Seeds Of Peace: Botanical Gardens To Connect Jews And Arabs

By Hanna Szekeres November 22, 2011 Comments

The Botanical Gardens in Jerusalem, Israel is a 30-acre oasis where you can see, smell and even taste over 10,000 species of flowers from around the world. But the educational department of the gardens also focuses on another type of seed: “the seeds of peace.”

Five years ago the department started a project called “Coexistence” that brings together  nine- to 11-year-olds from the city’s Jewish and Muslim schools and teaches them about the production of spices, olive oil and herbal remedies in the gardens.

The project consists of 10 sessions throughout the school year and ends with the children visiting at each other’s schools and planting trees, symbolizing the fruits of their cooperation and mutual learning.

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“Nature is everybody’s and nobody’s,” says the project director, Leah Gerson. “The Garden serves as a neutral ground, as a charming atmosphere with wonderful tasks that allows room for openness and listening.”
botanical garden jerusalem

Botanical Gardens Jerusalem

Due to the language barrier, the teachers act as translators for the children and bridge the gaps between the sides. “My initial fear was for nothing,” says Gerson, “because the children found their own ways to communicate, as children do.”

In the past year alone the project has brought together 160 Jewish and Arab children for combined studies. “We have the largest collection in the country and are a living showcase for biodiversity,” says Sue Surkes, director of development. “We translate the plant biodiversity into trying to encourage human diversity as well.”

Coexistence is just one of several programs blossoming at Israel’s largest botanical garden, adds Surkes.

To reach broader audiences, including Christians and Muslims, the JBG is also opening a newly upgraded Bible Path, complete with new plantings, outdoor classrooms, interpretational aids and innovative programming.

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