A California State University, Chico professor's ongoing research has found that elderly Arabs and Jews in Israel continue to have less hatred toward one another one year after participating in recreational activities together.
Recreation and parks management professor Michael Leitner surveyed 314 Israeli Arab and Jewish elders in June and July 1999 about their attitudes toward each other. Those who had taken part one year earlier in an intergenerational recreation program continued to have less animosity toward members of the other group, as compared to their attitudes prior to taking part in the recreation.
Leitner's findings are published in the latest issue of World Leisure and Recreation journal. The results from his original research, conducted in summer 1998, were published last year in World Leisure and Recreation journal.
"Intergenerational recreational activity can produce positive attitude changes among Arab and Jewish elders, and the effects seem to be lasting," Leitner said.
In the initial research, elderly Arabs and Jews were surveyed about their opinions toward each other. The survey results found a high percentage of Arabs thought most or all Jews hated Arabs, and vice versa.
Over a four-month period, a portion of the elderly Arabs and Jews surveyed participated in a recreation program with children, while the others did not. The recreation included throwing and catching games, adapted exercise, seated relay races, dancing and activities that did not involve much talking, since most of the elderly Arabs did not speak Hebrew and most of the elderly Jews did not speak Arabic.
When all the participants were surveyed again, a significant percentage of the Arabs and Jews who took part in the recreation had softened their views about levels of hate each group felt toward the other. Those Arabs and Jews who did not engage in recreational activities together did not have an attitude change.
Leitner said prior surveys had found high levels of distrust and animosity between Arabs and Jews who did not have much contact with one another. His research idea was to bring Arabs and Jews together in a non-threatening setting. "When people have fun together, they feel better toward each other," Leitner said.
Leitner plans to return to Israel again this summer to promote new recreation programs for Arabs and Jews. "As governments move toward peace, the people need to move toward peace, and this can be accomplished only if relations among Arabs and Jews improve," he said. "I hope to help with integrated-Arab and Jewish-recreational programs that can help improve relations between Arabs and Jews. The need for such programs is greater than ever."
Leitner has taught at CSU, Chico since 1981. His research interests include leisure and aging and cross-generational recreation. His doctoral dissertation, from the University of Maryland, concerned the effects of the presence of children on senior citizens during a music activities program.
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