WINDSOR – Doron Shapir wants to be Prime Minister of Israel. But until he finishes high school, the 17-year-old will have to settle for the role of young ambassador to his fellow students at The Loomis Chaffee School, where he is spending his senior year.
Shapir is a native of Haifa, where he attended the Hugim High School. He comes to Loomis on a scholarship from the non-profit ASSIST, which provides opportunities for international students to spend a year at American independent secondary schools.
Shapir is also an alumnus of Seeds of Peace, a program that brings together teens from areas of conflict to learn the communication and leadership skills to advance reconciliation and coexistence. After attending the Seeds of Peace summer camp in Maine in 2008, he continued to meet when possible with his Israeli and Palestinian counterparts back home, and worked with Jewish and Arab Israeli kids in ethnically diverse Haifa. “I remain a great supporter of Israel, not a leftie,” he says, “but I understand that there are other sides to the discussion.”
“If you bring people from the Middle East to the U.S. and let them become friends, good things can happen,” he says. “I have some problems with the Palestinians; we never agree 100 percent. I came to Seeds with the idea that I would convince Palestinians that they are wrong. But I learned that it’s not about convincing the other side that they’re wrong, but talking and communicating and arguing. These debates are important. The goal is not to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in three weeks. But if you bring together a teen from Ramallah and a teen from Tel Aviv, and there’s a terror attack in Israel, the teen from Ramallah won’t support it the way others might, and the Israeli won’t support war as much, because both see that the other is a human being.”
Shapir says that, while at Loomis, he intends not only to improve his English, but to become more familiar with American culture and give Americans a better understanding of Israel beyond the headlines. He invited fellow students to light Chanukah candles in his dorm room last week, and plans other activities including Holocaust memorial ceremonies on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January and Yom HaShoah in May.
In addition to carrying a full course load, Shapir is involved in community service. He volunteers at the Windsor Senior Center, where he recently initiated an oral-history videotaping project. Earlier in the semester, he raised more than $1,200 to help flood victims in Pakistan through Seeds of Peace in that country.
“It let the Loomis community get to know me and allowed me to know the community better, and to help others,” he says. “It’s funny to some people that an Israeli Jew really wants to help in Pakistan, but I find it very natural. Now Israel needs help with the fires in Haifa, and other countries helped us. Beyond the countries and borders, we have to remember that we are all people.”
After Shapir graduates from Loomis, he will return to Israel for his compulsory military service, and plans to continue his education and become involved in Israeli and world politics. He’s already serving as an ambassador of sorts, fielding questions from fellow students about Israeli life and politics.
“They ask why America needs to support Israel’s efforts to occupy the Palestinians,” he says. “They want to know what Israel does in the West Bank, why we’re still there, why we extend the conflict. Then they want to know whether our life is normal, and if we feel threatened or afraid. They ask me how Israelis look at America and whether we appreciate its support.
“I don’t think people outside Israel understand what is going on there,” he says. “They are affected by the media and don’t respect Israel as I expect that they would. I have the feeling that people are against us because we’re seen as the tough people, but what they don’t recognize is that we’ve actually given up land and are still willing to give up more land. I want to help them understand that we’re so tiny and we need to be secure. I do understand why the situation is so confusing to people, but I don’t understand how to solve the confusion.”
Shapir spends school breaks with host families and says he’d like to experience an American bar- or bat-mitzvah, “because it’s something different than in Israel.” He hopes to see the relationship improve between Americans and Israelis. “Maybe the fire will be an opportunity,” he says.