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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Jerusalem LEAP Summer Camp 2016

Day #1

Today is the first day at the local summer camp of leap in Nes-Ammim!

We all gathered in Jerusalem to head out to the North filled with excitement. On the bus we listened to both Arabic and Hebrew music, which helped us learn about each other’s culture. Especially when one of the Palestinian kids held the other on the shoulder and started singing a  Palestinian song which Palestinians usually sing at weddings “Zareef At-Tol”!

After arriving at our camp location we started our very first activities, we played sports and participated in our first Non Violent Communication practice.

In our NVC practice (None Violent Communication) we learned more about the culture of the other. One great example was one that Maria shared with us, she learned that some of her Jewish friends have 2 names. One name that most of the people call them by and an additional middle name, usually named after grandparents or great grandparents. Maria shared:”This is all exciting and new information for me!”

Hallel, another camper added “My second name is Hana and I was given this name in memory  of my grandmother”. The kids learned about the meanings of the names and the reason why they were given these names.

It was really a wonderful first day!

Day #2

Today we woke up early in the morning to play some sports and start our day in healthy style!

We then gathered all together to celebrate Meron’s birthday. Meron is a Jewish advisor who joined Kids for peace this year. We sang “Happy Birthday to you ” “Hayum Yom Huledet” and “Sana Helwa Ya Gamil”, the Happy Birthday song in all three languages (Arabic, Hebrew and English).

After that we participated in an artistic activity, learning how to use Henna and other materials to make temporary Tattoos. We had a wonderful time seeing how the staff members and the kids were interacting with each other.   Muslim Advisors tattooed the word “Hayat”in Arabic which means life.

We participated in an excellent NVC practice, and had some really interesting comments from the kids. One that stood out was Ahmed’s comment:”I learnt that we should think about a solution for everyone and not think about the needs of only one group”. Another camper, Sheli, added:”Cooperation helps us do what we couldn’t do before, because now we thought out of the box. We need to learn how to think about alternative solutions”

We enjoyed Swimming and playing Olympic Sports! We held a competition in which the purple team won after hard work and cooperation!

The most important lesson the kids agreed on learning today is that cooperation is the key to success!

Day #3

Today we woke up early to leave for our trip to the Golan heights, we packed sandwiches and took a lot of water with us! We went on an amazing water hike. On the hike we all helped each other cross carefully over water streams and enjoyed the nature together.

After a wonderful and challenging water hike we listened to an explanation on what is happening in Syria right now. We discussed the different causes of the Syrian conflict, understanding the division of the different religious groups in syria. We looked at the beautiful landscape of the Syrian boarder and prayed for peace in this region and around the world!

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We sang our way back to camp, using words in Hebrew and Arabic.

Meital was saying in Arabic to Tali “You are beautiful”!
And Basil was saying to Itai in Hebrew “I want to move to your school”!

WOW – their are so many different languages and subjects to talk about – We are learning so much!

Day #4

Today we left the camp to visit an unusual horse farm where we actually were not supposed to ride the horses. At the farm we learned how to work with the horses in a peaceful way. Through this experience we were able to learn how to be tolerant and understanding. Later we were given a tour of the farm, exploring the nature and learning more about each and every animal and the roll they play on the farm.

While exploring the farm we were asked by our guide, “How do you think this tree is so well shaped, without having a Gardner that takes care of it?” after thinking together we got to the conclusion that the animals in the farm must eat leaves form the tree and that’s how it is shaped.

One of our Advisors asked if that reminds us of the Harmony that we have in Jerusalem. This was followed by a second question,”Will Jerusalem be Jerusalem if any of it’s religious or cultural groups disappear?” We heard a united loud answer from the kids, “No”!

Itai, a Jewish camper said “I can’t imagine Jerusalem without Muslims”and then Qais a Muslim camper replied with”I can’t imagine Jerusalem without Synagogues”…….

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After an amazing day of activities we returned back to camp and enjoyed a movie together in our own Kids4Peace theatre arranged by Nes-Ammim!!

Day #5

On day 5 we dove deep into trust building activities, an example of one was: the staff had to release their body and fall backward, the rest of the group had to be ready to catch the person who was falling!
It was amazing to see the trust in the eyes of the staff and kids!

We then gathered for our NVC practice session. Today we learned a little about empathy and experienced empathy by sharing each others stories and listening to each others fears and hopes. We learned how to form questions of NVC, learning how to ask about each others feelings, and supporting them by practicing empathy towards them.

In our next NVC practice session we experienced choosing our own games and setting the rules for them as well. we learned how to use NVC while creating the game rules as well as during the game it self. These skills will not only help us in our peace work but in our everyday life as well.

When one of the campers, Yousef, was asked about his experience in this session he answered “It was interesting creating the game rules ourselves as well as being aware of what we did well and what we could have done better”. Another camper, Itai, added “I learned how I can support my friends in a sensitive way when they need help”.

Day #6

Today was the trip we were most looking forward to! We took a day trip to Acre!

We got off the bus near Al-Jazzar mosque in Acre. We started our day, meeting our tour guide and watching a short movie about the wonderful city of Acre. With a lot of pride, our tour guide shared that he was born and raised in Acre, he taught us about the history of the city and shared stories from his childhood.

Our guide led us on a tour of the underground city of Acre and then guided us through the ancient narrow passages of the underground city. Our Muslim kids and staff had the pleasure of attending the Friday Jum’aa prayer at the Al-Jazzar mosque. The rest of the kids and staff enjoyed exploring the Acre old city shuk. Later we headed down to the port where we sailed on a boat looking out to the beautiful view of the city from afar.

We got back to Nes Amim just in time for the Jewish celebration of Shabbat!
After experiencing Kabbalat Shabbat and enjoying a big Shabbat dinner, we enjoyed a night of board games and sports!

Today was a big day, filled with culture, history, religion and beauty!

During closing of the day, Bassel, one of the campers shared “It was great to learn about the Jewish prayer, it is a great experience”

Maya added “I liked the trip today, I really enjoyed going to the shuk, learning about the city and being together”.

Day #7

Today we experienced a new kind of NVC, we split up into two different groups according to language, Arabic and Hebrew, each group put on a play in their own groups language. It was interesting to see the cultural differences between the groups and the patience the kids had to work in both languages.

At our last NVC session the kids were asked about their personal experience in the program, Qais, was one of the first kids to answer “With these new tools of solving conflicts we can solve any conflict! including the Israeli Palestinian one”. Gessila added “If we try to approach the other and understand their needs we will find a solution that satisfies everyone”

After all these amazing experiences with the kids it was time to have some fun! The kids decided to put on a talent show! We were amazed by how many talents there are amongst our group. Starting with Meital and Leen who played piano together with a priceless harmony and ending with Sevan who amazed us with his Dj mixing skills.

It was a great day and an even better night!

Day #8

OMG! We cannot believe it is our last day at camp.

We learnt how to make kites and waited for our parents to arrive. they finally arrived and we all hugged and told stories about camp!

At the end-of-camp party we enjoyed Ben&Jerry’s ice cream, donated to Kids4Peace, and Taboon pizza made by our Druze neighbors near Nes Ammim.

We taught our parents how to make kites and brought them over to the beach in Acre to fly them. After a wonderful day we all headed back onto the bus to go back to Jerusalem-back home.

While feeling emotional about leaving camp, one of the campers, Lior,  shared “I will miss you all so much, the camp was amazing and we had lot of fun”
Another camper, Karl, added:”It was a great experience and I made lots of friends during the camp and I wish we had time to stay here longer”!

We were all sad to leave, but all excited to come home to our families and friends!

It was truly a meaningful and fun week at camp!

Kids4Peace #ForwardTogether Walk and Youth Panel

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Invitation to:  Kids4Peace #ForwardTogether Walk and Youth Panel

This Thursday, youth of Jerusalem are making change. Over the past summer Jewish, Christian and Muslim youth, participants of Kids4Peace Jerusalem, traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with 14 Congressional offices to show their support for HR 1489, a bill that would create an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. The bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), will expand grassroots people-to-people efforts to build coexistence.

Now they are back and are eager to share their experiences from the White House and the Capitol.

This Friday, 100 Jerusalem youth, Muslim Christian and Jewish, Palestinian and Israeli, will  walk 360 degrees around the Old City of Jerusalem, co-led by professional Israeli and Palestinian guides, leading us in the path to a more peaceful Jerusalem and showing us that we are stronger together.

Partners: Tiyul-Rihleh, Kids4Peace

 

Kids4Peace Youth Panel:

Date: Thursday, 22nd of September, 2016

Time: 19:00-20:00

Location: Youth Conference – Agron Youth Hostel, 6 Gershon Agron St., Jerusalem

 

360 Jerusalem – #ForwardTogether:

Date: Friday, 23rd of September, 2016

Time: 9:00-15:00

Location: Leaving from Agron Youth Hostel, 6 Gershon Agron St., Jerusalem

About Kids4Peace:

Founded in Jerusalem in 2002, Kids4Peace is a global movement of Jewish, Christian & Muslim youth, dedicated to ending conflict and  inspiring hope in divided societies around the world.

Through a network of local chapters, Kids4Peace operates five international summer camps and a six-year, year-round program for hundreds of Palestinian, Israeli and North American youth.

We are changing the conversation — asking new questions and finding new answers to the struggle for peace, ones that are based in real relationships of trust and understanding.

Our mission is to build interfaith communities that embody a culture of peace and empower a movement for change.

About Tiyul-Riheh:

Tiyul-Rihla (“Trip” in Hebrew and Arabic) is a bi-national organization which develops educational opportunities focusing on Palestinian and Israeli historical narratives, cultures, and identities. Tiyul-Rihleh’s multi-day trips bring mixed groups of Palestinians and Israelis on tours which provide a unique opportunity for participants to learn about each other from each other by exploring the land and the history they share.

For further questions:

Mohammad Joulany, Co-Director – Email: mohammad@k4p.org, Phone:  054-692-2236

Michal Ner-David, Grants Coordinator – Email: michal.ner.david@k4p.org, Phone: 054-778-0838

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.

 

 

K4P Leadership Youth Meet Diplomats

by Hana, K4P Jerusalem Media Intern

Last Thursday Kids4Peace Jerusalem’s Leadership youth (9th graders), met with diplomats from the US Consulate, the US Embassy, and USAID.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The session started with each diplomat giving a brief presentation, explaining their jobs and responsibilities. Some of their positions are more political, linked to the Consulate, others more cultural. They all express their admiration for the kids Congratulations, you are our hope for the future.

The first question that broke the ice was direct and had no hesitation: If you say you support the two state solution why does US always vote against it at the UN?

The diplomats smile at the question and make comments about how the kids go directly to the point. One of the diplomats assistants replies:

“We are working towards a two state solution to bring peace into the country. By getting involved we provide a neutral space so that both sides feel comfortable. We want to bring peace and establish a Palestinian state, however a big impediment is the estrangement between the two sides.”

The answer was followed by another question directed to the US, Why is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict such a big issue for the US?

The diplomats answered: The US is deeply connected to the history of the area, with a large population being Christian and having very important Jewish and Muslim communities. Many Americans feel spiritually connected to this land. Israel was an important ally of the US during the Cold War, and it’s very connected to WWII, so there is a spiritual, cultural and political connection. Furthermore there is a feeling of frustration for the endurance of the conflict and we believe stability within this region affects the global economy. The instability of oil and global market could get better if the region had more stability.

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The kids also wanted to know wether the US supports not only organizations working with kids, but also with adults.

One of the answers the kids received was: Definitely, we also support the parents circle of Kids4Peace and are involved in environmental issues. It’s true that it gets more tense whenever parents are involved. We are also currently learning negotiation between Israeli, Palestinians and diplomats. Not only do we learn technical skills, but we also get to know each other and deepen the relationships within our community.

The diplomats also want to make clear that it is our kids job here at Kids4Peace to continue with this work as they grow up: It’s also on you guys to continue to engage when you grow up as adults.

Finally the diplomats say that they find it easier to work with both sides within similar communities:  People with common interests working together helps create peace. So working with educators, social workers etc. from each side is helpful. 

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At this point the diplomats feel they also want to know more about the teenagers sitting in front of them: Why do you participate in K4P?

Adam, 15, answered: Both sides are in pain, so the only way to understand the other side is to hear their story. Some of my friends are against it and I also lose hope sometimes. Even if we don’t change the world, we can change ourselves.

Talia, 15, added: As we grew up there was a moment when my classmates started discussing politics and the conflict, and I realized I didn’t know anyone who was Arab. As soon as I joined the program I started to understand that the reasons of “the other side” were rational and that it’s not fair to put the blame on them.

Aviya, 15, also expressed: I had only heard what my side was saying “They kill people, so they’re bad” I wanted to know what they were thinking as well.

Omri shared his personal experience in the public space: With my family we bought in Arab shops, we went to Arab restaurants, even my parents had Arab friends who spoke in Hebrew. Also, many of my friends said it was ok to get to know Arabs, we played football together. I didn’t have Arab friends myself and decided to join K4P. I prefer to come to Jerusalem every month because here Arabs and Jews really live in the same city, it’s not like two different cities.

Zeina: Many of us heard a lot about the other side and knew a lot of things from what people had told us, but we had never met or knew anyone from the other side. We were curious to know what they think about us too. After we joined Kids4Peace, we noticed that the others are just normal people as we are and we share many similarities.

Tia: Older K4P members and program Alumni’s encouraged me to join, some friends were against it, but I believed I had to hear what they have to say.

Guy (Leadership program coordinator) : We’ve reached a moment where more kids come to us that we can afford to accept. Friends and relatives of K4P members want to join too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the kids had been in the spotlight, they all had a short break. After the break it was their turn again to ask some more questions. The conflict is again, the main topic.

One of the kids asked: What do you think about “drawing a line”, creating a boarder in areas people live in? what do you think about the future, post boarder?

The kids received an interesting answer, referring to world history: It’s not up to us to draw any line. Societies have been able to work together without diminishing their pain like the example of France and Germany who have been enemies in different wars through history and now are allies.

The diplomats then received a very direct question: What are some personal goals you would like to achieve during your service in Israel?

The diplomats were pretty surprised and pleased with the question. “It’s a good question / I hadn’t thought about it. Freedom of movement is something that would help my job so much. There’s a sense of being displaced depending on the city you’re in. My wife is an Arab and she doesn’t speak arabic in West Jerusalem. If we could reduce the tension and help make people more comfortable to walk around.  A better access to resources (water, electricity) everywhere. More patience and manners: traffic is an example.  That there would never be a reason to turn away a student in K4P for lack of resources

The last question that was asked: How are we gonna get peace if there is a wall of separation? If the two populations are not connected?

The kids received a complex but yet hopeful answer: Any border is an invisible wall, and also walls can fall like in Berlin. The greatest wall is the mentality of people. Even if there are two states, you will also need some kind of border between the two states.

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The Diplomats also reminded the kids of their power and responsibility and working towards a change: “Remember that you guys have a lot of power, talk to the people about your dreams, about what you want to achieve. Raise your voice. Remember Rosa Parks ( African American civil rights activist) she was not alone and didn’t come unprepared. She was from a peace group in Tennessee. You can also bring change in society like Rosa Parks did.”

Overall kids showed a level of maturity and preparation that definitely surprised the diplomats who praised them. The kids were also satisfied with the session, feeling that their questions have been answered and the difficult topics addressed.

 

Light in the Darkness: 137 Peacemakers

Last weekend, Kids4Peace Jerusalem brought 137 peacemakers (7th-12th grade) to Neve Shalom for a weekend full of learning, sharing, team-building, and mainly: Storytelling. Thanks to our generous donors, USAID West Bank/Gaza, and our incredibly inspiring hosts-Auburn Seminary, the youth dove deeply into their personal stories and practiced the art of self expression.

Friday evening, after everyone checked in just before the sun began to set, we tried something new for Kids4Peace. Because we had all of the age groups together–we decided to break into groups in new ways. First, we divided by faith–for over an hour–to spend some time with those whom we most identify to share, connect, pray, and even sing. For each religion, this process looked a little bit different: ranging from Kabbalat Shabbat services, learning teachings from the Prophet Mohammad, and Bible Study.

“I’m seeing people I haven’t seen before in Kids4Peace so its pretty cool.” -Rami, Christian

Costume parties. Skits. Scavenger hunts. Dialogue. Sports. Action plans. Yoga. Team building. Prayer. Story telling. Tons of good food.

All of the youth discussed the parameters of a good story: Setting. Outcome. Challenge. Characters, and more…

They all answered the tough questions: Where do our families come from? How did we get to be who we are today? How do we share our stories with others in a way that is engaging and true? How do we listen to others’ stories?

Youth practiced telling their stories one on one, providing feedback, sharing in small groups, offering tips to make the stories stronger, and finally whoever wanted performed in front of the entire community.

“We started listening to each other and feeling like we understand what someone who might be our enemy goes through. We have been doing that in Kids 4 Peace for a long time, but at that moment I realized if we can do this with a group of people who are undergoing this conflict and who felt so angry about this conflict and get them to start talking about it in a respectful way then we can do it with anyone.” -Emanuel, Jewish

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A night of hope and inspiration

Last Thursday night was a night of hope and inspiration. All of our youth, parents, and steering committee met and discussed different topics.

Leap (7th grade) finished designing and decorating the candles they created at our Ein Gedi seminar. They then had a dialogue about:

  • The different perceptions of Jerusalem.
  • The importance of personal relationships to strengthening our community and therefore achieving peace.

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Roots and Leadership watched a documentary called Fire Lines (including popcorn!) and then dialogued about several topics that arose from the film including identifying with the characters and how the conflict was portrayed in the film. Some questions and answers are below:

Why do you think the Palestinians went to help the Israelis put out the fire?
“In the end we’re all human beings, it doesn’t matter if you’re Palestinian or Israeli when there is danger affecting both of you at the same time.” -Hassan, age 13, Muslim

Which character did you identify with the most?
“When the Palestinian firefighters didn’t get the permits to be appreciated, the other half who did get permits decided not to attend the appreciation ceremony–which made them cancel the event. I really identify with this and would also have decided not to attend even if I had a permit.” -Zeina, age 13, Muslim

The parents gathered outside for coffee and dialogue. Their discussions continued the Parents Program curriculum on the challenges of parenting youth in conflict.

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Filed under: Blog

Growing up in Kids4Peace

1559567_929199380430648_1875217463551991434_n The past two summers, I found myself coming home from Kids4Peace camp with the same question: Why religion?
Religion creates all of the problems in the world, I find myself thinking again and again. Let it go, forget about it, it only causes pain and suffering. Yet I always find myself coming back to it. Why?

Maybe because it is simply how I grew up, or maybe because it makes me feel good, like being part of something greater than myself, part of a community. Regardless of the reason, its impact on my life is undeniable. Whether I am joining my parents for a Friday night prayer service at their small community synagogue, or lighting the candles that sign the beginning of the Sabbath in my new apartment, I always get a tingly feeling inside.

I volunteer for an organization called Kids4Peace. After being a camper in this program as a kid, now as an adult I have been volunteering for over 3 years.  Alongside my childhood in the Jewish-American-Israeli world of West Jerusalem, Kids4Peace is like my second home, and it has opened up doors to a different understanding of religion then I would have, had I not been a part of Kids4Peace.

Kids4Peace has changed my life in many ways by challenging my view of the world and widening my perspective on the way I feel about religion in particular. I came to an understanding that religion is our common ground, and not what divides us.

When I was younger, I felt that religion was a tool; a tool that I was given to create groups in the world in order to differentiate between me and them, right and wrong, good and bad. Essentially, I felt that religion was a tool for me to create “the other”.

 

Since having been a part of Kids4Peace– the perspective I hold now has changed. I still believe that religion is a tool, however, this tool can and should be used to draw people together instead of tearing them apart. We should dare to build friendships with people who are different from us in religion, skin color, and even cultural practices. That way we can grow to be more tolerant and accepting of those who are different than us, realizing that even though we may not have the same perspective on ideas of “normal” or “right”, being open-minded enough to both listen and share with others is the key for letting religion draw us together. We should dare to LOVE everyone, including “the other”, and then we should dare to keep that love even when facing our differences that sometimes challenge our own beliefs. With the goal of love in mind, we can use religion as a tool to help us grow together, and closer to each other, rather than apart.

 

In Kids4Peace we work on creating, building and maintaining friendships. It’s always friendship first, conflict second. Kids4Peace’s methodology, which over the years has become my own methodology as well, is that if I am friends with this person, if I care about this person, if I love this person, then I need to learn how to hold that love together even when things like difference in belief, religion, and culture make it challenging to see this person as similar to you. If I have done this – I have succeeded!

 

I see the world and humanity as whole, as a body with immense potential to build, create and love. We just need to be guided by the right people, and be willing to open ourselves up to new and different opportunities.

 

In Judaism we have a well known saying “ואהבת לרעך כמוך” (“Love thy neighbor as thyself”), (-Leviticus , Chapter 9, verse 8). Rabbi Akiva’s interpretation of this verse is that we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Thanks to a good friend, whom I met this past summer while working together at camp, I have come to a recent understanding that perhaps Rabbi Akiva had it all wrong. We should love our neighbor as themselves and not as ourselves because maybe being equal to one another does not necessarily mean being the same. Perhaps instead equal means having the same right to and capacity for life, love and happiness, no matter the differences in our beliefs and practices of what life, love and happiness means. My neighbor may not be like me, therefore I cannot love him as I love myself, but I can grow to accept and love him/her as him/herself.

 

At Kids4Peace we work very hard on making sure everyone feels equal. Every single kid gets equal attention from the staff no matter what is their religious or cultural background. This experience has allowed me to come to my own understanding that we must see each kid based on who they are as an individual, not based on the judgements or stereotypes of their religion or culture. This way we can learn to see past the boundaries of differences and learn to love one another as individuals having their own unique experience.

 

So why religion?

10560354_10204441571901114_6827573235899721355_oReligion is a tool I was given by my parents and by God. But Kids4Peace has  taught me how to use it , to help build a better world: a society with a better future, a society which doesn’t love their neighbors as who they themselves are, but as who their neighbors are, a society that loves the other because they are different, and not in spite of that.

I wish everyone a year of peace, love and understanding.

A shanah tovah u’metukah.

A good and sweet year.

Roots Day 5: Building a Sustainable Earth

by Leah, K4P Summer Intern

11864890_704135219692543_7241628479877859214_o 11872022_704135076359224_8688489099147585843_oThe theme of the day was learning about how to “go green”. We spent the morning at Kibbutz Lotan, a small Kibbutz that is just down the road from Ketura. There, we went on a tour of their eco campus where we learned all about composting and reusing our resources. A highlight of our visit was making bricks out of mud and hay.

The kids learned about how we can use the earth and the resources around us in order to build homes and other buildings. At Kibbutz Lotan (almost, if not all of,) their homes are made out of the same material (clay and hay) that we created. In making these clay bricks, the campers got their hands dirty and mixed sand, clay, and water together. Then they shaped the mixture into bricks and put them out in the sun to dry. After, they took already dry bricks and built bridges out of them.

The bridges they built were strong enough to bear their weight so they had a lot of fun walking around on the bridges and testing their new creations’ limits. It was amazing to see how well the kids work together in a team when they are working toward a common goal. After mud building, the kids completed their tour by getting to see the homes made of clay and seeing what an ecological bathroom and kitchen looks like. We finished off our time at Lotan with lunch there, and the campers got to experience composting their own food scraps for themselves.

11882313_704135596359172_1550955720072931400_oOn the way back to Ketura, we took a detour and went to Yotvata, Israel’s dairy capital. The kids loved buying their favorite dairy products there and trying the delicious ice cream. Once we got back, the kids listened to a presentation about the Arava Institute that is hosted here, at Ketura. Learning about the institute really helped them round out their eco experience. Later, they had their movement session with Shuli.11856301_704135749692490_8064042934508902601_o

For the last night here, we had a barbecue and pool party. The kids loved swimming, dancing, and bonding. We are sad to leave but excited to see what Kids4Peace brings us in the future. The campers can’t wait for Leadership!

A very special thank you to the US Consulate General in Jerusalem for making Roots Camp at Ketura possible! The campers are so thankful for their experience this summer.

8th Grade Roots Camp Day 4: Awaiting the Big Surprise

by Leah, K4P Summer Intern

11882806_703657183073680_598313525766737926_o 11879117_703658353073563_9118155578323815440_oAnother exciting, hot, and action-packed day! The highlight of the campers’ day was definitely their movement session with Shuli. Shuli organized a session where they really got to explore their creative side. The unique part is that for the first time, they were told to make a mess.

Shuli gave the kids a ton of newspapers and asked them to rip them up into tiny pieces until the ground was completely covered in newspaper shreds. They got really into it and even started making snow angels in the newspaper! Though I suppose they’d be called newspaper angels…

Throughout the session she had them do different activities and competitions with the newspaper mess. First, she split them up into four different teams and asked them to choose a corner. Then they tried to get as many newspaper shreds to their corner as possible. The next exercise was a bit more challenging. They were asked to make a fort or home out of the furniture and other supplies in the room we were in and then create a presentation to show to the group.

BUT, they were supposed to do all of this without speaking. It was really incredible to watch them use their imaginations and work so well in teams, all without talking to each other. They cooperated so well with each other, and you could really tell how much they trust each other and each other’s ideas.

This is what Lour has to say about the movement session today:

“This is the fourth movement session that we have had during this camp, and every day it becomes more and more exciting. Shuli is very focused on helping us explore other cultures and letting our creative side run wild. I was a little bit surprised when she told us that we had to rip up newspapers and throw them on the ground. I remember looking around at her and the advisors with a very puzzled look on my face. I thought the idea was a little bizarre, but the moment I began ripping the newspapers apart and tossing the tiny shreds into the air, It felt very good. I felt like art and creativity can be expressed so differently and that it isn’t only limited to quiet and clean activities. It was also an amazing experience to try and build homes out of materials. My group was very successful at it and I must say, our presentation was hilarious. Overall, it was great to see everyone participate in making a mess and surprisingly, in cleaning it up. I felt like we were all very connected and could work together as a team.”11882398_703646379741427_4416038817952705029_o

After the session we planned our hike and poike dinner for tonight, painted the concrete shapes we made on Monday, and went swimming. We told the campers that we have a surprise for them tonight. We’re going to watch the meteor shower! Stay tuned to hear about our experience!

8th Grade Roots Camp Day 1: This is the Desert!

by Leah, K4P Summer Intern

11221555_702556333183765_537692727224051429_oIt was an incredible and action packed first day at Roots Camp! We began the day at the Kids4Peace office at 6:30am. The kids came energetic as ever, hugging all their friends, singing songs, and eager to get down to Kibbutz Ketura. After a three and a half hour bus ride, we arrived.

Nadav, one of our Jewish faith advisors was there to greet us, along with other members of the Ketura staff. Campers filed off the bus, one by one, each with a wider smile than the next one. We were here! And boy, was it hot.

From the bus, we headed straight to the Roots meeting room. There, we recharged with cold water, lemonade, fruit, and coffee cake. We started with an ice breaker because Samer, the new Muslim faith advisor, and I, the Kids4Peace summer intern and camp media manager, had not yet met the kids. We soon went over camp rules, expectations for the week, and what we hope to do at camp this summer.11794520_702557073183691_5203347602640481250_o

After our opening session, we headed to the Kibbutz’s cafeteria for lunch. Each day this week, we will listen to kids from each religion say a prayer before meals. Today was Christian day, so the six Christian campers presented a prayer to the group. Next, we ate. There were lots of options so all the campers found something they liked. After lunch, the campers headed to their first movement session with Shuli, our movement instructor. Shuli will be here with us for the week, leading movement sessions, followed by discussions, for our campers. Reports back from the campers were “really fun!” “interesting!” “cool!” They are excited to see what Shuli has in store for tomorrow.

Later, we moved into our rooms. The girls and boys are split, each with their own suite. Each suite has four bedrooms, with three or four beds per bedroom, a common room, two bathrooms, and a kitchenette. We then headed to the pool to relax and cool off. The kids couldn’t wait to get to the sand dunes.

The dunes was the highlight of our day today. The bus pulled up to an opening in the middle of the vast desert. Once we got off the bus, the campers were each given a sheet of paper with a question on it:11791985_702556336517098_9140927453872220006_o

How do you feel now, sitting by yourself in the desert?

Loure said: “I feel so thankful to be sitting in this peaceful desert.”

Adan: The view reminded me how beautiful God is and how amazing his creations are.”

Talia: “I feel like I’m part of what’s around me. I can feel the sand, on my feet, in between my toes. Every little sound is magnified. The rustle of the paper, the scratching of my pencil. The wind doesn’t resist me. It acknowledges my presence and bends around my lone figure. I would stay like this for hours.

11223880_702556866517045_1906811591494242401_oWe each shared how we felt, sitting alone in the desert. It was a special time because all the campers were listening to each other, intent on how their peers were feeling. This was a unique experience for us. We connected to the land and most importantly, each other.

To wrap up the night, we had a bonfire next to the dunes. For dinner, we made pita bread by shaping dough and putting it on a huge round pan to bake over the fire. Ketura prepared a huge spread of things to put on our pita breads, including falafel, labneh, hummus, and white and milk chocolate spreads for dessert.

By the time we got back to Ketura, the campers were tired and ready to head to bed. If this is just day one, I can’t wait for tomorrow!

Special THANK YOU to the US Consulate General in Jerusalem for sponsoring this camp for us! 2015-08-09 (1)11794435_702557319850333_4516872084762313894_o

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!”

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.

   

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!

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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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!

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]