Omer and Yaron met during their academic studies and became the best of friends. While sharing their hobby of surfing and their studies, they came up with the idea to combine their two loves, educating at-risk youth and surfing and started a foundation called ‘My Wave’ (HaGal Sheli.) Based on the belief that empowering young people will enable them to ‘ride the wave’ and succeed in life. They began by volunteering to teach 10 teenagers for a year, and continued through falling in love, committing, leaving their jobs, taking out loans and buying secure surfing equipment and insurance – and to this day, their organization teaches over one hundred groups every year, they have 3800 alumni and more than 1000 at-risk youth joining every year in three centers along the Israeli shoreline – Bat Yam, Tel-Aviv – Yaffo and Kfar Galim. Omer and Yaron wanted to help youth expose their inner strength by experiencing the might of the sea and waves and learn from this how to face life’s challenges. The process is unique and is built on successful experiences. Although surfing is individual, it also has a group aspect of is being part of a crew. On the one hand, the sea has healing power, and on the other hand, it’s challenging and can teach and encourage achieving some insights about handling life.
The activities of ‘My Wave’ encompass all the young people in Israel, both Arab and Jewish youth have a place to meet and belong in a group of equals. “We all surf the same waves together, we’re all equal and we all have a place.” The significant connection is achieved through the hard work of the staff, who are also diverse and dealing with prejudices while trying to create a cooperative reality. At the same time, there are other partnership activities, such as:
- Intentional integration of diverse populations already in the base program ‘Lighthouse’ (Migdalor) that is also open to boys and girls from Eastern Jerusalem.
- Keeping all the young people involved and taking advantage of the instructional program to go on and graduate into the alumni group
- Marking the holidays of all the different groups and religions
- Volunteering at events, for example working with Shorashim-Judur, an organization that encourages discussion between settlement youth and Palestinian youth
- Integrating counselors and volunteers from different sectors into the staff
- A spoken Arabic course for the staff under the auspices of ‘Kulna – a school for Arabic language and culture’
These actions are possible thanks to esteemed partners, including the German embassy in Israel.
For the past two years the My Wave foundation together with the Jerusalem municipality have begun a new initiative meant to connect and strengthen Eastern Jerusalem. One of the instructors Aviv said, “We started 12 groups of teenagers from Eastern Jerusalem. The initiative included learning to swim as the first step, and afterwards, joining the My Wave program at the Bat Yam beach. Both sadly and happily, 150 young people who had never seen the sea before, arrived. For the second year we also had two groups of Muslim girls from Eastern Jerusalem join and they had a unique experience. The young people who excelled at the program then continued and underwent the ‘Big Brother – from student to instructor’ course.’ And are today the instructors for new boys and girls. There are no words to describe this important project, so much so that at the end of a recent cycle a parent of one of the students said, “for the first time I’ve met Jews who don’t want to harm us, they accept us and teach our children good things.” The whole program was in Arabic.
One of the goals is to create a process for individual development for the program alumni, as well as building a sustainable social community that would help to lessen the elements of danger that these youths are exposed to and simultaneously provide exposure to different cultures. Through this program the staff is promoting tolerance, understanding and acceptance. The course in sharing that all the alumni experience is a fertile ground for continuing joint activities, forming connections and friendships not based on religion/race/gender/color, as well as a strong base for the ongoing educational process promoting pluralistic values and acquaintance with other cultures. The young people taking part in the ‘My Wave’ processes testify to creating true friendships that have changed their perspectives so that they are now able to think positively of others.
And let’s end with a video clip of a group composed of both Palestinian and Settlement youth who have participated in meetings with the ‘Shorashim Judur’ foundation, fostering cooperation.