This summer 19 youth dancers from the Al Raja Palestinian Folkloric Dance Troupe, based in Ramallah, West Bank, will travel to the United States and perform throughout the country …
This summer 19 youth dancers from the Al Raja Palestinian Folkloric Dance Troupe, based in Ramallah, West Bank, will travel to the United States and perform throughout the country, making appearances in congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), at key ELCA events, and at other ministry sites.
The purpose of the tour is for the young dancers to share the gifts of their culture, be messengers of peace, and help Americans understand who they are and how they live, said Christoph Schneider-Yattara, associate director for companionship, advocacy and education, ELCA Global Mission.
The dancers are Christian and Muslim teens from the Evangelical Lutheran School of Hope, Ramallah. The school is a ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL).
The dancers and three chaperones are scheduled to arrive here June 12 and will perform June 13 at Concordia University, River Forest, Ill. They will tour the United States through July 31, visiting congregations, schools and other ministry sites in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Texas, Vermont and Wisconsin. During the tour the dancers will make appearances at the ELCA Youth Gathering in San Antonio and at the ELCA Global Mission Event in Amherst, Mass. The dance troupe is scheduled to return to the Middle East Aug. 1.
Al Raja means “hope” in Arabic, said Schneider-Yattara. “Members of the dance troupe are eager to meet American youth and see how they live. They have much to share with Americans about their lives,” he said.
Palestinian teens express their culture through traditional dance, practicing for hours each week, Schneider-Yattara said. Many Palestinian children learn the traditional debka dancing at an early age.
Most of the dancers speak Arabic, English and German. Many aspire to attend college in the United States.
This is not the first time the teen dancers have traveled to another country. In 2004 the troupe went to Norway. Because Palestinians are not allowed to fly from Israel’s airport in Tel Aviv, they must travel to Amman, Jordan, and fly from there. Crossing the border into Jordan can take four to five hours, Schneider-Yattara said. In addition Palestinians cannot leave home without a permit. They must first get a permit before they can leave Ramallah, then travel to Jerusalem to apply for their visas.
In Norway the Palestinian students found a different world, and many said they were free to travel as they wished, said Schneider-Yattara.
Recently the dancers took a journey to Jericho, also in the West Bank, and one of the few places the youth can go for a picnic outing without a special permit, he said. Najwa Kreitem, an advisor for the troupe, said they were stopped three times and had to stand outside the bus in the winter cold. It took more than two hours to make the 25-mile trip, Schneider-Yattara said.
“The ELCA advocates dignity and justice for all people and peace and reconciliation among the nations,” Schneider-Yattara said. The Al Raja dancers’ tour is part of the church’s Middle East strategy.
Voting members at the 2005 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Orlando urged congregations to participate in the campaign, “Peace Not Walls: Stand for Justice in the Holy Land,” to build awareness, and engage in accompaniment and advocacy for peace with justice in the Middle East.