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

#TogetherPeaceIsPossible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Chances for Israeli/Palestinian Peace Post Israeli Election” w/ Dr. Gershon Baskin

Sunday, April 26, 5pm in Portsmouth, NH
Admission: Free, however, please register if you plan to attend.
Register here: http://www.3sarts.org/performances/performance/Israeli-Palestinian-Peace-Discussion-w–Dr.-Gershon-Baskin?performanceid=960

Baskin

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

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

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

  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.

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.

   

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

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


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

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

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

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

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by Dandan, K4P Intern

“How do we see the individual in the midst of the group?” asked Rawan to the circle of Leap and Roots educators in the small K4P office on Thursday, March 12. This was the central question that guided the group’s reflection as they met to plan activities and approaches for the upcoming K4P student gatherings.

DSC_0782Rawan is the Executive Director of Building Bridges, a nonprofit that aims to empower Israeli and Palestinian women with communication and leadership skills needed to address the root causes of conflict. Drawing upon her extensive experience in education and social work, she first asked the counselors to list the qualities they would like to create in the environment for the kids.

Here’s what the counselors came up with:
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Rawan zeroed in on “loved” as the cornerstone quality. She discussed the importance of redefining “love” as one that takes into account the boundaries between personal and professional. “How can you be the kids’ counselor but also a supportive friend?” she asked. The right approach revolved around setting the ground for rules from the very beginning.

After focusing on positive qualities, Rawan turned the cards and asked the counselors to list the feelings they would not like to create in the meeting environment:

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“As a counselor, it is your responsibility to have these qualities in mind,” said Rawan.

“These kids come with stories of their own and have lives outside of the K4P group setting. It’s important you don’t make part of the individual’s identity invisible…As counselors, you are not the center. The kids are. Once you move yourself out of the center, you will have a better lens to see what’s going on.”

Afterwards, she encouraged the counselors to think about what could improve in their groups.

Michal, a Jewish advisor, mentioned the need to increase the feeling of group belonging, since this year, her group was formed from many small groups from the years before. Mariam, a Christian advisor, expressed the need to enforce a sense of mutual purpose, since she felt her group needed to reconnect with why they came in the beginning. Nadine, another Christian advisor, said she wanted the older groups to feel more empowered to make change.DSC_0814

The reflection session didn’t end with answers as it did with more questions.

“What is your belief system and how does that influence your own behavior?”

“What are your fears and how do they affect your actions?”

These were the questions the educators were left thinking about, as they broke into groups to plan for their upcoming K4P gatherings.

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by Michal Ner-David, Jewish Advisor, Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Matt Loper, Executive Director of Kids4Peace Boston

A Sunday in Boston without a snowstorm in what feels like forever and a youth interface conference! Could it get any better? More than thirty Muslim, Jewish, and Christian youth came together from all over the Boston area for team-building activities and interfaith dialogue. Peals of laughter and excited voices filled the interfaith chapel as K4PB youth met and became fast friends with other teenagers from local churches, synagogues, and mosques. And the conversations in dialogue groups and workshops were respectful, thoughtful, and inspiring–just what you’d expect from teenagers committed to peace and interfaith understanding! After all, this was the conference that K4PB youth proposed, organized, and ran.

The day started early for K4PB youth–they showed up, cheerful and excited, to host an interfaith youth conference on Daylight Savings Sunday. The K4PB high school participants took their conference and their responsibilities as hosts seriously. They proposed the idea last year and were involved in its development from inception to the turning off of the last lights in the evening. In preparation for leading workshops and dialogue, the high schoolers have been getting together on many Sundays over the past couple of months to create and practice their presentations and dialogue plans.

Bright smiles flashed everywhere today! K4PB youth welcomed our guests as soon as they arrived and they introduced each guest to his or her K4PB host or hostess or “peace buddy.” The interfaith pairs then participated in fun large group and smaller group activities and got to know each other over snacks and games. They were pals by the time they sat down to listen to our guest speaker, journalist and author Linda K. Wertheimer whose book, Faith Ed: Teaching about Religion in an Age of Intolerance, will be published in the summer of 2015. Linda presented one of her upcoming books’ chapters as a case study and then the youth pairs actively participated in dialogue groups of eight around the issues of intolerance and education and world religions in public school. How bright does our future seem when youth from different religious and socio-economic backgrounds come together and talk and listen so candidly and with such sensitivity!

After dialogue, the youth led or attended their chosen workshop. Some learned words in Hebrew and Arabic; some thought about points their three faiths have in common; others observed and heard about objects sacred in each of the three faiths; the rest considered the place of race, faith, and justice in our world today. Before anyone realized it, it was almost time to say good-bye. But not before a rousing and inspiring closing ceremony! As the youth said their goodbyes, it was evident that each participant would be leaving with a new friend from a religion other than their own and there was no doubt that they were taking home the message that distrust and fear tear us apart but that trust and friendship bring us closer together. Later that evening, when the K4PB hosts were asked “who made a friend today that they’d like to see again?” all of them raised their hands.

In the anonymous program evaluation form, 100% of the youth said that they would recommend the event to a friend. The three words they used most often to explain why were: fun, informative, educational. When asked what they enjoyed most, the youth responded that they loved meeting their peace buddies, leading workshops and dialogues, participating in games, and spending time with other K4PB participants. Kids were pleasantly surprised by their ability to lead workshops and delighted with the openness and enthusiasm with which other youths joined in and participated in the dialogue and conference. When asked to rank their experience, half the participants said that they enjoyed the event overall, the dialogue sessions, and the workshop in which they participated a lot. In a 1-to-5 scale, they gave it a 1.

“It was good to have an event that was for non-K4P kids. I was proud that K4P kids were leaders.” ~ Paris, K4PB teenager.

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by Dandan, Kids4Peace Intern

After several weeks of interviews and workshops, sixty-six families from over fifteen neighborhoods gathered on Wednesday, February 25, at the Ambassador Hotel in Jerusalem to celebrate their acceptance into the K4P Pathway to Peace program. “I was very very happy!” exclaimed Husan, an 11 year old Muslim girl, when describing how she felt when she learned of her admittance.DSC_0571

Haya, an 11 year old Christian girl, also shared Husan’s sentiment:

“I felt really excited and was happy because I got accepted. At first I was scared about the interviews, but then I found there was nothing to be scared about because they only want to see us and know us. Now, I’m excited to meet kids from different religions, who speak different languages, and see how they act and to spend time with them.”

DSC_0642Upon arrival, each family found their child’s name tag lined neatly on the registration table. Each tag had a color spot to denote which of the 4 summer camps the child would attend. The banquet hall quickly filled with families greeting each other, some happy to reencounter ones they had met during the interview process.

Andre, a Christian parent, recounted why he was excited to be there with his daughter:

DSC_0626“To know other people’s ideas and cultures is a chance we don’t have, especially in our environment. We don’t have all the different groups, the different religions, even different cultures and minds…I hope she will learn to know how the other people think—maybe it will change her ideas about the other. By this program, she has everything in front of her own eyes, not hearing from other people and she will choose her own way. I will let her decide.”

This first-year kick-off event began with greetings and introductions from the K4P directors, staff, and summer camp counselors. Then, the K4P video was shown, as some of the counselors giggled on the side when their face came up on screen. A few were relieved from their embarrassment when  Micah, the leader of the YMCA Youth Choir began his special guest performance. Micha taught everyone a Kids4Peace favorite song, ‘We can See that Peace is Coming” in English, Hebrew and Arabic. Soon, melodic shalom and salaam’s interwove a festive rhythm throughout the room.

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The families broke up into their respective groups: Boston, New Hampshire-Vermont, North Carolina, and Seattle, where they got to meet their camp leaders, counselors, and fellow families all together for the first time. Each group began with a few ice-breakers, including the “Name Game,” when every person in the circle took turns saying their names, accompanying it with a movement. The whole group then had to follow, repeating the name and movement.

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Parents soon found themselves jumping up and down with their kids, as if summer camp had started already. Afterwards, each family created a photo card together that listed some basic information about them, including their name, neighborhood, parents’ profession, faith, and favorite hobbies. In a circle, each child became the family representative and shared their card.

A sweet intercession took place in the hallways, where families mingled more over rugalach and cake. Before leaving, they reconvened with their groups so the advisors could share some important logistical information.

DSC_0752When reflecting over how he felt at the end of the night, Yair, a first-time Jewish Advisor for the North Carolina group, said: 

“I’m excited about everything. I really like how kids from different faiths and nationalities come together. It’s something I didn’t have as a child and I think it’s the best thing that can bring about a different future, a different reality from what we have now.

I’m also really excited to see in this meeting and in the previous meetings how kids can just not fear and just see the other kids, and that’s it. It’s beautiful to see that for kids, it’s so much easier to let go of the perception of the others as enemies.”
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