Tearful last day of Leadership Camp (K4P & JPB)

by Jiries, Christian Counselor, Jerusalem

11807321_919913288065296_517511697718386362_o The boys woke up at 6am to finish packing their bags and getting ready for the last day’s activities. They showed each other the various gifts they bought for themselves and for their parents and siblings, right before putting them into their bags. Once they were finished, the campers and counselors sat on the porch with their plates full of delicious fruits and pancakes with maple syrup from right here at Acer Farm. It was their last meal at Acer Farm, a place that brought them together and united them with peace and love. Mixed emotions filled the room.11754494_919914171398541_4925827061641501649_o

11754399_919913101398648_677150522965500689_oAfter breakfast, the boys went back to the yurt for one last time and cleaned it out while the girls finished packing their bags and cleaning their rooms inside the log cabin. At 10am, all the campers were ready and began boarding the buses, all well-dressed for church and banner painting. The buses left camp towards the church. Singing and cheering and clapping made the trip towards the church even more fun. We got to church and took our seats.

During the mass, one group presented their skit about racism. After church, the kids spoke to and introduced themselves to some of the local parishioners. We enjoyed some drinks and refreshments and then had some hot dogs for lunch. Everyone sat closely together for the last meal, while cheering and singing camp songs.

Nearby the church, a huge peace banner was waiting to be painted with beautiful colors by the campers. A professional graphic artist named Russell helped prepare the banner and brought all kinds of colors for us to complete the masterpiece that will be displayed on billboards all over New England. In the background, the Brothers Yares sang melodic and soothing songs in English, Arabic and Hebrew. Arriving soon after we did, the Iraqi young leaders from World Learning joined our campers and helped complete the painting. Then, we presented our 3 skits that we had worked hard on with the playwright Court Dorsey. One was about sexism, another about homophobia and the last about racism.

The end was near. We sang, took photos, and got ready to get back to camp and get our bags and suitcases. The last thing the kids wanted to do was say goodbye to each other. It was a tearful and sad event, mainly because of the relationships that these campers developed with each other and with their counselors. Campers, counselors, and volunteers all shed tears and exchanged beautiful parting words. The American kids got in their bus, the Israeli and Palestinian kids in another bus, and they drove away from camp waving back towards the camp, counselors and staff. A sad moment, but a moment that will never be forgotten, because one day, we will meet again, and continue our fight towards peace together.

Rock, Paper, Scissors, RAFT!

by Matt Loper, Kids4Peace Boston Director

It was a perfect day in New Hampshire!  The sky was blue, a breeze kept the kids cool, and the lake sparkled in the sunshine. You’d never know these kids met each other only 3 days ago. Together, they sang (loudly) and laughed at meals, used photos to explore the importance of communication to fully understand the “big picture”, and jumped off the raft in the middle of the lake during the afternoon swim period – using the universal language of rock, paper, scissors to decide who would jump off the raft first!

One of the Jerusalem kids switched easily between Arabic, Hebrew, and English to coordinate group jumps off of the raft. The day ended with a visit to the camp compost station and garden; a break to play soccer and basketball  surrounded by the green tree-covered New Hampshire mountains; prayers to close Shabbat and end the day; and time for reflection on what compelled everyone to join Kids4Peace.  The kids gave too many amazing reasons to list, but some memorable ones included wanting to:

 learn about other religions,

 meet new friends,

 become a peace maker,

 do something every day to create peace

 stop all the war

 and because my brother/sister loved it!

Click here to check out some pictures through the eyes of our youth! 11781600_10153381729626066_2433120783491597136_n11836796_10153381729006066_1238177170218953057_n11800328_10153381728821066_1405413446110168661_n11752579_10153381730336066_8732783748485630704_n

Too much watermelon at Leadership Camp – JPB and K4P

by Lana (Muslim) and Yosef (Jewish), USA participants

We woke up to a cloudy Saturday morning with all of us feeling tired and sad about leaving the next day. After breakfast, we split into three groups to complete our peace plans. Next, we completed our skits with Court. The skits are being preformed tomorrow, so we worked vigorously to perfect them. Just before lunch, we started writing song lyrics with the Yares’ Brothers for a song we are going to sing tomorrow. Then, we had another delicious salmon lunch courtesy of Dorothy.

After lunch, we had the renowned Crazy Olympics, which is a timed, team challenge of who could complete various crazy challenges. First, everyone on our team had to wear a freezing shirt to move on. The next challenge was to eat a whole watermelon after using any means to break it open. The hardest step was to drink a whole gallon of water. Some of the boys drank so much they almost got sick! To complete the Olympics we jumped into the pond, which started swim time.

Mary Fetchet the founder of Voices of 9/11 shared her story about the death of her son and talked about the goals of her nonprofit organization.

Then, we had a barbeque dinner made of lamb burgers that were perfectly grilled by Bishop Tom Ely and Fr. Nicholas. We ended the night with practicing our songs and an outdoor concert from the Yares Brothers.

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Blog from Lac Des Isles, Quebec Canada

by Diane Nancekivell, President of Kids4Peace International

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This past weekend Yakir Englander visited Tom and me and our family at our lake home in the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal.  It was a joy to share with him so much of what the lake means to us; the early morning quiet and the glassy calm, the rambunctious playing on a dock full of kids of all ages, and the solitary kayak paddle in the late afternoon accompanied by haunting loon- calls.

Underscoring the fun-filled stuff of a Canadian summer is some meaningful history – most notably our Sunday Services which have been going since the summer of 1889.  Each Sunday durning the summer the community gathers at someone’s home for church, see the attached bulletin of the service that Yakir and I put together.  Yakir sang the Jewish parts in Hebrew and I did the rest; and Yakir gave the “sermon”.  He spoke with his usual brilliance, passion and conviction about the dangers of believing we know “the truth” and the beauty of our Kids4Peace experience.  He spoke about our sharing our love of our religious traditions and learning the difficult skills of authentic dialogue.  He spoke too about how those experiences opens our hearts, minds and lives and changes us forever!  The congregation was captivated!

Following the service there was an enthusiastic rumble of chattering as people tried to reach us to comment and share their responses.  Included in the group were people connected to the foundation world, and well known private American schools all brainstorming about how to make connections with Kids4Peace.  The buzz is lingering, people are still coming up to me on the lake and talking about it!image2 image1

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Journeying

by Rachel, American Christian Advisor, North Carolina

IMG_5885Our group also asked a question about the hijabs or headscarves that many Muslim women wear. The Imam pointed out that people cover their heads in many traditions including Mary, mother of Jesus, who is almost always pictured with her head covered. He said that for Muslim women as well it is a personal choice and a sign of humility in front of God.

We ended our trip with a big selfie with our new friends who were so gracious and welcoming to us today at the Masjid.

Our next stop was Temple Kol Emeth where we met another board member, Erin. We sat in the first couple of rows and he explained some of the things we saw in the new space. Around the synagogue were windows depicting “a life dedicated to Torah.” The windows included the Passover story and the story of Noah among others. At the back of the sanctuary were plates with names of those who had passed away so that their memory could live on within the synagogue.

It was a great first day in Atlanta! We’re excited for tomorrow.

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Woodshop, Archery, and a Blueberry Bush

by Matt Loper, Kids4Peace Boston Director

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Friday was an amazing day! In the morning we selected activities that we wanted to do. Some of us went to the woodworking shop, others went to archery, and some chose to make challah bread for our celebration of Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath).

Others of us were adventurous, choosing activities with intriguing names like “Ninja Training” and “Diving for Treasure.”

After lunch we had our first religious observance, the Muslim Ju’umah prayer. While Jews and Christians respectfully observed, the Muslim children and adults shared their prayers and their preparation for prayers with us. Afterwards, Christians and Jews asked many questions such as “Why do you pray on carpets?” and “Why do you turn your head to the right and left at the end of the prayers?”

After an hour of rest, called “Easy Time,” it was finally time for swimming in the beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. Almost everyone swam out to the raft and jumped off many times. The lake was much colder than swimming pools in the Jerusalem area but it felt great after a couple of days of hot weather! A few people picked blueberries off of bushes near the waterfront and shared them with their new friends.

We then prepared for the beginning of Shabbat at sundown. This time, the Muslims and Christians respectfully observed as the Jewish campers and staff shared the lighting of candles, prayers, and songs. We then all ate a delicious kosher Shabbat dinner prepared by our cooks Ben and Shilla, who cooked us Ugandan-style chicken.

11817068_10153377864226066_4710087770573899791_nIn the evening, we played games and then, before bed, went out on our back porch to observe the full moon. We thought about our Kids4Peace family at camps all across the United States and far away in Jerusalem and the West Bank, all enjoying the same full moon.

Check out the Day 2 Full Album here!

Learning. Service. Sharing. Prayer.

by Yosef, Jewish, USA participant

Today all the boys woke up at 7:30 AM, because we forgot to set an alarm for 6:30 AM for the morning run. After breakfast, we painted our masks. Each of these unique masks took shape along the contours of our faces. Likewise, the painting of the masks was unique. We were tasked with illustrating the characteristics that make each of us special and a peacebuilder and leader. The masks didn’t conceal our identity like most do, but revealed a picture of our true selves.

Next, we moved on to helping the community. We went to a local farm where we picked kale and cucumbers for a food shelter. With the baskets of veggies in hand, we loaded the cars to deliver them to the food bank. At the food shelter, we prepared the kale and ate a meal with members of the local community.

Returning to the farm we hurried to Muslim Friday prayers, which was in a shaded spot up on the side of the hill. After that, we worked on our social justice skits with Court. We used improvisation to create, sculpt and script our scenes. After the acting, we came together to talk about the meaning of our masks. We had a great dinner and then listened to our guests the Yares’ Brothers, who sang beautiful songs for Kabalat Shabbat. Lastly, we worked on our peace plans for Jerusalem. Through heated negotiations, we discussed possible ways to improve the current situation.

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“Seeing Beyond Myself”

by Rachel, American Christian Faith Adviser, North Carolina

IMG_5779After rock climbing this morning and a break for lunch, the 6th graders went to their daily Discovery session. The first activity involved everyone writing their names on mirrors. Then the campers got to choose someone else’s mirror and look at their reflections together through the shared mirrors. Finally, they got the place their mirrors someplace on a world map that is meaningful to them.

Maria placed hers on Canada because she would like to visit family there. Ariel placed his on Japan because he wants to practice the Japanese he’s been studying. Maya put hers on Thailand because she would like to visit there someday. We learned a little more about each other based on where each person placed their mirror.

The next activity was to trace over the old city of Jerusalem and the existing four quarters: the Muslim Quarter, the Jewish Quarter, the Christian Quarter and the Armenian Quarter. Each camper got to reimagine what the city layout would be if they could design it.

Haya drew her picture with five sections of the city. Haya said, “I made 5 parts and in the middle we can all share a place together.”

Many of the campers intentionally included a place in their city design where everyone could be together. For some it engulfed the whole city and for others they added a “peace quarter” for that purpose.

After discovery the group got to learn outdoor survival skills from the Camp Bob staff before a Faith Advising session led by Adli, Jerusalem Muslim Faith Adviser and Yair, Jerusalem Jewish Faith Adviser. The kids had so much fun playing games to get to know each other better. Working off of the mirror theme, one activity involved sitting across from partners and mirroring their actions. We talked about how difficult it can be to do exactly what someone else is doing, but also how fun it is to see things in a different way.IMG_5799

After dinner, we joined the LEAP group for a talent show. We had a few performances from both the 6th grade and LEAP as well as all of the counselors and the LEAP Faith Advisers. From music to cultural dances and skits, it was the perfect way to end the day together.

Day 8 at Leadership Camp (JPB & K4P)

by David, Jewish participant, Jerusalem

Jiries woke me up this morning at 7 AM, so I decided I might as well go and take a morning shower to wake me up instead of lying bleary-eyed in bed. When I got back to the yurt (Tent) I was already wide-awake most of the boys were up and about, preparing for breakfast.

11703415_917495861640372_8423428611353324971_o After breakfast, we all went to the backyard where we played a human-sized version of “Mastermind” and that was pretty fun, even though sadly we only had enough time for a single good round. Then Edward Turner, the founder of an international law organization called Lawyers Without Borders came and taught us about the Rule of Law.

Mr. Turner explained to us how do our justice systems function and what is the Rule of Law and that was very interesting. He spoke well and he brought up questions that were very controversial, which made us think about and learn new things from each other. Later on we had some free time, then we all prayed together and had an awesome lunch (Whoohoo!), which for me was mainly comprised of hot dogs and salad. Afterwards, we had a Drama for Social Change session with Court. In that session we defined all the words that conflicts mean to us and talked about conflict for a while, and then we did some skits, sort of like the ones we did yesterday just more dramatic and less of the straight-up funny type.11754539_917495134973778_719835407030994304_o

Later, we had our fifth leadership session in which we talked more about violence and were divided randomly into three groups: Israel, Palestine and the U.S., and we had to use an iceberg model to display examples of direct, cultural, and structural violence we could identify and then present them to the other two teams. That was really interesting because I was in a group with two Israelis (including myself) and three Palestinians, and it showed me things that I didn’t think about before (which usually happens when we speak about Israel and Palestine).

After the leadership sessions, most of the campers went horseback riding and surprisingly only the Jews went swimming, so we jumped on the opportunity and did a “Mikve” with our guest Gordon. A Mikve is a Jewish tradition of getting cleaned by dipping in the water several times quickly (We did it in our own version of just jumping up and down and screaming “MIKVE!”, not the real one).11782481_917496058307019_8715352717662375565_o

And then came the highlight of the day: we were separated to three groups and each of the groups was sent to a different non-JPB-K4P family, who lives in the area, and we dined with them and learned about their lives. I went with Tom and Connie and their two sons Sam and Peter (who are both 20 years old) and they served us a delicious spicy chicken dinner and taught us about Brattleboro. They then took us with them for a 30-minute walk in Brattleboro which I really enjoyed. I was very happy that local families support JPB and K4P, and that they are so generous with people they never met before to support the cause of Peace.”

Speak Your Truth

by Rachel, American Christian Faith Adviser, NC 6th grade camp

IMG_5855This morning we said goodbye to the LEAP campers and staff as they boarded a bus for a long 8-hour drive to Washington, DC. There were more than a few tears shed as we said goodbye to the many friends we’d made over the past week at camp together. We wish them luck and productive, thoughtful meetings over the next few days as they get the chance to explore our country’s capital and  meet with some new friends.

After the bus pulled away we started our day with a Discovery cooperation course in the woods before lunch and today’s afternoon activities: archery and a tour of the nature center.

In our faith advising session today we finished an activity we started yesterday. The faith advisers had previously written three quotes from each of the holy texts of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. For each religion, one quote was written in Arabic, one in Hebrew and one in English so that the language would not give away which religion they came from.

In small groups, the kids discussed the quotes based on theme before attempting to organize them by religion. Surprisingly to many campers the task was harder than they expected. We asked them why it was so challenging to figure out which quote belonged to which religion.IMG_5860

Sami offered that “we all have different knowledge of all of our different religions,” and suggested that that made the task difficult.

Ariel said he wasn’t surprised that the task at hand was so difficult. “It’s not surprising to me because we all come from the same history of Abraham. We all have similar messages.”

The common messages of belief in one God, generosity, kindness, and hospitality towards those who are different from yourself bonds us together.

Yair, Jerusalem Jewish Faith Adviser, added “In every one of our religions there are verses that say we should let people live in the way they want to live.”

Throughout the afternoon we continued learning about one another’s religions and how they can exist together and even compliment each other. In the evening Samar, Jerusalem Christian Faith Adviser showed us how to make Baba Ganoush in the dining hall. Over dinner every camper got a chance to taste with pita bread. It was delicious!

Tonight we pack for our trip to Atlanta tomorrow! We’re so excited to apply what we’ve learned so far to the city where we are headed to next.

A day of courage for Leadership: K4P & JPB

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by Nicole and Ayyoub, Muslim Participants, Jerusalem and USA

Today we started the morning with delicious waffles. After that we had a Courage workshop put on by the junior counselors, Jiries and Christina. During the workshop, we had to admit our own fears to ourselves, and then some people admitted them to the whole group.

At the same time, we sent four people to continue editing the videos we took on our cameras with Gordon. We also did mini interviews with each camper.

Later after the break, we had an Etiquette session with Jude in which we learned how to introduce others and ourselves, how to communicate with new people, and deal with awkward moments.

We worked on our improvisation skills, and about resolving conflicts. We talked about different prejudices in society like racism and sexism and made groups for skits that we will preform on Sunday.11754561_918370454886246_3280295842532938881_o

After lunch, we had our last unit of Leadership with Jack. Using our conflict resolution and mediation skills, we began coming up with our own peace plans for the Holy City of Jerusalem. It took some time and we plan to continue our work on them tomorrow.
For dinner we enjoyed some great grilled chicken and salad, and then we had an art session with Stuart. We made little cut outs of the word “peace” in Hebrew, Arabic and English.11728705_918370334886258_4239331381902999342_o

And to end the night, we climbed a mountain in the dark, WHILE BLINDFOLDED!!!!! It was very challenging, but we all made it and came together in the end. We sat around a bonfire, just to rest and sing. The counselors gave us talismans to take home and always remember this leadership camp and the struggles we overcame together.”

Mapping Home

by Rachel, American Christian Faith Adviser for NC Camp

This morning the 6th grade campers went on a hike on Eagle Rock trail with Jill, some Camp Bob staff and faith advisers. They climbed a mountain to a scenic overlook where they could reflect on the theme of the day: home. They were asked to draw about and share what home means to them. Here were some of the many answers that were shared.

“Wherever my books are is home.”

“Chocolate chip cookies mean home for me.”

“The globe holds my home.”

“Outside space, the landscape and view from my window. My garden is home.”

“Sitting on our porch with family talking.”

“Doing nothing with my family is home.”

“My state is what makes me feel pride of home. I also love my flag which symbolizes home and I hope to be the governor one day of my state.”

“The four chambers of my heart is home.”

After the hike back down the mountain the campers had lunch and spent the evening playing sports from Jerusalem and the US before their favorite activity of the day: swimming!

In the evening both the 6th graders and the LEAP kids got to be a part of a carnival with fun activities. They had fun playing all together in the big field as their counselors led in the fun.

In the evening reflection all together Lauren, American Jewish Faith Adviser for 6th grade, shared that she felt at home today in the cabin when we were making friendship bracelets with all the girls.

David Rowan, Camp Director, ended the evening by sharing a quote from his favorite bumper sticker: “If you lived in your heart you’d already be home.”

We’re looking forward to spending more time tomorrow growing as a Kids4Peace family.

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Just another day at Kids4Peace

by Rebecca Sullum, Kids4Peace Jerusalem Co-Director

Took a ride from Jaffa to Jerusalem

Spent most of it telling the arts student about the Kids4Peace community

At the office cleaned up 8 years’ worth of papers, all related to peacebuilding

Even found made original papers from the first time I meet a Palestinian when I was 18 years old

K4P youth walked in and out of the office, all waiting to speak with a group of 90 American Jewish youth

Just another day at Kids4Peace, trying to inspire others’ that together peace is possible.

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Reeham, my Muslim/Palestinian colleague walked into the office

Between phone calls from nervous parents pre-travel, emails and our scheduled meeting Reeham and I work on next year programs

The summer intern calls, she can’t find a long sleeve shirt to print on to make an suitable K4P shirt for the 6th grade Muslim girl that wants to wear long sleeves

This was my mistake, as I thought all Muslim women could just put a long sleeve shirt under the t-shirt like Reeham

So I had to get the appropriate shirt ready on time

Success, shirt found and printed

Just another day at Kids4Peace, trying to make everyone feel welcome and respected

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Tri-lingual core staff meeting Last day of the Ramadan fast, right before the Eid (holiday)

The teams in a good mood

One last push to finish up work before the 8 summer camps commence

Advice shared via Hangout, with a new group in the center of the county that wants to build an interfaith program

Sharing our struggles of nearly 14 years of youth programs and finding a model that will be sensitive to all J

ust another day at Kids4Peace supporting others in creating a safe space for peace

18 t-shirts in hand, well actually 17 t-shirts and 1 long sleeve shirt

Meet along with the faith advisors, counselors and the 18 youth heading to NC camp next week

Oh the excitement of the first camp and travel

I wish we all could experience the sensation of the first time meeting the other again

As there is something so humbling and courageous that these youth and families are doing together

Just another day of creating cross border community at Kids4Peace

Jump on the light rail, traveling further into East Jerusalem

Not my regular route

Move from speaking Hebrew with a concerned K4P mother on the phone to English as I get off in Shoafat

Mohammad, my co-director is waiting

We travel to Beit Hanina, to pay our condolences, to our office manager, Ghadeer, on the passing of her Uncle, may his memory be a blessing

Second time Mohammad and I have gone together to a Christian reception, this time I am already familiar with the costumes

Just another day of interfaith experience in Kids4Peace

Ride back into West Jerusalem with Mohammad and his family

His bi-lingual 2 year old son is talking to me in Hebrew

I am speaking to his parents in English and trying to throw in bits of Arabic

“Your Arabic is really getting better” Mohammad tells me in the car

I am glad to receive this support and compliment

I commit myself to another semester of study Through language trying to understand my other

Just another day in Kids4Peace

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Dinner with friends and a mentor that I haven’t seen in 12 years

End up spending most of the night talking about Kids4Peace Jerusalem

Want my mentor to expose his Jewish day school in Chile to diverse Jerusalem through the eyes of Kids4Peace

“There is no solution to this conflict” one of my friends says at the meal

“There is a solution, many political solutions are on the table, just no one sees that path to them”

I respond and think to myself,

“K4P is already walking the path of peace, but it is a lonely on the path of non-violence”

Just another day in Kids4Peace

Midnight, make it home to Jaffa

Can’t fall asleep because I want to write this blog Just another day in Kids4Peace

Filed under: Blog

US Consul General: Kids4Peace Gives Me Hope

June 4, 2015
Independence Day Celebration
US. Consulate General, JERUSALEM

unnamed-3As I was contemplating what I might say today, I ran across the words of the late Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali, and thought he captured beautifully a sentiment that I think about here often. In a poem called “Revenge,” he imagined meeting the man who killed his father and destroyed his home, and he fantasized about challenging that man to a duel and finally settling the score. “But if it came to light,” he wrote, “when my rival appeared, that he had a mother waiting for him, then I wouldn’t kill him even if I could. If it were made clear that he had a brother or sisters…or if he had a wife to greet him and children who couldn’t bear his absence…”

Reading those lines brought to mind what we’ve all seen happen when we fail to regard each other as humans, when we forget about the mothers and the children, the brothers and sisters. We’ve all seen what happens when the other is dehumanized, and when hatred is indulged.

I’ve seen it for myself – what that hatred, that rejection of humanity – of human-ness – can spawn. In just a few days span last year, I visited a mosque in the West Bank village of Jabaa and a Christian seminary on Mt. Zion – two places of holy worship that were torched by price tag vandals, by morally bankrupt cowards in the dead of night. I visited the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives where graves have been desecrated, as though in some sick sport – nihilism masquerading as political protest. I sat shiva with the families of four rabbis murdered as they prayed in their synagogue in Har Nof. I visited the wake tent in Shuafat for Mohammad Abu Khdeir, who was kidnapped and burned alive by soulless criminals in the Jerusalem Forest.

For the monsters, the terrorists, who perpetrated these attacks, politics and religion intersect in a very dark place, in the lowest depths of hate and ignorance and inhumanity. These perpetrators were so filled with hate, so drained of wisdom, so morally vacant, so unable or unwilling to see the humanity of the other, that they become in every sense empty of humanity themselves.

And yet, I take comfort in knowing that they are the minority. And I derive great optimism from having met so many other Israelis and Palestinians who may just hold enough humanity for all of us. Who not only recognize the humanity in others, but embrace it, celebrate it, protect it.unnamed-2

Ask what gives me hope – and lately I’ve been asked that question a great deal – and I’ll tell you about the young Palestinians and Israelis I met with Kids4Peace, who even in the darkest, most heart-breakingly violent days of the Gaza conflict last summer, insisted on talking, and rejected the absurd notion that shunning each other will somehow lead to justice or equality.

They stood together and said words I’ll always remember – words that I wrote down even as they spoke them: “We are the kids of Jerusalem, and the violence stops with us.”

Click here to read the full speech.

It’s Time to Stand Up for Each Other

Tahera AhmadA Message From the Executive Director

Maybe you saw Kids4Peace in the news last week?

Tahera Ahmad, a Muslim scholar, interfaith leader, and chaplain at Northwestern University was on her way to DC, when she experienced an act of discrimination on her flight, compounded by hateful words from a passenger.

She was coming to speak with the Kids4Peace Board about interfaith relations in America and the challenges facing American Muslims.

In an interview, Tahera said this:

It’s indicative of something much deeper happening in our country right now… Minority groups are saying they’re in a lot of pain. If you fail to recognize the bigotry, prejudice and stereotypes that create a culture, that continues to promote cyclical injustice. We can’t continue to do that. All this pain and all this hurt, it’s just not OK.

Kids4Peace is working to change this culture of prejudice and injustice, so Tahera’s experience of discrimination does not happen again.

To me, the most painful part of Tahera’s story is the fact that other passengers did not support her.

“I thought people would defend me and say something,” she said.

No one did.  Where were the people of faith and courage?  Where were my fellow Christians, who are taught over and over to stand with those on the margins?

In the face of bigotry and hatred, real change begins when we have the courage to stand up for each other.

That’s what we do in Kids4Peace.

I hear so many stories of Kids4Peace youth standing up for the other, at great personal risk – both in Jerusalem and here in the USA.  From the age of twelve, K4P youth are challenging the prejudices of their teachers, defending peers against bullying, and refusing to join the vitriolic chants of their ‘friends.

They have courage to do this because they have each other, and because they have you standing alongside them.

This week, Board member Sue Bloch published a  powerful profile of Eve, a young peacemaker in Seattle.

Eve said it well: “I joined the Kids4Peace movement because I feel that the mission is a crucial one. I would like to be a part of it. But I can’t do it on my own.”

We can only do it together.  Together with Eve and Tahera and interfaith leaders across the globe, Kids4Peace is building a new culture of peace and a powerful movement for change.

It’s time to stand up and tell the world that there is another way.

Stand up for each other.  Stand up, when you hear words of prejudice.  Stand up, when you see injustice.  Stand up, when you see someone’s pain.

We are #UnitedForTahera – and united in our commitment to challenge all acts of discrimination and injustice.   It’s time to stand up for peace.

Fr. Josh Thomas, Executive Director
Kids4Peace International (josh@k4p.org)

PS — K4P Board Vice-President Yakir Englander was a colleague of Tahera’s at Northwestern.  His reflections are on the Kids4Peace Blog.  Read more >> 

What Kids4Peace can Teach Us About Peace (Tikkun)

Eve

“I have joined the Kids4Peace movement because I feel that their mission is a crucial one,” Eve insisted. “I would like to be a part of it. But I can’t do it on my own. 

Kids4Peace Board Member Sue Bloch writes about Eve from Kids4Peace Seattle at Tikkun Daily

“The Puget Sound is really a mess,” one of my grandchildren told me recently.

It’s so polluted. Did you know even the orcas are contaminated with toxic chemicals.”

Determined to build a better future, our kids want to find new ways to make themselves heard — in the classroom, by their parents, communities, and politicians. It’s easy for parents to think their kids are only interested in the latest football results, lose sleep over what to wear to graduation, and spend far too much time playing games on their phones. In reality youth are also texting and blogging about police brutality, melting icecaps, and how to end U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. They worry how we’ll ever get out of the mess.

Read the full story on Tikkun Daily

The kids are right to be concerned. My own generation has certainly not done a great job. In my twenties, I too had wanted to change the world. Filled with purpose I moved to Israel after the Six Day War, when as young parents, we had been so hopeful of peaceful co-existence with our neighbors. Instead, since then we have wobbled from crisis to crisis. Smoldering tanks in the Sinai desert filled TV screens during the Yom Kippur War in ’73. UN camps settled on the Golan Heights to make sure all parties observed the peace treaty with Syria. Gaza became a tinderbox. Scud missiles were shot down during the Gulf War only seconds before they would have hit Tel Aviv.

Now I wonder can the youth of today do things differently in the future? Can they stop the intifadas, the suicide bombers and periodic destruction on the West Bank? Will the intrusive yet crucial security inspections at the border crossings ever become a thing of the past?

As a grandmother, I wanted to try to do something to help our grandchildren build a better future. When I learned about Kids4Peace, an interfaith community of Israeli, Palestinian, and North American youth and educators, I decided to invest some of my time and energy to support their vision: a passion to develop the next generation of peacemakers. I read about their summer programs where Israeli, Palestinian, and U.S. kids spend two weeks together at camps scattered around North America and Israel, learning about their different faiths, traditions, and cultures. They play soccer, skip rope, and sing together. They learn how to listen and try to understand other kids rather than judge them.

Read the full story on Tikkun Daily

 

Filed under: Seattle

We are #UnitedForTahera

by Yakir Englander, Kids4Peace International Vice-President

I was working with Tahera Ahmad during the years 2012 – 2014 when I taught at Northwestern University. Tahera represents for me and for many students the possibility to be a believer, a scholar, a feminist, and a person who doesn’t stop working towards social justice and healthy relationships among people.

DA8A3316In November 2012, in the midst of the Israeli-Gaza war, Tahera was the only person at Northwestern University who gathered a group of students – Jews, Muslims, Christians and others – in a safe place, where they could share their pain, fear and hope to end the conflict. I had the gift to be there and to see how, by her unique personality and sensitivity, she succeed to gather Pro-Israelis and Pro-Palestinians to help and support each other.

During my two years at Northwestern university, I found a spiritual family in the Islamic community. As an Israeli who grew up in an Ultra-Orthodox family, I was amazed by the  hospitality that I received by the Islamic community at Northwestern under the directorship of Tahera Ahmad.

For these reasons I invited Tahera to come, meet and teach at the Board meeting of Kids4Peace this past weekend in Washington, DC. I believe that all of us: Americans, Israelis and Palestinians, from the three Abrahamic traditions, can benefit from her unique personality, her teachings, the open hearts and mind to the differences among us. I was amazed how focus she was with the members of Kids4Peace, how vivid and open, as if she hadn’t just come from a traumatic event on the airplane.

During the years, Tahera became not only a colleague of mine, but also a family member and a spiritual partner.

As a Jew (and for sure as a friend) I must support my dear sister Tahera. I pray Allah and Hashem to send you the powers to keep working for a better America for all of American citizens and mostly for the minorities.

“May the One who creates harmony on high, bring peace to us, to which we say Amen.”Yakir Thumbnail

– Dr. Yakir Englander is Vice-President of the Kids4Peace International Board of Directors and has been a visiting lecturer at Harvard Divinity School.

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For additional information:
Fr. Josh Thomas, Executive Director
josh@k4p.org | (202) 796-7047

K4P Seattle: Please, Keep Talking Behind My Back!

by Pam Orbach, Kids4Peace Seattle Dialogue Facilitator

It’s been a wonderful first year of Kids4Peace in Seattle. The gift I have experienced as dialogue facilitator has been to watch our 13-year-old future peace leaders grow together. They have learned the art of acceptance and belonging; they have forged bonds and increased their commitment — to each other and to the program. I am filled with gratitude for the potential their unique wisdom as leaders may offer in the future.

Kids from K4P Seattle working on a community garden-building project, shortly before the dialogue session.

Kids from K4P Seattle working on a community garden-building project, shortly before the dialogue session.

With this awareness and deep gratitude in my heart, I met with the group on May 17 for the last time before the next generation of K4P kids join their meetings. I wanted a dialogue that would call out the hidden power in each individual through a process of acknowledging and championing their spirit. I longed for them to recognize their full potential of whom they might be when they believe in themselves. Talking Behind My Back (with a twist) was the perfect activity.

Each kid took a turn to be “IT” and sat up front with their back turned to the group. Everyone else, including our supporting adults, had the opportunity to describe and recognize actions that the ‘”IT” had done at any point in the year that were worthy of appreciation and gratitude. Individuals in the group expressed gratitude for what they love about “IT”. It was the privilege of the “IT” to just listen and take it all in: to see their very best own self, positively through the eyes of their community; to not only glimpse their most positive self, but also to be inspired to become the full self they might be devoid of self doubt.

The face of each teen, as they turned back to the group in acknowledgement, was overflowing reward for those of us assembled. My wish for these kids is that they embody all that they heard.  When they step into their power, I am confident they will create peace wherever they are. It has been an honor to work with them.

Thank you, kids from Kids4Peace.

Day of Nakba: A day to be proactive

by Mohammad Joulany, K4P Jerusalem Co-Director

Yesterday marked sixty-seven years of what my people refer to as “Nakba day” which means the day of the catastrophe. On the day of Nakba I remember my grandfather who was force229d to move from his spacious apartment in Baka to live in a tiny room
in the Muslim quarter of The Old City of Jerusalem.

I remember those who suffer until this very moment from the consequences of their displacement in refugee camps in the West Bank, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. The day that I commemorate is the same day that my Israeli colleagues celebrate and refer to as Independence Day. Here I ask myself the same question that our Jerusalem steering committee chair asked in a previous post: can we really bridge the gap when our worldviews are so different? A simple answer would be a “yes” or “no” answer but an honest one would be “I am not sure”.

The gap is huge for a reason. It is huge because of over sixty-seven years of the unwillingness of recognizing the other. It is due to the education that Israeli’s and Palestinian’s have that does not teach about the other and if it does, it is often to dehumanize the other. While I believe that my people’s cause is just I am sure that my people’s victory should not be over other’s misery. This might sound like a romantic discourse but the reality is that in a small country like ours it is impossible to live alone and pretend that the other side does not exist and here I remember the words of Martin Luther King when he said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”.

One may ask why I refer to coexistence when I commemorate the Nakba day instead of referring the right of return for example. It is almost impossible to convince Israeli’s of the “right of return” if they see you as a threat and when their prime minister encourage them to vote for his extreme government because as he called it “the Arabs are voting in droves”. The mutual responsibility we have is to encourage our people to interact and live together. Israeli’s and Palestinians should be convinced that coexisting is not a naïve choice rather a strategic one to face growing extremism in our societies and the region as well.

Last week a number of angry Palestinian youth stopped an Israeli-Palestinian meeting that was about to take place in East Jerusalem. While I understand the frustration of those youth living under occupation, I do see that what they did is mainly contributing to the policies of the extreme right in Israel, which calls for Isolation. What damage is to happen if this meeting actually took place? Well, I can only think of so many advantages and very little disadvantages. It is our role as Palestinians to present our suffering, hopes, and fears in front of Israelis before anyone else in the world. “The system” does not allow for much interaction, most encounters are on the surface and are not deep enough to the level when gaps are identified.

My message is also to those who pretend to do the “coexistence work”. Being polite and friendly will not help much. Be honest but sensitive when presenting your fears or sufferings to the other. The best present to your people on the Israeli Independence Day or on the Day of Nakba is to be proactive and take a step forward towards talking to a new person from the other side.

Tomorrow is what the Israelis refer to as “Jerusalem Day”. It is the day when the extreme right march towards to Eastern side of the city chanting “Death to Arabs” and “Mohammad is dead”. I dream of the day when we citizens of Jerusalem can walk for peace unified, regardless of our religion or national belonging.

We at Kids4Peace provide a trustworthy platform where Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Israeli and Palestinian families come together on an equal basic to work towards a better present and a promising future for us and our children.

Returning to Ramallah

by Meredith Rothbart, K4P Director of Development

“Have you ever been to Ramallah?”
This seems like a simple question. If you were to ask me if I’d been to New York, I would say, “Yes, I have been to New York.” If you were to ask me if I have been to China, I would say, “No, I have not been to China.” With Ramallah however, the answer is a bit trickier, as some Kids4Peace International Board members and US Chapter directors found out last week.

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For many of “us,” (Israelis), the answer last week on the bus on our way to Ramallah was “well, not as a civilian.” This confused the foreigners among us, and sent shivers up the spines of some of our Palestinian colleagues. Many of us had been to Ramallah or villages in the Ramallah area as IDF soldiers on missions, just like I had during my time serving as a Non-Commissioned Officer in COGAT. Few of us had walked the streets, chatted with locals, and ordered a local coffee.

“Marhaba.”

“Salam Alaikum”

“Ana bidi…ehh….kaweh. Kaweh ma chalib? Cappucino?”

I have had many opportunities to travel into Ramallah before, but I have always had an excuse. Most recently, when a friend celebrated the birth of his child in his home, I just said flat out, “I want to visit, but I’m too scared.” I sent a gift instead. It wasn’t the same.

unnamed-2When one of our American colleagues asked me if I felt calm after passing through Kalandia checkpoint, I didn’t know how to respond. Calm? Of course not! Calm would have been the Israeli soldiers sending me home and giving me an excuse not to face my fears. Calm would have been a friendly face in all green telling me that for my own safety, I cannot cross into enemy territory. Making it through Kalandia checkpoint was not calming–it was terrifying. There was that big red sign spelling out “DANGER!” and we just drove right past it. I wasn’t protected anymore. My identity alone now put me in danger. “No,” I said, “I am not calm now. It’s not the checkpoint I was afraid of, it is being here and G-d forbid, being killed.”

So then why did I go? Well, for a few reasons

Reason #1. Deep down I just felt that it would end up ok. I trust my instincts and I trust my Kids4Peace family. We’re a team in the deepest sense of the word. I knew that my Palestinian brothers and sisters were there with me, holding my hands, and making sure that everything was ok. I know that they actually legitimately care about me and wouldn’t put me in danger.  So, as much as they could promise and as much as they could control–they would keep me safe from the unknown that had me shivering with fear on that 20-minute drive to Ramallah.

“Ehh, sure, I’ve been to Ramallah…”, I’ve said to those who ask.

What I don’t always say is “with a bullet proof vest, a helmet, an M-16, and armored vehicles in front of me and behind me.”

Reason #2. I’m a leader in Kids4Peace. Believe it or not–this scaredy-cat has to admit the reality. I’m one of many leaders in this awe-inspiring community and the community deserves the intellectual honesty from its staff that we as leaders ask of them. I ask our youth, our parents, our graduates, our volunteers, our educators, and our facilitators to step outside of their comfort zones all the time. I ask them to step into enemy territory. And you know what? They do. Some of them do every single day. I don’t know that if the tables were turned if I would be as strong as my Palestinian colleagues. So I decided to at least take a first step.

Reason #3. On Yom Hazikaron (Israeli Memorial Day), I realized during the siren that I was the only Jew in my office. I stood silently between my Palestinian friends as we stared at each other—trying to internalize the complexity of this moment of silence together. One colleague sat quietly and respectfully so not to disturb me, but did not stand. Another stood, partly out of respect and partly (admittedly) out of confusion. We spent the rest of the day discussing, arguing, crying and trying to make some sense of the reality we live in. We did not solve the conflict that day, but one thing became clear to me–they know Israeli society a million times better than I know Palestinian society. So I figured…yalla, let’s go get some coffee in Ramallah.

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Leadership youth face racism together

by Guy, Facilitator for Kids4Peace Jerusalem’s Leadership Group
We arrived at Ein Gedi on time where the weather was excellent, and the youth were at their best, cheerful and engaged.  We had one workshop before the Sabbath designing and brainstorming ideas for a billboard that represents our work in Kids4Peace…. (On the last day of the leadership camp (Sunday, 2 August) we will have the opportunity to paint a large peace banner.  The banner will then hang over America’s busiest highway – I-95 in Connecticut.  This is all possible due to the generosity and friendship of Bruce Barrett, who works with the Combatants for Peace).
After dinner we had a dialogue about the tour of Jerusalem we had recently, the dialogue was deep and interesting. On Sabbath we started with a long hike, wow, so much fun and some insights and overcoming fears.
The following 2 dialogue sessions were then dedicated in concern to the interaction our youth had with 3 classes from Or Yehuda, a Jewish religious group that was also staying at the same hotel with us. The youth where mostly religious and haven’t meet an Arab their age or a Jewish that has Arab friends up until now.
The previous night had not been easy. Our youth had some free time with the Or Yehuda youth which seemed ok at first, but when our youth wanted to go to sleep some of the Or Yehuda youth insisted to continue talking. When our group insisted that they wanted to go to sleep, some of the youth from Or Yehuda became racist, calling under their porch and knocking at the door… Bahiah, my Palestinian colleague, and I and the hostel’s guard and one of the Or Yehuda teachers (who was not friendly  and later on some of the youth from Or Yehuda told us that he hates Arabs) were up till 2:00 in the morning trying to monitor the situation.
Between our two dialogues, we had a short meeting with the Or Yehuda group to discuss what had happened. It was important to have this time to debrief so that we could feel and see our differences and our similarity’s through some dialogue.
In Kids4Peace we realize that facing communities who challenge our work is always possible. We were very impressed with the way our Leadership youth asked for help and were open to a dialogue with the group that had been rude to them. A Kids4Peace parent then suggested we get together at her home and process the incident together. We as a staff agreed and look forward to meeting with youth and parents together.
At the meeting, parents requested to draw up an official protocol that would help guide advisors and facilitators during weekend seminars. The protocol includes many suggestions such as checking which other groups will be lodging at the hostel at the same time, involving parents in the programming for weekends, and maintaining more frequent communication with parents throughout seminars, especially in the event where there is tension.
We wish to thank the youth for their mature response, as well as the parents for their careful attention to detail and desire to make the process better for all of us in Kids4Peace.

Our narratives for the same event cannot be more different

by Udi, Kids4Peace Jerusalem Steering Committee Chair

As we are approaching Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haaztmaut Israel’s Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers of the IDF and Day of independence, we are also nearing the Nakba. These events play a major symbolic role in the dispute between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Whilst one people mourn the dead soldiers and celebrates independence the other mark the day of the disaster.  The narratives for the same event cannot be more different. And here we are, trying to communicate with each other and bring peace. Thinking about these two days and the heated debates around them made me reflect on the work of Kids4Peace.

The first question is: can we really bridge the gap when our worldviews are so different? Can we overlook the fact that our friends see our day of independence as a disaster? What does that say about their feeling for our fallen soldiers, our brothers, sons, and friends? Can I ignore their feelings and pretend that it is not happening, keep smiling and ignore this issue? On the other hand, how do they feel about me celebrating their disaster? How can I mourn the loss of soldiers who sometimes represent the worse image for them? How would I feel about them mourning what I call a terrorist? Can I even compare, do I/we even want to enter this discussion?

This leads me to the nature of our dialogue. Is it real or are we just being polite and friendly? Are our conversations honest like real friends? Can we cross over to the other camp and be friends with one or two of the others, real friend or are we there mostly for the kids, it is a good program after all.

I believe that the key is in the narrative. We all stepped out of the norm and made a statement for whatever reason, that we want our children to get to know the others. We all did something that is not what most people do. But we are often caught in the same old narrative. It is us and them, the Jews/Israelis and sometimes the occupiers Vs. the Palestinians/ Arabs / Christians/Muslims, them.  The problem is that we do not talk about the real issues and if someone brings up a sensitive issue, people get defensive or aggressive which terminates the conversation

Looking at the days ahead of us, I think that dealing with a conflict in a good way is an opportunity to grow. I work as a director of kindergartens. We teach the children to see the good in others, we teach them to resolve conflicts by saying sorry, playing together and becoming friends, we teach them to share and to care. We teach them that violence is wrong, that what might be good for some is not good for others, we teach them that people have different taste in things and we should learn from one another. We teach them to take responsibility and own up to what they did as part of growing up and being independent and trustworthy. Yet, when it comes to us, the adults, we forget most of it.

These are not easy times for both sides. We can pretend that it is not happening, smile to each other and make a comment to ‘our’ side about how ‘they’ are celebrating/commemorating ‘that day’. Or, we can be honest with each other and bring it up in a discussion. We can try finding a middle ground or a space where we can share what we think and feel. I suggest we bring some food along because it can be a long conversation but nonetheless a good one that will require fueling of good stuff from both sides. If we drop our guard a bit (use some humor) and give the other person credit for wanting to be there and make peace, we can go a long way and celebrate friendships that will grow of this conflict. Kid4Peace is giving us the best platform to move forward, let us use it.

I invite anyone who is interested to meet and talk over a good meal to contact me at steeringcommittee@k4p.org

Shalom and Salaam,
Udi

Popsicles, games, cheers, and letting kids be kids

by Mike, K4P Jerusalem volunteer

There’s nothing so simple and joyful as just watching kids at play. You give them the space to run and jump and laugh and express themselves, and everything else seems to just fall away. But sometimes it’s not as simple as it seems.BNC_5876

On Friday, April 17th, I spent the day with the 66 newest members of Kids4Peace – the latest crop of 6th-graders that just started this January. It was field day at the Beit Safafa School in East Jerusalem, and that meant a day of popsicles, games, cheers, and letting kids be kids.

And that’s what they did. At first glance (or at first listen – as you approach the school playground from a distance and hear only the giggles and shouts as they drift out into the famously resonant and echo-friendly city of Jerusalem), it was indistinguishable from any other group of 6th-graders discovering lacrosse for the first time or getting into a game of tug-of-war.

BNC_5547But this was so much more than that. For one thing, it was the start of a six-year journey with Kids4Peace.

These kids are evenly split between the three Abrahamic religions that call Jerusalem home: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, and even within those categories there’s remarkable diversity: Palestinian, Israeli, European, Arab, religious, secular, wealthy, poor, and all the seemingly endless ways each of those identifiers can mix and match and combine to form fascinatingly different but uniformly adorable and engaging children.

All of that plus the occasional language barrier means there’s still some awkwardness and clumping. The social circles that form organically when the kids sit down on the pavement for lunch aren’t exactly fully inclusive – and if you’re watching closely you’ll notice that “random selection” when picking teams for baseball often leaves the sides suspiciously unbalanced.

But you can’t expect 6th-graders not to *cheat* a little bit to be on the same team as their friends. And – in true 6th-grade fashion – these self-selected teams and lunch groups were divided by gender far more often than by anything else. (Especially considering that, without the occasional hijab or crucifix-necklace or kippah, the non-gender based differences can be a lot harder to spot.)

At this point, when the kids are still wearing nametags, when they’re still struggling to find the best, most comfortable ways to communicate somewhere in the chaotic mix of Hebrew, Arabic, and English – it’s hard to imagine that these kids really know what is in store for them.BNC_5286

Sixth grade means 11 or 12 years old. They’re teetering on the edge of the “kid world” that dominates in elementary school, beginning to drift dangerously into the emotional, socially-stratified world that follows, populated by preteens and adolescence.

As if middle school wasn’t enough, these kids have the troubled world around them to contend with as well. They haven’t necessarily fully come to terms yet with what the Israeli-Palestinian context will do to shape their lives, and they surely have no idea what the next six years in Kids4Peace might mean for them.

There will be powerful friendships, challenging emotions, painful dialogues, and difficult but ultimately worthwhile coexistence – and who knows what else. But for now there is play.

BNC_5776One of the four stations of the day is for assorted silly games, especially ones that require a lot of running. Tug-of-war is a big hit, although it leaves some guys a little shamed and disappointed. (The girls crush them every chance they get, while the boys sit idly by and wait for growth spurts.)

At another station the kids learn the traditional Kids4Peace cheers, shouting their way through them alternately in English, Arabic, and Hebrew. As the years continue, this cheer will become more and more significant and unavoidably loaded with emotion and energy of one kind or another – but for now it seems like little more than a mildly amusing chore. One boy laughs as he helps lead another round through the chant, but then wraps his arm around his buddy and remarks loudly, “I’m not having fun!”

BNC_5344Only an hour later, however, the boy is running bases in his first experience of Baseball. “This is the best game ever!” he exclaims to no one in particular as he lands on second.

The last two stations are thus reserved for Baseball and Lacrosse – two pure American imports that produce some funny looks on kids’ faces, sometimes amused, sometimes frustrated, sometimes just confused. But there is no “This is stupid,” or “I don’t get it.” They dive in, joyfully and eagerly getting into something new. They do some quick training as the volunteers from the Baseball and Lacrosse organizations show them the basic skills and rules, and the game is on.

The newness of the sports means no child is an expert. Even if they’ve seen it on TV before, most kids have probably never swung a bat. Everyone feels a bit silly, and maybe the slightest bit uncomfortable as they get used to swinging this weird Lacrosse stick around – but they’re learning together, and that’s what this is all about.

“Everywhere we go (echo)

People want to know (echo)

Who we are (echo)

So we tell them (echo)

We are Kids4Peace

Mighty Mighty Kids4Peace

Tired of the fighting

Time to do the right thing

We can do it better

We can live together

Shalom Salaam

Salaam Shalom

Kids! 4! Peace!”

The Power of Hope: Kids4Peace International 2014 Annual Report

“Together, we are walking a new path — where religions cooperate for the common good, where children grow up with trust and respect for those who are different, where nonviolence is the way to justice”

#TogetherPeaceIsPossible

Alex | “A rational and compassionate answer”

Alex Pic UseAlex Milkie has always had connections to the Middle East. His family originally came from the Middle East, modern day Syria and Lebenon. Though he was raised  in the United States by a Catholic mother and an Orthodox Christian father, Alex explained that “no one spoke Arabic but we had a strong Arabic tradition in my household.”

Further, he studied Arabic and Middle Eastern Languages and Culture in college and worked in graduate school at the University of Chicago on Modern Middle East History and Politics. Though heavily involved in Middle Eastern affairs, Alex stated to me that he “always had a lot of frustration and anger about things in the Middle East and it was generally put against the backdrop of us and them. Us being Arabs and them being Jews or Israelis. I didn’t even bother separating Jews from Israelis or Israelis from Zionists. My frustrations mounted and ended up coming out in unproductive ways.”

Alex was introduced to Kids4Peace through Pastor Hunt at Emmanuel Episcopal Church. “Kids4Peace was what I’d been looking for, for quite some time, a rational and compassionate answer.” I asked about how Kids4Peace was making a difference and Alex acknowledged the importance of this grassroots movement.

“Answers have to come from the ground up. It cannot come from politicians; it has to be the people. One of the great things about Kids4Peace is that it is heartwarming to realize that you are not alone in what you are doing and how you feel.”

I asked Alex what had impressed him or perhaps been surprising in his interactions with the kids. He said that he had expected that they would interact and have excellent thoughts on peace however; he was surprised by something else.

“I was mostly impressed by just how talented so many of them were. There was an Israeli girl who could sing very well and a young Palestinian boy who spoke Hebrew, English and Arabic fluently. It was really incredible watching these kids. My Middle Eastern background held preconceived notions about what a Jerusalemite is like but the kids proved otherwise.”

Alex is currently on the steering committee for Kids4Peace Seattle and helps substantially with fundraising efforts. Part of what Alex sees for the future for Seattle is for it to become more of a regional hub. He described to me some trouble with bringing newly arrived Muslim families into the Kids4Peace community and how wonderful it would be to “see Seattle have branch camps all around western Washington into Oregon to drum up support at a more regional level.”

May 3: Fundraiser with the Tall Granite Big Band

Kids4Peace NH Fundraiser Featuring the Tall Granite Big Band

TGBB Pitmans2-2015Sunday, May 3, 3pm

South Congregational Church, Concord
(27 Pleasant St / Concord, NH 03301)

$15 suggested donation

On Sunday, May 3 at 3 pm, at Concord’s South Congregational Church, the 18-member Tall Granite Big Band will perform a fundraiser Swing jazz concert benefiting Kids4Peace New Hampshire. We will be accepting $ 15 donations at the door.

Contact either the Rev. Dick Dutton (rdutton@tds.net, 603/526-4541) or Rabbi Robin Nafshi for more details.

April 26: Gershon Baskin speaks in Portsmouth on “The Chances for Israeli/Palestinian Peace”

The Chances for Israeli/Palestinian Peace Post Israeli Election

Sunday, April 26, 5pm at 319 Vaughan St, Portsmouth, NH
Admission: Free, however, please register if you plan to attend.


Register here: http://www.3sarts.org/performances/performance/Israeli-Palestinian-Peace-Discussion-w–Dr.-Gershon-Baskin?performanceid=960

Baskin

On Sunday, April 26 at 5 p.m., Dr. Gershon Baskin, renowned peace activist, journalist and author, will be speaking at an event co-presented by 3S Artspaces, The World Affairs Council of New Hampshire, and Kids4Peace, an organization that brings together youth from Israel/Palestine and the United States with the goal of building bridges among Muslims, Jews and Christians.

Dr Baskin has been actively involved in the peace movement for many years and is currently a member of the Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGO Forum. He has written widely on the peace process and has won a number of international awards for his efforts. Dr Baskin has been a columnist for the The Jerusalem Post since 2005 and continues to travel tirelessly to promote peace in the region. He was personally responsible for the successful negotiations with Hamas that led to the release of the Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit.

In his talk at 3S, Dr Baskin will explore the question of whether a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis is still possible in light of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent re-election. He will also discuss Palestinian international diplomatic strategy and international pressures facing Israel. In addition, he will address US/Israeli relations and the role of American Jewry both in US and Israeli politics.       Dr. Baskin’s speech will be followed by a Q& session.

Arrive at 4:30 and meet representatives of Kids4Peace. 

Roots: Strengthening Group Identity through Social Change

  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.

Facing walls, facing barriers: Going beyond “everyday” Jerusalem 

by Dandan, K4P Intern

“If you open your google maps, you will see that we are crossing a dotted line. There’s no sign, but we have crossed the green line and are now in the West Bank,” said Yaniv, an Israeli tour guide who led the 9th grade K4P excursion into West & East Jerusalem on Friday, March 27. “Why do you think there is no sign?”

Ir Amim, which means “City of Nations,” is an Israeli organization which seeks to expose the public to the historical and present day realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with a specific emphasis on Jerusalem. This time, it provided a special tour for the K4P Leadership group, not afraid to address the political situations or divided landscapes of the city. Up front, Yaniv invited students to ask questions and voice their views, even if they disagreed.

DSC_1088Before boarding the bus, everyone received a map of the greater Jerusalem area, with lines and shaded areas of various colors. Included in this geographical depiction were boundaries reflecting shifting land designations throughout history, such as those that denoted West Jerusalem, the West Bank, and municipal jurisdiction. The shaded areas marked present-day Israeli and Arab neighborhoods, along with Israeli built-ups planned for the future.

On this map was a blue spot for Gilo, an Israeli neighborhood located south of West Jerusalem that many Israelis do not realize is a settlement over the green line. This was the first stop of the tour, where Yaniv presented a brief account of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict beginning from the 1948 war. He disclosed: “I learned about this when I was 25 years old, more or less, about what happened in the 1948 war to the Palestinians, after I had served in the Israeli military for three years.” 

This disclosure led him to touch upon why the students were there: “It’s important we try to understand Jerusalem beyond the tourist perspective. Most of us don’t get out of our comfort zones. We live in one neighborhood, go to the same school, shops, restaurants, and parks…We are here to discuss Jerusalem as a core issue of the conflict.” DSC_1106

From Gilo, the tour winded north through East Jerusalem’s Har Homa (Jewish), Sur Bahar (Arab), East Talpiyot (Jewish), Jabal Makabber (Arab), Mt Scopus (mixed), and the Pisgat Ze’ev area (mixed). Often the bus would wind along a road with a Jewish neighborhood on one side and an Arab neighborhood on the other. Yaniv encouraged the students to notice the physical differences and feel between the neighborhoods. He also led students to think critically about the positioning of the walls.

“Why do you think the Israeli government would want to build a wall in between Abu Dis and Ras Al Amud?” he asked, as he pointed to the concrete vertical shafts separating these two arab neighborhoods while the group stood on a promenade overlooking the Kidron Valley down below. Besides focusing on physical separations, he also addressed a wide range of socio-economic realities. Some of these included: differences in rights as an Israeli citizen versus resident, the effects of the wall on poverty distribution, and implications of current developments on the two-state solution.

Enriching Yaniv’s tour were the commentaries of the K4P advisors who lived during the times of conflict before the students were born. Bahia, a Palestinian Muslim faith advisor, offered her narrative on what it was like living during the second intifada:

DSC_1093“For me it was so hard. We were completely disconnected from the Palestinian West Bank and from Israeli West Jerusalem, so it was dangerous to go to the West Bank and to Hebron. The road was blocked with piles of stones. It was impossible to get from place to place. The military was blocking everywhere. The intifada was throwing stones, so we also might be hit by them because we had an Israeli ID and license plate on the car.

Many times the Israelis busted into my home. One night, my brothers were inside and I have 6 brothers. We were all sleeping when they came. One of them [Israeli soldiers] got the others and said, “Oh, there’s a bunch of kids here. Come, come, come over.” It was terrible. It was not even easy to move in East Jerusalem. You would be arrested and accused even if you don’t do anything. Most of my brothers and family members suffered from this, even if they didn’t have anything to do with politics. Before Oslo, it was safer, it was better. After Oslo came, it was a disaster. Everything was destroyed.” 

For a few students, it was their first time venturing forth into these areas and getting a feel for their realities. However, for some, they’ve heard about these threads before. Yasser, a Muslim student, would learn about these realities through his father on their visits to Ramallah and Bethlehem. Eyal, a Jewish student, chose to take a class on the conflict at his school.

As in-depth as his tour was, Yaniv encouraged the students to take a closer look at the places and situations they see everyday.

   

What if Trading Cards Could Change the World?

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How can we take the message of Kids4Peace and bring it to a larger audience? How can games and competition be used to build empathy? Can trading cards really change the world?

On March 22, the youth of Kids4Peace Seattle thought about all of these questions and more. For our monthly meeting, we partnered with Victoria Moreland, a graduate student in the Organization Systems Renewal Program at Pinchot University, who led us in a design thinking exercise to develop a set of trading cards (like baseball cards, or Magic: The Gathering) that would capture some of the work we do in Kids4Peace.


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Over the course of the afternoon, we reflected on the definition of empathy, and then spent time brainstorming different ways that messages of empathy and compassion could be transmitted through the use of trading cards.

We split up into four groups and spent about half an hour building a prototype deck of cards. Once the prototypes were complete, we rotated through the different groups, seeing how the cards would be used in real life. We also gave and received feedback to improve each set of cards. Here are the four ideas our youth developed:

  • A set of cards, each of which has a compassionate action that an individual can take (e.g. “Sit next to someone at lunch who is sitting by himself/herself.”) Once you have completed the action, you would pass on the card to someone else and encourage him or her to take the same action.
  • A set of cards, each of which has an image of a person who is feeling a certain emotion (e.g. Hannah the Happy, Aaron the Angry, Samir the Sad), together with words that help to describe that emotion. In a group, each individual would pick a card that describes an emotion they are currently feeling, and then would describe why they are feeling that way. The rest of the group can then provide an empathic response.
  • A game similar to Apples to Apples, where each player is dealt a set of “Feelings” cards. Then, one player draws an “Expressions” card that shows a face expressing a certain emotion. Each player puts down the Feelings card they think most closely matches the facial expression. The player who drew the Expressions card judges which feeling best matches the face.
  • A Choose Your Own Adventure-style of game, in which participants are presented with a scenario and then face a series of choices of actions based on that scenario. Some options are more empathic than others, and those options earn more points for the player.

It was amazing what we were able to produce in just one afternoon. Our youth were excited to keep working on their games and sharing them with others, so keep an eye out for them at a Kids4Peace camp this summer! Special thanks to Victoria Moreland for leading us in this exercise.

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Filed under: Chapters, Seattle

An interview with Fr. Josh Thomas

by Michal Ner-David, Jewish Advisor, Jerusalem

The past year in Israel, but especially in Jerusalem, has been horrifying. First there was the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish young men on their way home from school, then Operation “Protective Edge”, then the murder of an Arab teenager by a Jewish gang, and then an unleashing of racism and violence–sometimes deadly–coming from both sides that included an the attack on a synagogue in Har-Nof, Jerusalem. At times I ask myself why I am still living here. And then I think of  People like Pastor Josh Thomas.

Josh is the executive director of Kids4Peace. I met Josh when I was about 15 when I was volunteering at a summer camp with Kids4Peace. After being a camper in 2004, when I was ten years old, I decided to come back as a shepherd  (counselor). Josh has been an inspiration to me since that summer. I now work for Kids4Peace and am a “Jewish Faith Advisor” for the “Leap” group, which is made up of kids in seventh grade, participating in the second year programming of Kids4Peace. This year we have about 50 kids participating, a nearly 100% continuation of the kids from the year before. The Kids4Peace community has grown to 1,800 participants, staff members and volunteers. True to their commitment to “faith in peace,” Kids4Peace children and staff demonstrate great courage in the midst of conflict – refusing to be enemies, choosing to be friends. If anyone can bring peace to the world it is people involved in projects like this one.

My interview with Josh was scheduled for 6pm Jerusalem time. I sat at my computer for a few minutes before Skyping him. I saw a post on FaceBook about a recent attack in Jerusalem, I decided to add a question to my list. Dealing with Jerusalem and peace right now is like playing with fire. So, why focus your work on Jerusalem?  I then proceeded to call Josh on Skype.

“The situation here is all very upsetting, What motivates you to keep going?” I asked.

His answer is a good example of why I find him inspiring: “I realized that we are Creating a community. We are Motivating people to set an example of social change”, he says. “That is what keeps me going. Nowhere else do I know of a place where people of such different religious and political beliefs can come together”.

“Peacemaking and peacebuilding are not foreign concepts to me. I grew up in an environment where this was always talked about. But you didn’t grow up with it. So what inspires you to become apart of this movement of social change?” I asked him.

Josh grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, once a coal mining town, in a Congregationalist Christian community that he describes as “a very conservative, very small town, and therefore a very small world.”  In college he started creating a more critical approach to life than the one he had growing up in a small town.  A professor he worked with was going to work in Bosnia to study the impact of war and violence on the kids in Bosnia growing up after the conflict in the 90’s. He went with him, and this was a life-altering experience. “I was really struck by the way religion and violence were intertwined in Bosnia.  I started asking BIGGER questions”.|

“So when did you become an Episcopalian Christian?” I ask.

I was drawn into the Episcopal Church in college, a community of spiritual seekers who were very accepting and in search of an accepting community.”

“And how did all these things–social change and the Church–come together?” I ask.

Bosnia made me think about how I could reform religions from the inside, to seek change. To bring the voice of peace. I then stayed in college for two extra years as the campus Chaplain. Everything started coming together.

After college Josh went to Seminary and only then was truly exposed to the world of interfaith. Josh went to Seminary in NYC across the street from a Jewish Seminary (JTS – Jewish Theological  Seminary), where they sometimes studied together. He also took classes on Zen meditation. Josh went through his studies with the following question in mind: “How does one do religious education in a multi-faith world?” He says he felt he had “an opportunity to be a person of influence from within a religious tradition.”

Josh does not work with a localized congregation in his pastoral work. “My congregation is spread around ten different time zones, three religions, three languages, and many cultures. I feel like I am the Pastor of Kids4Peace.”

I feel that way too. This past summer Josh came to visit us at camp for a few days and I stayed up with him until late at night discussing all sorts of faith based issues both in Kids4Peace and my personal life. Not only do I see Josh as the spiritual leader of Kids4Peace, but he is definitely one of my personal spiritual guides as well.

What I love about Kids4Peace is that we are not asking people to give up their faiths to work towards peace; rather, we want them to work on peace together. “Bringing together peoples’ hopes and dreams with the practicality of their own religion. This is definitely a main goal of ours at Kids4Peace,” Josh explained to me.

Sometimes in living in a country where reading the news and hearing about a faith, or cultural based violent attack becomes a “normal” thing, you begin to ask questions, Have we made an influence? Have we made a change?

I asked Josh what he thinks about this. He answered: “Visiting Jerusalem after a summer of violence and seeing the community grow, and seeing that power…. In Buddhism they talk about the  power of the Thanga, an energy that comes from the community. Our Thanga is cookin’.  We are the largest and most diverse interfaith youth organization in Jerusalem. We are growing. We are shifting the norm. We are used to growing up apart. Let’s grow up alongside each other. We are on the verge of something very exciting!”

Why religion?” I wonder aloud. “It is so messy, and causes so much trouble.”

Josh then surprises me with a quote not from the New Testament or the Gospels, but from my very own Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Religion’s task is to cultivate disgust for violence and lies, sensitivity to other people’s suffering and the love of peace”.  

He continued: “Peace remains a theological vision of the way the world is supposed to be–according to Christianity. It is the gift that Jesus gives to the people. He wants them to believe that it is something that is present. Kids4Peace’s responsibility is to keep peace ALIVE! Peace is one of the names of God in Islam; we want to bring to life those places where the way the world should be enters the world as it is.”

Coming back to the subject of Jerusalem, I asked, “But isn’t dealing with Jerusalem and peace right now like playing with fire?”

“It is playing with fire,” he says. “The idea of Kids4Peace was born in Jerusalem. It came at a time of violence. It is important to keep it somewhere that the people can actually meet face to face. And it is a city that draws on all three faiths from around the world.”

And finally my last question, the one I have been waiting to ask him. “What is your best tip for a beginning peace activist like myself?”

“Our religions are different. If we want to get beyond ”Kumbaya” and “Hummus”, we  have to understand that we are stepping into the world of radical differences. We have to think hard about what we are willing to sacrifice. What are we willing to compromise? At the end of the day, we may not have the same concerns but we just have to — DIVE IN!
The Kids4Peace methodology has always been–friendships first, conflict next. If I know I love this person, how do I hold the love together with the other things? My beliefs? My religion? If we can do that well, then we have succeeded!”

I want to thank Josh for inspiring me and opening so many doors in the world of social change. I believe, like Josh, that slowly we are on the path to success.

Michal, Jewish Israeli Counselor (Left) with her co-advisor, Monatser, a muslim Palestinian (center), and Fr. Josh Thomas, Executive director of Kids4Peace

We stood Together. And that has made all the difference.

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We Are Thankful

This Year, Kids4Peace faced a world of violence and fear.

But we faced it together.

Over and over again, Kids4Peace came together when it seemed impossible.

At Ramadan iftar during the Gaza fighting.
At a demonstration for peace on the streets of Jerusalem.

We stood together. You stood with us.

With more than 100 youth at camps this summer – no cancellations.
With courageous parents who set their children on a path of peace.
With young leaders ready to move from dialogue to action.

You stood with us.
And it has made all the difference.

For the courage and strength to continue, we say thanks.

Shukran and Todah,
From all of us at Kids4Peace

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Light in the Midst of Dark Times by Rebecca

The Jerusalem “Bridge of Strings” that was inaugurated in June 2008 greets every visitor that enters into Jerusalem. The huge bridge has forever changed the Jerusalem skyline, as it can be seen from many places in the city.

The bridge was created to carry the Jerusalem light rail that has recently been both a target and a source of conflict .There was much criticism of the bridge due both to the high cost of construction,  70 million dollars, and the way in which it has distributed the skyline of the city.

As I re-entered into Jerusalem last night after spending a weekend/shabbat/seminar with Kids4Peace the majority of the florescent lights on the bridge we burnt out, leaving only a few of lights on to light up the bridge and the city. And even these lights that remained lit were dirty from the pollution of the city and the lack of maintenance. As I drove into the city, I was still decompressing the amazing and incredible Kids4Peace Jerusalem seminar where 101 of us, Palestinians and Israelis, Christian, Muslim and Jews had spent the weekend together. The seminar brought 7th, 8th and 10th grade youth together, the largest seminar that we had ever had, and even during these very difficult times in Jerusalem, we still pulled through and continued to build community in the midst of the conflict.

And then I realized, we, Kids4Peace Jerusalem, were the few lights left on this “Bridge of Strings”, we are trying to spread light and hope during these hard and violent times. The bridge to me is Jerusalem and slowly the lights are beginning to burn out, the lights are those of us left. The lights are the WE that believe in co-existence and peace, the WE that believe that we can share this city in peace.

I could continue to blog and bring you some incredible quotes from the youth and the team, to give you details of how we balanced and observed the Shabbat for our religious Jewish youth and still tried to provide a platform that would allow equality for all of our members but often actions speak louder than words and symbols can stay with you forever.

As Christmas and Hanukah, both holidays of light are rapidly approaching, I ask you to remember us, Kids4Peace Jerusalem the few lights left on the bridge. Help us re-kindle the other lights on this Jerusalem Bridge.

In peace,

Rebecca

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Vermont Kids4Peace Gala!

together picVermont held its first Kids4Peace Gala on November 9th at Shelburne Farm’s historic Coach Barn.  One hundred Vermont & New Hampshire campers, families, community members, staff, and camper alumni came together for a reunion, fund-raiser and celebration of peace-making.

Rabbi Joshua Chasan and Bishop Thomas Ely reflected on the first year of Kids4PeaceVermont in 2007.  Camper/Counselor Noa Urbaitel and K4P parents Roberta Nubile, Elizabeth Berger, and Naomi Barell spoke about the positive impact that Kids4Peace has had on their lives.  Then our special guests, Yakir Englander, Montaser Amro and Fr. Josh Thomas, inspired us with stories of hope and acceptance.

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Rabbi Joshua Chasan

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Bishop Tom Ely

Lisa Speaks k4p fundraiser

Since our New Hampshire/Vermont chapters will be starting a new year-round program, our small staff is seeking assistance for this growth.  There are opportunities for community members to become a Friend and/or an Ambassador.
Friends will volunteer time and talent to assist with year-round youth activities, service projects, photography & video, mailings & administrative tasks, media & public relations, special events, etc.

Ambassadors will be trained to become spokes-people for Kids4Peace to help with camper recruitment, presentations to community groups, faith communities and spreading the message of peace.

(If you are reading this, please consider signing up at www.kids4peace.org/vermont.  We need your energy! The choice of activities and level of commitment will be up to you.)

Surrounded by colorful posters & banners, delicious refreshments, and live music, the campers and staff shared hugs and group photos, rejoicing in the special community that brings us together in our mission of peace.

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Past & Present Kids4Peace Kids

The evening ended later with Vice President of Kids4Peace International giving a talk at the University of Vermont for students and staff.

 

Photo Credit: Kelley Gage

A Very Special Thank You, from Montaser

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by Montaser Amro

My name is Montaser Mohammad Mousa Khalil Suliman Mohammad Abdulrahman Mohammad Amro, but you can call me Mono. Recently, however, since returning to America, many people have had troubles with Mono, so I’m considering making it even simpler- Mike. Maybe even M. My story and the reason WHY I’m here, however, is not simple.

See, I’ve been an advocate for peace for almost ten years, and I believe that not only does peace come from within, but I believe that we can create change. I was born in Bethlehem, Palestine on February 20, 1991 to Mohammad and Lamia Amro. My parents expected the best from me. This caused me to excel academically from a young age. When I was a sophomore in high school, I was selected to be an international foreign exchange student. I was elated because I was going to finally see the America that had starred in all of my favorite movies. But where was I going? Would I be heading to the city that never sleeps, New York? Or maybe I could spend my academic year in the Windy City- Chicago, Illinois. Maybe I could create memories that could only stay in the city of Las Vegas! I eagerly awaited the announcement of where my cultural learning would take place in the states. However, my excitement came to a screeching halt when I read the name of a state I had never heard of before- Alabama. Little did I know, Alabama was the epitome of racial oppression, even in present day. My work was definitely cut out for me.

I arrived in the fall of 2006 and quickly realized that I could not live in this state for long. After several terrible living situations, I knew I had find a new host in Alabama or just return to Palestine and go back to the life I knew. The only person’s number I had in my phone was a guy I didn’t like each other very much, but I knew that he was a loyal guy. Corey ended up letting me move into his house, and even became my legal guardian while in the states! This experience dramatically changed my life, as well as my perception and tolerance of others, mainly because Corey and I hated each other in the beginning. After moving in, we spent many nights comparing Islam to Christianity, talking about racism and music. However, our deepest conversations stemmed around a subject that we both were passionate about- food. He soon started referring to me as his brother and showed me that not all Americans are the same.

Saying goodbye at the summer of 2007 was not an easy thing to do, even when just a few months prior, I was begging to go back home. I realized during my visit that no two people are alike. However, it didn’t stop at someone’s nationality, it also extended to their religious beliefs. Famous, influential musician John Lennon said it best when he said, “I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.”

These spiritual leaders had many messages, verses and direction. However, every word ever spoken by them was deeply rooted by one simple message- love. It was also John Lennon that helped coin the phrase “all you need is love.” This message is so simple, yet so influential. All you need is love. The world does not need us. The world does not need the Bible, the Quran or any other religious text. Because that’s all it is- text. It is a tangible thing. However, love is intangible. It can not be physically touched, but can be felt. Love does not have an image, but can be seen. It can not make a noise, but can be heard. Love is the most complex, confusing, terrifying yet gorgeous and fascinating thing that will be a part of this Earth for eternity…as long as we let it.

After returning back to Palestine, I pursued a degree in Civil Engineering from Palestine Polytechnic University. While I was a senior in college , I decided to set my sights on my true passion- bringing peace. I searched around for different ways to help, and stumbled across an organization called Kids 4 Peace. I immediately enrolled to become an Advisor !

People often ask me what Kids4Peace means to me. There is no simple answer to this. When you truly have a passion for something, you’re following everything with your heart- not your mind. Therefore, I can not quite put a simple answer into words. However, I reflect on my past. I think back to the days that I vowed to see Israel fall. I think back to the days that I viewed America as a corrupted country. I then think back not too long ago when my mind was changed and I realized I was wrong. I could not continue to live life generalizing every culture.

Kids 4 Peace has helped me utilize my tools to show that love can overcome anything. To quote another wise man, Master Yoda, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Kids 4 Peace taught me that love can make us brave. Love can bring joy and can end the suffering.

During the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of 2014, there were 2200 reported deaths on both sides. However, the true numbers will never be known. What can be known is that during the same year, Kids 4 Peace held a camp with over 100 campers from both conflicting sides. If each camper told 10 people of their enlightened time spent with the organization, we could reach almost half the number of the reported casualties…in one year. Amazing. The organization is still young, and so is my role within it. However, I plan on being an integral part of this organization for however long they allow me. I feel my purpose on this Earth is to make change and bring peace. Change starts young, with kids. I can bring change with Kids 4 Peace.

I would love to thank the organization for helping me come back to where I now call home- America. I would also like to thank them for allowing me the oppurtunity to create the change that my heart aches for every day. Many people walk through life wondering what purpose does their life have. I’m privileged to not only know what my purpose is, but be able to fulfill it. I would not be able to do this without the help of Kids 4 Peace, their staff and especially their donors. No matter the amount of resource you donate to us, we would not be able to do anything without your help. We are the vehicle driving peace, but our donors are the drivers, and for that, we are forever indebted to you for your selfless contributions. We are nothing without you. Thank you.

Naomi reflects; “We listened to the youth to build a program that met their needs.”

by Naomi Rouach, former Co-Director of Education

Naomi joined Kids4Peace in 2006 as a Jewish Advisor and since then, together with Reeham Subhi, she founded Leap, Roots, Leadership, and Counselors in Training programs in Kids4Peace. Naomi studied Judaism and Christianity at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and has a teaching certificate from Kerem. Naomi completed the Seeds of Peace advanced facilitation course, which helped prepare her for her most recent position as co-director of education. Naomi recently stepped down from her role in Kids4Peace as she, her husband and daughter Natalie Sarah recently moved to the Big Apple– New York City. Kids4Peace will miss having Naomi on staff, but knows that she and her family are part of our community forever!

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“There are few places I can call home. Kids4Peace is has been one of the few for over seven years. I joined Kids4Peace while studying religion and education at Hebrew University in 2005. I was ambivalent to join the program because I had no experience and intercultural work and well, I was distrustful and afraid of Arabs.

When Yakir Englander first asked me to join as an advisor I told him “no”. I don’t like to be persuaded to do things, but months later when he still had not found a suitable volunteer Yakir was able to convince me to join. To my surprise, I immediately fell in love with Kids4Peace.

The children melted away all my preconceptions. Their energetic and hopeful spirits rubbed off on me. As fall neared and summer faded away it was unfathomable to me that the youths’ new friendships would fade away too. That year we began our continuation programs. Very informal at first, we met for pizza or a movie at my parent’s house and at youth’s homes. We went on our first seminar to Ein Gedi.

The following year I met Reeham and we immediately became good friends and colleagues. We planned the second Kids4Peace seminar that took place at Givat Haviva. Over the next few years, together we built the Leap, Roots, Leadership and Counselor in Training Program. Dedicated to the program, inspired by the youth, we listened to the youth and tried our best to build a program that met their needs.

I went on and studied facilitation so we could make more out of the youth dialogue sessions. I still remember the fear I felt the first time we truly enabled the youth to talk about the “situation”. The youth had voiced that it was important to them to share their experiences and opinions with one another. As educators, Reeham and I felt that it was imperative to offer the youth an opportunity to hear the voice of the other and allowed all the youth to be heard. Still, we feared the repercussions. What would parents think? Up until then we had only spoken about religion, and dealt with the conflict on a very basic level. What would outsiders think? Would they label us as a political organization just for allowing voices to be heard. Would the youth be able to hear one another? Would it break up the group? Would we be able to handle whatever came up?

Acknowledging our fears and concerns and with the support of the Kids4peace team, we decided to take a leap forward and I believe it is one of the best decisions Kids4Peace ever made. I am proud to have been part of this growth.

Today, in Kids4Peace, we have youth dedicated to peace, not out of naiveté but out of an understanding that there is room in Jerusalem, in Israel and Palestine for different voices to be heard and that we can live together, with our differences. While I officially leave my position at Kids4Peace this week, it is only a technicality. Kids4Peace is in my heart, is my home and I take my home with me wherever I go.”

 DSCN1788ogj8389epMtKwqCEn4jRr40HRqlAoywRIS7XOoP6CIY 315391_10151050136361703_937209051_n   10377078_10154317035190434_6839337099533503270_nThank you Naomi! We miss you already an look forward to your return!

Hannah | “A symbol and sign of peace worldwide”

SONY DSC Hannah Hochkeppel is an enthusiastic Kids4Peace leader who is originally from Virginia. She grew up as a Christian Baptist, however in college, Hannah became a Catholic and went on to study Pastoral Studies in graduate school at Seattle University. She is currently a children’s minister at a Catholic Church in the Seattle area.

I got a chance to sit down with Hannah to discuss her Kids4Peace experience thus far. She got involved with Kids4Peace through being a graduate assistant for a Rabbi on the Kids4Peace board. She describes the way things fell into place as “Kids4Peace magic.”

Hannah got involved with Kids4Peace just in time for preparation for Seattle’s first summer camp experience. She related to me that having a new camp meant freedom to break boundaries. They were able to take information from past camps and play on new ideas. Hannah describes the camp experience as being just as she expected.

“In the first few days the kids tended to stick to their own groups. The first few days are somewhat awkward. By the middle of the week however, the kids were interacting and playing all together.”

The new camp however came with inevitable difficulties as a result of the different cultural groups within the camp attendees.

“A lot of disputes came from language barriers and cultural barriers.”

“Often times the immediate reaction is to become offensive and standoffish when someone else does not understand you or your culture and that was a major challenge. We ended up spending a lot of time on getting the kids to work out and learn how to communicate.”

Hannah gave me an example of two boys at camp that seemed unable to get along for the entire duration of the camp. When the boys were sat down together to talk out their differences, one was upset because the other picked on him and called him names. The other boy then said the only reason he did that was that he had not been allowed to sit with them at lunch the first day. In the end, it was a misunderstanding, which could have been solved if the boys had been able to communicate better. This may be one of the challenges for Kids4Peace in going forward is making sure to take into account cultural differences and learning how to communicate with language barriers.

Despite language and cultural barriers, kids4Peace still hopes for a world of peace and though peace is hard to define, I asked Hannah to give me her own definition:Hannah Pic 2

“I define peace with the idea that you don’t necessarily understand everything about someone, but that you take the time to talk things out before you decide not to like them. A lot of times people jump to conclusions about people they don’t really know about and Kids4Peace is making a change away from that.”

I also asked Hannah to give me her thoughts on the future of both Kids4Peace as a whole and the new Seattle Chapter.

“At Kids4Peace each day is like a week. It is so long and so much happens at one time. You are completely drained emotionally and spiritually but we hope to take the ideas from camp to the real world. Kids4Peace is becoming a brand name in a sense that people know what you’re talking about. As long as that continues, I hope that it becomes a symbol and sign of peace worldwide. Seattle specifically will be focusing on relationships from camp but also we are going to be focusing on food justice.”

This new program for the Seattle program will focus on helping local people gain better understand of and access to food facts, nutritional information and produce.  It is the hope of the entire Kis4Peace organization that the Seattle program and others continue to grow and develop ways to find peace worldwide.

Hannah Pic 3

Filed under: Blog, People, Seattle, Staff

Kate | “We can learn from our children”

Kate Pic 1Kate Atkinson was brought up in the Episcopal Church with her time divided between England and Connecticut and is now an Episcopal Priest at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Kate described to me a childhood where her family regularly hosted students from other countries.

 “I grew up knowing people of different countries, nationalities and religions. It was a natural part of my life to include different people. We didn’t view it as strange or unusual, it was just a part of our lives. The idea of encouraging children to break down the barriers of ideology and nationality was very appealing to me.”

Kate got involved with Kids4Peace through her Interfaith Council and is working with the New Hampshire Chapter, who just had their first camp this past summer. The kids came to Church the first Sunday of camp and Kate described this as a “wonderful experience.”

“The kids took part in the service, did readings, read prayers and sang a beautiful son in Arabic, Hebrew and English.”

In addition to working with the summer camp, Kate is a part of the steering committee for the New Hampshire Chapter. She and others work in “galvanizing support of different people. I would raise the topic of Kis4Peace at Episcopal diesis meetings. Financial support is important but prayer support is very important also.” They also create promotional materials and assist with Honor Card donations for when people want to contribute financially in someone’s name. Further, Kate’s daughter Georgia was at the camp in New Hampshire last summer!

I asked Kate about what she thought of the organization as a whole and she responded with thoughtful words and a good story.

“What works really well is the strong desire for living together in harmony. We all are different and there are fundamental differences between us but we don’t want to change one another. We can all model peaceful behavior.”Kate Pic 2

Kate told me that while attending the Kids4Peace summit several weeks ago, the audience heard from a boy who had been a part of the Boston camp. He spoke to the group about what they learned at Kids4Peace and he said he became a more peaceful person. His mother, who was in the crowd, stood up and asked if that was why he didn’t fight with his sister so much anymore. For Kate, this story reveals a fundamental part of Kids4Peace.

“We are not just learning about global peace but learning about individual peace. How we deal with one another on a human and individual level.”

I further asked Kate about what she would like to see for the future. She expressed that she would love to see the New Hampshire chapter moving forward to continue to offer a successful camp every summer and establishing more year round programming so that kids can take what they learned a few steps further, keep relationships alive and keep growing together. She also voiced that she would like to take Kids4Peace kids to Jerusalem.

“It is important to see the place that features so strongly in conversations and peacemaking exercises and it is important for young people to know more than just their corner of the world. The moment we step out of what’s familiar, we become more committed to making a difference.”

Kate also shared thoughts on what aspects of Kids4Peace are so important and why it is really making a difference.

“The most important thing that I have learned is that we can learn from our children. Since the entire camp came to visit St. Paul’s, we have had campers visit and they visit other places as well. Everywhere they go, they are helping to make a difference. Children can teach adults, adults can learn from children and sometimes that’s the way it has to be. In bringing peace to the world, that is a very important thing to remember, that our children have something to teach us.”

Filed under: Blog, New Hampshire, People, Staff

Dick | A bridge builder

Dick Dutton is currently co-chair of the New Hampshire/ Vermont Chapter of Kids4Peace with Rabbi Robin Nafshi, and as a part of this role he “gets people, organizations and communities together” in the cause for peace. Though the New Hampshire Kids4Peace is brand new, Dick’s personal experience with peacebuilding is extensive and frankly, impressive.

Dick started off our conversation by describing himself as having “always been a bridge builder.” He grew up in New York State and St. Louis, Missouri and his father was a Baptist Minister who had people from different ethnicities, religions and cultures in their home all the time. Thus, Dick “grew up with excitement about the rest of the world” and told me that his room was filled with maps on the ceiling and walls.Richard Pic

After receiving an undergraduate degree from Baylor University in Texas, Dick went to a then very progressive Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. He described to me always having “imagination to bring together people of different cultures.” At his first church in Virginia during the American civil rights movement, he encouraged black and white dialogue and was almost kicked out. Captured by his vision for peace, Dick was gradually able to understand the sentiments against him and his cause at the time.

Dick’s quest for peace did not end there however. He moved up the east coast from Baltimore to New York State and eventually New England and created local interfaith groups with Jews, Christians and even Buddhists. Building bridges all along the way, Dick worked with a local Catholic Priest in New England to bring twelve kids from Ireland, some Catholic and some Protestant, to the US to interact with American children in a ten day camp much like Kids4Peace.

Two years ago, Dick became involved in Kids4Peace and helped most recently with the first New Hampshire camp this summer, which he described as a “thrilling success.” I asked him to give me his thoughts on Kids4Peace as a whole.

“They had such a good time playing but every morning had serious discussion where they broke into groups and talked about conflict resolution. Everyone was able to get involved and participate in discussion. We would like to think that this isn’t a ten day thing. All the kids have made a commitment to spend some of the next year doing social service with different groups. Kids are continuing to talk to their peers and their parents and having on going conversations about some ways that they avoided conflict, negotiated and conversed with each other at camp.”

Dick further described his favorite experience from last year’s camp as being the Abrahamic Tent. A show put on by the kids on the last night of camp to show case and parody  the different religions. He describes one funny scene of two kids dressed up as Jesus and John the Baptist where John baptizes Jesus and they come out of the water to take a selfie. Another scene however struck to the heart of the matter. The scene depicted children in sheets symbolizing Muslims making the pilgrimage to Mecca. For Dick this showed an important truth. “I realized that all the religions are on a journey and are in transition. No one has arrived yet.” Overall Dick said the first camp experience was for everyone a helpful one.

“Now people are aware of Kids4Peace and the camping program so this second time around we will learn from the last time, improving and building on what happened last year and making it even better next year.”

Additionally Dick expressed a humble appreciation for the many people involved in the camps.

“The willingness and cooperation between those who were helping to organize this was phenomenal. The volunteers who helped out with meals, transportation and those, who did 100 tasks, all the volunteers were just fantastic and so willing to give time to do this. A tent or booth was present at two multi-cultural festivals and we had volunteers for that. So the volunteers at all levels were just spectacular. And then the Director, the Faith Leaders, the counselors, other adults, parents and the Kids, the Kids…we had a real family, and all were committed to what we were doing.”

Filed under: Blog, New Hampshire, People, Staff

Montaser Amro “We plant the seed of peace”

Mono Pic 3Montaser Amro, or as his friends call him, Mono, is from the city of Hebron the southern West Bank. He related to me that he grew up surrounded by a city of mainly close minded people, not open to new ideas and often unwilling to seek peace. “My family understands and supports me in my work but sometimes if it’s pretty tough, like with the recent war, a lot of people get more emotional.”

Mono is currently a Muslim Advisor for Kids4Peace and when I asked him about his plans, he told me plain and simple:

“I feel that what I am doing right now is one of the best things I could ever do. I am trying to make change in a nation and I am going to keep working for Kids4Peace.”

He was raised in a family of educated people, studied at a United Nations school and even attended 11th grade in the United States as a foreign exchange student. He continued his schooling to receive an engineering degree however; Mono’s life course altered when he was introduced to Kids4Peace and recommended to become a Muslim Advisor.

He started the winter of 2013 and since then has been involved in two camps; one in Atlanta and one in New Hampshire. Mono was involved in bimonthly meetings with kids prior to their camps in the US, which teaches aspects of community and peace and how religion is a push towards peace. In participating with the kids, Mono had some surprises along the way.Mono Pic 1

“I had this image of how the kids would behave but it was totally different. Once they are in the camp and get involved in the activities, they start becoming like really good friends.

Some of the kids have kept working with Kids4Peace. I was shocked that some of the naughtiest kids are actually being responsible and doing good and the shy kids are interacting a lot more with others. I am hoping to see the same thing from the kids next year.”

I asked Mono to tell me some about how he saw Kids4Peace and what peace meant to him.

“At Kids4Peace, we plant the seed of peace into the kids so that when they are grownups, they will understand what it means and will work for peace. I met two leaders who were youth advisors and in the camps ten years ago and I see that the program is growing and growing. There will be a lot of grownups who can affect change. Each person talks to five or ten of their friends and will spread the ideas of peace.

Peace is the most wonderful thing that you can ever see. Seeing a lot of people from different colors, backgrounds and nationalities live as if they are from one background living together. I cannot imagine what peace is going to be, but it is going to be awesome.

Mono Pic 2

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Marathoning for Peace

K4P Northwest Regional Director Jordan Goldwarg and Sam McVeety at the finish line of the Sunriver Marathon.

K4P Northwest Regional Director Jordan Goldwarg and Sam McVeety at the finish line of the Sunriver Marathon.

 

by Jordan Goldwarg, K4P Northwest Regional Director

Earlier this summer, Sam McVeety and I were thinking of innovative ways to fundraise for Kids4Peace Seattle. We decided to indulge our love of running and train together for a marathon, raising money and awareness for K4P along the way. While doing a marathon for charity is nothing new, we added a few twists by launching an Indiegogo campaign to help us with our fundraising. In true crowdfunding fashion, we offered some fun incentives to induce donations, including things like going on a training run with us (for a $200 donation), getting a cross-country ski lesson from me ($300), or getting some rowing lessons from Sam ($500).

The campaign was a success, raising over $1700 for K4P Seattle! And the marathon was also a success: yesterday, we competed in the Sunriver Marathon near Bend, Oregon, finishing together in a time of 3 hours, 24 minutes, and 18 seconds.

While the Indiegogo campaign is finished, people who want to support this effort can still make a donation directly to Kids4Peace. And if you want to take advantage of the incentives, we’re happy to oblige! Just email me at jordan@k4p.org after you make your donation.

Filed under: Chapters, Seattle, Seattle 2014, Staff

Visiting Kids4Peace for the First Time: Truly a special place

by April, Communications Associate (K4P Seattle)
 
I knew it was true before I attended K4P camp for the first time, but now I can share with certainty that this truly is a special place.
 
I am relatively n ew to the K4P organization, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to visit the Seattle Camp for a few days.  I had no idea what a memorable few days it would be.
 
My first evening at Camp, I was welcomed with smiles and greetings from a world of people I had never met, but am now so thankful to know.  At dinner I heard the kids discuss their exciting day in Seattle, in which they had visited Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, where the Christian kids read prayers in English, Arabic, and Hebrew.  Later in the evening, the kids met with Hannah and Najla, Christian Faith Advisors, to go over thoughts and questions they had about the service.  I also heard excitement at dinner over their “surprise” visit to the Space Needle, Seattle’s most notable landmark.
 
One thing that has become abundantly clear, just in my few days at camp, is how dedicated counselors and staff are to making this experience a truly rich one for each and every Kids4Peace kid.  The dialogue sessions are an excellent example of that.  In these sessions, the kids have an opportunity to explore their feelings in a safe and supportive environment.  They are taught strategies and words to use as tools to equip them to handle the various emotions and feelings that conflict may bring into their lives.
 
Beyond these sessions, counselors and staff are attentive to the various needs of the kids throughout the day.  Since camp is a 24/7 experience for these eleven/twelve year olds, some conflict is bound to happen naturally.  It has been amazing to see how the kids are cared for and listened to throughout it all.  Kids4Peace teaches kids to be with each another and confront conflict in ways that are respectful of one another and of themselves.  I have no doubt that these kids will take these life-lessons back home with them, facing conflict with this approach.  This is the beginning of the building of peace-makers; meeting them where their own hurts and needs are, and working with them to peacefully resolve them.
 
It is also true that the kids themselves are quite remarkable.  I have been in awe of the kindness and generosity they have shown each other in their words and actions.  Even in frustrated moments, they do their best to express themselves with grace toward one another.  It is something I have learned from in my short time here, and something I expect comes from real-life experiences beyond what I may have faced as an eleven/twelve year old.
My second night at Camp, the group participated in “Movie Night.”  The chosen movie was called “Smoke Signals,” and it was about two young men who live on an Indian Reservation in Idaho.  The movie revealed themes of identity and forgiveness, both of which are very important to the K4P mission.  After the movie, the kids shared what came up for them during the film.  On the topic of forgiveness, one camper, Omar, said “You can’t be angry forever.  You have to forgive them sometimes.  What’s the benefit of being angry?”
 
These words, and many others I heard from campers, counselors, and staff, will stick with me for some time to come.  I am truly thankful for the opportunity to experience this very special time and place.
 
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Filed under: Blog, Camp, Seattle, Seattle 2014, Staff Reflections

Hope Beyond the Walls: Hamze’s speech at the US Capitol

Hamze with K4P Executive Director Fr. Josh Thomas at the Congressional Forum.

Trying to bring both sides to understand that both nations want peace and a better future for their children takes hard work.  There are accusations of betrayal  which is common against those who dare to dream and work for a shared future for both sides.

Hamze Awawdeh is a Palestinian from Dura in the West Bank, near Hebron.  This summer he is interning in Washington, D.C. with Americans for Peace Now, as part of the New Story Leadership program.  

Back home, he is an Advisor for the “Roots” (14 year-old) group of Kids4Peace Jerusalem and is active with Yala Young Leaders.  

He offered this speech during the New Story Leadership Congressional Forum at the US Capitol:


 

“When I was 3 years old, I learned that my grandfather was a Shaheed (martyr), a man who was a freedom fighter, fighting the occupation and bravely dreaming to ensure a better life for his children and grandchildren. For many years, I had to go to his yearly anniversary event where many politicians came to talk about their memories of this man. A man who I never met because the Israeli Army took his life many years before I was born. I cannot deny that I always felt proud of him. But it was frustrating to see that his dream of having a better future for me is not yet fulfilled.

Growing up in a political family, I was interested in politics in the early stages of my life. When I was 9 years old, I was nominated to represent the school in a meeting with a PLO leader.  I spoke to him about the failures of the peace process, accusing him of talking to the enemies while he was supposed to be fighting them, exactly like my grandfather and his friends did.

Being a student at Birzeit University in Ramallah, I was granted an independent life far from my family and town. I acquired the chance to think for myself and form my own opinions. On campus,  I used to meet political activists from different backgrounds. Additionally, I started learning about the other side and I decided to talk to them.

As a result, I realized the complexities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which was deeper than I thought – not just all black and white as I had in my mind. I started to discover more and more of the Palestinian reality and shape it by my own understanding.  I started to learn about the Israeli side trying to discover their story as well.

Both nations have a valid claim to this land. Both nations believe they were victims of history. Both nations are on this land to stay. Palestinians have no other land than Palestine and Israelis have no other land than Israel. Both need to find a way to coexist.  The circle of violence will continue to repeat itself until we Palestinians and Israelis break it!

I learned also, that both sides do not trust each other.  How could they when they are still living with walls separating them? I’m not talking about the wall that Israel built inside the west bank or the one surrounding Gaza Strip, I’m talking about the walls of the past, those walls deep in our mental and emotional consciousness which prevents us from seeing hope on the other side.

How do we fix this problem? Both sides need to talk. they need to talk so they can learn and get to know  each other. There is no other choice. Now I am the one who is encouraging  9 year old children to talk with other side.  I’m advocating for  something I was once against!

Trying to bring both sides to understand that both nations want peace and a better future for their children takes hard work.  There are accusations of betrayal  which is common against those who dare to dream and work for a shared future for both sides.

In real life, it’s hard to find a common place where Israelis and Palestinians  can meet and discuss the issues. Therefore, through YaLa Young Leaders the peace social movement I’m proud to be part of, we encourage the young people to use social media to talk to each other. This is the advantage of having brave young leaders leading the change for peace!

I remember 6 months ago, I was in Tel Aviv chatting with a friend of mine, an Israeli peace activist who with me and other peace activists (from the YaLa Young Leaders movement) initiated a peace campaign, (calling for “No More Excuses” from our leaders), for the Israeli and Palestinian people to back Secretary of State, John Kerry’s efforts to bring the parties to a peace agreement. We believed that this could be achieved by harnessing the power of the young people from both sides. My friend Yael and I were so amazed by  Secretary of State John Kerry and his team’s devotion and hard work into reaching an agreement .

When we realized that the peace process was not going to bear any fruit–  both of us grasped the painful consequences of what that meant, and feared for another round of hostile conflict.

A new common thread between Palestinians and Israeli leaders became clear to us– both Israelis and Palestinians lack leaders who care about their nation’s future. They have an interest in maintaining the status quo as it serves their political agenda. Many people on both sides have taken this reality as a given. I remember sitting with my friend Yael, sharing cigarettes, as well as our fears and anger at the lack of progress towards peace, and predicted that violent clashes between the two sides would become extremely likely.

Throughout this past month in America, many people have asked me if I still have hope that Palestinians and Israelis will be able to live one day together in peace- My answer to them is always Yes!!!

Today, me and my fellow participants, Israelis and Palestinians, from different sides of the fence, even as the situation back home is dire, we are here in Washington DC brave and confident enough to speak about Peace! Embodying the change we want to see in the future! Living the recognition, the understanding and the coexistence !

If this is possible now despite the bloodshed back home, then I truly believe our people can find a way to live together peacefully, and create not only sustainable relationships, but also deep friendships based on love and trust, as I have created with my fellow participant  and my host brother, Yonathan.

Thank you for your time and continued support.

Read more about Hamze and his Israeli roommate & colleague in Haaretz.

The 2014 class of Palestinian & Israeli interns with New Story Leadership

The 2014 class of Palestinian & Israeli interns with New Story Leadership

 

Winter Event Gathers 250 Peacemakers

In December, 2013, Muslim, Christian & Jewish youth, families and staff gathered at Kol Haneshama, the reform synagogue in Jerusalem, for Kids4Peace’s second annual winter event.  More than 250 members of the Kids4Peace community came together from neighborhoods across East & West Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Leaders from the three religions opened the event with blessings.

Rabbi Michael Melchior, a former Member of the Knesset and leading religious voice for peace, spoke about the biblical story of Joseph.  At first, he said, Joseph dreamed only of himself — believing that the world revolved around him. But Joseph learned to “listen to other people’s dreams,” and to let go of the desire to crush all the others.  In the end, Joseph became an interpreter of dreams, and the dreams changed.  “We are not destined to fight and kiRabbi Michael Melchior addresses the gathering.ll each other,” he told the group.  “The time has come” to give up dreams of crushing the other side.  The time has come for peace.

Shaykh Hussein offered a teaching on peace from Islam.  He emphasized the need to love and help others, and for Muslims to live together with Jew and Christians.  “If you hurt someone from another religion,” he said, “it’s the same as hurting someone from your own.”  And Pastor Ibrahim Azar of the Lutheran Church retold the story of Mary and Joseph, and named peace as the true meaning of Christmas.

 

Choir Performance

The Jerusalem Youth Chorus of the international YMCA was up next.  This group of teenagers from East &West Jerusalem spread thThe Jerusalem Youth Chorus performs.  "Don't pay no mind to the demons / They fill you with fear /  The trouble it might drag you down / If you get lost, you can always be found / Just know you're not alone / Cause I'm going to make this place your home"e message of peace with songs in Hebrew (Hine Ma Tov) and Arabic (Adinu).  They closed with a rousing version of Philip Phillips‘ song “Home.”  The words of the song touched the heart of our community, since many youth and families find a “second home” in Kids4Peace.

 “Don’t pay no mind to the demons / They fill you with fear / The trouble it might drag you down / If you get lost, you can always be found / Just know you’re not alone / Cause I’m going to make this place your home”

 

 

Staff Appreciation

Kids4Peace’s Executive Director Fr. Josh Thomas was visiting from the United States.  Along with the Jerusalem Steering Committee, he led a time of appreciations, where we honored our most senior Kids4Peace staff, present and past:

  • Hanan Abu Dalu, Muslim advisor and CoordinatorThe Kids4Peace Jerusalem steering committee recognizes Arwa, Muslim advisor and coordinator.
  • Zoubaida Salman, Muslim advisor and Coordinator
  • Arwa Hussein, Muslim advisor and Coordinator
  • Yakir Englander, Director, Kids4Peace Jerusalem
  • Steve Israel, Co-Director of first year programs, Facilitator
  • Samar Musarsa, Christian advisor and Coordinator
  • Ramia Saleh, Christian advisor
  • Rula Saleh, Christian advisor, Coordinator, Logistics director
  • Saed Mashal, Muslim advisor and Coordinator
  • Jill Levenfeld, Jewish advisor and Coordinator
  • Naomi Sullum, Jewish advisor and Co-Director of Continuation & Leadership programs
  • Reeham Subhi, Muslim advisor and Co-Director of Continuation & Leadership programs

The staff is made up of dedicated educators from Jewish, Christian and Muslim backgrounds.  They work together as interfaith teams, to provide year-round programs for parents and youth. With their partners in the USA, they co-lead international summer camps.

Activity Stations, Community Service Project & Raffle

Jerusalem Steering Committee Chair Ibrahim Abu Dalo enjoys the drumming activity station. Co-Directors Mohammad Joulany and Rebecca Sullum announced a new community service partnership with Haddassah Hospital.   The hospital provides medical treatment to Christian, Muslim and Jewish children, including many from the West Bank.  Kids4Peace will lead activities with the children during visits to the hospital.  The children there will meet new friends from the three religions, and our K4P youth will practice the importance of charity and community service in our traditions.

After the formal program ended, parents, staff and youth counselors joined activity stations, including cookie decorating, drumming, a Kids4Peace quiz, and an art project where we made gifts to bring to the children at Hadassah hospital.

Kids4Peace youth sold raffle tickets to help raise money for Jerusalem programs.  The grand prize winner received a free night at a hotel in Tiberias, courtesy of Guiding Star travel agency.   Others received gift certificates for local restaurants and businesses.

Press Coverage

The annual event was covered by several local media companies.  Check back for updates as more links are added

 

Hassan| I Saw a Change

Eventually I’d like to return to Jerusalem to work in the politics of the region.

Originally from Jerusalem, and now a university student in Menton, France, Hassan Abu Dalo descends from a Muslim background. He says that coming into Kids4Peace, he had little knowledge of his own religion. He grew up in a Jewish neighborhood and attended a French school with a diverse student body. He had scratched the surface of different cultures, but K4P gave him a chance to go a step further and learn more.

What attracted him to the program was the opportunity to face both sides of the conflict in a community where opinions and experiences could be shared. I wanted to learn more about his experience, and what he’s up to now. I was grateful to have the opportunity to sit down and chat over Skype, and here’s some of what I learned.  Interview by K4P International Intern David Rowan.

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“My family accepted [my participation in K4P] very well, in fact my dad is part of the steering committee in Jerusalem, my brother is a participant, and some of our neighbors signed their kids up as well. It had a good impact on our local community and was very well received.

The first time I arrived to the US, I expected for whatever I had seen on TV to be reproduced in real time. At camp, I instead saw a different side of American youth: more open, intelligent, bright, interesting, and understanding.

During those two weeks, you build these small temporary communities where you forget what was in Jerusalem by building a new chapter where everyone is there for each other. It’s like a clean slate, and all of a sudden people want to learn about, listen to, and play with each other.

The K4P leadership program is a point when the conversation gets serious, and it’s easy to listen since you’re already acquainted [with each other].

One of the first years of camp, it occurred to me that I had never seen so much food being wasted, and I voiced my concern to an advisor. During dinner, he called me to speak in front of everyone. I went up and sort of started to panic, being only 12, and thinking, “What do I say?” In the end I managed to say something, and in the days that followed, I saw a change, and I saw that what I did was good, and I felt good about it. It changed peoples’ attitudes, and I never would have done that if not for the advisor who pushed me to speak out. It’s something I’ve even used that story on my CV!

There was one friend who I became very close with, we participated in both K4P as campers, and then later in Leadership Camp. He’s Israeli, I’m Palestinian, and we managed to keep our friendship going, though lately it’s been tough since he’s started his mandatory military service. The thought of seeing him one day at a checkpoint with a gun pointed is troubling, we’re no longer on an equal level.

In France you meet people from all around the Middle East, and they are generally willing to engage in talking about the conflict. The conflict is even taught at my school, we had an Israeli ambassador come and speak about it. It’s easier to relate to a personal perspective of someone coming straight from the conflict, instead of just basing their opinions on what they hear on television.

I study social sciences at my school, which was conceived to educate future leaders of France and worldwide. Eventually I’d like to return to Jerusalem to work in the politics of the region.

First Leadership Camp

 

Logan| Wise Beyond their Years

Invest in the kids that are going to shape the future by giving them an environment that is conducive to their own discussion. Dynamism is a lifestyle: the mission is not one until the problem is solved. You have to set goals, and K4P has those goals at its core.

Logan Crossley just joined Kids4Peace in 2013 as a counselor in Houston. Originally from Dallas, and a first year student at UT-Austin, Logan says that K4P was the best camp of his life, and that he’s eager to continue.

The first time he heard about K4P, he knew it was something he wanted to be involved in. With an aim to pursue Diplomacy in his academic career, this kind of hands-on peace work is a perfect fit. What Logan didn’t expect was to be blown away by the campers the way that he was. “Each one of them was wise beyond their years, and just so much fun to work with,” he remembers.logan headshot

Logan maintains contact with most of the campers and counselors by way of social media. He regularly exchanges texts with his fellow counselors, 4 of whom live in Israel and one that lives in Vermont. “We grew very close over just 9 short days, and we all hope that we will be able to reunite through K4P and continue the mission.”

I sat down with Logan to learn about more about his background, his experience with K4P, and his reflections. Here’s what he had to say:

It’s unfortunate that most Americans only tend to hear about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when missiles are being fired, and when peace treaties are being broken. A lot of us don’t realize the day to day tensions between the opposing factions. K4P gave me a chance to hear about what it’s like to live there as a 12 year old kid—it was eye opening.

What you learn with K4P is different than what you learn in a classroom setting. I take with a grain of salt the fear mongering tendencies of the media, only focused on escalation of war and conflict, and now I see more through the lens of innocent kids that have been impacted in every aspect of their life. The grassroots movement is gaining momentum, and that’s what I want.

Kids would whisper things to me about other kids, judgmentally, and it was hard to tell if it was stemming from the conflict, or if it’s just kids being kids. We’re raising the next generation of leaders of our communities. They are going to return home fired up with a lot of the issues worked out in the discussion room that they can hopefully implement back in the community in a more on-the-ground type of approach. They’re inspired to try and make a change.

There was one camper whose English, while proficient, made it still challenging for him to express himself at times. Nevertheless, he would deliver these one-liners about deep topics where he just nailed it, short and sweet. He was wise beyond his years.

I bonded well with the other counselors after the campers went to bed. Being a first timer with minimal experience, I had many questions about the conflict, and they had well articulated answers that demonstrated their deep thinking, discourse, and passion about finding a sustainable resolution. I envision a place where the campers can go deeper in the discussion too, while offering them a fun experience simultaneously.

I came into college an international relations major. Having taken Spanish all through high school, Latin America or Europe looked like the two places I wanted to end up. I’ve been thinking about trying to pick up another language, and now I’m considering giving Arabic or Hebrew a try, and prioritize the Middle East, specifically Israel, in my academics. I’ve thought a lot about what we did, and what I’m excited to do in the future, and the broader mission in general. It’s really significant. What goes on over there is something that we as a country have a vested interest in. It has opened up my mind to looking beyond what seemed to be the easiest default path, and to look to regions where the situation is more urgent.

K4P was a great exercise in empathy. Even people who have deeply rooted hatred and animosity toward each other tend towards peaceful solutions when they see things from a more objective point of view. That’s why I think an outside voice—American, in this case—is so important.

I’ve told quite a few people about my experience, and I’m excited to tell them about where the organization is headed as well. Nobody here had heard of it, but should awareness be disseminated, I think people will get fired up about it.

Invest in the kids that are going to shape the future by giving them an environment that is conducive to their own discussion. Dynamism is a lifestyle: the mission is not one until the problem is solved. You have to set goals, and K4P has those goals at its core.

The mission of K4P isn’t just to go back to your community with more knowledge than you had, it’s to go back and inspire a change on the ground.

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Houston2013-LoganCabin

Maddie | Close Friends

 That’s what I love about K4P: I get an inside look into what others believe is the way to start solving problems and becoming peacemakers.

As a high school junior living in Waterbury, Vermont, Maddie Baughman was one of our youngest counselors in 2013. She participated in Leadership Camp in 2012, and waIMG_1516s a camper before that.

Maddie comes from a Christian family, but doesn’t describe herself as highly religious. When she’s not studying, she spends time helping out with her parents’ composting business, working at a local bakery, playing basketball, participating in theater, and daydreaming of joining Kids4Peace again!

“Kids4Peace is anything but abstract. We have the rare opportunity of getting to know and love amazing people from halfway across the world—and that’s real,” she notes. She loves learning about the array of cultures and religions represented at camp. She doesn’t take for granted her ability to take part in K4P. She feels lucky to have so much support, and knows that can’t be said for all participants. That’s one reason she hasn’t hesitated prioritizing K4P in planning her last few summers.

Keeping in touch with campers and counselors alike has helped her to stay connected to the cause. She says she and her K4P friends “discuss everything from our favorite types of cars to political and social occurrences, such as Israeli involvement in the Syrian civil war.”

I caught up with Maddie to get a more in-depth understanding of how her experience with K4P changed her outlook. Here’s what she shared:

“I’ve definitely learned a lot about what the day to day experiences are for those I’ve met through Kids4Peace. As a result, my family and friends hear a lot about what’s going on too. When it comes to talking about the conflict, I don’t think people know where to start. That’s what I love about K4P: I get an inside look into what others believe is the way to start solving problems and becoming peacemakers.

I picked up a lot of skills as a counselor, namely leadership and listening. One night, there was some religious disrespect going on, and intentional or not, there were hurt feelings. With the help of the other staff members and counselors, we were able to get the campers to understand each other and resolve the issue.

As counselors, we got to explore how we can be leaders. It was a powerful transition from camper to counselor, suddenly becoming an adult in this world of conflict. The intermediate time (Leadership Camp) was the place where we learned the most, had the best conversations about the conflict, and could talk about what was really going on. People were serious, and it got intense at times, but we also had a lot of fun. Between us, we built respect and trust, the fundamentals of long lasting friendships.

The Americans that participated in this year’s camp in Houston brought their learning and hope back home. They were very enthusiastic when they came, and even moreso when they left. They brought that to their friends, communities, and households. It’s important for people everywhere to understand the different perspectives of people living in conflict in the Middle East, as well as other places around the world—including the US. The US is a great place to host the camps so that we as Americans can understand what’s going on over there.

I’m still in touch with my friends from K4P, I feel as close to them as I do with my friends at home. We bonded over exploring different cultures, languages, religions and their respective ceremonies, noting the similarities and differences. I really enjoyed that.

K4P helped stir my interests when it comes to thinking about college. I’m curious about global studies and international relations. I’ve come to realize that regardless of where you live around the world, it’s possible that we’re all still able to connect on a personal level.

 K4P has definitely caused me to examine what I want to do with my life and how I want to be a positive influence on the world. In day to day conduct it’s important to understand people as people rather than what makes them different. It’s been a wonderful way to learn about myself and who I want to be.”

At Kids4Peace we’re all on the same level, we interact with each other as other people, rather than people from different countries.

– Interview by David Rowan, K4P International Intern

Maddie - Houston 2

Maddie - Houston

Hagop | K4P Changed My Perspective

Back when I was a kid I had thoughts about revenge, and I have experienced an amazing 180 degree change—I’m really happy. I have hope and faith that there will be peace, maybe not my generation or my kids’, but we have to work for it and teach our kids the right way.

Hagop is an Armenian Christian living in Jerusalem.  He was a K4P camper in 2004 and has been involved ever since, as a counselor and now a Christian advisor.  

hagop-headshotThe last time I went as a camper was in Atlanta, 8 or 9 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. It was an amazing experience that really exceeded my expectations. I learned so much, and it helped my personality develop. We have all this conflict between Jews, Christians, and Muslims here in Jerusalem, and the experience taught me to accept everyone.

It’s not that the conflict is between only Muslims and Jews, it’s more between Arabs and Israelis. I never felt left out of the conversation. The media often triggers tension by focusing on religious differences, but that’s not always how it is. Living here, you see it. There is also conflict between Christians and Muslims, but less often because we feel as though we are one united nation.

When you speak about peace anywhere in the West Bank, people will say, “We’ve been talking about peace for 60 years and we haven’t seen anything different.” People are tired of talking about peace, they want action, they want all that’s been said to be done.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. You’ll almost never get an older person to believe there will be peace. When you work with young kids whose minds are open and who want to learn, they learn from their surroundings and their personalities are built through what they see on TV, what their families think and what their parents say.

So when you teach those kids that peace and harmony is possible between conflicting parties, they grow up and teach their children who then teach their children and so on. Just one child taught about peace can get excited, interested, and serious about the matter can make a real change.

My family descended through the Armenian genocide. What happened to us then was not easy, and what we are going through now as Palestinians is also not easy. As a Christian we have to forgive, but not forget. It’s stressful having that history, all the torture and evil things my ancestors experienced. It’s not easy, but for now we have to learn to get along and hope for the best.

Kids learn everything from their surroundings, their parents, and especially the media. I never thought I’d have Jewish friends. All the talk is about how they’re treating Arabs badly, killing them in cold blood. As a 12 year old kid, you just get the wrong idea. At first participating in K4P was a little hard, but then I started to notice those kids are exactly like me aside from language and religion. I was then able to accept Jews and realized there is no bad nation, just bad individuals.

At a meeting before we left to Atlanta, there was a guy called Amichai, and we started to become close friends. I was trying to talk in Hebrew so the Jewish families could understand better, even though there was an interpreter—I wanted to be challenged. Amichai came over to me as I was speaking some in Hebrew and some in English and he starts helping me remember certain words. That was the moment I thought, “Wow, this guy is nice. I like him, and he’s not as bad as I thought he was.”

A few years ago I was asked to become a leader in K4P. I was very excited when I learned that Michal was going to be the girls’ leader. We had been at the same camp in 2004, and stayed in touch. So to see how the kids were learning and interacting, it brought us back to how we were. We never realized any of it would matter in the future, but having that history with each other really helped us both.

I go to Bethlehem University in the West Bank. Conflict comes up every single day, especially coming and going, dealing with the checkpoints. There are many conflict related topics to study at school as well. It’s sad to say but I wouldn’t see an organization like K4P as very popular at my school. Even my close friends think that what I’m doing with the organization is a waste of time. They tell me, “You know it, I know it, there will never be peace.” But deep down inside I like to hope and pray for peace worldwide.

Business wasn’t my first choice as a major, I always wanted to be a pilot or engineer. Flying planes as a Palestinian person, especially after 9/11, is nearly impossible. My father owns a business, and any job in the world requires business, medical or anything else. So I thought that was a wide goal for me, and after I get my BA I can decide if I want to go in a particular direction. My dream is to make what my father built—a travel agency—bigger and stronger by widening the horizon with new partnerships, and see what happens from there.

Communication is so important. I try to keep in touch with K4P alumni to see how they are doing, where they are in life, how they are progressing. Even just a 5 minute check-in goes a long way. These relationships are built stronger by communication.

Having K4P in my life really changed me, I never thought I’d be the man that I am today. Back when I was a kid I had thoughts about revenge, and I have experienced an amazing 180 degree change—I’m really happy. I have hope and faith that there will be peace, maybe not my generation or my kids’, but we have to work for it and teach our kids the right way.

I’m interested in recruiting for K4P, helping to grow our diversity. We’re not teaching religion, it’s the door we come through to teach kids peace. I consider us farmers, planting peace seeds in the kids’ hearts and we can grow with them, teach them how to stand up straight so in the end they will be fruitful with their children and grandchildren.

Natalie Portman Visits K4P Jerusalem

On Thursday the 20th of February K4P Jerusalem had the pleasure to welcome actress and activist Natalie Portman to our offices. She took a break from filming her directorial debut here in Jerusalem to visit, an adaption of Israeli novelist Amos Oz’s acclaimed memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness.  3d4a6959 (1)

With people arriving early the anticipation and excitement was palpable. Staff, alumni, volunteers, members of the steering committee and young people from the culminating groups awaited her arrival with baited breath. This excitement was not just that we were about to meet one of most prolific female actresses in Hollywood but that this was a woman born in Jerusalem, well known throughout the world who speaks with hope that, “someday [we] use our unique human assets of language and empathy rather than military technology or propaganda to resolve this conflict” A ideal that K4P endorses and works through. Having just gained NGO statues we are working towards developing and delivering a programme that will do just that. By extending the hand of friendship we are surmounting mountains that politics in the region has failed to deliver on. This visit is a testament to all the young people that have participated and a reminder to the staff that the work we do is of importance in shaping the worlds understanding of life in the Middle East.

Co-director Mohammad Joulany introduced Natalie Portman noting her work as an actress but choosing to focus on the many campaigns which she has led and or been a part of. The list was extensive and imparted on all those present the keen humanitarian spirit with which Natalie has used her star statues. Three young people from The Leadership Programme representing the three faiths presented a bouquet of flowers and then addressed Natalie directly focusing in what K4P means to them and what they have gained from their participation in the programme as well as acknowledging the challenges they face as young people living in Jerusalem. She then addressed the crowd with great humility and compassion speaking of the hope that young people brought to the region and the support she had for the ongoing work of the organisation. The floor was then open to ask Natalie direct questions, she spoke of cooperation and the human spirit, her love for Jerusalem and her intention to continue to visit the region. Co-director Rebecca Sullum then presented her with a Kids4Peace gift bag, including t-shirts for her husband and her son as a thank you and a momentum of her visit.

We wish to acknowledge and thank Rana Khatib who sits on the K4P steering committee for arranging this visit. Natalie Portman studied Arabic with her father Omar Othman when she studied at The Hebrew University, thus furnishing a close relationship that led to her hearing about the work of Kids4Peace Jerusalem.

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Magda | Camp is Over, K4P is Not

I learned so much about other faith traditions and myself. I learned about self-reliance, patience, kindness, acceptance, love, and friendship

Magda

 

Magda attended Kids4Peace Atlanta in the Summer of 2013. She is pictured with artwork created for a gallery display at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History, in conjunction with National Geographic’s Jerusalem IMAXmovie.  

A little more than one week can mean many things. It can mean how long you have to wait for a package, how long you have to finish a project, or how long it took you to read an incredible book. I’ve done many things in a little more than one week, such as planting a garden and baking cookies. Although, some of the things I’ve done in a little over a week stand out.

One of the main things that stand out is Kids4Peace.  In Early July this year, I sat in the back seat of a large, shiny, black Subaru weaving through old country roads to Camp Mikell in Toccoa, Georgia. I had made this trip many times before, but the butterflies in my stomach were especially colorful. “Alright”, my mom reminds, “You should get your stuff together. We’re almost there.” I remember my gut tightening, and taking the turn off for the Camp Mikell conference center. In hindsight, this fear could not even compare to the fun, love and knowledge I was going to receive in the next couple of days.

Slowly, our group began to become more cohesive – like wood glue, slow to set, but extremely stable when dry. We learned each other’s cultures through group chats, expeditions, and activities. We talked about the world around us and inside of us. We observed and honored beliefs, and we tried out each other’s traditions. Some things were not as serious as others, like our pizza dinner on Jewish Shabbat, countless bedroom pillow fights, or the visit to Target. During long car rides, we would sing/scream along to music, talk, and play games such as “who can irritate the counselor first”, “are we there yet”, and “I’m hungry/thirsty/bored”.

Although we had a tremendous amount of fun, we learned a lot, too. In fact, I would not give up what I learned for almost anything. I learned so much about other faith traditions and myself. I learned about self-reliance, patience, kindness, acceptance, love, and friendship. Of course it was hard and exhausting, but I had people to hold me up, and to help me. In such a short time, I grew so much.

After a little more than one week, filled to the brim with so many experiences and friendship, it was time to say goodbye. After my mom picked me up, it took me a while to realize camp was over. I simply couldn’t accept the fact. Months afterward, I know camp is over, but Kids4Peace is not. I am still in contact with the kids in my group and I get to see them sometimes (the Atlanta kids, that is).

Right now, I am debating what to get my peace pal (pen pal), Mais, for Christmas. It’s a toss-up between a large collection of Maybelline makeup or Cover girl makeup. She’s very particular about it. Although I know the package is going to take long to get there, our friendship has already arrived.

Brian | A Faith Based Program

This is going to become the thing that stops the conflict and that allows both sides to start talking to one another. Kids are going to not only be the future, but also the force that influences the present.

Brian Sullivan, the cuBrianSrrent President of Kids4Peace International, was born in White Plains, NY, but moved down to Georgia early in his life. After finishing his degree as an Art major at the University of Georgia, studying Printmaking, Sullivan decided to go to seminary and was ordained an Episcopal Priest in 1997. While working with youth at St. Anne’s, Sullivan worked with two members of his congregation who met Henry Carse in 2003, the founder of Kids4Peace, with whom started the Atlanta chapter of the organization. Later, Sullivan moved to North Carolina, where is started the North Carolina chapter of Kids4Peace.

From a young age, Sullivan understood the importance of mutual respect and dialogue between people from different backgrounds, and hoped to reduce the conflict through a program that evoked these ideals. “I’ve always known that it is important for people who are different to get along. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the extreme version of what happens when people get too far entrenched in their own group.”

From his work with youth, Sullivan understood early on that kids are the key to changing the future. “I think kids have a way of teaching adults how to do things differently.” After working closely with Israeli, Palestinian, and American children in the Atlanta chapter, Sullivan realized not only how complex and multifaceted the conflict truly is, but also the strong impact Kids4Peace leaves on its participants. “When I met the kids for the first time and started to understand the tip of the iceberg of the conflict, I knew that this program has a chance of making a big difference.”

For Sullivan, the impact of Kids4Peace derives from its influence on the lives of the children participating in the program. Sullivan believes that once the youth from both the Palestinian and Israeli side communicate, interact, and care for one another, this respect and amity will also transfer to the parents. “On the surface, Kids4Peace looks like a really cute summer camp. But that’s only the first year of the program. For every one child involved with the program, there are five or six adults who are also involved. The kids are learning skills to prevent violence and to understand who they are on a deeper level, and they bring these skills back home with them. This is going to become the thing that stops the conflict and that allows both sides to start talking to one another. Kids are going to not only be the future, but also the force that influences the present.”

For Sullivan, the commitment to expand Kids4Peace came from getting to know the participants of the program. After working with Palestinian, Israeli, and American youth from differing religious backgrounds, Sullivan saw the importance of faith as a uniting factor for the different groups, one which will ultimately bring mutual respect and dialogue for all sides.

“Kids4Peace is a faith-based program. A lot of the different movements in the world that have made a difference, such as the civil rights movement, ending of apartheid, or Gandhi’s influence in India, were led by faith leaders.

Faith as a tool allows children to really focus on who they are. I think the most important part of Kids4Peace is that we are a program that tries very hard to get kids to be who they are, to grow up and understand who they are, and to learn what it means to be Jewish, Christian, Israeli, Palestinian, or Arab.”

For Sullivan, the most meaningful and inspiring part of Kids4Peace is the opening of hearts of the participants of the program. Sullivan shares two stories that inspire him to expand Kids4Peace, and that “iconic” to the message of the program:

“One of the first stories that inspired me was when the kids from the Atlanta chapter from 2003 went home and their parents, one Palestinian, one Israeli, had dinner together at each other’s houses. Then, the two families decided they wanted to go to the Western Wall to pray. A guard stopped the father and asked him what they were doing there. The father responded, ‘Well, they just want to go to the Wall.’  The guard did not understand how that was possible, that a Palestinian and an Israeli kid wanted to do this together. When the guard was not looking, the kids snuck around him and went and prayed in front of the Wall together.”

“One of the most recent stories that inspired me is the story of a woman and a young Palestinian coming through a check point. When they reached the checkpoint, the Israeli soldier treated the woman with respect, and asked for her name. The woman wanted to know who his parents were, how he was brought up to, and to understand why he was acting the way he was. The soldier said he was acting this way not because of his parents, but because of a program called Kids4Peace. The woman also participated in the program. That to me is the icon of what we’re trying to do, for example, having soldiers who are doing their jobs, defending their nation, but who are doing it with respect and who understand who they are.”

Raouf | Acting for Peace

I believe Kids4Peace is thus the place where a real interfaith movement can be built. It is the place where we can give our children the chance to grow up believing in peace and justice, hoping that they will use these tools to do what they can to change the violence and discrepancy in our country.

RaoufDr. Raouf Azar was born in Bethlehem and lives now in Jerusalem.  He is an Arab Christian involved in the Lutheran Church and serves as a member of the Kids4Peace Jerusalem Steering Committee.  Two of his six children are part of Kids4Peace (so far!). 

Describe your background:

My father was born in Jaffa and became a refugee in 1948 in Bethlehem.  My mother was born in Nazareth.  My parents belong to this country where I also was born. It allows me to be sure that this is my place, the place where I should serve.  Yet otherwise, as a Christian, I believe that the place of living on this earth is not important.  What matters is how you live your life.

Is your family involved in Kids4Peace?

Yes, my daughter Carla joined Kids4Peace in 2011 at the Boston camp, and Charlie-Achim attended the 2013 camp in Atlanta.  After the first year, both my kids wanted to continue with the program. Thanks to Kids4Peace, they became more responsible and they are open to other people and new things. They are able to hear more, communicate,  and they can think much more to the outside of their own box.

What influenced you to work with Kids4Peace?

The love for all people living in this country. This is the Holy Land, but in the last hundred years nothing holy has happened here. I think through K4P, we can educate a new generation of kids believing in peace, in justice, and in having respect for others. Through K4P, we can bring together – and help build – friendships of families from different religions,  cultures , educational backgrounds, etc.

When my daughter Carla was accepted to be in K4P Boston 2011, I realized that Kids4Peace is a place where the seeds of peace are not only planted in the hearts of our children, but that these seeds can also be planted in our families.

I joined the Steering Committee because I think that I can help bring some stones together that can help us change and build together through the three religions.  We can work as a big family,  not only in talking, but also in acting in peace building.

How does Kids4Peace impact your daily life?

Kids4Peace influenced me very positively; it is not merely a wish for peace, it is an organization truly acting for peace.  I think my work with Kids4Peace is a way to let a new generation of Muslims, Jews, and Christians grow together as friends with the belief that they all have the same rights and duties in their one country.

What do you want to tell others about Kids4Peace?

We are not collecting the kids and the people to preach about politics.

We are bringing them together to learn about others, about their beliefs, their culture, and the background of others.  We are trying to help them find what they share in common, and to better understand the differences they have.

I believe Kids4Peace is thus the place where a real interfaith movement can be built. It is the place where we can give our children the chance to grow up believing in peace and justice, hoping that they will use these tools to do what they can to change the violence and discrepancy in our country.

We help them understand and believe that they as Christians belong to this country in the same way that Jews and Muslims belong to it.

What is the most powerful memory you have from Kids4Peace?

When we (from the 3 religions) came together spontaneously to pray for peace and ending the violence between Israel and Gaza.

Nancy | Recognition and Respect

Kids4Peace helped me recognize my own faith while respecting the cultural and religious differences of others. It is that recognition and respect that we hope Kids4Peace offers the children, as well as the adult staff.

Nancy Stone is a volunteer with Kids4Peace Vermont and the art teacher for the Vermont/New Hampshire summer camp. 

Describe your background:

My dad was in the army during World War II, so I was born where he was stationed in Detroit, Michigan in 1943. Currently I live in Williston, Vermont, near Burlington and Lake Champlain. I was raised in Massachusetts and went to Alfred University in New York where I majored in ceramic design. In college, I explored a very broad range of aNancy Stonert, as well as English, history, and art education.

How has your background led you to K4P?

In 1983, I heard about the Children’s Art Exchange with the Soviet Union and I could not sleep. It really stirred me, being a mother, an artist, as well as an art educator. I wanted to use my art for peace so I became the Art Program Director for the Children’s Art Exchange. I went to the Soviet Union three times, bringing art from American children and carrying back art from the Soviet children. We also had an exchange of teachers and children. What I loved about the Children’s Art Exchange was that it combined peace, nurturing children, and art. Kids4Peace has the added element of addressing Faith. Having been a church and choir member since childhood, the spiritual aspect of Kids4Peace makes it even more special.

Kids4Peace inspires me because I want the world to be a safer place for my children and grandchildren. We have a son who was born in 1968 and a daughter who was born in 1971. They both moved back to Vermont to be near us so we do child-care for the three grandchildren. I’ve taught all levels of art from Pre-K to College level but I knew I could not keep that up if I was going to do the childcare. So, I ended many commitments but decided that I would keep working as art teacher for Kids4PeaceVermont. It has grown to a much larger commitment but I’m glad it’s still in my life.

As art teacher for Kids4PeaceVermont, I work with the camp director to come up with art projects that are significant and meaningful to each summer’s programming. We have themes such as ‘things we share’ (i.e., the earth, water, wind, etc.) and I come up with projects that reflect the theme. We have made plaster gauze masks on each other’s faces. It is amazing to see two kids from different cultures, many times with a history of deep conflict, having the trust to build a mask on each other’s face.

How did I become involved with Kids4Peace?

Well, one night in 2009 my husband asked if I wanted to go to a church Peace Potluck. I reluctantly agreed, although I was tired and didn’t want to go out to another night meeting. Soon after the camp director started the presentation and I saw a video of children from Palestine, Israel and Vermont, I was flooded with a feeling that I must become involved! So, I went up to the director and said I hoped that I wasn’t too old, but if they needed an art teacher, I was willing to become actively involved. At the time it seemed like a small commitment, just ten days in the summer, but it has become a year-long involvement with monthly meetings, a peace-walk, buying art supplies, giving sermons to my church, speaking at Rotary meetings, etc.

How has Kids4Peace influenced your life?

Through my work with Kids4Peace, I have gained a new outlook and appreciation for life. In a selfish way, it makes me appreciate the peace and freedom we have in our country now. It also makes me more conscious of the situation in Israel and Palestine, and I worry about the kids and staff members when there are reports of conflict or attacks. In the beginning, I embraced getting to know everyone in the different religions and felt that separating myself from the group to go up and take communion with only the Christians was being disloyal to the group. But after searching my heart, I realized that being a Christian is part of my personal identity. That summer, Kids4Peace helped me recognize my own faith while respecting the cultural and religious differences of others. It is that recognition and respect that we hope Kids4Peace offers the children, as well as the adult staff.

Today, Kids4Peace is a very special part of my life. I can talk to people from other religions more deeply, and I can have meaningful conversations about faith and culture.

A Muslim advisor from camp, now living in Vermont has become a dear friend. Kids4Peace makes me feel that even at my age, (I just turned 70), that I’m still a useful part of society and that I can help young people also see that they can become leaders for peace. I am so happy to be doing my work with Kids4Peace. Recognizing that the problems in our different societies are long-standing and difficult, we can empower the children with skills and understanding so that they can work for peace, perhaps even using the arts, making changes in attitudes so that we can find new ways of interacting with each other.

What are your  favorite memories from Kids4Peace?

One of my most striking memories from the Kids4Peace camps happened when we had early morning meditation along Lake Champlain. In the beginning, the kids were restless and shifting around. Eventually they settled down and just sat silently on the huge boulders, looking out at the water and mountains. When we walked back up the dirt path, one boy from a Palestinian refugee camp took the hand of another boy, a new friend who was a Jew from Vermont. It was such a beautiful moment! It still gives me shivers.

George | “It Challenged Me”

I found through K4P that the best types of relationships are the ones that challenge you to expand your point of view

George SpencerGeorge Spencer is from Atlanta, Georgia and joined Kids4Peace in 2005.  He is currently a student at UNC-Chapel Hill. 

How did you change because of Kids4Peace? 

I think Kids4Peace was the first time I really understood that there are so many different people in the world. I think by participating at such a young age it is a very formative experience that I had. It’s not something you realize while you are involved; it’s something that you understand and begin to evaluate and comprehend when you are older and can see how significantly the program has opened your eyes to the perceptions of other people. It is a humbling and empowering program that allows you to see the world from many viewpoints.

Why is Kids4Peace important to you?

Kids4Peace is most important to me because it challenged me. At a young age, I was, thanks to this program, exposed to wonderful people from broad ranges of life, who all offered something different to the program. It challenged me to grow as a person not just in my experiences during the program, but even more, after I was finished when I could reflect on my memories in the daily contexts that I face as I get older.

What do you want to tell others about Kids4Peace?

I would tell them that it changed my life. I can honestly say that I would not be the same person I am today without this experience.

What did you learn from Kids4Peace?

The most important thing  I learned was how easy it is to be compatible with people from all different walks of life. I feel like it is a common thought that people coming from different places and circumstances are innately incompatible, and aren’t able to have relationships with each other. However, I found through K4P that the best types of relationships are the ones that challenge you to expand your point of view with a person that comes from a completely different background.

How does Kids4Peace inspire you today?

I strive for a much more open-minded perspective in life. I try to understand other people’s backgrounds and opinions without passing any judgments.

Describe Kids4Peace in one word:

Universal

Matt | Inspiring Friendships

Matt-1For Matt Loper, a job with Kids4Peace seemed unimaginable six years ago. While in undergraduate, he studied theater design and human development at Northwestern University and had no connection to K4P during his college career or even any aspirations to work with youth. But after connecting with the “incredibly inspiring” participants that first summer of camp in Boston, he was instantly hooked! While today Kids4Peace is an important part of his life, the path to working with kids and interfaith organizations in Boston was not clear to Matt immediately after graduation. Thinking at first about starting a path toward the medical field, he had a moment of clarity after Kids4Peace camp.

“I had this really informative experience where I was thinking about how one semester of school would cost a similar amount to making two or even three trips to Israel and Palestine. Feeling such a strong pull toward Jerusalem and away from school, I knew then just how important Kids4Peace really was to me.” Today, Matt, who at first was a staff member at the camp, is now responsible for organizing and supporting the Kids4Peace chapter and program in Boston, acting as the Boston staff director.

Matt is fortunate enough to work with young people both at an episcopal church and through Kids4Peace Boston. “Peace is such an important part of my faith that it really informs why I do Kids4Peace and why Kids4Peace is important to me. I like the fact that at my church I work with the youth group. I work with kids who are the same age as the kids in Kids4Peace. It gives me an opportunity to look at the world and what we are doing in a single faith context, and to then be able to bring that to Kids4Peace.”

For Matt, one of the most meaningful parts of Kids4Peace is his exposure to different religions. For Matt being able to understand the values and the traditions of both Islam and Judaism, as well as the daily life in Israel and Palestine has been really moving. “I knew so little before traveling to Israel and Palestine and working with the kids. I am now able to understand that part of the world and those faith traditions and relate to it all a bit more, which is really helpful for me.”

Working with others in a non-profit organization, and learning new skills from them, has also allowed Matt to gain a deeper understanding and become more open to the realities between Christians, Jews, and Muslims, not only in Israel and Palestine, but also in Boston. For Matt, the relationships made through Kids4Peace are extremely meaningful. “I work with people who are working so hard to make peace. It was amazing to see what impact it had on their lives and what sacrifices they had to make.” Through Kids4Peace, Matt was introduced to people who deeply inspire him, people who he would not have otherwise met, claiming he is a “much better and more peaceful person because of it.”

Yet for Matt, the most inspiring part of his work with Kids4Peace is the kids. “Anytime I have a rough day and get to spend time with them it totally turns my day around. The kids are really inspiring, in terms of their ability to interact with one another in atypical, more peaceful ways as well as to ask inspiring questions of one another.” One of Matt’s most cherished memories from his work with Kids4Peace was during camp one summer, when he heard the boys being quite loud and talkative during their bedtime. Matt went in to ask the boys to quiet down. When he entered their room, “I saw one boy was reading the Qu’ran, and all the other boys were sitting around respectfully around him, just listening. It was a really powerful moment, to be able to see Christians and Jews absorb the wisdom of the Qur’an through this young man’s reading.”

For Matt, this ability to learn and understand other cultures and religions, as well as to work closely with people who deeply inspire him has been profoundly meaningful. “Kids4Peace has brought the most incredible friendships into my life. It has brought people into my life who really inspire me, and my life is so much better because of it.”

Interfaith Iftar in Jerusalem: Community, Prayer and Hope during war

Last night, Kids4Peace Jerusalem protested against the violence. We left our families, we left our bomb shelters, our neighborhoods, our villages, to come together as a community. Yes, many of us were terrified. Some community members and even staff sent messages of love and support but were too afraid to join.

In Kids4Peace Jerusalem, many members of our community have been directly affected by the terror and violence. Whether it be close personal relationships with the teenage boys who were murdered, military lock-down, inability to enter Jerusalem, violence in our neighborhoods, cities, and even inside some homes. Everyone in Jerusalem has felt threatened, felt afraid, and had run to a bomb shelter at least once, and the war in Gaza and the violence around us is growing.

DSC_0130What was our action? We had dinner. We: Jews, Christians, and Muslims, Palestinians and Israelis. We broke bread together. We caught up with old friends. We lent each other our ears, our shoulders, and our hearts. We feel that now more than have to take a stance against violence and this interfaith Iftar was just the beginning. Kids4Peace Jerusalem co-director Mohammad Joulany opened the evening with a few explanatory words about the holy month of Ramadan, the spiritual opportunities it provides, and how an Iftar is a family dinner that breaks the daily fast.

In the last few moments before sundown, members from each religion stood up and offered a prayer over the food. As the sun started to set over the 11th night of Ramadan, all who attended felt like family and broke the fast together.

Udi, K4P Jerusalem Steering Committee Chair compared the violence to the Kindergarten that he runs. He asked everyone to imagine what would happen if one of the kids came to him and said: so-and-so ruined my drawing, and his reply would be: well then go on and ruin everyone else’s drawing too. This, he pointed out, is the extremism in our societies. They are trying to destroy everything, but here we are coming together despite it all, making a stance against violence.

#ViolenceStopsWithMe  #TogetherPeaceIsPossible

Quotes from Participants

“I came to prove to others that it is possible to be around people from the other side.” -Eden, 9th grade, Muslim

“I came to show that other than all the fighting between Arabs and Jews, there is still a way here to show peace and love.” -Carla, 9th grade, Christian

“I came because I wanted to come. The war is making us all divide up and be on separate sides. It just makes me want to come even more to settle things down.” -Aviya, 7th grade, Jewish

“The dinner was a success, as I was in a room where Muslim, Jews and Christians were eating, talking laughing together I remembered John Lennon’s song: Imagine…”  – Zahava, mother of Liav (Jewish)

“This is a really interesting meeting, but we have to build on it. It is one thing to come together, but let’s see how much we can make it grow.” -Francis, father of Mira (Christian)

“Yes, it is Ramadan and we came without the whole family. It is so important for us to be part of this meeting. We are Kids4Peace people, we are really in it.” -Aref, father of Adel (Muslim)

From the Director: Together In Pain & Hope | Ways to Help

FrJoshTo the Kids4Peace Community,
As Shabbat comes to Jerusalem on this first Friday of Ramadan, our prayers are mixed with tears.An escalation of violence in Jerusalem and the surrounding region has brought death and suffering to yet more Palestinian and Israeli families. Calls for retaliation and vengeance threaten further destruction.In the midst of overwhelming fear,

Kids4Peace remains a powerful sign of hope.

We are one of the only places where Jews, Christians and Muslims from all parts of Jerusalem and the West Bank meet face to face.  Our long-term approach is our strength. With the leadership of Jerusalem Co-Directors Mohammad Joulany and Rebecca Sullum, we are responding to the current situation with courage and compassion.

  • Interfaith Iftar: Next Wednesday, K4P Jerusalem will gather for an Interfaith Iftar: A Dinner of Prayer, Community and Hope.
  • #ViolenceStopsWithMe: K4P Jerusalem launched a  online campaign, to counter the message of vengeance and retaliation that is spreading through Jerusalem.  Join them by changing your cover photos to the pic above.
  • We continue our regular programs and meetings, to the extent that safety will allow.

Kids4Peace was born in the midst of violence, by brave families who risked coming together, precisely when the conflict was driving them apart.  Two years ago we met to pray during the violence in Gaza.  We face another moment of deep pain, suffering and fear.

As violence spreads in Jerusalem, it is time to come together again.

  • Together, we mourn the death of Mohammad Dudeen, Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach, Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir and the many victims of the conflict whose names have been forgotten.
  • Together, we affirm the sanctity of all life and pray that no more families will feel the pain of this most tragic loss.
  • Together, we commit to continue our daily work of ending conflict and inspiring hope in Jerusalem and beyond, through interfaith learning, leadership development and nonviolent action.

And it’s only possible because of you.

Next month, nearly 100 Jerusalem youth will attend camps in the USA, and I want to shower them with support. Here are some ways to help.

  1. Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem. Remember the victims and the peacemakers in your congregation’s prayers.  As people of faith, we need to acknowledge the pain and maintain our hope.
  2. Send a Message of Support. Write a note to a young peacemaker on this .  This year especially, it will be so hard for the Jerusalem kids to leave home and come to camp.  Your support will make all the difference.
  3. Follow & Share the Kids4Peace Blog There is so much bad news coming from the media.  We need to remind the world that people still work for peace. Follow  and share daily updates with family and friends.    If you have contacts in the media, please .
  4. Give as Generously as you can. This is a critical time, and you can be part of the solution.  Help Kids4Peace end this conflict, so no more children will die of violence.  .

Thank you for keeping the light of hope alive.

Fr Josh Thomas, Executive Director

Kids4Peace International | josh@k4p.org

Kids4Peace 3300 Chimney Rock, Suite 301, Houston, TX 77056

Donations are tax-deductible

Interfaith Prayer during the Fighting in Gaza Two Years Ago

Join the Campaign #ViolenceStopsWithMe

#ViolenceStopsWithMe

With heavy hearts, Kids4Peace mourns the continued loss of life and suffering throughout Jerusalem and the surrounding region.

At a time of great fear, when voices of retaliation and anger grow louder, Kids4Peace is committed to resisting violence in all its forms and working together for lasting change.

As a first step, we invite you to join a  online campaign:
  1. Change your cover photo to the graphic below
  2. Take a picture of yourself with the #violencestopswithme hashtag
  3. Invite others to do the same.

10449491_10100636498563597_3279460946164623499_n

Hope for the Future: by Jordan Goldwarg, K4P Northwest Director

jordan-at-office-e1403078680644Despite the difficult and complicated history, the trip also affirmed my belief that people are capable of working together to solve the conflict and that people want peace in the region. When I see how dedicated our staff are and how hard they work to bring our kids together — Muslim, Christian, and Jewish — I have hope for the future of the region.

As Northwest Regional Director of Kids4Peace, I was often met with looks of surprise when people learned that I had never been to Israel/Palestine. Since starting work last fall, I have been giving myself a crash course in Israeli and Palestinian history, culture, and politics, but I have been longing to visit and see it for myself, and also to meet in person the wonderful colleagues I have been communicating with via email and Skype over the past months. From June 3-10, I got my wish: a whirlwind tour of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv/Jaffa, and Ramallah. I arrived in Jerusalem just as the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, celebrating the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people, was starting. One of the ways that people celebrate Shavuot is through all-night study sessions, and it was amazing to see the streets of Jerusalem packed with people on their way to study sessions all over the city. It was even more amazing to wake up early the next morning and see the streets just as packed, filled with tired people on their way home.

Part way through the trip, I joined five other Kids4Peace staffers on an afternoon trip to Ramallah. For many, this was our first time going to the West Bank. We visited the tomb and museum dedicated to Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, and we met with the staff of another non-governmental organization, , that provides additional skills training to university graduates to help them secure jobs. Traveling through the Qalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah was a sobering reminder of how difficult travel can be for people who live only miles apart.

I also enjoyed a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem, seeing some of the holiest sites in Judaism (the Western Wall), Islam (the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque), and Christianity (the Church of the Holy Sepulcher). As a former history teacher, I find the layers of history in Jerusalem to be almost beyond comprehension. From the ancient Israelites, to the Greeks, to the Romans, to the Byzantines, to the Ottomans, to the British, and to many others in between, when we look at how many people have controlled this area, it becomes easier to understand why it is such contested territory. Meeting our kids and families in Jerusalem also gave me hope. Just before I left, I had the opportunity to meet with all of the kids who will be coming to Seattle this summer, along with their parents. The whole Seattle team looks forward to welcoming them in a just a few weeks! I want to give special thanks to our Jerusalem co-directors, Mohammad Joulany and Rebecca Sullum, and to the rest of the Jerusalem staff for their warm hospitality and help in making my trip memorable.

Jodi | A K4P Mom’s Story

The mission and philosophy of Kids4Peace paralleled our beliefs and that which we are teaching our son. It is my greatest hope my child and his children will live in a world where all humanity can live in peace, accepting and celebrating each other’s differences.

My son, Eli, loves to tell the story of how he first learned of this organization. I am a little embarrassed, but appreciate the enthusiasm of his retelling. It was a day like any other, absolutely nothing unusual.297

Eli was taking a shower and I had just sat down to read The Voice, the monthly newsletter of our synagogue, Temple Kol Emeth [in Marietta, GA]. I saw an advertisement seeking children who would be entering the 6th grade to take part in an interfaith summer camp. Four interested children were to be chosen to participate in the summer camp, which would include children of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths. These children would come from the Atlanta area as well as the Middle East. I could barely contain my excitement!

I immediately jumped up and ran into the bathroom as he was taking a shower to tell him of this exciting opportunity. I don’t think he was too excited, but that was more likely due to having me interrupt his shower! Later, we discussed the program and he agreed this was a fantastic opportunity not to be missed. Ours is a family very much interested in promoting peace through interfaith dialogue, education, volunteerism and good deeds.The mission and philosophy of Kids4Peace paralleled our beliefs and that which we are teaching our son.

Three other children in our congregation, who would also be attending the camp, joined Eli in the first meeting. At that time, the Atlanta area kids had an opportunity to meet each other and immediately began to learn of the differences and similarities of each other’s faith. The adult leaders had engaging and interesting activities to draw out the children into a lively discussion. A great sense of satisfaction came over me as I watched these children discussing religion without fear, distrust, or hate. It was clear this is where the dialogue for peace and understanding needs to begin, with our children.

Eli attended the week long camp during the summer, where he met other children from Israel. He was introduced to these religions and visited various houses of worship during this time. He engaged in activities and discussion of the various religions and how each other experiences and practices their faiths. At the conclusion of the camp, the parents were invited to Abraham’s Tent, a celebration of all the children had learned. We were treated to skits representative of various holidays of each faith. It was obvious the children had much fun in putting this together and took great pride in sharing what they had learned.

It is my greatest hope my child and his children will live in a world where all humanity can live in peace, accepting and celebrating each other’s differences. Kids4Peace is one very valuable method to attaining that goal and I am so pleased my family and I are able to participate. We look forward to a long relationship with this organization.

Jodi, Mother of Eli
Kids4Peace Atlanta

Remembering Ahmad Amara

Ahmad Amara
May 1926- February 2014

AhmadAmaraGraduation

Ahmad’s accounts of growing up on the Palestine’s coastal city of Jaffa included pleasant memories of visits by Jewish friends to his grandfather’s orange grove.

One of his earliest memories is of visiting his mother in the hospital shortly before she died, when he was 5 years old. “The passing away of my mother had a great deal of influence in what I wanted to do with my life,” Amara said. “It had a great effect on me.”

In a less peaceful vein, Ahmad recalled harsh curfews imposed on Arab towns by the British after the riots which followed the Palestinian General Strike in 1936, later known as the first Intifada, and his father’s arrest when he was at market ordering fruits and vegetables for his family.

His father, who graduated from the French Lycee, preferred that Ahmad attend the Friends Boys School in Ramallah for his final two years of secondary school. He then went to the American University in Beirut, Lebanon, But the war in Palestine broke out, therefore he went to University of Edinburgh, Scotland for medical school.

In the war, his father lost his business and his land, and Amara had to settle on a degree in microbiology.  He also holds degrees from the University of London (Portsmouth) and Escuela Oficial de Idiomas of Madrid, Spain.

He then spent most of his adult life working at a pharmaceutical company that sent him to England, Spain, Switzerland and New Jersey.
Amara and his wife, who passed away nearly three years ago, retired to Asheville in 1989, after being drawn to the area because of Mission Hospital and the College for Seniors.
”We searched around and decided we’d come to North Carolina,” he said. “We looked around until we found Asheville and decided this is where we’ll stay. … One thing we saw, in contrast to New Jersey, was that walking on the street in Asheville, people smile at you.”

Ahmad became involved in the community, taking classes at the College for Seniors and volunteering as an interpreter and at Mission Hospital. Ahmad, who was Muslim, also started speaking about Islam and the Middle East at local churches before he was asked to teach a class at the College for Seniors. Among his courses were: Islam: Religion and Politics, Myths and Realities; History of Medieval Spain; Islam: Faith & Way of Life; Middle East Contemporary Affairs; History of the Middle East; and History of the Arab People.

Ahmad was active to the very end working on peace & justice– he was slotted to speak to the Asheville Friends Meeting on Feb. 16, 2014.

He leaves behind two daughters, Nadia and Catherine, both in the United Kingdom, and six grandchildren; and two siblings in Jordan. His ashes will rest in Edinburgh, Scotland.

He was an active member of Kids4Peace, serving as Muslim advisor for the North Carolina camp.  At the camp, Ahmad was a mentor to dozens of Muslim, Jewish and Christian youth from the USA, Jerusalem, and his native Jaffa.

This biography draws on Ahmad’s 2010 Asheville Citizen-Times story on him, his OLLI biography, and recollections by Beth Keiser.

Kids4Peace Thank You

Thanks for Believing

“Together, we are standing up against those who say peace is impossible, who say violence and injustice will never end.  Together, we’re showing the world that youth have power; that religion can be a source of unity; and that Jerusalem can be a city of peace once again.”

 

 

Josh Thomas
Executive DirectorFr Josh Kids4Peace

This Thanksgiving week, I’m thankful for you: our strong, growing, community of peacemakers around the world.

Together, we’re building a movement based on respect and understanding. Together, we’re taking courageous steps for change.

Together, we are standing up against those who say peace is impossible, who say violence and injustice will never end.

Together, we’re showing the world that youth have power; that religion can be a source of unity; and that Jerusalem can be a city of peace once again.

In a time of uncertainty and fear, we remain a beacon of hope that there is another way.

Over the next few weeks, I invite you to watch your email for stories about what we are achieving together.

In photos and videos, reports and testimonials, you will see the impact of your support: Lives changed. Attitudes shifted. Friendships forged against all odds.

Because of you, Kids4Peace has become a powerful global movement and a force for good in this world.

*

Every day, I’m grateful to be part of Kids4Peace.

Grateful for Palestinian and Israeli parents courageous enough to send their beloved daughters and sons to a camp with children that society calls their enemy.

Grateful for chapters across North America who nurture interfaith networks of youth, families and volunteers: both local peace leaders and global citizens.

Grateful for skilled adult advisors and dialogue facilitators, who help youth share painful stories and learn difficult truths, in an atmosphere of respect and love.

Grateful for more than 25 educators in Jerusalem, women and men from the three religions, who work together as our Kids4Peace staff team: a powerful witness to what can be achieved together.

Grateful for youth who stand up to peer pressure and embrace the identity “peacemaker.”

Grateful for the generosity of friends whose financial support makes this possible.

Grateful for you.

Thanks for believing that peace is possible.

It makes all the difference.

Fr. Josh Thomas
Executive Director

Donate Now

Kids4Peace Thank You

K4P Kids4Peace Jerusalem

Toot, Louis & May | A Community of Respect

K4p for me is already a community that represents that future, the future of this land. A community of respect, a place where everyone is equally represented with the same opportunity, a place were Arabs and Jews sit beside each other as one community. 

 

 

Presentation at the Kids4Peace 10th Anniversary Celebration
January, 2012, Jerusalem

Toot (Jewish), Louis (Christian) and May (Muslim)  Kids4Peace youth who have participated in the full six-year  program. 

K4P Kids4Peace JerusalemToot: I want to tell you a story about a Jewish girl who lives in Jerusalem. Her parents met at the university and she is their eldest, she has a younger sister and a younger brother and they all live in a pleasant neighborhood. The girl went to kindergarten, elementary school and later on to high-school. She is a good student; loves art and plays basketball, she tried singing but she wasn’t very successful at that. The kids surrounding her at school, at the afternoon activities, and around neighborhood are more of the same – some play the piano, others dance. There are tall kids, short ones; good students, bad students; funny kids and some that were very serious. There are kids that she likes more and others that annoy her. All speak the same language, share the same program of study at school and are members of the same religion.

But then there were these other people. She was not sure who they were exactly. She saw them on the TV; she heard about them on therRadio, she read about them in the newspaper. Adults would talk about them. However, she could never figure out who exactly they were. All she knew is that they were very different from her. From the tone people had used when they were talking about them and from the pictures she saw, she felt that “the other people” were different in a negative way.

Louis: Growing up as a Christian Arab in Jerusalem, I always lived with Jews, in school, camps, kindergarten and other programs. I always knew there was a conflict but I never really felt it because I lived with Jews in peace and never saw a difference between us, this environment created somewhat an illusionary world of peace and love and I never really thought that there was a serious conflict. When I was 10 years old I changed my school and I attended a school that is mostly Arab. There I started feeling the conflict more because I hung out with Arabs who never met Jews before. Listening to their stories and opinions about the Jews and experiencing the fights that happen between the Jewish and Arab youth on the streets, I really started feeling the conflict. This along with other incidents showed the huge problem that we are facing.

Toot: When the girl was 12, her parents introduced her to “kids for Peace”. There she met the “other people”. It was then she realized that the other people, like Louis, are also more of the same- some played the piano, others danced or play sports. There were tall kids, short ones; good students, bad students; funny kids and serious ones. There were kids that she liked more and others she didn’t like at all. Even though they did not speak the same language, they did not share the same program of study at school or were not members of the same religion, they were all kids just like her. The girl in the story is me, but she could be anyone else that has got to know “the other people” as human beings instead of pictures and symbols in the media.

Louis: That same year that I changed schools, I learned about and joined the Kids4Peace first year program. As I started going to the meetings and participating in the dialogues, I noticed that k4p has a different approach to the conflict than other programs I grew up in. I think that programs like k4p are the most effective in achieving peace, because in k4p we face the problem and talk about it instead of pretending it doesn’t exist. Now I am training to be a k4p counselor for next year and a proud member of the k4p community and I keep attending the program because I believe in the change.

May: K4P is made up of different stages. When we first join the program, whether we have already met people from the other religions or not, we meet people from other religions and their own who might be new to us. Personally in my first year, the fact that some kids were surprised when they heard about other religions’ basics shocked me. Because even though I’m a Muslim, I was always exposed to Jews and Christians and felt close to them.
After going to summer camp and ending the year, we accomplish the first and minor step of K4P, the real learning begins. We enter a new world with a lot to explore. This world is called: K4P Continuation. There are two programs, year 1 and year 2. At each stage, the learning gets deeper. The youth are wiser and they start to open up more and more. After the first few years when we feel comfortable with our fellow Kids4Peacers, we have a chance to go to the leadership program. It’s a smaller group of kids, between the ages of 14-15 who discuss the problems we face living here in Jerusalem and really share our opinions. We go to a summer camp to continue our discussions and sharing. We also listen to stories and outside speakers. At that stage we really open up and aren’t afraid to defend our opinions.

Toot: Looking back at my years in Kids for peace (first as a participant, then in the leadership program and today as I am being trained to be a counselor) what I found even more important than learning to know the others is getting to know myself. I think I can say today that I know better who I am and how it’s being reflected by the place I live in (Jerusalem) and the variety of people who live here with me. I’m not saying I can solve the conflict, but I do think I can make a change. A change could be one person, one life, one action and that for me is a huge change.

Louis: About a month ago I mentioned to someone that I was going to k4p, and he replied by saying: “you still believe in this peace nonsense!”, giving up on the idea of peace in this land I think is reasonable because of how impossible it appears to achieve, but about 150 years ago before slavery in the united states was abolished and African Americans were enslaved by white people, I bet no one thought that black people will ever have equal rights, or that they will ever be treated the same, that just seemed impossible; yet today the United states has a black president who has been reelected for another 4 year term of presidency. So there is no reason to give up on peace, we will have peace, and we will have a country with Arabs and Jews living side by side.
K4p for me is already a community that represents that future, the future of this land. A community of respect, a place where everyone is equally represented with the same opportunity, a place were Arabs and Jews sit beside each other as one community. We would like to thank you for being a part of this community and supporting us.

Emily | “Peace Lasts”

We begin to have faith in human kind and gain the confidence to transform our violent and unjust surroundings into a land that we can feel content with due to the realization that one person has the ability to make a difference in the world through peace and communication.

 

Episcopal AtlantaPresentation to the 107th Annual Council
of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta
November, 2013

Good morning. My name is Emily, I am fifteen years old, and I am currently in the tenth grade. I attended my first camp of Kids4Peace in 2009 when I was eleven. Kids4Peace is an interfaith and cross-cultural Jerusalem-based organization comprised of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian youth that focuses on conflict resolution, mending the broken situation of the Middle East, and uniting peacefully to make a difference that will impact the world.

EmilyAtCouncil

It almost seems unfair to make an attempt to define this organization, for words seem unable to express the profound impact and true significance of this organization. I have found that there are certain moments and experiences throughout life that catch us by surprise. They affect us in ways we don’t anticipate and change the course of our lives and how we choose to live them forever. Kids4Peace was definitely one of those journeys in my life.

At the first camp, I was completely submerged into one of the most safe, open, and loving environments I have ever been exposed to. After a lot of reflection, I have found that the first camp is a lot about realization. We began to break down the wall of intolerance that has been crammed into our minds until that wall shatters altogether because of the realization that “they” are just people.  began to recognize and determine what needs change in the world upon the realization that places, people, and societies throughout the globe need change.

We begin to have faith in human kind and gain the confidence to transform our violent and unjust surroundings into a land that we can feel content with due to the realization that one person has the ability to make a difference in the world through peace and communication.

This past summer I was fortunate to be able to attend the Kids4Peace Leadership Camp. The first camp is about figuring out what needs to change, and Leadership Camp is about learning how to dissect, understand, and execute that change. This camp goes much farther in depth into the conflict and the more intimate and sensitive topics. We acquired skills related to every aspect of leadership itself, communication, and compromising. The concept of peace has the tendency to come off fake and cliché. One of the things I have learned is that conflict isn’t necessarily wrong. A speaker who visited my camp this summer told us something that really stuck with me. She said, “Conflict isn’t bad. Conflict is healthy. Conflict is normal. However violence is not.” These camps have helped me to understand the motivation, causes, and dynamics of conflict itself. Understanding conflict is the first step before attempting to resolve it.

One of the most tragic elements of the nature of conflict is the continuation over generations. People grip onto hatred, resentment, prejudice, and burden themselves because that’s all they know. This cycle is not easy to break. However, one of the most amazing epiphanies I have had is that this pattern occurs with peace as well as hatred. Humans aren’t bred with that hatred inside them.

This camp begins the chain and process of peacemaking at an age before that toxic hate has the chance to penetrate their loving hearts. It plants the seed of reconciliation and unity in the middle of a battlefield.

As we grow and evolve, peace has different meanings to us. We associate peace differently, and our understanding of it deepens as we learn. Kids4Peace has helped me with this. It has helped me to sort out and analyze the wadded knot of emotion and observations into skills and these “realizations” throughout my journey of peace. This path doesn’t have an end because peace doesn’t have an end.

Peace lasts. Peace makes a mark. That’s why Kids4Peace is so life changing.

Kids4Peace paved the way of truth, harmony, and acceptance. It is up to us now to choose whether or not to trek down the road of understanding together until we achieve our desire: peace.

Thank you.

by Emily Combs (Christian – St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church),
2009 Atlanta Camper, 2013 Leadership Camp Participant

Youth Voices: “Peace Lasts”

Presentation to the 107th Annual Council
of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta
November, 2013

Good morning. My name is Emily, I am fifteen years old, and I am currently in the tenth grade. I attended my first camp of Kids4Peace in 2009 when I was eleven. Kids4Peace is an interfaith and cross-cultural Jerusalem-based organization comprised of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian youth that focuses on conflict resolution, mending the broken situation of the Middle East, and uniting peacefully to make a difference that will impact the world. It almost seems unfair to make an attempt to define this organization, for words seem unable to express the profound impact and true significance of this organization. I have found that there are certain moments and experiences throughout life that catch us by surprise. They affect us in ways we don’t anticipate and change the course of our lives and how we choose to live them forever. Kids4Peace was definitely one of those journeys in my life.

EmilyAtCouncil

At the first camp, I was completely submerged into one of the most safe, open, and loving environments I have ever been exposed to. After a lot of reflection, I have found that the first camp is a lot about realization. We began to break down the wall of intolerance that has been crammed into our minds until that wall shatters altogether because of the realization that “they” are just people.  began to recognize and determine what needs change in the world upon the realization that places, people, and societies throughout the globe need change.

We begin to have faith in human kind and gain the confidence to transform our violent and unjust surroundings into a land that we can feel content with due to the realization that one person has the ability to make a difference in the world through peace and communication.

This past summer I was fortunate to be able to attend the Kids4Peace Leadership Camp. The first camp is about figuring out what needs to change, and Leadership Camp is about learning how to dissect, understand, and execute that change. This camp goes much farther in depth into the conflict and the more intimate and sensitive topics. We acquired skills related to every aspect of leadership itself, communication, and compromising. The concept of peace has the tendency to come off fake and cliché. One of the things I have learned is that conflict isn’t necessarily wrong. A speaker who visited my camp this summer told us something that really stuck with me. She said, “Conflict isn’t bad. Conflict is healthy. Conflict is normal. However violence is not.” These camps have helped me to understand the motivation, causes, and dynamics of conflict itself. Understanding conflict is the first step before attempting to resolve it.

One of the most tragic elements of the nature of conflict is the continuation over generations. People grip onto hatred, resentment, prejudice, and burden themselves because that’s all they know. This cycle is not easy to break. However, one of the most amazing epiphanies I have had is that this pattern occurs with peace as well as hatred. Humans aren’t bred with that hatred inside them.

This camp begins the chain and process of peacemaking at an age before that toxic hate has the chance to penetrate their loving hearts. It plants the seed of reconciliation and unity in the middle of a battlefield.

As we grow and evolve, peace has different meanings to us. We associate peace differently, and our understanding of it deepens as we learn. Kids4Peace has helped me with this. It has helped me to sort out and analyze the wadded knot of emotion and observations into skills and these “realizations” throughout my journey of peace. This path doesn’t have an end because peace doesn’t have an end.

Peace lasts. Peace makes a mark. That’s why Kids4Peace is so life changing.

Kids4Peace paved the way of truth, harmony, and acceptance. It is up to us now to choose whether or not to trek down the road of understanding together until we achieve our desire: peace.

Thank you.

by Emily Combs (Christian – St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church),
2009 Atlanta Camper, 2013 Leadership Camp Participant

Jerusalem Continuation Weekends – Fall 2012

Leap and Roots both had incredible weekend experiences in the last two weeks. Roots dove into the questions and intricacies of “Identity” while overlooking a beautiful view of the Dead Sea in Ein Gedi. Leap developed a new definition of “Friendship” as the group went away together for the first time and had a blast at Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salaam! Special thanks to Naomi and Reeham for coordinating such fun and meaningful experiences. We are already looking forward to the Leap and Roots weekends this coming spring.

 

Continuation – Fall Meetings

Kids4Peace “Roots” met last week, formerly known as Continuation 2, and the kids could not have been more excited to get back in touch after a long summer away from each other. The meeting took place at the Anglican School in Jerusalem, a familiar locale where Bisli and Bamba eating comes naturally to Kids4Peace. After taking a few minutes to mingle, Continuation Coordinators Naomi and Reeham led icebreakers as an excuse for the kids to practice their English and hear about each others summers.

Counselor Guy Saar Ruso then led the group through a storytelling activity, in which the kids participated so enthusiastically they could almost not speak through the roaring laughter. The evening culminated with the annual “Commercial Break”, as Roots divided into groups to create skits that will act as commercials to encourage First Year participants to stay in the program for years to come. The competition was tough, but Souwr, Miral, Carla, Tamara, Thelet, and Angela’s group won the prize and will be performing their commercial this week!

‘Kids 4 Peace’ brings Muslims, Jews and Christians to Camp Allen

By Luke Blount | July 23, 2012

[Diocese of Texas] Over the past decade, countless conventions, meetings and summits have been held in search of a long-lasting peace between faith communities in Israel and Palestine, but for the children who take part in Kids 4 Peace, the solution seems simple because they experience it every day.

Kids 4 Peace is a interfaith program developed through the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem andSt. George’s College in Jerusalem that brings together Christian, Jewish and Muslim children from the Holy Land and the United States to take part in summer camps. The first camp took place in 2002 at Camp Allen, and 10 years later, Kids 4 Peace returned to the Diocese of Texas to inaugurate an annual gathering for interfaith education.

Typically, 12 children, four of each faith, come together from Jerusalem along with 12 from the United States. They live, play, work and worship together for two weeks while exploring their similarities and differences. Currently, Kids 4 Peace has five two-week summer camps across the United States.

“Ten years ago we had this dream of a summer camp where children would have the chance to meet each other face-to-face, cross the lines of conflict, learn about each other’s lives and religions and lay the groundwork for a better future,” said the Rev. Josh Thomas, executive director.

Children from the Holy Land and the United States work together to conquer the ropes course at Camp Allen during “Kids 4 Peace” interfaith camp. Photo/Diocese of Texas

Looking at the group at Camp Allen in July, it was hard to tell which kids came from which country or religion. They liked the same games, wore the same clothes and spoke at least some English. During dinner one evening, they all sang along to a pop song from the British/Irish band, One Direction, belting out the signature line “You don’t know you’re beautiful” in unison.

“We are all friends,” said 12-year-old Eliya, a Jew from Jerusalem. “Jews, Christians, Muslims. That’s how it is supposed to be, so it’s good.”

The children spent the week observing the practices of other faiths including Jewish Shabbat prayers, Muslim prayers and an Episcopal Eucharist. After each service, they asked and answered questions to learn more about the three faiths.

Building friendships and seeking common ground came easily for the Kids 4 Peace throughout the week. They conquered physical challenges as well as emotional ones. One of the first activities they participated in together was Camp Allen’s challenge course and giant swing. The children had to work together, encourage and help each other to climb obstacles and ride a zip line more than 50 yards.

Kids 4 Peace campers engage in discussion with an adult leader. Photo/Diocese of Texas

“It’s fun because I’m not thinking, ‘They are not from my religion,’” said Eyal, another 12-year-old Jew from Jerusalem. “I don’t think like that.

Crossing cultural barriers is the central theme of the Kids 4 Peace camp, and Thomas sees a uniting principle that all three faiths can rally around.

“Kids 4 Peace’s bottom line message is that all the children of Abraham can live together in peace,” Thomas said. “Peace and being a peacemaker is a priority and an imperative of each religious tradition on its own as well as something that is strengthened by our time together.”

Throughout the week, the children displayed endless curiosity and love for each other. If one of them upset another, they were quick to forgive and forget. If another needed encouragement, they would gather together to cheer each other on. The ease with which they achieved a common understanding and the joy they expressed at every moment of the day leads one to wonder if these children could teach adults.

“Adults could learn that maybe not everyone from a certain place or group is bad,” said 12-year-old Serifat, a Muslim from Houston. “We are just like everybody else.”

“A lot of adults are not nice,” Eliya said. “I would just tell them not to behave like that because it’s not nice, and if we keep doing that, the world will never have peace.”

“If you are fighting because of different religions, it’s not a good example for anything,” Eyal said. “It’s just not the right thing to do.”

The simplicity of their message may seem trite when compared with the complexity of the conflict in Israel and Palestine, but perhaps they are on to something.

“I often say the Kids 4 Peace is the closest thing I have experienced to a glimpse at the reign of God,” Thomas said. “The ease at which they come together and form relationships is so natural that it offers a glimpse into human possibility of what we are here on this earth for. It feels as if they have been waiting their whole lives for this chance to be together.”

Thomas thinks that peacefulness is the natural state of these children, and if they can harness it at a young age, they can carry it into adulthood with a deeper understanding of what it means to be different, yet so similar. Kids 4 Peace conducts a continuation program in Jerusalem for 13- to 14-year-olds as well as a new leadership program for older teenagers to learn peace building skills as they transition to adulthood.

“It is possible to love your enemies,” Thomas said. “It really is possible to cross beyond those things that divide people and learn about one another. We can value each other’s dignity and worth while respecting differences.”

Visit the Kids 4 Peace website to learn more about the camps.

— Luke Blount is a staff writer and communications specialist for the Diocese of Texas.

Peace Builders: “We refuse to abandon the prayer and the dream”

“We in Kids4Peace believe, that here in Jerusalem, in a country everyone fights over, a city that seems sometimes to be an obstacle to peace, that here we have the ability to do things differently. We refuse to abandon the prayer and the dream.” – Yakir Englander, Director of Kids4Peace Jerusalem

Interfaith youth program demonstrates a culture of peace

From the spring issue of Pathways, the journal of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta.

BUILDING A NEW CULTURE OF PEACE

Nitzan came to Kids4Peace when she was 12. Her father, an Israeli bus driver, was injured when a suicide bomb exploded on his bus in Jerusalem. He brought Nitzan to Kids4Peace because he didn’t want her to grow up to hate Palestinians. For the last five years, Nitzan has been part of our community of young peacebuilders—Jews, Christians and Muslims—who are learning to trust one another, forge friendships across the lines of conflict, and work together for a better future.

“Peace is possible,” Nitzan believes, “but it is very hard to get it.” After coming to a Kids4Peace camp in North Carolina and then attending three years of follow-up programs in Jerusalem, Nitzan saw the fruits of her involvement at the first-ever Kids4Peace Leadership Camp for older teens that she attended last summer in Vermont. “We worked on it a long time, and now we are listening and saying what is in our hearts,” she says.

Founded in Jerusalem in 2002, Kids4Peace is a global youth movement, committed to developing a community of interfaith leaders equipped with the knowledge, skills and relationships to build— together—a new culture of peace. In the past 10 years, nearly 700 Jewish, Christian and Muslim children from Jerusalem and the United States have attended Kids4Peace summer camps, hosted by local chapters of Kids4Peace in Atlanta, Boston, North Carolina, Vermont and Houston.

At each Kids4Peace camp, 12 children from Jerusalem (Jews, Christians and Muslims, all about age 12) travel to the United States and join 12 American “peace pals” for a two-week peace education experience.

CAMP MIKELL HOSTS KIDS4PEACE

Kids4Peace Atlanta is blessed to hold its programs at Camp Mikell, the Diocese of Atlanta’s camp and conference center, during its junior camp session. The unconditional love and warm welcome of Mikell staff and counselors create the safe place for children of different religions and cultures to become friends.

In the mornings, while Camp Mikell is having its Christian education programs, Kids4Peace meets separately for interfaith education activities and team- building challenges. After lunch, Kids4Peace joins the rest of Camp Mikell for canteen, swimming, sports, art, and evening programs. They even bring some Israeli and Arab music to share at the evening dances.

“The program works because it invokes “a blessed formula,” said the Rev. Wendy Porter Cade, director of the Kids4Peace Atlanta camp and middle school chaplain at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School. “Interfaith kids from the Middle East who have no business being friends, plus American kids who don’t know anything outside of themselves, plus adults who believe that peace is possible, plus the crazy dream that religion can be the thing that unites us and not divide us … it’s working.”

Read the full article online here 

 

 

Kids4Peace North Carolina Receives Bishop’s Medal

Kids4Peace received the 2012 Bishop’s Medal during the Eucharist at the 196th Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.

Kids4Peace is a powerful peace program in which 12 Muslim, Jewish and Christian children from Jerusalem fly to one of four American camp sites to join 12 of their American peers for two weeks of summer fun, faith-sharing and learning about each other.

During the summer of 2012, Kids4Peace-North Carolina campers attended a minor league baseball game, learned teamwork through a creek walk and ropes course, attended each other’s places of worship, and celebrated their common ancestor, Abraham, through a tent celebration.

The goal of Kids4Peace is to teach children from conflict-ridden Israel/Palestine to recognize their commonalities, both spiritually and personally, and to promote peace in their homeland. Once children attend Kids4Peace, they continue to be involved in leadership and peace training throughout their adolescent years. Many even later return as camp counselors.

Watch the Kids4Peace North Carolina Video

Watch the Award Ceremony

Kids4Peace Leadership Camp 2011

Kids4Peace Leadership Camp Celebrates First Year

July’s Leadership Camp at Acer Farm in Brattleboro was nothing short of amazing.  The Muslim, Jewish and Christian teens, counselors, volunteers and guest educators harmonized to produce important breakthroughs in their relationships and understandings.  The twelve days together in Vermont were a powerful time, and the positive feedback has been overwhelming.

The Leadership Camp’s goals were threefold.   1) To develop greater responsibility, initiative, self-expression, communal awareness and good-will in each individual.  2) To deepen personal, national and religious connections between American, Israeli and Palestinian youth.  3) To strengthen the campers personally, intellectually and spiritually to be effective leaders and peacemakers for a future beyond the status quo.

Personal Development:  The political and religious challenges in Israel and Palestine are complex, and substantive transformation requires maturity.  The Camp program focused on developing that maturity.  Our daily leadership seminar taught positive communication and conflict management skills.  Regular group counseling and learning sessions with guest educators like Ambassador Philip Wilcox, Imam Bilal and military officers Erez and Nour fostered both self-expression and communal awareness.  Chores of cooking and cleaning reinforced personal responsibility and accountability to the group.  The purpose was to nurture the teenager’s character and confidence in order to realize that history’s conclusions are not forgone and they are not obliged to perpetuate their grandparents’ war.

Deeper Relationships: Personal relationships are everything in the Middle East.  They are how one navigates impenetrable bureaucracies and limited opportunities.  The Camp’s small size, high adult-camper ratio, daily routines, recreational and religious programs focused on encouraging those essential relationships.  Over the course of twelve days the campers argued and played, confronted each other and themselves, laughed and prayed.  They shared meals and worship, learned to canoe and horseback ride, and listened to the truth and made new friends.  With the result that even when the group reached bitter impasse, they refused the temptation to give up on each other’s humanity or on our God’s promise of peace.  The peace of Jerusalem will be built on that trust.

Effective Leadership: Overcoming the knotty obstacles to peace for two peoples and three religions in one land will require creative leaders.  The Camp’s program challenged these Muslim, Christian and Jewish teens to learn their limits as leaders and to expand them.  Integrated rooming arrangements and interactions with religious leaders helped them confront bigotry and moral indifference.  (Imagine speaking to an imam for the first time.)  Learning new sports and frank conversation in the group counseling sessions helped them confront fear.  (Imagine walking in a dark forest for the first time.)   Wrestling with the presentations of diplomats, philosophers, politicians and military officers helped them see a truth and a possibility for their land beyond what they have known.  (Imagine acknowledging the justice of your enemy’s cause for the first time.)  The key to peace is leadership.

How do we measure the camp’s success?  It is a good question, and at this early stage of our work, our answer can only be if one of teenagers responds deeply to the program and commits his or her self to peacemaking either as a clergy person, politician, aid-worker or camp counselor then that is the mark of success.  We are delighted to report that not one but three of our teens returned home to Jerusalem intending to become committed peacemakers!

God’s grace abounded throughout the entire effort.  Among the other life-giving surprises we experienced were the forging of dynamic partnerships with Kids4PeaceUSA, Combatants for Peace, the Foundation for Middle East Peace, and the Building Abrahamic Partnerships Program at Hartford Seminary; witnessing the wisdom and ability of the counseling staff; designing and painting a highway billboard that will hang around the country, courtesy of Barrett Outdoor Communications; and the filming and production of a short video about the camp, courtesy of Brooklawn Productions.

The two great strengths of the Leadership Camp at Acer Farm are the small, carefully selected group and the religious emphasis.  The former allows for an intense, transformative experience.  The latter emphasis opens up a powerful but largely neglected resource for Mid-East peacemaking.  We plan to leverage both these strengths for the benefit of the campers and staff next year’s July camp.

Thank you for your prayers, encouragement and generous support.  We believe that the history of Jerusalem is the history of the world.  Peace is possible in Jerusalem, but peace is for the strong.  Therefore it requires patience and determination, and this is always difficult.  We hope that you will choose to remain part of this pioneer work.

By The Rev. Nicholas Porter
Camp Coordinator & Host

Moving toward a ‘culture of peace,’ one child at a time

Interfaith camps offer fun, peacemaking for Jerusalem, U.S. youth

[Episcopal News Service] Climbing Stone Mountain in the Georgia humidity and triple-digit heat was one of the hardest things 11-year-old Miller had ever done — but he managed just fine, with a little help from his newfound friends.

There were nearly two dozen of them, in fact; 11- to 13-year-old Muslims, Jews and Christians, from Jerusalem and the United States, who learned about each other’s faith traditions and lives during a recent two-week Kids4Peace summer camp experience in Atlanta.

“I really thought a lot about peace in the world, and about violence,” after scaling the rocky summit, added Miller, who resides in Powder Springs, Georgia. “Because when we were on top of Stone Mountain, looking out into the world, everything was okay. Nothing was wrong.”

Which was partly why Kids4Peace was founded in 2002 through the efforts of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and collaborative U.S. partners, according to the Rev. Josh Thomas, executive director of Kids4Peace USA, during a July 17 telephone interview.

About 450 kids have participated in the program in the nine years since the first session, at Camp Allen in the Diocese of Texas. This year, the agency organized summer peace camps for a total of 48 Jerusalem youth. Groups of 12 Jerusalem youth — four each Muslim, Christian and Jewish — are sent to a campsite, either in Atlanta, North Carolina, Boston or Vermont.

While in the United States, the 12 visitors, whose last names are withheld to protect their safety, enjoy camp activities and educational experiences with equal numbers of their American counterparts. This year, 150 Jerusalem youth applied for the 48 spaces, Thomas said.

There is also a continuation program offered for 13- to 14-year-olds after the initial camp experience, which includes educational activities, dialogue and community service to help nurture a culture of peace, Thomas added.

New this year is a leadership camp, held in Brattleboro, Vermont, about 150 miles south of Burlington, to teach additional peacemaking skills to 14 to 16 year olds who’ve been through the initial camp experience, he said. Eleven youth, including eight from Jerusalem, are participating in the camp, which officially got underway July 18.

Sasha, 15, a Palestinian Christian, said she hoped the leadership program would equip her “to go back home with a lot of knowledge. I hope I can get many points of view, not only my point of view. I don’t want to listen to the same point of view as mine. And I want to have fun.”

Despite loving her initial camp experience, she found returning home changed things. “I really like the Jewish kids, but when I went back home, I didn’t feel comfortable enough to be close to them,” she said.

“In the camp we all feel equal because we’re in America and there’s no checkpoints … (but) I have a lot of friends who live behind the checkpoints and the walls, and I can’t see them. It’s been two years and I haven’t seen my best friend in Ramallah.”

Hassan, 16, is Muslim and lives in a predominantly Jewish area of Jerusalem. He hopes “that each one of us can go back home with a new experience and new knowledge and be confident in himself and be able to change the area where he lives. That if he doesn’t like it, he’ll have the courage to go and try to change it.”

Peace, for him, would be “for everybody to walk in the streets wherever they want without any limits, without being controlled or stopped or looked at in a bad way or cursed at. That’s what I think peace would be like.”

The program is hoping to expand U.S. campsite sponsors next year, Thomas said. It costs about $65,000 to host a camp, most of which is spent on airfare.

“This is a grassroots organization that relies on the kids and families as the source of this movement,” Thomas said in a telephone interview from Vermont. “We’re trying to think of it less as a program and more as a movement towards lasting peace in the Holy Land and beyond.”

In Atlanta near the end of her two-week camp, Noa, a 12-year-old Jewish girl from Jerusalem, said July 15 that the experience had taught her a great deal about herself, as well as others.

“I learned about other religions, very interesting things, but most of the things that I learned were about myself, that I can spend two weeks without my parents,” she said. “And I learned that Arab kids are not bad people. Jewish kids are not bad people, and we lose a friend if we think they are bad.”

Fares, 11, a Christian from Jerusalem said “making peace is important, because without peace it’s only violence and it’s like hate for everybody. My hope is that all the world can live in peace … and that I can be a leader in Kids4Peace.”

And for Miller, 11, of Powder Springs, who got involved with Kids4Peace “because it’s not every day you can meet kids from Jerusalem,” there were lots of surprises.

Among them, “they’re a lot like us. They wear the same clothes. They have MP3 players, computers, X-boxes. This has been a cool experience.”

The Rev. Wendy Porter Cade, co-director of Kids4Peace Atlanta, said the camp has worked because “middle-schoolers are magic, authentic … they absorb everything, miss nothing, hate phonies, crave harmony. Just as soon as they kick a hole in the wall or break down in a fit of tears, they will be leading a game of four square or holding a friend’s hand or spontaneously helping clean the kitchen.”

Cade, in her first year as director of the Atlanta program, has been involved in various with Kids4Peace since 2008. The programs works because it invokes “a blessed formula — interfaith kids from the Middle East who have no business being friends, plus American kids who don’t know anything outside of themselves, plus adults who believe that peace is possible, plus the crazy dream that religion can be the thing that unites us and not divide us … it’s working,” she said in an e-mail to ENS.

Noting that one of the many camp outings included a visit to the King Center for Social Change, she added: “Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of the blessed community is really happening. It’s not as easy as black and white. It’s not overnight. It’s a movement. It’s rippling through the lives of 12-year-olds from Atlanta to Boston to Vermont to Jerusalem.”

— The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. She is based in Los Angeles.

Yakir Englander receives award for work with Kids4Peace

Ms. Rula Saleh, Mr. Yakir Englander, Fr. Josh Thomas, Ms. Reeham Subhi, representing the three faiths of Kids4Peace at the awards ceremony.

Ms. Rula Saleh, Mr. Yakir Englander, Fr. Josh Thomas, Ms. Reeham Subhi, representing the three faiths of Kids4Peace at the awards ceremony.

The Council of Higher Education in Israel bestowed the “Shosh Berlinsky-Sheinfeld Award” on Mr. Yakir Englander, Kids4Peace Jerusalem Director and PhD student at Hebrew University, for his work with Kids4Peace.  He was chosen from among all the universities in Israel as the researcher making the greatest contribution to Israeli society.

Acceptance Speech

Mr. Yakir Englander, June 14, 2011 

We in “Kids4Peace” believe, that here in Jerusalem, of all places, in a city everyone fights over, a city that seems sometimes to be an obstacle to peace, that here, we have the ability to do things differently. We refuse to abandon the prayer and the dream.

Honorable Director of the Israel Council of Higher Education; Members of the Council; Members of the Awards Committee; fellow Lecturers and Researchers; fellow Recipients of the Award, my dear family members, and my dear friends:

At first glance, granting an award for academic engagement and service in the social community might seem surprising. The usual image of the academic researcher is of someone devoted full time to his or her research – very often in the “inner chambers” and cut off from everyday experience. Intellectual research requires the ability to engage in an internal and intimate dialogue with texts and with subjects and realms that are not usually busy with the here and now.

And yet, if we look more closer at the role of the academic, we see that this role is essentially engaged with the community. The greatest of thinkers have been those who believed that daily life both directs and defines the way of thinking and the questions raised by the researcher. They also believed that the responses and insights that arise in the process of academic research have the power to forge a better society, or at least a society more aware of its choices.

So it was with Socrates sitting in the streets of Athens, engaging the citizens of that city in conversations, and with the Rambam (Maimonides) who served actively as the leader of the Jewish community in Egypt, and with the Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd Al-Qurtubi (known in the West as Averroes) who governed the city of Cordoba and became a judge in Morocco, and with the French philosopher and thinker Michel Foucault, to name just a few.

All this is descriptively interesting, but I think there is also a deeper philosophical point. The beginning of philosophy is a sense of wonder inspired by the world we live in. Wonder requires a sort of “stepping back”; we look at the world, at its phenomena and events, before we engage in any intuitive judgment. Our duty as researchers is first and foremost to allow the world to appear to us just as it is, to be attentive precisely to those statements that may be regarded by society as clear and even banal – for example, the statement that we are right and others are wrong. The researcher allows the phenomena of the world to speak, to express themselves; it is an act of grace, but also a duty. In the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Baba Metzia, it is written: “Jerusalem was destroyed simply because the judges there judged according to the Torah.” In other words, a society that judges only by the letter of the law cannot be an ethical society. A society, and a society’s judicial system, have the obligation to judge by guidelines that transcend law, that go beyond even “the truth” as each society understands it, and to thus give a voice to those regarded by society as “wrong,” a voice to those whose suffering society cannot see.

Our point of departure is precisely our difference, that calls us to listen to voices other than our own.

The organization “Kids4Peace” which I have directed in Jerusalem for the last four years is dedicated to creating a new discourse in Jerusalem and in the Israeli and Palestinian communities of the Jerusalem area. Formally, “Kids4Peace” is an a-political movement, precisely in order to allow the development of dialogue precisely among people who cannot even imagine dialogue to be possible. This movement appeals to the cultural and religious identities of each of us, identities that differ according to our national and social contexts, and bridges between them. Our point of departure is precisely our difference, that calls us to listen to voices other than our own.

Members of “Kids4Peace” are first of all children – who begin their encounters with each other at the age of 11 and continue with the hard work of dialogue through High School. The parents of these children are also fully engaged throughout the program, and of course we have professional adult staff, Interfaith Advisors, Interfaith Coordinators – Jews, Christians and Muslims – who devote themselves to the skills of respectful listening and learning from each other. All of these together embark on that philosophical imperative of “stepping back” to allow the other to speak.

As an organization, “Kids4Peace” may not offer new and unheard of solutions to the conflict we are stuck in. It does, however, create a new culture with different questions.

As an organization, “Kids4Peace” may not offer new and unheard of solutions to the conflict we are stuck in. It does, however, create a new culture with different questions. The new culture of “Kids4Peace” is forging a new language with a different music to it, a language that seeks different answers. The movement turns to all members of our society, and especially to those who do not have the means for luxuries.  We in “Kids4Peace” believe, that here in Jerusalem, of all places, in a city everyone fights over, a city that seems sometimes to be an obstacle to peace, that here, we have the ability to do things differently. We refuse to abandon the prayer and the dream.

“Kids4Peace” has members who have lost loved ones violently in this conflict, on both sides, and members who have lost their homes or their livelihood, and are struggling for the good of themselves and their children.

There are so many such peacemakers – our job is simply to allow them to realize their heart’s desire.

This Award that you have bestowed on me today is not mine; it belongs to the Jewish, Christian and Muslim members of “Kids4Peace” in Jerusalem and in the nearby Palestinian and Israeli communities.  It belongs also to our sister organization in the United States, “Kids4Peace USA”, that has done everything to make our dream possible, knowing that whoever cannot dream can never effect social change. This award belongs to the Muslim girl from the Qalandia Refugee Camp who explains in her school that not all the Jews are intent on harming them. To the Jewish boy who is a fan of the Beitar Yerushalayim soccer team, but refuses to join the shouts of “Death to the Arabs” during the soccer game, and convinces his friends also to stop. To another child who joined “Kids4Peace” to find a way to grapple with feelings of fear upon seeing women wearing the hijab.  I accept this award in the name of every person who cannot stop praying, working, struggling for peace. There are so many such peacemakers – our job is simply to allow them to realize their heart’s desire.

It was my privilege to be raised in a Hassidic home, among a family of loving kindness and deep faith. When I was a child, I would walk with my father on some Sabbaths to pray in the synagogue of the Vishnitz Rabbi. As we walked along, my father told me stories of the Tzadikim – the Jewish sages and saints, who would give their lives to help others. I would like to share with you, in closing, one of these stories. It is a tale that has given me strength in moments of stress and crisis, which in my work directing “Kids4Peace” are all the more frequent as our work touches more closely on the roots of the conflict and its suffering.

As one of the Tzadikim lay dying, his most beloved disciple came to him, and asked that after the Tzadik arrived in heaven, he would come in a dream to the disciple, and tell him what heaven is like. The Tzadik agreed; but, three days after he had died, the disciple still had received no dream visitation. This disciple, who was a great saint  himself, began to be concerned for the welfare of his departed teacher. He decided to go himself up to heaven to find out what had happened.

Once arrived in the Higher Realms, the disciple asked the angels for news of his Rabbi. Yes, the angels replied, the Tzadik’s day of judgment had gone very well, and the Holy One Blessed Be He had Himself invited the Tzadik to join Him in a Heavenly havruta, studying together the sacred texts in Paradise. The Tzadik, however, chose rather to go into a great forest, filled with the dark powers of Evil. The disciple, who had always followed his teacher faithfully in life, decided to go after the Tzadik into the dark forest to find him. After three days walking in the darkness, he saw a light at the edge of the forest. Coming out in the open, the disciple found his old Rabbi, the Tzadik, standing on the bank of a great river, leaning on his stick and gazing sadly into the turbulent waters as they rushed by.

The disciple approached his teacher. “Rabbi,” he said, “Why are you standing here alone by this river, when God is waiting for you in Paradise?”

The Tzadik replied: “My beloved disciple, the water in this river is all the tears that are shed by people who are suffering in our world. When, on my judgment day, I heard that my lot was to enter Paradise, I said to God: ‘As long as You do not stop this flow of tears, I will remain here by this river, and will not enter Paradise with You.’”

It is our wish, our prayer, that our sacred work in dialogue in “Kids4Peace” will be able to lessen, even by a few drops, the flow of tears in this river of suffering.

Thank You.

[Translated from the Hebrew by Henry R. Carse, June 16 2011]