Middle East Students Break Bread at Temple Beth Shalom

Young adults from Israel and Palestine have been studying entrepreneurship at Babson College.

The members of in Needham shared dinner with several special guests last Thursday evening.

Their visitors, students from Israel and Palestine who represent three religious backgrounds, have been studying entrepreneurship at in Wellesley for the past five weeks.

“This is part of what I call the ‘three-legged stool,’ because our students are Muslim, Jewish and Christian,” explained Ted Grossman, a Babson professor and director of the college’s Israeli and Palestinian programs. “It’s an opportunity for all of our students to experience the extended cultures that they come from and that their classmates are from."

A few weeks ago, the students were invited to a dinner reception at St. George Orthodox Church in West Roxbury. And this week, which is the beginning of Ramadan, they are attending an iftar dinner at the Islamic Center of Boston in Wayland.

After a welcome by Temple Beth Shalom Rabbi Jay Perlman, introductions around the tables and three different blessings—Christian, Muslim and Jewish—the students and Babson staff members enjoyed a buffet-style dinner and conversation with members of the temple congregation.

After dinner, Grossman and Nidal Neiroukh—a lecturer from Al-Quds University, a partner school based in Jerusalem—spoke about the program, also inviting three students to share their experiences with the group.

Perlman then invited the students into the temple sanctuary to discuss Reform Judaism and the history of the temple.

This is the inaugural year for Babson College’s “Bridging the Cultural Divide Through Entrepreneurship” program. Four-and-a-half weeks into the seven-week experience, Grossman said it was going "extremely well.”

“You’ve got groups here that have a lot of baggage. You’ve got 63 years of loaded history, and I certainly didn’t expect any kumbaya moments,” he said before the meal. “However, we are seeing many kumbaya moments. These kids are working together in class. They’re getting along very well together. They’re forming alliances. We’re seeing little pockets of people still resisting, but on the whole these kids are really coming together.”

Grossman credited several sources of inspiration for the development of the summer program, including a pre-existing Babson course that gives undergraduate students a chance to develop a business plan one semester, then put it into practice the next semester.

He was also motivated by the Seeds of Peace program in Maine, which brings Palestinian and Israeli teenagers together for a summer camp experience.

Also providing a spark: the movie “Remember the Titans,” which focuses on the desegregation of a Virginia high school in 1971.

“I said, why can’t we do the same thing with Israelis and Palestinians?” Grossman said.

About 15 months ago, he made his first trip to Israel for what he refers to as a “friend-raising” mission—to find partner schools that would be willing to participate.

He found them, and this summer, 44 students—including 20 Palestinians, 17 Israeli Jews and seven Israeli Arabs—traveled to Babson College for the first seven-week intensive program on entrepreneurship.

The students live on campus and eat in the dining halls. On the weekends, they have taken trips around the area to New York, Cape Cod, Boston and even the Wrentham outlet mall.

During the week, they are immersed in entrepreneurship classes and working on their business plans—the students are split into two groups of 22, each working on a separate plan.

“Each group is coming up with an idea for a business that they will run when they get back [to Israel and Palestine], and we will invest up to $5,000 in seed capital for each business,” Grossman said. “They will run that business for four months, working together toward a common goal. At the same time, we team them up with a humanitarian service organization in Israel that caters to both Israelis and Palestinians, and they will donate all of their profits and their time to that program.”

The students will report back to Babson staff via video teleconferences, and Grossman will return to Israel in January for a final presentation at the Peres Center for Peace in Israel, attended by the students, their family members, educators and dignitaries.

Grossman said he is interested in continuing the program next year but that it depends on funding. This year, the effort was made possible by several donations from large corporations such as Cisco in Israel as well as individual donors.

Learn more about this and other Babson College programs at babson.edu.


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