NEW YORK | After stuffing themselves with food and gratitude on Thanksgiving, 20 American Seeds traveled to New York City to stuff themselves with food for thought.
This year’s Thanksgiving Seminar brought timely and challenging issues to the table. Seeds in attendance heard from a diverse group of older graduate Seeds to get perspectives on the US elections and the current escalation of violence in Gaza and Israel.
American Seed Coordinator Sarah Brajtbord designed the event as a launching point for a new chapter in American Seeds programming.
“Historically, American Seeds programming has focused, rightly so, on what is happening ‘out there’ in regions of conflict,” said Brajtbord, herself an American Seed from 2006. “Now we are taking the next step by pushing Seeds to connect the US to the international and the international to the US, and examine the complexities of US-international relations.”
Brajtbord believes that the event set an exciting tone for the rest of the year in American programming. Topics in current events helped the Seeds discuss deeper, underlying questions about their roles as Americans.
“What do you think America’s role is in the Middle East?” asked one of the graduate Seeds who addressed the group. Bashar, a Palestinian Graduate Seed living in Israel, posed the question to get the Seeds to look inward. It was a question many of the American Seeds had thought about at Camp, without directly addressing as a group.
“The conversation following Bashar’s talk really inspired me to take my role as an American Seed seriously,” said Erica. “It pushed me to define who I want to be in the Seeds community and in my community as well.”
Brajtbord says that the American Seeds’ Camp experience is a dramatically eye-opening experience, and that it is important to help Seeds manifest that experience in their lives back home.
“These are future American leaders, no matter where they go in their lives. We have to localize and ground their experience in the American context while also doing justice to the world-opening experience of Camp.”
The event helped enrich Seeds’ understanding of nuanced issues.
“The seminar added a lot of complexity to my understanding of U.S. foreign policy and what I think we should and should not be doing in other countries,” said Sarah, an American Seed.
Mona, an Egyptian Graduate Seed who covered the Arab Spring for The New York Times, spoke to the Seeds in person about her experiences as a journalist and her views on the US role in the Middle East. She challenged the Seeds to understand that there are always more than two sides to a story—and to a conflict.
From Kabul, Afghan Graduate Seed and journalist Mujib addressed the US elections from an Afghan perspective and shared the local outlook on President Obama’s plans to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014.
“When I’d talked to the Afghan girls in my bunk about American involvement, they had wanted the US out immediately,” said American Seed Kalyani. “But Mujib said that many citizens didn’t feel their government was stable enough for the U.S. to leave as planned.”
The timing of this year’s seminar meant that violence in Israel and Gaza, as well as its effects in the Seeds community, weighed heavily on Seeds’ hearts and minds. Two Seeds of Peace staff members who run Israeli and Palestinian programs—and who are Seeds themselves—explained how they are adapting their work in light of the violence and how American Seeds can help to support their peers.
“The whole discussion reinforced my image of Seeds as a place where they do not pretend to have all the answers to the issues but are really willing to help you work through the tough problems,” said American Seed Francesca after the event.
Brajtbord was impressed with the way American Seeds focused on current events from international as well as domestic perspectives.
“Rather than just talking about US elections as domestic issues, for example, the conversation focused on intersections between the domestic and the international. Even when the discussion shifted to current events in the Middle East, conversation kept coming back to what the US is and is not doing.”
While they may feel physically distanced from conflicts around the world, American Seeds have a unique opportunity for engagement.
“Even if we do not have the resources to go across the world to Palestine and Israel and help out there, simply being active members of our community in this issue and others will be beneficial to conflicts worldwide,” said American Seed Anour.