I'm in: A Palestinian Diet for Peace

"I'm in". These simple words have the potential of spurring life-changing experiences -- the proactive decision to engage, to step out of your comfort zone and explore the world around you. By letting go of doubt and hesitance, one can release into their surroundings which are filled with diversity. Public health initiatives today are centered around this concept of internal motivation and conscious behavior change -- whether it be to incorporate physical activity into your daily life, to replace processed snacks with raw foods or to join a trendy diet plan. It is up to nonprofit organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community health leaders to develop creative approaches to health education. As a recent graduate with no social norm for post-graduate life, I was faced with a broad public health degree and an open mind , I heard countless friends and family members say the cliché, "The world is your oyster!" So, I started to say "yes."

My grandfather was born in Jerusalem and was forced to leave his home after the Palestinian Nakba in 1947. Now in his early 90's, he is becoming more open and willing to share his experiences, stories and immense knowledge of his homeland -- topics that had the potential to understandably spark a fuse if brought up in conversation. This summer, he emailed me with a link for a program that sends youth of the diaspora back to Palestine to explore their heritage, people and land. I was into the program in three days, and two weeks later I found myself on a plane to Amman with 39 other Palestinians from around the world. After seeing the beauty of the land, the richness of the culture and the potential for development, I sought a professional avenue to combine my passion for health and Palestine. Serendipitously, I was contacted by Slim Peace, an organization that started in Jerusalem, in order to bring together Jewish and Arab women who never would have met before. Woah, was this a coincidence? Fate? Regardless, It was filed in my mental schema called: "One of those strange life moments that gave me shivers of surrealism."

Slim Peace challenged and met the industrial pressure for innovative and fresh twists on the traditional health program. How about combining health, faith and peace-building all into one program? That is what Yael Luttwak had in mind when she launched the Slim Peace Groups program. By using health and nutrition as a platform for congregation, women of various ages, generations, faiths and ethnic backgrounds were able to unify as a sisterhood. Together, while seeking education and empowerment through weight loss, they developed a sense of pluralism, respect and mutual trust for each other's differences. After over 20 successful groups in the Middle East, Slim Peace has transitioned to "the land of the free" upon popular demand from media sources such as The New York Times and The Today Show as well as film screenings through the Tribeca Film Festival and the Sundance Channel. The pilot U.S. program in Boston resulted in a dynamic and empathetic support system, especially as it occurred throughout the tragic Boston marathon bombings. This devastating event tested the true strength of the bonds between group members, who relied on each other for support, condolence and motivation to persevere through the local catastrophe.

Starting this fall, the program will be coming to the hub of diversity, Washington, D.C., in hopes of targeting women 20 years and older from all religious denominations. The curriculum will be taught by Jewish CNS Dietician, Susan Berkow, Ph.D., and Lebanese Muslim group facilitator Farah Madi in order to exemplify the original dynamics of the program and cooperation between women of different faiths. This program offers a revolutionary approach to relieving inter-religious tension and developing new standards of acceptance between neighbors in communities all over the world. Globalization requires that we develop tolerance and empathy towards "the other", as our world propels into imminent diversification. Slim Peace represents a tool that encourages mutual trust and respect -- sentiments that are required for peace between neighbors, networks and nations. Female participants gain a sense of empowerment to promote peace through their networks which Slim Peace hopes will create a grassroots ripple effect of tolerance.