by Rebecca Sullum, Kids4Peace Jerusalem Co-Director
It isn’t often that I have a chance to reflect on my personal growth and see how a set of Kids4Peace experiences have changed me. Here is my Ramadan experiences and my growth.
The Ignorance- 1981-2007
Until the age of 26, if I were asked to name any of the Muslim holidays I would not have been able to name even one. Of course I could name at the time a handful of Christian holidays and all the Jewish with the exact dates, historical and symbolic reasons, for as a Jewish Israeli living in a Western culture these were easy for me. But I had never shown interest in learning about the other religions celebrated by my neighbors in Jerusalem. Not only was I not interested but when I passed by a mosque, heard a call to prayer, saw a Muslim in tradition clothing during the second intifada I walked away as quickly as I could.
The Call To Prayer -2008
I found myself volunteering with a group of 12 eleven-year-old kids as part of a Kids4Peace program (what lead me to Kids4Peace I will save for another blog). I was in charge of the four Jewish youth and during our pre-camp sessions we were putting on skits as a way to teach about religion. The Muslim youth’s skit was about Ramadan. It was then that Kareem, a cute eleven-year-old Muslim boy performed the traditional call to prayer. It was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. I still remember thinking to myself, “is this sound that I have lived in fear of for some many years?”
The Mosque 2009
In the middle of nowhere Vermont in the USA I walked into a mosque with a new group of 12 eleven-year-old Kids4Peace youth. It was their first year in the program and my second as a volunteer. The Mosque was small. It felt like a humble place with no decorations on the inside, it looked nothing like the Mosque I had seen on tv or in Jerusalem. It was one room, with no chairs, only carpet on the floor and a divide between men and women. I remember feeling a sense of safety and familiarity, so this was the building I was scared of for so many years.
The Iftar 2010
My third year of Kids4Peace camp was over and back in Jerusalem it was Ramadan. A Muslim family from Beit Hanina, actually little Nutlie’s family had invited the entire group of 12 youth to join their family for a traditional Iftar meal. I drove the car with the four Jewish youth across town to Beit Hanina. It was all of our first times in the neighborhood and at an Iftar meal. I felt so welcomed into their home and at their table I thought to myself this is actually enjoyable, the food was amazing and I wanted to try this again.
The Family 2011
Reeham extended an invitation to an Iftar meal the following year at her home. Reeham and I had been colleagues for 4 years but this invitation felt like it wasn’t because of our mutual work in Kids4Peace but because we were friends. Sitting in Beit Safafa with Reeham’s family, her parents, her two brothers, her sister and her husband and their three children all welcomed me and I felt like I was at home, that this was like my own family. This meal was to be the first of many that I had at their home.
The Work 2012
I was no longer ignorant and no longer living in fear, I started to work full time for Kids4Peace and started creating spaces for other people to come together to meet, eat, learn and experience.
The Pre-School 2013
Yair, my two year old son shows me at his pre-school all of the art work he has done for the Muslim Eid, holiday. I remember feeling proud that he will not be ignorant of his neighbors’s living next to us in Jaffa, which is a much more inclusive city than Jerusalem, but hope that these first steps will help set him in his own journey for peace.
The War 2014
The timeline I will never be able to forget, watching the cycle of violence expand and expand, three Jewish Israeli boys kidnapped and killed, one Muslim Palestinian boy kidnapped, tortured and killed, the Gaza war starts again and so does the Ramadan Fast. Sitting within the despair, Mohammad and I, Kids4Peace Jerusalem co-directors initiate an Iftar meal during the violence as a safe place for Kids4Peace community members to come. I remember thinking, “will anyone be brave enough to leave their homes during this hellish time to come together in the name of peace?” When over fifty people joined in the meal together, I felt there is hope.
Al Aqsa Mosque 2015
Joined part of the Kids4Peace international leadership on the Temple Mount, an act that I never had imagined that I would take part in. I remember feeling an enormous spiritual presence and wanted to cry because I knew the fighting over the land is far from over.
The Blessing 2016
With two years of Arabic behind me, I think that I am ready to bless my Muslim colleagues and friends for the Eid, following the month long Ramadan fast I write to them in Arabic.
كل عام وانتم بالف خير.
Blessing them with a joyous eid.
All write back to me, many in Arabic (which I am not sure I understand fully) but thanking me for the blessing. I realize that not only am I wishing them for their holiday, but I am recognizing who they are, accepting them for their beliefs, embracing them as people of faith and only now understand how these small acts can lead to making change for peace: peace for myself no longer living in fear, peace for others of acceptance and understanding.
But my journey took me 35 years to reach this point, as I am about to celebrate my birthday, I want to invite all of us to find these small acts that reach out to others and to join me and making sure that it will not take others 35 years to do so.