What about Tibet?
Kalela Lancaster ponders the question which moved her to found TJYE in 2000 and which is still relevant today.

As the world watched the eruption and brutal repression of the protests in Tibet over the past week, the question of Tibet was catapulted onto the global agenda. Here in Israel, mired within our own protracted conflict with our neighbors and our fractious relations with each other, what can we really say or do - or feel - about Tibet?

Ten years ago, over endless cups of chai in Dharamsala's Sunrise Cafe, the question of Tibet was one that captured my imagination. For a 23-year-old backpacker in India, torn between the search for fun and escape, and the search for meaning and personal purpose, the question epitomized the dilemma. To zone out or switch on? To "get in touch" with myself or connect with the "real life" of the local community? To focus on enjoying my own freedom or to concern myself with a larger question of freedom that would necessitate commitment: What about Tibet?

The burning question made me linger in Dharamsala. Eventually, the plight of the Tibetan people, their passion for their cause, and the dignity of their commitment to attaining it through non-violent means moved me to stay and learn more.

Dharamsala, known among Tibetans as "Little Lhasa," is the beating heart of the Tibetan exile community, and is home to approximately 8,000 of the 130,000 Tibetan refugees who have fled their land. It is the seat of the Tibetan government in exile headed by the Dalai Lama, whom Tibetans regard as their spiritual and political leader.

As I became increasingly involved with the community there, the issues with which its members were wrestling began to reverberate for me in a way that drew me deeper into my own identity - not as a rootless backpacker, but as a Jew. Here was a community that was living out the themes of the Jewish Zionist education I had grown up with: a story of refugees fleeing persecution, exiled from their homeland. A story of yearning to return, and of a struggle to preserve identity, culture and faith in a "strange land." Surely it was incumbent upon me, as a Jew, to think about Tibet, to care about Tibet, to do something about Tibet.

I discovered that I was not the first to have drawn this conclusion. In 1990 the Dalai Lama had hosted a delegation of American Jewish leaders to discuss the parallels between the Jewish and Tibetan stories. During this encounter, the Dalai Lama famously asked his guests to "share the secret of Jewish survival in exile." As I read about this eight years later, the power of the request affected me deeply: Its implication was that we Jews, as a people, were in a position to make a specific contribution to a nation in crisis, drawing from our own collective experience and history. What a profound compliment, what a generous gift to the Jewish people was buried in that request for support.

By the time I left Dharamsala and returned home to England, there had crystallized in my mind a kind of answer to the gauntlet the Dalai Lama had thrown down: youth movements.

Explaining this answer and securing partners for its realization kept me busy for the next three years. It wasn't easy. Many in the U.K.'s Jewish community wondered how they could legitimately make space for a project telling them to focus energy on Tibet. But when the project took shape and Tibetan youth came from India to Jewish summer camps in Britain, to learn informal education techniques, the impact on the Jewish end was incredible. Our young people encountered what I had: a very Buddhist call for compassion and universal responsibility, requesting a very Jewish response from within the meaning and imperatives implicit in our own heritage. Interestingly, a large proportion of those who were involved in setting up the project, including myself, later went on to make aliyah to Israel.

Since my arrival in Israel six years ago, I have busied myself with "our own" issues here. Somehow I haven't found much time for Tibet. But the past week's events have reached out from behind the headlines to shake me up once more. What about Tibet? Now, as an Israeli, I find the crisis in Tibet calling for an Israeli response.

A fundamental and agonizing conversation is currently taking place between the Dalai Lama and his people. Should they seek full independence or make do with cultural autonomy? Persevere with non-violence or resort to more aggressive approaches? As I write, the Dalai Lama is indicating openness to adapt to the will of his people regarding the aim of their struggle, but steadfastness in his attitude to the means they employ. He is threatening to resign as their political leader if they abandon the path of non-violence. That possibility fills me with pain and sadness. Suddenly, the devastating consequences of such a scenario for us as Israelis are all too clear to me.

We in Israel and our neighbors in the Palestinian territories desperately need the Tibetan case to show us the way in the field of nonviolent struggle. We should look to the Tibetans to provide us with a model of how to make concrete gains, without violence, toward resolving questions of self-determination and competing claims to land. And it's little wonder that young Tibetans have become frustrated with the path of non-violence when, after a half-century, it has failed to bear fruit.

It is time for the international community to get involved. Now, on the eve of the Olympic games, international leaders must concern themselves with the message that will reverberate around the globe, and especially in the Middle East, if they miss this opportunity to provide an answer to the Tibetan struggle while it is still non- violent. It is time for the international community to help the Dalai Lama to give his people, and my people, and all peace-craving peoples everywhere, hope.

Kalela Lancaster founded the Tibetan-Jewish Youth Exchange (TJYE) in 2000, which led to the establishment of Longsho, a Tibetan youth movement, in India. She now works as a development consultant to social-change organizations in Israel.

Article by Kalela Lancaster