Areej is a woman whose passion for peace comes from personal experiences of violence and hatred in her own life. She lived a very nice life in Iraq within a highly educated family for some time, however with the war of 2003, Areej and her family’s identification as Shiite Muslim put them in danger. Areej described to me the feelings she experienced during that time.

“There was no security, no safety, and you don’t know if you would live to tomorrow. It was very Areej Pic 5hard to find your way between the troops.”

Recognizing the danger of the situation, Areej and her family left Iraq for Jordan and eventually moved to Vermont. Though Areej has degrees in computer science and electrical power engineering, she became involved in different places as an interpreter, first as a medical interpreter and eventually working with refugees and in the school district helping newly arriving families. In working with a teacher who had a connection with Kids4Peace, Areej became aware that they were looking for a Muslim advisor for the Vermont Chapter of Kids4Peace and she was eager to help.

“When you already have a real experience where you have no hope for tomorrow you really love to help and work in a peace field to help the honest people who deserve to live a good life. I lived and had this real experience.”

Not only does Areej have a passion for peace, but she has a passion for children also. She described to me that “I love them because I feel that there is a lovely connection between my soul and theirs.” The kids seem to share this connection because Areej shared with me that at one camp; they chose her as “camp mom.”

“If I could, I wish I could put them all inside my heart and save them from the world. I wish for a very bright and colorful future for our kids.”

Areej and her sister have been board members on the Vermont Chapter of Kids4Peace since 2009, and in 2010, she participated in her first camp. Areej explained to me that “each camp has a unique spirit.” Similarly, each child has a story and sitting around in a circle, the kids each tell their story. Areej told me of one story where a boy said it took him two and a half hours to get to school and a girl spoke up and said “I am sorry my friend, I only need ten minutes.” In these telling of real stories, the kids learn to live the experiences together. Areej presented this as an example of what the real world should be like. “We need to think in a good way and listen to each other instead of killing each other.”

I additionally asked Areej about her experience at camps and she responded with a good story.

Areej Pic 2“One man came up to our group who was a part of the church we were visiting. He said that we were giving the church a good example of how we can live all together. The kids could live together having fun, doing good things and selling the message then we can do it too. He said he was hesitant to talk to a Muslim, wondering if he is going to accept him or not. I told him to go talk to him and tell your feelings. Don’t worry, just talk. Nobody can refuse nice words and a positive attitude. We are all human beings.”

Even though  the mission for peace is easy in theory, Areej described to me some of the difficulties of being a part of an organization which works to change societal ideals.Areej Pic 1

“Our mission is not easy. It is a very hard type of work. I told my friends that we are carving in the stone and the stone is very hard and harsh. We need to find a way to carve to mark in the stone so it will stay a thousand years or more. It is also like learning a new language. It looks easy but when you practice it and apply it, you can’t see your fruit easily.”

Areej additionally talked to me about her hope for the future. “I want to have a soldier checking during a check point and that soldier was a Kids4Peace camper. This is the story I want.”

“I do believe we are changing the world and I have best friends from all around the world from Kids4Peace. I didn’t have any Jewish friends before, now I have Jewish, Christian and Serbian friends. I hadn’t visited a synagogue or talked to a rabbi. Now Kids4Peace is in my blood. I feel so proud of myself that I am doing this job.”  Areej Pic 3 Areej Pic 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The most important thing that I have learned is that we can learn from our children. Since the entire camp came to visit St. Paul’s, we have had campers visit and they visit other places as well. Everywhere they go, they are helping to make a difference. Children can teach adults, adults can learn from children and sometimes that’s the way it has to be. In bringing peace to the world, that is a very important thing to remember, that our children have something to teach us.”Kate Pic 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think being in K4P shows that just because we have different identities doesn’t mean we can’t be and live together and have lots of fun. And it is important to prove that to other people so they see that it is possible and actually not difficult at all! –Elianna

To be in K4P is a great opportunity to meet new people from all countries and nations and it’s a way to start peace and also end war and is special for me that I am in K4P that I get a chance to express my thoughts, feelings and myself and also to not use violence or curse people. I want to get from K4P to is peace and no violence. – Lutfi

It means to me that I can make a peace around the world. I am going to bring home the no ort rule. That will help bring peace because less people will waste food and the world will be a better place. – Mahmoud

What I will take from MV to home is the feeling that no matter which religion you are that everyone is equal, no matter how you look or what is your height. To do a friendship bracelet for a Muslim girl, talk and laugh with her while at home people fight and die. To watch a Sunday service of a Muslim prayer, ask questions and learn. – Ayala

To be a peacemaker is to hold our hands together, and to help each other not killing each other, to treat each other as humans. Peace making is when you share your love of the difference between religion, ethnicity, race for the world and try to make them similar so that they would join in their love. Being part of Kids4Peace is something I am very grateful for, thinking that I could be part of something big in the future and make a difference what would affect the whole world. I am going to take every little memory of the fun, amazing camp and all the things that I learned that would help me be a peace maker I would always keep all these things in my heart to remember – Salma

I will take home all of the things I’ve learned over the past 10 days, all of the memories, and friendships I have made here. I come to Kids4Peace because the life better and more peace. And who make this peace is us. Then they will call us peace maker. What I will take from K4P back home is the feeling that everyone is equal, no matter how you look or which religion you come from. I came to Kids4Peace to try and understand the difference viewpoints that each kid has. Some people don’t understand that someone with a different opinion then you can be right without making you wrong and also to teach people that you won’t be able to make peace with others unless you can make peace with yourself. When I say make peace with yourself I mean if you are constantly putting yourself down because of the way you look, act, or how you feel, it will hurt to be yourself, and if you can’t who you are, how can you help others know the real them? –Elianna

Being a peacemaker at K4P means to me that I can make a difference, that we kids can change the world and one little movement can make a huge difference. I want to bring home my peacemaking skills because if you can’t be/make/have peace in your own home, you can’t be peaceful/a peacemaker in the world. – Thea

It means to be a part of K4P is amazing and an awesome opportunity because we learn other people’s religions and difference beliefs getting along. – Abdul

Peace maker means to me beautiful life, a lot of fun and happiness! – Bashar

To be part of Kids4Peace means being the start of something big, the start of a real change. But being part of Kids4Peace also means that you are willing to fight, peacefully, for the things you need to start the change. I believe that Kids4Peace is one of the many sparks that will hopefully, in time, become a peaceful fire that spreads like in the song. What I want to take home from Kids4Peace is the hope that peace is coming and some ways that our hop can become a reality. – Nellie

To be a peace-maker, for me, is to solve my problems and arguments without force or violence (verbal or physical) and with no judgment and a positive attitude and to pass this idea on to others. What I want to take from Kids4Peace is the ability to see other perspectives and viewpoints. I learned how to connect with others that are different from me and how to accept these differences. – Becca

Being a part of K4P means to me that we are going to come here to make friends outside of our respective bubbles and take that out to the world. We also take the lessons we learned on into the world. Not only will I remember the people I met in K4P but also the people at Merrowvista. These people all have something I don’t so I will learn from them and take it with me so that I can become a better person. – Buyya

K4P means to be peaceful and a peacemaker, but sometimes it feels like to me separating because you always separate us into groups. The same groups every time, and I don’t get the chance to meet more people! But when I told them about it, it got much better. I want to take the love, dancing, singing and doing activities together to Jerusalem. And I want to bring the fun and the talking from Jerusalem. –Mira

by Meredith Rothbart, K4P Director of Development

Every now and then, those of us living in Jerusalem are reminded of our similarities and not just our differences. Just recently we commemorated the miracle of when Abraham went to sacrifice his son and sacrificed a (ram/lamb) instead. While the religions may differ on the interpretations (Isaac or Ishmael) and on the method of commemorating (Shofar or Sacrifice), one important point stands out: we share a history together. Sitting in synagogue with my family on Rosh Hashana listening to the Torah portion about Isaac’s sacrifice, I couldn’t help but think about all of my Muslim friends preparing for Eid al-Adha, commemorating their interpretation of the same event in their religious tradition. This past week in synagogue again, it warmed my heart thinking of my Muslim neighbors on their holy day in the exact same moments that we were pouring out our hearts to G-d for our holy day.

After a summer full of racism and clashes, many Jerusalem NGOs and even government bodies and police forces were concerned that this religious overlap would lead to violence. Campaigns went viral on social media, public street posts, and even on a few public busses. The message was simple: let’s not take our differences in commemorating this important story and turn it to violence. This overlap in religion, tradition, and culture can be seen as a call for us to recognize our similarities and respect the shared aspects of our dual narrative.

This image (posted by New Israel Fund) shows a Muslim man praying on the left and a Jewish man praying on the right, highlighting the similarities of the two men’s dress and prayer. The note in Hebrew and Arabic reads:
“Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha: Give Respect, Practice Tolerance.” 

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While peace doesn’t always make the news, I wanted to take a minute to acknowledge that despite all of the concern, no violence broke out. In fact, youth from both sides shared in the real Israeli tradition of turning Yom Kippur into national biking day because all of the streets are closed to cars.

Personally, while walking my baby home from synagogue for her mid-afternoon nap, I saw a swarm of about 30 young Palestinian teenage boys riding their bikes through the bus lane. My immediate instinct, as opposed to this past summer when I was constantly filled with fear, was to rush ahead and make sure to pass by in the middle of them and take a good look at their faces. I was hoping to see some Kids4Peacers among the crowd, because they were headed toward a village where we have many families. Though I didn’t recognize any of these particular youth–it did bring out an intense realization for me. I wasn’t scared of the other. After all of the horrible violence and clashes and racism this summer, somehow things died down for real. Just over two months ago, I was terrified to even go into the Kids4Peace office, as Rebecca mentioned in an earlier blog. Now my gut is to join together.

Something about the holiness of the day brought us a all a bit of peace. What young mother dives with her baby into a group of teenage boys of her so called “enemy”? A young mother who knows that those that those boys are not her enemy. One who refuses to be enemies. One who knows the other, recognizes dozens of families from their village, one who hopes in the midst of her holiest day of the year for the opportunity to wish them a friendly greeting on one of theirs.

Sometimes it is nice to report on peace. We in Jerusalem, at least on this one day, experienced a sense of mutual respect and shared holiness. May we all learn from this that it is possible. Together, peace is possible.

Babies4Peace

My baby has no idea that on her left is a Jewish Israeli and on her right is a Muslim Palestinian. To her, they’re just her friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mono Pic 2

Louis Pic 3Born and raised in Jerusalem, Louis is a seventeen-year-old senior living in West Jerusalem among Jewish neighbors and going to school in East Jerusalem among Arabs. I got a chance to sit down and speak with him about his life and experiences. Louis describes Jerusalem as “two different worlds in one city.” In fifth grade, Louis got involved in Kids4Peace through an Arabic teacher at his school.

“My mom didn’t really understand and said I could go to America but when I went to the interview I understood that it was much more.”

Louis went to group meetings in Jerusalem and ended up in an American summer camp in North Carolina. He described to me some of the understandings he gained there.

“What really surprised me was how many American kids didn’t know about the conflict. They asked if we had things like IPhones and washing machines, which I thought was ridiculous. Of course we have these things.”

Making a decision to continue with the program, Louis soon became a counselor for other kids participating in the summer programs. “Being a counselor taught me to communicate with kids better and the experience helped me a lot in being responsible.” We took some time to discuss the conflict and what Kids4Peace was doing and Louis shared some insightful ideas.

“What Kids4Peace does a little differently is concentrates on the social aspect of the conflict. It tackles the social perspective by bringing the people together instead of the government. Ultimately, the people decide and it is great for future leaders to have Kids4Peace always in the back of their heads. Kids4Peace is investing in the next generation to create a more peaceful people.

Usually the problem when the two sides hate each other is because one side doesn’t see the other as human beings. But when you get to know them on a personal level, you can see them as human with their own jobs and their own lives. Staying together in a camp is proof that we can live together and imagine if we build our country in a way where we can all live together. Kids4Peace allowed me to look at it from all perspectives. It helped me grow as a person and express myself better.

My hope for the future is that whatever needs to happen for all the deaths to stop will happen. I believe that every person needs to live life free and not be scared to go out on the street. And I hope for peace. I cannot define peace but you’ll know peace when you have it.”

Louis Pic 1Louis Pic 2

As I sit here in the Kids4Peace Jerusalem office on the eve before the Yom Kippur Fast, which is considered the most holy day of the year for the Jewish people because it is the day that g-d decides who is written in the book of life and who isn’t, I can’t help but feel privileged and torn to be the co-director of Kids4Peace Jerusalem. I am privileged to be part of an inspiring interfaith community that strongly believes that Jerusalem can be shared by the 3 faiths in peace and not torn into pieces.  I am also internally conflicted as how can I continue to maintain both my religious Jewish identity and my interfaith identity.

For over the past eight years that I have been part of the K4P community, I have slowly become less traditional in my observance and more in conflict with my Judaism. At a first glance Judaism promotes a notion of peace, “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they experience war no more”.  But the daily prayers and weekly Shabbat Kiddush highlight a different view. We recite a blessing thanking g-d for choosing us from among all the nations in order to serve him (or her). The idea that the Jewish people are the chosen nation is a difficult one to come to term with, if you believe that all people, religions, nations are created equally, then why am I saying that we are chosen?

I and other observant Jewish people that are part of the interfaith movement have had to make adjustments in our prayers or have had to rationalize the meaning of these prayers in order to continue our interfaith work and give respect to the other religions. I know many other people cope by saying, we are all the same, we are all human beings, as the Israeli President posted in his New Year message (second 13-15). But I do not believe that the answer is as simple as that. I want all of us in the Kids4Peace community to understand and celebrate our differences. Because if we were really all the same, then what are all of these conflicts about!

This year, Yom Kippur (Jewish fast day) and Eid Al Adha (Muslim Feast of Sacrifice) concede and there is fear that in Jerusalem and other areas that have both Jewish and Muslim residents, will have clashes and violence. New Israel Fund and other NGO’s have already begun an awareness campaign, reaching out to both sides and informing them that the holidays overlap. But perhaps this is already too late, perhaps there is already too much fear and lack of knowledge.

This morning I got a ride to the Kids4Peace office with a fellow student from my beginner’s Arabic class. He is a religious Jewish Israeli settler that is learning Arabic in order to understand the Arab culture and to begin to break the stereotypes by getting to know the other person. This is very uncommon for a Jewish Israeli settler to want to get to know the other especially by going ahead and learning Arabic. In the car we picked up a hitchhiker on our way out of the Old City. The hitchhiker was also a religious Jewish Israeli man that looked to me to belong to a fairly extreme religious group. He overheard our conversation and our Arabic lesson cd in the background, and asked “aren’t you afraid of them?”

I didn’t want to assume I understood his vague question: afraid of what? afraid of whom? I thought to myself.  But before I was able to ask a clarifying question, my fellow student began to answer the question. He went on to explain that there are Arabs that want to kill us and Arabs that want to be our friends, the same way there are Jews that want to kill Arabs and Jews that want to be their friends. The hitchhiker challenged this answer and asked “but on the day that Mohammad Abu Khdeir’s body was found, weren’t you scared to be there with them?”  With that question he asked to be let out of the car as he had reached his destination.

I sit at my desk now with the same heavy feeling that I felt the day Mohammad Abu Khdeir’s body was found. I sit on the border between East and West Jerusalem, I co-lead an interfaith community, yet outside my door there is hatred, misunderstanding, racism and division in Jerusalem. I could allow myself to lock up the K4P office tonight in despair knowing that this weekend will be one of  violence and conflict, or I can send one last “What’s Up” message of holiday blessing to my interfaith community and ask that we all amplify our voices of understanding and peace today, tomorrow and throughout this year to come.

Eid Mubarak to my dear Muslim Friends.

Gmar Hatima Tova to my Jewish Friends.

And to my Christian friends, your holiday is approaching quickly, but it is still too early to be wishing a Merry Christmas!

466Check out our latest Kids4Peace International Newsletter. Click here. 

Year after year, Kids4Peace Jerusalem has grown. We started in 2002 as a summer camp. Then we grew into a year-long program. Eventually one year became 2 and then 3, 4, 5, and so on and so forth.  Kids4Peace now is not just a camp and not just a program, we are a community. As part of our mission to end conflict and inspire hope in Jerusalem, we have launched the official Pathway to Peace.

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Pathway to Peace is a six-year educational program for Jerusalem youth (age 12-18), which includes local and international camps, bimonthly meetings, conflict-sensitive dialogue groups, community service, social action, and leadership training. Each year in the program has its own age-appropriate programmatic theme which builds upon the previous year’s program.

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