Every few months we like to highlight one of our own leaders, to give you an insider perspective of the people who are working hard on the ground to make Givat Haviva's programs a reality, and this month we are highlighting the Co-Director of the
at Givat Haviva,
Samer Atamni. Many of you have probably met Samer at one of our Through Others' Eyes events - so you may know that for the past three and a half years he has been the charismatic and dedicated leader of 24 Israeli teenagers on their trip to the US (quite a feat!).
But Samer's role at Givat Haviva in Israel goes above and beyond the TOE program - he is the inspiration and backbone behind the youth education initiatives at Givat Haviva. Samer's own story and personal journey is what makes him an instrumental team member and leader at Givat Haviva.
Samer was born in Kfar Kara and has raised his beautiful family of three children in the village he himself grew up in. Samer's parents were traditional farmers but encouraged their nine children to pursue higher education so they could have the opportunities that they themselves never had growing up. Samer was raised in a close-knit community and as a result, up until Samer graduated high school he never had an opportunity to encounter the Jewish community and had no knowledge of the realities of Jewish-Arab relations, the socio-political issues of minority vs. majority, or the dilemmas of national identity. When Samer began his BA studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, his mother warned him to steer clear of politics and avoid demonstrations all together, instead focusing solely on his education. At the time Samer found his mother's warnings strange - it was not until later on that he learned of the intricacies of the Jewish-Arab conflict and the context of his mother growing up during the military administration's reign.
There is one story that stands out in Samer's mind that has greatly influenced the trajectory of his life, especially his professional choices and paths, and it is best told in his own words:
"As a student I had to make my way from Kfar Kara to Jerusalem and back daily. During one of those trips I was on the bus on my way home from Jerusalem when we arrived, as usual, to the stop at the airport. A soldier came on the bus and asked for my I.D card. I must say, all through my life I was taught to be afraid of soldiers and this is why I became nervous yet stayed cooperative - I did not even inquire as to why I was being singled out of all the people on the bus. But handing him my I.D. card was not enough, he asked me to gather my belongings and get off the bus with him while it circulated the airport and picked up other passengers along the way. The bus completed its circulation and came back around, and I was instructed to board the bus again, after which I had lost my seat.
When I finally got home, I told my parents what had happened and my father answered that it is because I am Arab. I explained to him that I am aware that I am Arab and a Muslim, but what does that have to do with a soldier's conduct towards me? This question has haunted me since then and led to an intense journey of self-discovery. I searched for myself, for my identity and researched Arab-Jewish relations. Throughout this journey, I have been reminded of this moment often when having to deal with more than a few instances of racism such as curses on the bus, being prevented from entering a dance club, and many other moments that have unfortunately become so frequent as to be indistinguishable."