Baha'i News -- Cecil sisters learn thirst for peace never ceases for people of Middle Eastern city

Cecil sisters learn thirst for peace never ceases for people of Middle Eastern city

BY DAVID PENN

THE OBSERVER-REPORTER

dpenn@observer-reporter.com

Many college students get jobs or do volunteer work during the summer, and a few stray far from home.

Sisters Susan and Jennifer Sekel spent the summer in the Middle East.

Jennifer, a Boston University student, had spent a semester at the University of Haifa in Israel and chose to stay several more months to work for an Arab-Israeli aid organization. Susan joined her in May, volunteering for the Red Star of David ambulance service.

The Sekels, daughters of Debbie and Bill Sekel of Cecil Township, returned home at the end of July, having lived together in the northern city of Haifa, an oasis of relative tolerance in the Middle East.

"The University of Haifa is more diverse than any other university in Israel ... It was a good opportunity to get a well-rounded perspective," said 20-year-old Jennifer.

Jews, Christians and Muslims mingle on Haifa's streets. The port city also is the world center of Baha'i, a 150-year-old religion that holds that all faiths convey the same truth.

The social development committee for which Jennifer worked takes on discrimination issues raised by Arabs, offers women's leadership classes and sponsors summer camps that include both Jewish and Arab children. Jennifer spent much of her time on fund-raising efforts, filling out English-language grant applications. She also taught English in an Arab community in Nazareth as part of an internship.

Despite its reputation for ethnic tolerance, Haifa has seen its share of violence since the resurgence of the Palestinian uprising in 2000. In December, a bus bombing in the city killed 15 and injured more than 100. Fourteen Jews and Arabs were killed when a bomb exploded in a Haifa restaurant in March, and another bus attack occurred outside the city in April.

Haifa managed to stay out of the headlines during Susan's stay, although ambulance workers received several false reports of bombings. Some of the reports were pranks, and one was the result of a vehicle's tire blowing out on the street.

"It wasn't so different from working on an ambulance here," she said, recalling the daily business of tending to heart attack patients and kids with broken bones.

Susan recently graduated from Case Western Reserve University with honors and plans to attend medical school at Virginia Commonwealth University in the fall. She began working as an emergency medical technician in Bridgeville and South Fayette during her senior year at Canon-McMillan High School.

Her interest in medicine blossomed while she was in middle school, when she read several books about terminally ill children.

"The doctors in these books were their heroes," she said.

This fall Jennifer will begin her junior year at B.U., where she is pursuing a degree in international relations. She will study Arabic in the coming year, and hopes after graduation to return to the Middle East as a member of the Peace Corps.

She said media reports about the recent spate of bombings and retaliatory strikes distort the perception of Israel in the United States.

"People usually read in the media that all Israelis think the same thing. Israel is so divided. There is no kind of consistency," she said.

While admitting that even members of her development committee have moved further to the right in the past two years, Jennifer says the desire for peace never goes away.

"People in Haifa are hopeful," she said.


©Copyright 2002, The Observer-Reporter (Washington, PA)

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