After the groups from both countries were briefly introduced to the histories and societies of Germany and Israel in separate meetings, the first online encounter between the groups took place on December 10, 2020. All joint meetings were conducted in English.
Already in the run-up, the participants were asked to share some insights about themselves and create a personal profile on a joint padlet.
The meeting began with a number of activities, which were especially modified for online-use. The methods helped to create a more relaxed atmosphere and relieve the young people's initial fears and hesitations.
In addition to the exercises in the large group, the young people moreover met in small groups in order to discuss selected topics. These sessions offered the participants a more intimate space for thoughts and questions.
In order to intensify the process of getting to know each other and working together, three workshops were organized, each of them consisting of six young people who worked on the creation of a specific project.
The participants were given the chance to choose from the following workshops: performance-storytelling, how to create a podcast, desigining a comic (organized by the municipality of Holon) or a journalistic padlet. All results were collected on a padlet which is still accessible for the public.
A central element of the digital encounter was an interview with the contemporary witness Bat Sheva Dagan, which she especially recorded on video for the young people. In the video, she talks about her childhood and youth in today's Poland, about expulsion, flight, her time in various concentration camps, the time of the war, and her arrival and life in Israel. The task of the participants was then to reflect on the content of the interview and to create a joint, public padlet that helps to make remembrance and commemoration of the Shoa more accessible for other young people.
Which lessons and conclusions can young people draw from the experiences and survival strategies of the victims of that time? Which meaning do remembrance and commemoration have for the lives of young people today? How can extracurricular political education support young people in asking questions about their own relation to the Shoa? How may the encounter affect their perspective on their personal future and social responsibility? The exchange program gave the young participants the opportunity to explore these questions in various creative workshops, such as padlet design, performance storytelling, podcast creation and comic design.
It can be regarded as a great success that the binational team took on the challenge of organizing and carrying out a digital youth exchange without any previous knowledge, drawing on the many years of experience gained in physical youth exchanges between Israel and Germany. It has also been an achievement that the young participants have participated until the very end of the project and that they have remained committed to the project.
The participants certainly learned from the encounter that remembrance and commemoration of the Shoah can look very different in the two countries and varies from family to family. Also, the young people did not only get to talk about the topic of the meeting, but also about differences and similarities in their perception of the Corona pandemic, about war and the military, as well as about everyday life issues. As a result, the virtual encounter helped to raise or even intensify interest in the respective other country, while (anti-Semitic) prejudices were overcome.
The idea of independent work phases between the meetings was more difficult to implement than expected. The workshop team members had to keep reminding the young people of their respective tasks. The reasons for this could be a certain fatigue of the young people with digital formats at the beginning of the year as well as the (too) long intervals between the single meetings. For a digital youth meeting, it would have made sense to hold them in a more condensed timeframe within a few weeks or possibly even concentrated in one week.
The digital format also meant that it was not possible to prepare the two groups extensively, which meant that the participants' knowledge of the other country was very limited and certain questions could not be asked simply because the participants lacked the necessary prior knowledge.
Overall, it can be concluded that online meetings can be well integrated into the preparation and follow-up of real encounters and that encounters can also be conducted online. However, we had the impression that pure online formats are only insufficiently suitable for very deep encounters. This is mainly because online formats lack the small - but very important - encounters in informal moments: During breaks between parts of the program, while getting to know the families and the respective other country, during joint leisure activities such as cooking together or going on picnics, and also during the phases that the young people spend without the team.
With regard to physical encounters, however, digital methods will certainly also remain a helpful tool for the preparation and follow-up of exchange programs.
In the course of the meeting, it became apparent that it would have been helpful to have a list of various video conferencing providers (in addition to Zoom) that would have made other online formats possible.
I can recommend the provider wonder.me, through which we organized a final party for the young people at the end. The fact that the participants can move freely from room to room and meet each other on the platform makes it possible for them to meet in a different way.