Members of a girls soccer team from Israel are visiting Montgomery County this week on an educational trip that included a visit to Walt Whitman High School to promote coexistence and peace in Israel and beyond.
The eight girls — four Jewish and four Muslim — come from villages that are 15 minutes apart in the Mateh Yehuda-Beit Shemesh region west of Jerusalem.
“But because of the tensions in Israel, they wouldn’t ever come into contact with each other,” said Wendy Rudolph, the co-chair of Partnership 2gether, a program funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington that sponsored the team’s trip.
The girls met through a “sports peace” program run through the Peres Center for Peace. In addition to playing soccer, they go on field trips, and learn about women in sports and conflict resolution.
When they play soccer together, games are not designed to be competitive. The girls play without referees and make their own rules before the game. The rules can be serious or silly, such as requiring the opposing team to do a cheer after every goal.
During their March 2-8 visit to Washington, the girls’ itinerary includes visits to the Washington Hebrew Congregation and the Islamic Center of Washington DC. They were scheduled to meet with Jewish and Muslim students at American University to talk about life as a minority in the United States. And they plan to spend a day downtown, touring the east wing of the White House and meeting with congressmen Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) who is Jewish, and Keith Ellison (D- Minn.), who is Muslim.
The group visited Walt Whitman High on Tuesday, where they talked with comparative politics classes, and passed a soccer ball to each other while answering questions both personal and political. Later they played a game with the junior varsity girls soccer team.
Beit Shemesh has been proposed as a sister city for Montgomery County. Talks of a partnership began in 2007, when County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) visited the city. But the relationship has been put on hold, following some highly publicized attacks against women and girls by ultra-Orthodox extremists there.
Rudolph said that most outsiders only know Israel as a place of war and conflict.
“There is a whole other world over there that is not about what happened in Beit Shemesh with a few zealots,” she said. “We want to show a different side of Israel.”