At 5pm on October 26th, students from EMIS and nine other participating schools filled the Kfar Hayarok auditorium in anticipation of the opening ceremony of EMIS’s second annual Youth Organized Collaboration on Peace and Sustainability (YOCOPAS). There was an air of expectation for the ninety minute ceremony, only a list of the names of the speakers providing any clue as to what would be spoken about that evening.
The moderators, Linh Ha, a DP2, and Nicolai Santaniello, a DP1, took the stage and introduced EMIS’s InterVoices choir, who sang a Hebrew acapella song call Olam Chesed Yibaneh. Next, one of the members of the EMIS student committee that organized YOCOPAS, Maria Fabiana Vasquez Dias, a DP2, gave her welcoming speech. In it, Vasquez Dias spoke about a comment that she received in answer to one of the registration questions; “What are your fears or concerns about YOCOPAS?” She explained that the student who submitted the comment was afraid that the students from the other regions already had an opinion of the people for their region and that it would not change. In a conference that brings together students from all over Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, this is a reasonable concern, but Vasquez went on to explain that for her, it caused her to pause and reflect. She had been living with both Israeli and Palestinian students together for over a year, and in that year she had forgotten that there are still close-minded people out there. The speech was thought-provoking, and got to the core values and goals of YOCOPAS: peace and sustainability in the Middle East.
After Vasquez’s speech, Dr. Kobi Naveh, the general director of the Hakfar Hayarok, and Oded Rose, EMIS’s founder, each spoke. Both of them welcomed the students from other schools and shared their hopes for the conference. Following them was Dr. Michael Borchard, the head of the Israeli branch of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the main sponsor of YOCOPAS. In his speech, Borchard jokingly posed the question, “what is a German foundation doing funding a student conference in the Middle East?” His answer, however, was serious, explaining the connections between Konrad Adenauer’s mission and YOCOPAS’s mission of peace and sustainability in the Middle East.
After Borchard, Dr. Mohamed Owadaa, principal of the American International School in Gaza, and Dr. Nedal Jayousi, the Chairman of the Palestinian House for Professional Solutions, took the stage to offer their thanks to EMIS for arranging YOCOPAS and share what they hoped the conference would achieve. Finally, Rachelle Schilo, the Director of Development at EMIS, took the stage to welcome the guests one last time. Her speech was followed by a piano duet played by David Deng and Saša Skrbinsek, both DP2s, and a song sung by Jala Rizkala, also a DP2. Then it was time for the real excitement of the night; the keynote speaker, Dr. Goren Gordon.
Gordon himself was an extremely interesting person, having attended MIT and having earned 6 different degrees, including a PhD in chemical physics. He now heads the curiosity lab at Tel Aviv University, which tries to model human curiosity using robots. Gordon opened his speech with a demonstration of two different robots he brought with him. One of them was about half the height of a normal person, and appeared to be pieced together using lego. The other was about half a meter tall and looked like a completed robot, shiny finish and all. Both of them worked on voice control, and Gordon asked them both to dance, which was quite amusing to see. After the demonstration, Gordon talked about how he programmed robots with different curiosity algorithms and, when left to their own devices, the robots developed characteristics similar to human children. He also talked about some of the useful applications of curious robots, including helping children to learn better. It all sounded like something out of a sci-fi movie, but it was actually happening. Gordon was very excited about the topic, but eventually he yielded the stage back to the moderators.
The ceremony ended with InterVoices coming back on stage to sing John Lennon’s “Imagine”, the lyrics of which are painted on one of EMIS’s walls, and a performance from the EMIS Taiko CAS. The entire ceremony communicated a sense of unity, and of hope that all of the students brought together for YOCOPAS could, someday, be the leaders that help to achieve YOCOPAS’s lofty goals: peace and sustainability in the Middle East.
Written by: Keren Sneh
Edited and copy edited by: Shy Zvouloun