Budo for Peace, which teaches children traditional Japanese martial arts alongside values of tolerance and self-control, will hold its annual national camp Thursday and Friday in Kfar Hayarok, a youth village near Tel Aviv.
Budo for Peace runs 16 clubs across Israel serving 250 Jewish, Muslim and Christian children. Since many of the clubs are in areas with homogeneous populations, the camp provides an opportunity for students to interact with a diverse group.
"In the past year, these kids have been doing the peaceful martial arts and the educational program," said Danny Hakim, founder and president.
Throughout the two-year program, the youngsters meet twice a week to spend an hour on physical exercises and half an hour on education. The program tries to teach tolerance, understanding, self-confidence and discipline, and help children overcome fear and the conflicts many deal with in life. This year, the clubs also started doing community service work.
The five-year-old program is sponsored by One-to-One Israel, Sugat and the Japanese government.
At the camp, 20 mentors who work with the program year-round will lead and work with small groups of students. Their activities will build on the lessons and programs done throughout the year.
"They can meet other kids, and the common language is the martial arts. When they get together, you see they all wear the same clothes, they all bow the same way, they all have a common culture of traditional Japanese martial arts," Hakim said.
Each group will have a mix of students from different areas, which Hakim described as an essential part of the experience.
"They're going to meet kids that they would never have met if they would have stayed in their villages or in their towns," Hakim said. Arabs from the Upper Galilee's Buena-Nujidat village and religious Jews from Mitzpe Netofah, for instance, will both be at the camp.
"[The two places are a] 10-minute walk through the forest, but the kids have never ever crossed the forest. And this is an opportunity for them to meet," he said.
On Friday, the children will see a circus and a performance by their mentors.
Officials from the Egyptian and Japanese embassies are expected to attend. According to Hakim, Egypt is interested in the program for its own country.
"We intend to expand in the region, not just in Israel," he said. Budo for Peace is specifically considering Egypt, Jordan and Turkey.
He added that there was also demand and interest for more clubs to open in Israel, but that the organization currently lacks the money to do so.