When the Second Lebanon War broke out last year, Rea Pasternak, a 23-year-old former Golani soldier from Aseret, felt frustrated and helpless. He was traveling in Australia at the time, so was not required to come back to fight. He found, though, that try as he might he could not enjoy himself while his friends back home were in danger. His thoughts were consumed with concern for their wellbeing and frustration at the situation they faced.
He wanted to do something. Something big. Something to change people's perceptions and help set the groundwork for peace on a personal, social level. "I was sitting with my aunt in her house in Sydney, watching the news," Pasternak recounts, "when in one second the idea came to me. I went directly to my room and spent the next three days writing and laying out plans for Walk About Love."
Walk About Love will hopefully be a major event held in the spring of 2009. People from all over the world intend to gather in Israel for this event, from Japan to Finland. The idea is for people from different backgrounds and cultures to come and see the real Israel and exchange knowledge with the amazing variety of people here.
They plan to gather in the Golan and walk down a picturesque route to the Kinneret, across to Haifa, down to Tel Aviv, over to Jerusalem, down to Kibbutz Sde Boker and through the wilderness to Eilat. Participants will walk, see, eat, drink, dance, make music and discuss different models of how to live harmoniously together with local communities all over Israel. The aim is an exchange of knowledge and understanding at a grassroots level - an action for peace by people from different backgrounds.
Pasternak's family is 100 percent behind the project, he says. "My grandparents came from the Holocaust to Israel. After they arrived, they thought the fighting wouldn't last, but 60 years on they have had enough."
Pasternak, who describes himself as a "village boy," was born in Ashdod and grew up by the sea. When he was 14, his family moved to the remote southern moshav Aseret. After finishing his three-year military service in the Golani infantry brigade in 2005, he took the customary post-army "time out" to travel through India, Thailand and Australia.
In India he learned about non-violent affirmative action for peace, and how effective it has been in the past. In Australia he met immigrants from all over the world who are successfully harmonious, interested and benefiting from each other's cultural variety.
Pasternak adopted the name "Walk About" from the Aboriginal slang term meaning to go for a long walk for an unspecified period, where the walk itself and not the destination is the emphasis.
In Australia, he started spreading word of his idea, asking for advice and meeting with people who enthusiastically offered to help create the event. Reinforced with new energy from his experiences, Pasternak found himself inundated with phone calls from people wanting to contribute to Walk About Love. He gave up his independent lifestyle and moved back to his family home in Aseret, to devote his energy full time to the cause.
For the past six months he has lived and breathed Walk About Love. He has been networking with people, building websites, raising funds and sending ambassadors around the world to the US, Mexico, Australia, South America, Iceland, London, Australia, Japan, the Balkans and Europe, with Walk About Love T-shirts, fliers and other promotional materials to spread the word.
The response has been overwhelming, he says.
In October, Pasternak and a select group will be doing a proto-Walk About Love around Israel. They will start in the Golan and walk down the planned route, raising awareness for the event as they invite the local communities they will be visiting to participate, contribute ideas and plan ahead for the event in early 2009.
Pasternak hopes that Walk About Love will prove to be not only a venue for cultural exchange, but an economic boost for the local communities involved. "Even if I wanted to I couldn't stop it now," he gleams, energetically. "The ball is rolling and people are responding from all over the world."
Pasternak's ambitious dream of a grassroots event to expand cultural exchange may well become a reality. He emphatically describes his initial vision of "all the people from all over the world walking through Israel, fighting without weapons! Our mission is to plant the seeds of understanding between people and cultures. Spring is a good time to plant seeds."
Following in the tradition of Gandhi's famous Salt March through India in 1930, this walk is expected to take three months to complete, taking time to visit local neighborhoods across Israel and learn from Israelis of all ethnicities. Pasternak proposes that the walk will be punctuated by 10 festivals celebrating music, arts and cultures from all over the world, from a world music acoustic festival to a three-day rock concert.
Walk About Love is not intended to be simply an awareness-raising tactic, rather an affirmative action for people of different backgrounds to meet and greet, exchange ideas about how different cultures manage interracial relations, and dissolve misconceptions that may have generated through secondhand information.
"At night," Pasternak elaborates, "all the locals and youth movements are invited to meet and celebrate and sell to the travelers. This is important so that the Children of Israel can see how others get along and dance and enjoy together."