“Skateboarding and music”. “Art/Community/Technology”. “The known and the unknown”. These are just three of the very many cultural projects involving young persons that have been supported by the German-Israeli Future Forum. The Forum started providing this support in 2007. Its thrusts are topics of current interest and future import to young persons in Germany and Israel. The projects enable the young to get to know each other, and to thus network with each other.
This networking began long before 2007. It was as early as 1955 – ten years prior to the commencement of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel – that the first group of young Germans traveled to Israel. By now, some 700,000 German and Israeli young persons have visited the respective other country. These visits have taken the form of exchange programs organized by schools or other institutions, and of voluntary services. The latter is staged by a variety of facilities. Such visits have been facilitated by the January 1, 1975 promulgation of the “Joint Stipulations on the Conducting and Fostering of Exchanges between German and Israeli Young Persons” (Gemeinsame Bestimmungen für die Durchführung und Förderung des deutsch-israelischen Jugendaustausches). In addition, cities in the two countries have forged more than 100 civic partnerships. These also form the framework of encounters among the young.
Instruments of international understanding
Exchange programs featuring German and Israeli students and other young persons constitute one of the most important channels of the two countries' relations. This importance led to the founding in 2001 of ConAct. Based in Wittenberg, this dedicated office of coordination fosters exchanges of youth, with this including specialists in the provision of out-of-school vocational education.
The Scholarship Program provides participants with a way of intensively getting to know the respective partner country. The Program was founded in 2000 by Johannes Rau, Germany's President, in order to “take a joint and searching look at the past and at the future”. The scholarships awarded over the past 15 years have enabled especially gifted and dedicated Israeli high school students to spend two weeks in Germany. In April 2012, traffic started flowing the other way. Responding to an invitation from Israel's Foreign Ministry, 40 German high school students visited Israel. Such initiatives are causing the number of such young “ambassadors” from Germany and Israel visiting each other to grow steadily.
As is the case with German-Israeli youth exchange programs, the history of the voluntary services starts in the 1950s. The extent of the programs' fostering of international understanding and of the reconciliation of Israel with Germany can not be overestimated. The first of such services was the Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste – ASF). It has since been followed by a number of others, of which some are religious in nature. One of these services is Other Services Abroad (Andere Dienst im Ausland – ADiA). Founded in 1986 and run by the German public sector, ADiA – as is the case with ASF – has enabled a large number of young Germans to visit Israel. The organizations share a common goal: fostering peaceful coexistence.
In 2010, the Come with-Nadev program was launched. It allows young Israelis to render voluntary services during a 12 month stay in Germany. The program's objectives are to strengthen the relationships between Germans and Israelis, with this especially involving young persons. The program sends some 15-20 young Israelis a year to Germany.
Other important services in Germany are the Voluntary Social and Ecological Years. Founded in 2011 was the state-supported International Youth Voluntary Exchange (acronym in German: “IJFD”). The IJFD has dispatched more than 600 young volunteers to Israel, putting the country at worldwide peak of those to which the service has sent young persons.
All told, the large number of programs maintained by German organizers and by their partners in Israeli permit several hundred Germans to render voluntary services in Israel each year. The objectives of such programs are as variegated as their natures: fostering friendly relationships, international understanding, confrontations with the Holocaust and its consequences, eradication of biases and the development of in-depth insights into Israel.
A new German-Israeli voluntary service is planned to be launched in 2015/2016. Its job will be to increase the number of young volunteers from Israel working in Germany. This, in turn, will further the fostering of contacts between young Israelis and Germans.