Roots: Strengthening Group Identity through Social Change

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  11081244_648322711940461_4792306084737467592_n by Liana, Jewish Advisor, 

For the Roots  group, as the year is coming to an end and we are preparing for camp, we decided it was time for a project. For some kind of social/community project that would both bring the youth together to strengthen their group identity, as well as something that would help spread the message of what Kids4Peace stands for, and about what we do.

Of all of the peace-oriented, social justice groups and communities I have ever been involved in, Kids4Peace is by far the most engaging, organized, inspiring, and active group I have had the honor to be a part of. For the last six months, I have had the immense privilege to gather with the 25-some Roots youth and advisors and have struggled with them as they have tried to process things like the war last summer, like how Ferguson riots could be compared and contrasted with East Jerusalem protests, ideas about coexistence, violence, non-violent acitivism, identity, community, and mostly reflecting upon and dealing with the youths daily realities in and around Jerusalem, whether as Palestinians or Israelis, Jews or Arabs, and especially as fourteen year-olds growing up in such a tumultuous, volcanic place.

10409621_648322641940468_2400780720043782108_nSo last week when we were gathered together, the group tried to think of what would be a meaningful, and identity-building activity that they could bring into the community and that would help them build their group identity. They decided that going to a public place and doing interviews with people walking by, both locals and tourists could be a powerful and representative effort.

They came up with questions, things like: What does Islam mean to you? Do you believe in peace, why or why not? How do you define terrorism? Can you tell the difference between Jews and Arabs? The goals they came up with were as equally inspiring, things that they hoped both themselves and others could take away from their project: We are not so different from each other, break down stereotypes, raise awareness, show that peace is possible, address racism in Jerusalem, and to make Kids4Peace a more known and respected power-force for good in Jerusalem.

11081320_648322668607132_1044216152462543707_nWe started out our day meeting at Mamila, a posh and touristy outdoor shopping center close to the Old City. Once we had all gathered – four advisors, including a Jewish male and female, an Arab Christian female, and an Arab Muslim male, and 9 youth, including three Jews, four Christians, and two Muslims, we made our way to the Jaffa Gate, the main entrance to the Old City from the city center of Jerusalem.

Once there, we organized all of our equipment and began our interviews. It was a really great practice for them, even if just to gain confidence as they brushed off the rude or busy people that either ignored them or glared at them as the kids went up to passersby asking to interview them.

The people who agreed to be interviewed were varied and diverse. They interviewed Europeans, Asians, religious Israeli Jews, religious Arab men, etc. The youth did everything – they controlled the video camera, they held the microphones up to the interviewer and interviewee, and they asked the questions. As an advisor, it was a wonderful experience to stand by and be around in case they needed us, but to watch them take control of their own project, to be proud of it, and to have fun while doing it. They also showed clear pride in telling people about Kids4Peace, and it was clear that they felt what they were doing was meaningful and interesting.

unnamed-1Looking back at the goals, I can say with certainty that at least all were touched upon, and that most importantly, the kids walked away feeling accomplished and proud, of their group, of Kids4Peace, of the work they have committed themselves to doing, of the message they hope to spread, and most of all with a re-awakened hope that so easily and quickly can slip away in this place.

It is things like K4P and these kids that can remind each other and more importantly others, like bystanders walking around the Old City on a Friday morning, that it doesn’t have to be so black and white, and that there are efforts and people out there, like Charlie and Adan, Shaked and Aviv, Mohamed and Omri, that give us reason to keep doing the work we do, that remind us to look at the bigger picture but also to not forget about the small yet powerful efforts happening all around us.