diverse Jewish and non-Jewish communities throughout the country, while living both in communal farming villages and major cities. At the Anglican International School in Jerusalem I interacted with students from all over the world and had my first meaningful relationships with students from Palestinian families. My students there were different than many others I have had, in that their exposure to so much diversity of race, language, religion, and ethnicity by growing up in an international community helped give birth in many of them an ability to think in more empathic and loving ways.

 

In addition to these experiences I have been blessed to run a non-profit organization in Putti Village, located in Eastern Uganda, for the past fourteen years. Our work there has resulted in the production of two musical CDs of indigenous music fused from East African beats and harmonies sung in three different languages. We are focused on working with over 1,500 people in the immediate area (and hope to grow beyond that in time) working with people from four different faith communities to secure access to nutritious food while maintaining biodiversity and ecological balance by utilizing permaculture techniques. Our work includes empowering women, using micro-financing to build local economies, and planning for a long term educational and medical plan to create sustainable and self-sufficient means of meeting the needs of their people

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As a result of the forms of violence I have lived through, be that witnessing suicide bombings in Israel, gang violence and drive by shootings in Chicago, or poverty to the point of starvation in post-colonial Uganda, the importance of finding a different and better way has been a main thrust of my adult life. Focusing on conflict resolution, interconnectedness, story-telling, and teaching for peace, joy, and empathy have become the focus of my interests and life which I hope to further pursue while at the CIE.  

 

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