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Bostonians Changing the World

Artsbridge’s Debbie Nathan brings together Israeli and Palestinian teens

The art therapy instructor at Lesley University believes the creative process can work wonders.

HOW CAN THREE WEEKS of creating art projects possibly help calm a dispute that has confounded diplomats, politicians, and religious leaders for decades? Swampscott resident Debbie Nathan, founder and executive director of Artsbridge, has entertained versions of that question since 2008, when her nonprofit ran its first summer training session to promote understanding between Israeli and Palestinian teenagers, on “neutral territory” at Beverly’s Endicott College.

And Nathan usually gives the same answer to cynics who wonder what art can possibly do: Come have a look at Artsbridge in action. This year, 30 students, divided among Israelis, Palestinians, and — for the first time — Americans, are at Brandeis University through July 24, their participation funded by donations to the organization. Teens from each side of the conflict arrive curious, wary, and emotionally saturated, raised on story lines that have become tangled over the course of generations. “All of a sudden, they’re put in a situation that begins to question that narrative,” says Nathan, speaking in June from Israel, where she was overseeing orientation for the current session.

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