Noa Fleischaker sees flaws in the education programs aimed at helping young Jewish Americans to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Based on her research, the existing model focuses on breaking down stereotypes and stems from the idea that young adults must “unlearn” what they’ve heard and been taught since early childhood.
As a 2014 Dalai Lama fellow, Fleischaker plans to change that model. Her project, Open Books: Education for Social Change, is working to develop a series of children’s books, conversation guides, and workshop curriculum to teach Jewish American children about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Open Books, she explains, targets young children who are just beginning to learn about the issues, and presents them with a more complex narrative. “The books are based on stories of Israeli and Palestinian children involved in coexistence programs,” says Fleischaker, a third-year anthropology and dance student from Evanston, Illinois. “Open Books will lay the groundwork and provide tools for parents and educators to engage in productive conversation about the conflict.
“This project will address the lack of resources available to educators to teach children about this conflict in a way that includes multiple voices and histories. It also has the potential to reach parents who are interested in engaging with these difficult issues, but feel that they don’t have the proper resources or information.”
The Dalai Lama Fellowship is a highly competitive, yearlong program that awards a project grant of up to $10,000 to students at select universities and colleges worldwide. Founded by the 14th Dalai Lama, its mission is to “build a global network of young social innovators working at the intersections of peace, justice, and ecology.”
Oberlin students have earned this fellowship each year since 2011: David Fisher ’12, who founded Interfaith Appalachia; Hilary Neff ’13 and Rachel Manning ’14, who co-founded Mountain Garden Initiative, a sustainable school garden in Harlan County, Kentucky; and Ty Diringer ’13, a partner in the literacy initiative Kenya Reads.
Fleischaker co-founded an Oberlin College chapter of J Street U, a national movement of campus chapters advocating and educating for vigorous and sustained American leadership in facilitating a negotiated, two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2013, she served as the Midwest Regional Co-chair for J Street U, and she is currently one of the National Israel Engagement co-chairs. Locally, she is also a mentor/coordinator for Girls In Motion at the Boys and Girls Club of Elyria.