Voting and Democracy

by Rebecca Sullum, Jerusalem Co-Director

“You know, I actually voted in these elections. I am registered in a swing state, so I felt that I had to vote,” I yelled on top of the noise at the US Embassy Election Celebration in Tel Aviv. I was speaking to Mohammad, my colleague of 5 years, and his wife.

I hadn’t told most people that I cast my vote this year for the first time in U.S. elections at the age of 35. I always held the belief that I should only be voting where I was living, and although I hold dual citizenship in Israel and the USA, I have only lived in Israel since the age of 14 and therefore had only ever voted in Israel.

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With Trump versus Hillary, this election seemed different, more polarizing, more important to vote. So I did. I have now taken part in the democratic process in Israel and the US, something that I should be proud of, something that should be a basic right to all people.

A moment after confiding in Mohammad, I started to feel that sick feeling at the bottom of my stomach, that feeling when you realize that you have asked the wrong question or said the wrong thing, and I suddenly remembered that Mohammad and his wife have never voted.

As residents of Jerusalem, by Israeli law they can’t vote in the Israeli national elections. They also had never been able to vote in the Palestinian presidential elections. During the previous PA presidential election in 2005 there were voting booths in East Jerusalem for Jerusalem residents, but there were many obstacles in the way including inadequate numbers of workers and a general feeling of fear at the polls. Therefore Mohammad and his wife had never voted for their leadership.

So here I was in the middle of the US Embassy Celebration in Tel Aviv celebrating American democracy while my colleagues and friends can only celebrate others’ right to vote.
This seems a bit ironic, to celebrate others’ democracy and freedom while you can’t celebrate your own.

My evening started with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement but took an unexpected turn, and now at midnight I sit here writing this blog, feeling torn and wondering what I can do tomorrow for the freedom of all in Jerusalem.
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From Ignorance to Change

by Rebecca Sullum, Kids4Peace Jerusalem Co-Director

It isn’t often that I have a chance to reflect on my personal growth and see how a set of Kids4Peace experiences have changed me. Here is my Ramadan experiences and my growth.

The Ignorance- 1981-2007
Until the age of 26, if I were asked to name any of the Muslim holidays I would not have been able to name even one. Of course I could name at the time a handful of Christian holidays and all the Jewish with the exact dates, historical and symbolic reasons, for as a Jewish Israeli living in a Western culture these were easy for me. But I had never shown interest in learning about the other religions celebrated by my neighbors in Jerusalem. Not only was I not interested but when I passed by a mosque, heard a call to prayer, saw a Muslim in tradition clothing during the second intifada I walked away as quickly as I could.

The Call To Prayer -2008prayer
I found myself volunteering with a group of 12 eleven-year-old kids as part of a Kids4Peace program (what lead me to Kids4Peace I will save for another blog). I was in charge of the four Jewish youth and during our pre-camp sessions we were putting on skits as a way to teach about religion. The Muslim youth’s skit was about Ramadan. It was then that Kareem, a cute eleven-year-old Muslim boy performed the traditional call to prayer. It was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. I still remember thinking to myself, “is this sound that I have lived in fear of for some many years?”

 

The Mosque 2009
In the middle of nowhere Vermont in the USA I walked into a mosque with a new group of 12 eleven-year-old Kids4Peace youth. It was their first year in the program and my second as a volunteer. The Mosque was small. It felt like a humble place with no decorations on the inside, it looked nothing like the Mosque I had seen on tv or in Jerusalem. It was one room, with no chairs, only carpet on the floor and a divide between men and women. I remember feeling a sense of safety and familiarity, so this was the building I was scared of for so many years.

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The Iftar 2010
My third year of Kids4Peace camp was over and back in Jerusalem it was Ramadan. A Muslim family from Beit Hanina, actually little Nutlie’s family had invited the entire group of 12 youth to join their family for a traditional Iftar meal. I drove the car with the four Jewish youth across town to Beit Hanina. It was all of our first times in the neighborhood and at an Iftar meal. I felt so welcomed into their home and at their table I thought to myself this is actually enjoyable, the food was amazing and I wanted to try this again.

 

The Family  201111914026_1685166861706658_7438218595865147745_n
Reeham extended an invitation to an Iftar meal the following year at her home. Reeham and I had been colleagues for 4 years but this invitation felt like it wasn’t because of our mutual work in Kids4Peace but because we were friends. Sitting in Beit Safafa with Reeham’s family, her parents, her two brothers, her sister and her husband and their three children all welcomed me and I felt like I was at home, that this was like my own family. This meal was to be the first of many that I had at their home.

 

The Work 2012
I was no longer ignorant and no longer living in fear, I started to work full time for Kids4Peace and started creating spaces for other people to come together to meet, eat, learn and experience.

The Pre-School 20131395982_10151614071121292_1930174702_n
Yair, my two year old son shows me at his pre-school all of the art work he has done for the Muslim Eid, holiday. I remember feeling proud that he will not be ignorant of his neighbors’s living next to us in Jaffa, which is a much more inclusive city than Jerusalem, but hope that these first steps will help set him in his own journey for peace.

The War 2014
The timeline I will never be able to forget, watching the cycle of violence expand and expand, three Jewish Israeli boys kidnapped and killed, one Muslim Palestinian boy kidnapped, tortured and killed, the Gaza war starts again and so does the Ramadan Fast. Sitting within the despair, Mohammad and I, Kids4Peace Jerusalem co-directors initiate an Iftar meal during the violence as a safe place for Kids4Peace community members to come. I remember thinking, “will anyone be brave enough to leave their homes during this hellish time to come together in the name of peace?” When over fifty people joined in the meal together,  I felt there is hope.

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Al Aqsa Mosque 2015
Joined part of the Kids4Peace international leadership on the Temple Mount, an act that I never had imagined that I would take part in. I remember feeling an enormous spiritual presence and wanted to cry because I knew the fighting over the land is far from over.

 

The Blessing 2016
With two years of Arabic behind me, I think that I am ready to bless my Muslim colleagues and friends for the Eid, following the month long Ramadan fast  I write to them in Arabic.

كل عام وانتم بالف خير.
Blessing them with a joyous eid.

All write back to me, many in Arabic (which I am not sure I understand fully) but thanking me for the blessing. I realize that not only am I wishing them for their holiday, but I am recognizing who they are, accepting them for their beliefs, embracing them as people of faith and only now understand how these small acts can lead to making change for peace: peace for myself no longer living in fear, peace for others of acceptance and understanding.

But my journey took me 35 years to reach this point, as I am about to celebrate my birthday, I want to invite all of us to find these small acts that reach out to others and to join me and making sure that it will not take others 35 years to do so.

Please donate to Kids4Peace in honor of my birthday by clicking here! 

 

My Personal Alyiah

by Rebecca Sullum, Co-director Kids4Peace Jerusalem

“Two dates should be written on your tombstone, the years you lived and the date you made aliyah like Ben Gurion.”

I grew up believing that aliyah to Israel was a transcendental experience, a rebirth, similar to Muslims that make Hajj or others making pilgrimage. I always thought that aliyah, moving to Israel was the first step in the Zionist dream and not the end result, rather the beginning. Zionism to me isn’t enough to live in the land of Israel but rather what you choose to do in the land.

June 22, marks twenty-one years that my family has lived in Israel, moving here when I was fourteen from Allentown, Pennsylvania. Like many Anglos who have moved to Israel, we had lived life in the diaspora and knew what it was like to be a minority in a multicultural environment. Because of these experiences, diversity and cultural exchange has always seemed natural to me. My mother worked in the Jerusalem Anglican International School where she taught arts and ceramics to students from all cultures, religions and backgrounds. It was only during my high school years at a religious Jewish High School in Jerusalem, I discovered that for many of my fellow students, the Zionist dream was fulfilled just by living in Israel. It didn’t seem to matter how we treated the others living right beside us.iftar smiles

I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate to mark my alyiah, which my family has celebrated for the past 20 years, than being with the Kids4Peace community at an interfaith Iftar in Beit Safafa, a village in Jerusalem. For over six weeks, my colleagues and I have been putting together this evening. We believed if we planned an Interfaith Iftar, including learning from Muslim families about Ramadan, making arts and crafts, enjoying youth led walking tours and concluding with the traditional Iftar meal, then surely people would come. We were unsure of how many would attend since only thirty people had RSVP’d by the day of the event.

As the evening approached, the sports hall in Beit Safafa was filled with families: children, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Jews, Christians, and Muslims from all over Jerusalem were in attendance. The event drew in not only veteran K4P families, but also new families eager to celebrate Ramadan with their neighbors. When the time came to sit down for the meal at 7:51 pm, all of our one hundred fifty chairs were full and many people were left standing. I spent the rest of the evening trying to find spaces for everyone to sit, eat, drink and socialize with the K4P families.

It was an inspiring and exhausting night.

I shared the success of the Iftar with Yair, my four and a half  year old son who attends the Hand and Hand Bilingual Kindergarten. His response to my story was “Mom, you shouldn’t work so hard for others. If you work hard you are like the Israelites who were enslaved in Egypt”.

Yair expressed in that moment a fear that I think many Israelis hold, a fear of returning to be slaves in Egypt and being a minority in the Diaspora.

I replied by telling him “Yair, thiftar foode same way I worked hard to help my Muslim friends celebrate Ramadan, they also work hard with me in Kids4Peace to celebrate the Jewish holidays.”

In order for me to fulfill my Zionist dream I must live by the words of Rabbi Hillel  “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?”

The following night Yair and I drove for the first time past the Qalandia checkpoint to Adnan’s home, a friend and K4P leader. There we shared in an iftar meal with his family and felt part of a community of dedicated people who are working hard despite the risks of peace work, so that we can share this land together in in harmony.

 

 

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

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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