I have recently learned that the life expectancy in Israel is growing and have also come across the subject of recreational activities and activities promoting wellbeing for the elderly. Once people retire, they enter a new life phase that can last anywhere from 15 to up to 30 years. My information comes from personal knowledge of my 90-year-old parents, bless them, newspaper articles on longevity, the annual report of the Taub Center that’s published in a few places, and also from information that I received from my dear friend, who runs Joint/Eshel retirement workshops. I can summarize that generally speaking, one of the main and important ingredients for wellbeing in our golden years is finding a purpose, a way to feel significant and needed. In this blog post I will share Mazal Katzir’s story, who took early retirement, and then proceeded to become a peace and tolerance activist on a global level.
I’ve wanted to interview Mazal for a while now and to share how she spends her time meaningfully promoting peace, tolerance and connections. I’ve met her before here and there in educational settings, but I’ve mostly learned about her activities during a meeting at the 2018 International Day of Peace. I participated in a meeting that she organized in Kibbutz Ein Shemer with Japanese women, members of a society that promotes peace. I knew that it was inevitable that one day I’d interview her for the blog. And so, when a combination of events that Mazal initiated and/or was a partner to, made my mind up for me, it was obvious that the time had come.
At first, Mazal produced an event in Jaffa, Israel. The event was called “in the likeness of” and is related to what Mazal had experienced in South Korea. The original event was called ‘Handing Hands’. Last April, Mazal was invited to a conference about the peace in South Korea, and on the Armistice Day with North Korea (Arpil 27, 2018) which included a historic meeting between the leaders of the two Koreas. The meeting occurred on the border between the countries and the two leaders even crossed the border both ways. The two signed the Panmunjom Declaration committing to demilitarize the peninsula from nuclear weapons, turning the border into a ‘peace area’, and promoting talks with the US and China, thus changing the relations between the two countries (Source: Wikipedia). There was a parade and at its end an official and moving ceremony wherein approximately 16,000 people, children and adults, formed groups, held hands and climbed a mountain with a view of North Korea. Following the climb, there was a lovely ceremony prepared by a few schools. There were songs, dances, and prayers, and all in the name of peace. Mazal says that the ceremony at the top of the mountain facing North Korea was full of power and was one of the most moving-to-tears that she’d ever experienced. She wasn’t the only one invited, there were other peace activists from many countries and the multicultural meeting was emotional.
And back to Israel…and to recent times in what was one of Mazal’s busiest weeks, she presided over a ceremony that was the pinnacle of a process started at the Tabeetha school in Jaffa. That very day, the schools that had already been participating in a dialog process for a while, started a new activity designed to draw them closer by finding both the similar and the unique to each side.
Afterwards they all went to the central square and held a ceremony. Each school was represented, either with a play or a song related to accepting others and our wish to live together in peace and harmony. The schools involved are Neve Shalom, Turan and Nitsanim from Tel Mond with approximately 320 children altogether and another forty guests from abroad.
At the end of the ceremony, the children joined a procession waving flags, singing peace songs and chanting ‘Arabs and Jews don’t want to fight anymore’. During the procession the children were holding hands and holding signs in Arabic, Hebrew and English ‘peace be on earth’ while waving flags from different countries. At the end of the event, they conducted a discussion about promoting relations between Arab and Jewish children. This event was preceded by a dialog process between the schools who are in a long-range relationship. The schools held activities concerning the acceptance of others before the event.
A day or two after the Jaffa event, Mazal was already on her way to a conference in India (to be discussed later). And I caught up with her for an interview in order to meet her and learn about her way of life in this new phase of her life as a retiree, in order for her to tell us about the meaningful activities that are now filling up her time.
Mazal, tell us about yourself,
I started my way as an Arabic and Hebrew grammar teacher, and I then held almost all the positions available in a school, including running a high school in Eilat for six years. I lived in Eilat for 34 years, and in 2018 moved to Yavne following my children and grandchildren. I’ve always been full of love for humanity and the need for peace. For 25 years I acted for peace and love through educational settings, and today following my retirement from work, I’m even fiercer in this pursuit because I believe that this subject should never be off the agenda. It’s very important to sow the seeds of love, tolerance and accepting others from a young age, and not as someone else’s whim, but as a personal duty. This must be advanced on all fronts, and not just as another important subject in our lives, but as a series of regular activities, only then will our world truly improve. Over the years, but particularly in the past decade, I’ve been witness to racism in our country that starts from a young age and grows worse and more extreme the older you get, and I find it hard to live with. I have three grandchildren and I hope and pray that they’ll grow up into another, better reality.
What connected you to this subject in the first place?
I became an activist in 1996, when I joined a delegation to a “Seeds of Peace” camp in Maine, USA. I accompanied 8 students from Israeli schools, and one of my brilliant students said to me, “Mazal, I didn’t know that they were like us”. After all, many students form their opinions from information that they are fed by the media. And of course in Eilat, most of my students never had a chance to meet Arab students for long meetings. I had long discussions with this student and the rest about this issue. The camp hosted long term and shared learning sessions for three weeks. When I returned to Israel, we formed connections with Arab students in Aqaba, Jordan for a few years. But a special thing occurred when an Arabic studies supervisor who knew about my work, heard about a Japanese society working for global peace and was looking for an Israeli contact person. The supervisor told them about my school and they came to visit and we became friendly. This happened about ten years ago. Eversince, I’ve been invited to ceremonies in Japan calling for world peace with participants from all religions.
Please tell us about your experiences traveling in India
I was invited by the Japanese society to a conference in New Delhi. The conference was about child violence. Academics, PhDs and professors from India and elsewhere arrived to participate. Fokusa Kuniko San who is a relentless world peace advocate received an award for her work.
I believe that there must be discussion between Jews and Arabs, and we must start from our youngest. It’s important that from an early age people understand that everyone looks alike and has the same needs. Even if there is cultural diversity, you must learn tolerance. You must accept others with an open heart. And most important, you can learn from others. I believe that the younger you are when you start, the more you try and are consistent, there’s a greater chance to create a more open hearted, tolerant generation for a better future for society, and for the benefit of my grandchildren…