2 Programs, 1 Goal

PeacePlayers superfan Khalid Robinson

PeacePlayers superfan Khalid Robinson

Today’s blog is brought to you by International Fellow Ryan Hage’s good friend, Khalid Robinson. He is visiting for the week and has spent the last year in Belfast, Northern Ireland with a sports nonprofit, Sport Changes Life. Khalid got to see firsthand both the PeacePlayers program in Northern Ireland and Cyprus and lets us know what makes both of them so special

The North Nicosia girls learning about good nutrition for athletes!

The North Nicosia girls learning about good nutrition for athletes!

Hey my name is Khalid Robinson and I am visiting Cyprus this week. I was a college teammate of current fellow Ryan Hage at Fordham University. I’ve been studying abroad and working with the nonprofit organization, Sport Changes Life in Belfast Northern Ireland.

During my time in Belfast, I witnessed several games featuring the PeacePlayers-Northern Ireland girls’ team. That team consisted of players from different cultural backgrounds. Despite the differences that exist between the players, the girls on the PeacePlayer’s team displayed a genuine love for the game and their teammates. Although they come from diverse backgrounds these girls showed no animosity towards each other and competed throughout the game. The girls played hard, worked together and exhibited a love for competition.

Ryan loves seflies

Ryan loves seflies

This same friendship and comradery can be seen among the PeacePlayers-Cyprus youth teams. The kids exemplify how the medium of sports can positively affect the attitudes and dispositions of kids. The kids have a great work ethic and enthusiasm to learn which can be translated from basketball into their daily lives.   Although Belfast and Cyprus are in vastly different parts of the world with their own unique cultures, the ethos and strategy of Peace Players has remained consistent. Basketball has been able to effectively inspire kids to have ambition and a desire to create change in the world around them.

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LDP Jr. Kickoff Retreat: From Awkward to AWESOME!

LDP Jr. youth from East and West Jerusalem

LDP Jr. youth from East and West Jerusalem

At the end of April, PPI – ME’s teams from East and West Jerusalem came together for an overnight retreat at Kibbutz Sdot Yam to learn about the new Junior Leadership Development Program (LDP Jr.), where excellent participants are selected to become the next generation of youth leadership. The participants had the opportunity to hear from current and former members of the older Leadership Development Program (LDP) as well as to work with coaches in the Coaches for Reconciliation (CFR) program.

Naturally, when there are so many different groups together it can be a bit awkward at first. The bus ride was filled with light chatter but mostly girls talking to their own teammates. It was easy to see who belonged to which team or community. During the introduction and icebreaker name game, there was lots of giggling and pauses as the kids could not recall the names of the people they just met. As the meeting and evening progressed, the awkwardness started to fade and it was clear the kids were becoming more comfortable with each other.

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Playing 3 on 3 during the retreat

On the first night, the participants got a chance to go through multiple practices organized by LDP and CFR members and then grade each practice based the fun factor and energy. The LDP Jr. really enjoyed the variety of drills and effort put forth by the coaches to prepare fun practices. Next, as the LDP and CCT prepared for the activities for the following day, the LDP Jr. had an impromptu dance, soccer, basketball party! Some of the highlights were Director Karen Doubilet’s amazing robot, Nagham’s (an LDP Jr.participant) amazing belly dancing skills, and the huge dance circle. The ice had been broken and that awkward that lurked at the beginning of the day had turned into awesome. The night ended with some basketball relay races and smiles. It was hard to get the kids to sleep because they were so busy talking and laughing together.

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LDP Neta and Duha spoke to LDP Jr. about their experience in the program and their success in the All Star team

The next day after breakfast, the LDP Jr. were split into groups and raced to complete a scavenger hunt. The main goal was team work, leadership, teaching the kids more about PeacePlayers and fun! Some of the stations were building a sand castle, walking with an egg on the end of a spoon in your mouth through an obstacle course, partner ring toss, and getting the basketball from one side of the court to the other without dribbling and using the entire group. Each team could not advance to the next station without first answering a question. Some of the LDP and CFR went around with the group of kids and it was hard to tell who was more excited and eager to get the next clue and advance to the different stations.

After a quick lunch the LDP Jr changed into basketball clothes and participated in a basketball tournament. The competition was high and the teams were evenly matched. Many of the games came down to a last second shot to pull off the win. Everyone was working as a team and the separation which was once so easy to see was unrecognizable. There were so many high-fives and lots of cheering; it was hard not to get sucked as a spectator. It was the perfect way to end a great weekend.

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PPI-SA Partners with Save the Children and the Children’s Rights Centre

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Last month, PPI-SA partnered with Save the Children South Africa and Children’s Rights Centre for a childhood protection and development workshop. 15 PPI coaches and staff members were trained on the 41 Rights Children hold. We learned that when it comes to childhood protection, it is much more than physical safety.

Coach Sam Linda and others learn about the 41 Rights Children have

Coach Sam Linda and others learn about the 41 Rights Children have

As coach Sam Linda put it:

“I learned that children are our future and how important it is to protect them physically and emotionally but also to provide for them, for their basic needs and developmentally. If we protect them and help them develop, we’re in essence protecting our future “  

Coach Thondekile Nxumalo had this to say:

“I learned that we as coaches must play an active role in our player’s development by being there for them, listening to and encouraging them and always keeping their best interest in mind.”

The Coaches and staff were presented the information on childhood rights & development in the form of a house. The foundation of the house is the key people in the children’s lives such as family, the larger community in which they grow up and “special helpers” (I.e. teachers, coaches etc.). The body of the house consists of the 41 Rights held by every child, broken up into 4 different categories:

  • Protection – From abuse: emotional, sexual and physical; Drug use; Safety; Exploitation etc.
  • Survival – Food security; health care; standard of living
  • Development – Education; Play and recreation; cultural recognition
  • Participation – Freedom of association; expression; access to information

On the roof of the house are the documents stating these rights such as the South African Constitution, United Nations Convention on the Rights of The Child and more.

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Coaches had fun learning the material through games as well

Upon first glance it may seem that PeacePlayers International only plays a role within the “Development” bucket portion of the house. However throughout the day we learned that as part of the foundation of these children’s development our role as an organization and as coaches goes much deeper.

One of our coaches stories towards the end of the workshop, demonstrated the importance and realness of this issue in our communities:

“One of my players came to me early on in the year. I could tell it was hard for her, but she told me that she was being abused at home. In our first week of practice I told my players to tell me everything, but I never expected this. After speaking with a representative of my school, and another parent I trust we were able to arrange for my player to move in with her aunt.”

As coaches one of the most frustrating things is to see a child not living up to the potential we see in them. Reasons for this are often numerous and beyond understanding. Sometimes though as our coach did in the above story, simply asking about their lives and listening can have an impact beyond the basketball court. An impact that changes lives.

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PeacePlayers-Cyprus’ Last Twinning of the Year

Group shot of our final twinning

Group shot of our final twinning

This week’s blog is brought to you by International Fellow, Jessica Walton. PeacePlayers-Cyprus hosted their last Twinning of the programming year. Moving forward, PPI-CY begins to finalize plans for this year’s summer camp in July.

Hula Hoop ball-handling action shot at out last twinning

Hula Hoop ball-handling action shot at out last twinning

Last Saturday, our PeacePlayers gathered one last time for this programming year, to the Ledra Palace basketball court located in Nicosia’s UN Buffer Zone. Twinnings are bi-communal events that integrate Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot teams on the island. The kids participate in a variety of drills and games focused on teamwork and basketball skill development.

Although it was a very hot afternoon on our outdoor court, all of our kids, coaches and staff were happy to be there!  We spent most of the afternoon mixing up our participating teams and playing pick-up games. International Fellow, Ryan Hage, once again put his refereeing skills to the test as he called the majority of Saturday’s games.

International Fellow, Ryan Hage, tossing up a jump ball

International Fellow, Ryan Hage, tossing up a jump ball

In addition to wrapping up our last twinning, the PPI-CY staff is busy in the office preparing and planning for our first ever inter-regional camp this July! We’re so excited for our camp, where we’ll be hosting leaders and representatives from each of PeacePlayers International sites in addition to our own participants.

PeacePlayers-Cyprus would like to thank the all of the UN soldiers that have helped us to make each of our twinnings so special this past year. Last but not least, we would also like to thank all of our participants, coaches, leaders, PPI-CY family members and everyone in between who contributed their time and energy at our twinnings this year. They were a tremendous success and we hope you all had as much fun as we did!

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How PeacePlayers Shaped us as Teenagers

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Neta (back center) and Maayan (4th from back, right) at an LDP kickoff retreat 

Hi. We’re Neta and Maayan, and we’re 14 and 15 years old. We’re both from Jerusalem, from the Katamon neighborhood, and we’ve been playing with the ASA (Academic Sports Association) basketball club for two and a half years. We are also Orthodox Jews.

We joined PeacePlayers this year, and so many things have changed in us since we joined the organization – our approach, opinions, thoughts, and our understanding that we [Arabs and Jews] can live together. Joining PeacePlayers has helped build our personality, and has shaped us as teenagers. We have been lucky enough to get to know Arab culture, including traditions and language, on a deeper level, and also [our Arab friends] have been exposed to Jewish culture.

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Maayan & Neta volunteering at Kiach School for the hearing impaired

As part of our involvement, we were selected to join the Leadership Development Program (LDP), a project that educates for future leadership and creates community involvement. As part of the project, we commit to a number of volunteer hours in the community. At one of our monthly meetings, we split into two groups and each group decided on an important cause to volunteer for. Our group chose to visit the Kiach School. Kiach is a mixed Arab-Jewish school in Jerusalem for hearing and speech impaired children, ages 6-21. The purpose of this school is to help these young people become prepared for independent living. The school takes the curriculum of standard schools, and adapts it to the needs of those with hearing impairment who often face many other challenges. We planned the activity, and then one Friday about a month ago, all of us LDP went there.

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Neta playing on the 16-Under All Stars Jerusalem team

When we arrived, we got a chance to tour of the school. On the tour, we saw how the children are getting tools in many different fields: cooking, physics, computers, math, biology, carpentry, art and more. In some areas of study, the students even complete matriculation exams. In addition, we shopped at the kiosk that is run by the children, and ate lunch that was prepared by the “young cooks” at the school.

Afterwards, we ran basketball activities and different games and competitions for the kids at the school. It was heartwarming to see these children smiling, laughing and having fun. It’s moving to know that you have the ability to make someone smile, especially if he or she has a disability or impairment. This act of giving gives you a feeling of satisfaction, and makes us better people. This activity brought home the understanding that we have to be aware of our environments, and that we have to give something of ourselves to others. That was quite an experience and we really enjoyed it.

We think that PeacePlayers has a lot of importance, especially in Israel, where there are so many stigmas and divides between people from different groups. We got the chance to be a part of this organization and it’s allowed us to get exposed and to get connected to different populations where we live, and that is something significant and important. We hope that more people will get to know the organization that works to create peace, and that PeacePlayers will just keep on growing.

 

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What Meaningful Change Means

Coach Will with  participants in a twinning Ballykeel and St Bridgid's in Ballymena

Coach Will with participants in a twinning Ballykeel and St Bridgid’s in Ballymena

Coach Will Massey, an intern at the PeacePlayers International-Northern Ireland Office shares his experience with the programme in Ballymena. 

I had a chance encounter last week through a program entirely unrelated to PeacePlayers International- Northern Ireland. I was speaking to a young woman who mentioned that she is a teacher at Ballykeel Primary School in Ballymena.

“Very good,” I said, “I coached a PeacePlayers program with the P6 pupils from Ballykeel.”

She suddenly looked delighted, and explained that she had organised for Ballykeel to be involved in the twinning with St. Brigid’s Primary school. She expressed her enthusiasm and gratitude for the PeacePlayers program, and assured me that the kids felt the same way. I was glad to receive the appreciation and personal affirmation for 16 weeks of work in Ballymena, and then she said something that went far beyond me and spoke to the tremendous value of PeacePlayers in general.

Thank you card from St Bridgid's Primary School.

Thank you card from St Bridgid’s Primary School.

“Ballykeel students are coming from one of the most deprived areas in Northern Ireland,” she explained “opportunities for cross-community relationships are particularly rare and valuable for them.” Her comment made me appreciate one of the things that sets PeacePlayers apart. I can offer only an impression from my eight months in Northern Ireland, but it seems that well-meaning cross-community programs are often limited in their appeal to people of different economic means.

Commonly, middle and upper class communities offer willing participants for such programs, while more deprived families and communities have more pressing concerns, or are barred because of transport or communication.

The excitement of having a basketball in your hands

The excitement of having a basketball in your hands

But PeacePlayers intentionally partners with schools populated by pupils from all social and economic level of Northern Irish society. Some of the research I have done for PeacePlayers recently verifies that our programs are inclusive in every sense of the word. A couple of our twinning schools are situated in the most deprived areas of Belfast, while others are drawing students from very privileged areas. PeacePlayers knows that meaningful change means reaching as many different individuals and areas as possible, and a chance conversation with a teacher from Ballykeel confirmed our success.

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South African Lady Dove Reflects on Her Journey with PeacePlayers

PPI-SA Coach Snoh Mancunga of Lamontville

PPI-SA Coach Snoh Mancunga of Lamontville

This week we continue with our series on introducing our coaches. Snoh Mancunga of Lamontville, who has been with PPI-SA since 2004, first as a participant and now as one of our programme drivers/coaches. In this week’s blog Snoh reflects on her journey with PPI-SA and what she recently learned during a workshop on Children’s Rights and Protection.

My name is Snoh Mancunga, I’m a 22 year old first year youth basketball coach from Lamontville, Durban. I was introduced to coaching by a friend and fellow colleague Thobani Khumalo. I started playing basketball with PPI in 2004 at Excelsior Primary School. I proceeded to play in the LDP for Lamontville from 2006 until 2011. My interest in basketball came when I saw my friends and schoolmates playing basketball in primary school and I wanted to join to the following year. The joy from playing at PPI came when we travelled to different areas to play against other schools and participate in tournament.

My youth years and most of my childhood was spent in Lamontville, a place where a large number of my peers (young girls) are easily influenced by negativity, surrounded by taverns, young men find comfort in spending time outdoors doing nothing. Growing up, some of my friends spent their time and weekends drinking alcohol and partying.

PPI-SA coaches during the Children's Rights and Protection workshop.

PPI-SA coaches during the Children’s Rights and Protection workshop.

Ever since PPI introduced basketball in Lamontville, the only sport I have ever been interested in playing, I have turned my head away from the negative influences, to the coach that I am today. Today I coach the primary I once attended and played for 10 years ago and play basketball for the PPI Lady Doves in the provincial league called Ethekwini Basketball Association.

During my time as coach, I have learnt to use basketball as tool to reach to youth in my community. In the past week we took part in workshop where we were taught about the rights and safety of children. We learnt that children have rights but they also have responsibilities. The children rights protection organization designed a house that is called The Children’s Rights House. Inside that house there are four categories which are  Protection, Survival, Development and Participation. This taught us that we should always allow kids to participate in every decision that we take as parents or special helpers, we must never conclude without knowing the child’s feeling about the decision.

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The PPI Family

This week’s blog is written by International Fellow Jessica Walton. Jessica joined PeacePlayers-Cyprus just over a month ago. This past weekend she traveled to Israel for this first time and also got a chance to visit a PeacePlayers-Middle East twinning.

Tel-Aviv, Israel coastline

Tel-Aviv, Israel coastline

I’ve been a Fellow for about six weeks or so now, slowly but surely I’m adjusting to the new lifestyle here in Cyprus, learning the ropes and acclimating to the PPI-CY office. I definitely miss my family and friends back home in Albany, NY, but I also am really enjoying myself in Cyprus. One of the many privileges of being an International Fellow and living abroad is taking advantage of the opportunity to travel during my free time.

Jessica with PPI-ME and PPI-CY Fellows LaToya Fisher and Ryan Hage and PPI-ME  Project Manager, Heni Bizawi

Jessica with PPI-ME and PPI-CY Fellows LaToya Fisher and Ryan Hage and PPI-ME Project Manager, Heni Bizawi

Last week I decided to take advantage of my three day weekend and visit Israel for the first time. It was the perfect destination, as it’s just an hour flight from Cyprus. The icing on the cake was that I was able to stay with Heni Bizawi, Project Manager for PeacePlayers-ME and my host for the weekend!

Heni was an awesome host. She showed me around Tel-Aviv, Bethlehem, took me to the Dead Sea and took me to a PPI-ME twinning. During the twinning I had the opportunity to see the similarities and differences between our program and theirs, meet some of the kids participating and was introduced to some PPI-ME staff.

PPI-NI alum, Tony McGaharan and PPI-ME player

PPI-NI alum, Tony McGaharan and PPI-ME player

I was pleasantly surprised when I was introduced to PPI-ME Fellow, LaToya Fisher and visiting PPI-NI alum, Tony McGaharan. Both have ties to my home state, New York. LaToya was born in Binghamton and Tony had attended school in the Albany area. Each of us exchanged stories, shared PPI experiences and I couldn’t help but think about how crazy it was to cross paths with these “New Yorkers” so far from home. After the twinning, PPI-ME’s Aysha Faqih was kind enough to invite us all to her home for an incredible meal with her family.

Prior to leaving for Cyprus, I spent a couple of days on-boarding for the Fellowship in the PPI Washington, DC office. I learned about the curriculum, different sites and met the people behind the organization; everyone explained to me how PeacePlayers was like a family. Many of the staff in the DC office previously worked as Fellows, the organization was created by two brothers, and they definitely seemed to be a close knit group. Still, part of me wondered if it was just one of those “lines” people drop to new employees.

Jessica with PPI-ME staff and kids at PPI-ME twinning

Jessica with PPI-ME staff and kids at PPI-ME twinning

After this weekend, I can confidently say without a doubt, PeacePlayers International is one big family. Thanks to Heni, my first trip to Israel was a huge success. She took me in and treated me like one of the PPI-ME family members. Thanks to LaToya and Tony, I felt like I wasn’t quite so far from home. I’ve since returned to Cyprus and feel like the weekend in Israel was just what I needed. Of course I still miss my family and friends, but  I’m settling into my new home here in Cyprus and I’m starting to feel like I’m really a part of this PeacePlayers family.

 

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Running for Peace

Belfast City Marathon 2015

Belfast City Marathon 2015

The Belfast City Marathon started in May 1982 and participants can enter into the Main Marathon Race, Wheelchair Race, Marathon Walk, Team Relay and Fun Run. PeacePlayers International- Northern Ireland took part in the in the team relay part this year on Monday the 4th of May. This is the 3rd time PeacePlayers has participated in the marathon. Members of staff, Champions4Peace participants and board members helped to fundraise to sponsor the PeacePlayers runners and raise some money for the organisation. Our international fellow Joe Smith was the first member of staff to complete this marathon and what made it even more special was the fact that he finished it in 4:17 minutes.  He is still standing! We would like to send special thanks to everyone that donated to the organisation and sponsored the runners. We do acknowledge that fundraising can be challenging but working collectively we can make a significant difference. So far we have raised more than £2,000.00 and additional donations are still very much welcomed.

Laura Agnew, Niamh Burns, James Proctor, Hannah Byrne and Nasiphi Khafu in their PeacePlayers gear ready for the race

Laura Agnew, Niamh Burns, James Proctor, Hannah Byrne and Nasiphi Khafu in their PeacePlayers gear ready for the race

James Proctor who is a participant in our Champions4Peace programme shares his marathon experience:

“Hey everyone my name is James Proctor and I’m from North Belfast.  I have played sports my whole life – Gaelic and soccer being the main sports I play. I’m involved in the PeacePlayers Senior C4P programme and I am a volunteer coach for the after school Belfast Interface League (BIL) programme. Being part of this programme is extremely beneficial and fun.  I have made a lot of friends for life through this programme and have gained new skills and qualities. I participated in the Belfast City Marathon Relay on behalf of PeacePlayers, and Hannah Bryne (a fellow senior C4P) and I shared ran the same leg . The relay leg that we ran was was 7.1 Miles.  I completed that in 1hr 16 mins. I had not trained for the marathon as I stepped in at the last minute and I loved it!   It taught me to break through the pain barrier and reach beyond that place I never thought I could get to before. Everyone should try to compete in the marathon!  It is extremely fun and a really good thing to be a part of. It was great to be part of the the thousands of people that were running for their charities, to raise awareness and funds.

James and Hannah waiting at the relay

James and Hannah waiting at the relay

My favourite part was reaching the finish line knowing that I completed a goal that I had for a long time…..to complete the marathon one day. The Belfast City Marathon is hugely beneficial for organisations like PeacePlayers that help to bridge divides, develop leaders and change perceptions; helping communities from different religions to come together and unite, make change through sport.

I wish more people could donate to PeacePlayers and help more people like me who hope to give back to the organisation one day by becoming a coach and work myself up to the Peaceplayers wedge.”

Many thanks to James and all those who ran for peace this week!

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Tying Morocco and Israel through Food

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Heba (left) in a Moroccan Caftan for a wedding

This week’s blog is written by International Fellow Heba El-Hendi. Last year Heba spent a year living in different parts of Morocco on a Fulbright Fellowship. This past week Heba attended a traditional Moroccan Jewish Holiday, a Maimouna, with Program Manager Heni. 

After spending 10 rewarding months in Morocco last year, I welcome any way to integrate aspects of Moroccan culture back into my life. Whether it’s eating a Moroccan dish or getting the chance to speak Darija (Moroccan Arabic dialect), I love keeping close to my Moroccan experiences.

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Sweets covering the table at the Maimouna

At the end of Passover, Moroccan Jews in Israel have become known for a holiday celebration called Maimouna. And this year I was lucky enough to not only experience a Seder dinner, but also a Maimouna celebration. After Heni, my co-worker, invited me to attend her family’s Maimouna, I kicked myself for not packing my Djellba or Caftan, both Moroccan traditional wear for special occasions. I’ve heard stories about the celebrations here, and the main focus was centered around sweets, food, music, and dancing. In my eyes it’s the combination for a successful party.

Even with this in mind, I could not have expected what I experienced that night. Last year, I attended a small calm Maimouna party in Rabat, Morocco. The Jewish population there currently is very small and that meant the Maimouna party was more on the low-key side. I came into Heni’s family party with last year’s Maimouna in mind, which skewed my expectations.

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The platter of moflettas being passed over the crowd

At Heni’s family party there were well over 70 people there! Immediately once we entered we were directed to the food, nothing I can complain about. The house had been cleared of the living room furniture and was turned into a dance floor, while the outside patio was filled with tables full of food. And on the side, Heni was working with her mother on one of the most important aspects of the Maimouna….making the moflettas! Moflettas are similar to crepe-like pancakes and are often spread with honey, butter, jams, cheese, and my all time favorite-Nuttela. I integrated moflettas into my eating habits on a daily basis and the first time I ate them again since my time in Morocco was at the Maimouna. For Jews observing Passover moflettas are off the table until the end of Passover, because of the flour base.

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Heni, the expert mofletta maker!

During the Maimouna, moflettas are served with honey or butter and are rolled up. Heni looked like she was making 100 moflettas an hour. And 100 wouldn’t surprise me because halfway through the party, Heni’s mother, Sippa, informed us that they had already made 7 kilos of moflettas dough. And the end of the night, 15 kilos of moflettas were made!

Over the speakers Moroccan songs filled the room as people danced and celebrated. A remix of Lalla Fatima, a classic, played and I couldn’t stop smiling or dancing. It was an experience that combined my love for Moroccan and Israeli/Jewish culture. For me the beauty of this fellowship is the cultural exchange component and the ability to learn more about the different subcultures found here.

Listen to Lalla Fatima here:

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