The effects of PeacePlayers International’s programs are far reaching – well beyond the borders of the courts participants play on or even the countries they come from. Cara Tolmas, a rising senior at the University of Michigan, says her recent experience as a volunteer for PPI – Middle East in Israel continues to influence her. Below, Cara reflects on that experience, and how it altered her perspective as a Jewish student taking part in the Israeli-Palestinian debates happening on her campus.
In the PeacePlayers’ gym, basketball unites everyone. Outside of the gym you can hear the loud hustle and bustle of Jerusalem. Inside that gym, it is loud with peace – the sounds of a diverse group of people just coming together to play some basketball. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
After volunteering as an assistant coach with PeacePlayers at the Palestinian-Israeli school in Jerusalem, I began the next chapter of my life at the University of Michigan, bringing with me the simple experiences of playing basketball for coexistence and peace. When I first arrived on Michigan’s campus, I was pretty shocked at the level of tension regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It almost felt like there was more tension on campus than when I was actually living in Jerusalem volunteering directly with the Palestinian-Israeli school.
At Michigan, I joined I-LEAD, a group that is devoted to understanding both sides of the conflict. Because of my work with PPI, I know there are seemingly trivial things we can do to ease the tension on campus. We could celebrate the similarities between our cultures with a joint Mediterranean food sale, truly listen to our differing experiences with cooperative panel discussions, or even just make an effort to befriend those from the “other” side that we meet in classes.
Maybe I just had an exclusive perspective because of my volunteering.
However, I’d like to think it wasn’t just something only those involved with PPI could see, rather it was just a different perspective that the students at the University of Michigan and the whole world needs to see more of. I know that Palestinians and Israelis playing basketball together may not seem like it can make a significant difference but I’ll tell you otherwise. Not only are those kids in that gym now exposed to each other in a way totally unrelated to the political tensions, but I, personally, along with all the other volunteers, are now exposed to a new perspective that we can learn from and take with us wherever we go.
Peace is possible. I saw it right there in the gym.