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Poles apart, teenagers strike up unlikely friendship

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NICOLA MILTZ

Ever since that first encounter in July in the lofty corridors of the university, the two teenagers have become firm friends and speak via WhatsApp at least once a day. They share daily teenage missives about school life and friendships, and their bond has bridged cultural and religious divides.

Porter is Jewish and lives in Glenhazel, Johannesburg. She attends King David High School, Linksfield. Her new friend, Tara Masri, 16, is Muslim and attends Pioneers Baccalaureate School in Nablus, Palestine, near Ramallah. They both enrolled in an Oxbridge Summer School Programme in Boston to get a taste of American college life and broaden their horizons.

Their worlds could not be further apart, and yet according to Porter, they have so much in common.

“We are both passionate people who are independent and strong-minded. We were both travelling alone to a foreign country and staying in a dormitory with strangers. Our personalities are so similar. I found her funny from the moment we met,” said Porter.

When Porter arrived in Boston, Masri had already been there for two weeks, and offered to show Porter around.

“We clicked immediately,” said Porter this week, “She is so much fun to be around.”

They decided to put their differences aside and get to know each other as people.

“At first, I was a little worried because I had never met someone my age from Palestine before. I was scared how she would react when she heard I was Jewish. I was worried it would be a problem, and we would clash.”

But the inquiring Porter was also “excited” to hear Masri’s perspective.

“Even when she found out I was Jewish and I found out she was Palestinian, it made no difference because we realised that we had so much more in common than our differences,” she said.

It didn’t take long for the teenagers to spend hours together chatting in the dormitory’s common room. They even shared similar hobbies like music and playing the piano.

“We both want to do something in the world to make a difference. We bonded because of what we had in common rather than what we didn’t have in common,” said Porter.

They decided not to talk about politics, instead respecting each other’s views.

Masri told the SA Jewish Report that their friendship had enriched their lives.

“Lolo is a great human being. She’s so sweet and kind. She is so much fun, and it makes no difference to me what her beliefs are because we respect each other. This is an unlikely friendship, because I never would have imagined making a friend from South Africa. The fact that she is Jewish makes it even more special.”

Masri said she liked living in Nablus, and would like to visit South Africa one day.

“It’s very safe here, there is a great community spirit, and I have lots of friends. My parents have been very supportive of my friendship with Lolo, and we plan to visit South Africa soon. Our differences haven’t stopped us from being friends. I have learnt how important it is to know a person before you judge them.”

Masri said she wants to study international law and politics when she completes high school.

Porter said the unlikely friendship had taught her a lot.

“I’ve learnt not to judge a person based on what I hear. It’s better to really get to know someone, find out who they are, and where they come from, and not have any preconceived ideas. This way, you can have a relationship. It’s possible if we put our differences aside.”

At the end of their course, the teenagers wrote a brief letter to one another.

In Porter’s letter to Masri, she wrote, “You are genuinely one of the funniest people I have ever met! Every day, you make me laugh more and more. I feel so close to you even though it’s been so short. You are literally like a sister to me! I have loved all our memories, and I will never forget them. Thank you for the most amazing two weeks! You are so much fun to mess around with, and I’m going to miss you so much! Stay in touch, and let me know if you’re ever in SA.”

In Masri’s letter to Porter, she said, “I will miss you so much. Although I met you two weeks ago, I feel close to you! You genuinely mean so much to me. I hope to see you again because you are definitely one of my fave people out there.”

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