Presentation to the Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service at Temple Kol Emeth, Marietta, GA
November, 2014

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

See, I’ve been an advocate for peace for almost ten years, and I believe that not only does peace come from within, but I believe that we can create change.

I was born in Bethlehem, Palestine on February 20, 1991 to Mohammad and Lamia Amro. My parents expected the best from me. This caused me to excel academically from a young age. When I was a sophomore in high school, I was selected to be an international foreign exchange student. I was elated because I was going to finally see the America that had starred in all of my favorite movies. But where was I going? Would I be heading to the city that never sleeps, New York? Or maybe I could spend my academic year in the Windy City- Chicago, Illinois. Maybe I could create memories that could only stay in the city of Las Vegas! I eagerly awaited the announcement of where my cultural learning would take place in the states.

However, my excitement came to a screeching halt when I read the name of a state I had never heard of before- Alabama. Little did I know, Alabama was the epitome of racial oppression, even in present day. My work was definitely cut out for me. I arrived in the fall of 2006 and quickly realized that I could not live in this state for long. I planned to return to Palestine and go back to the life I knew. I lived in an apartment where I shared a bedroom with 2 young children as well as another foreign exchange student. There were four of us sleeping on two beds in a house with no heat and hardly ever any hot water. This made the hot summers in Palestine look like a Florida vacation. However, I later met a family that took me in, gave me a much bigger room and a bed of my own. Things were looking up, except for the fact that I shared the house with the family’s mentally disabled aunt. We got along great! Until one day she decided she no longer wanted me in her house and decided to chase me with a knife! The only person’s number I had in my phone was a guy I had met a few weeks earlier- Corey. Corey and I didn’t like each other very much, but I knew that he was a loyal guy.

Corey ended up letting me move into his house, and even became my legal guardian while in the states! This experience dramatically changed my life, as well as my perception and tolerance of others, mainly because Corey and I hated each other in the beginning. After moving in with Corey, I slept in the same room with him on his couch. We spent many nights comparing Islam to Christianity, talking about racism and music. However, our deepest conversations stemmed around a subject that we both were passionate about- food. He soon started referring to me as his brother and showed me that not all Americans are the same. Corey got the school to allow me to go to prom, go to Panama City Beach for Spring Break, attend concerts, church meetings, late night movie screenings and even introduced me to the culinary delicacy known as Taco Bell.

Saying goodbye at the summer of 2007 was not an easy thing to do, even when just a few months prior, I was begging to go back home. After returning back to Palestine, I pursued a degree in Civil Engineering from Palestine Polytechnic University. After graduating university in 2013, I decided to set my sights on my true passion- bringing peace.

I searched around for different ways to help, and stumbled across an organization called Kids 4 Peace this organizations’ mission was a simple grassroots , interfaith concept dealing with youth , its main vision is to end the conflict and inspire hope , not just in Jerusalem but also in all societies around the world , kids4peace mission is to build interfaith communities that embody a culture of peace and empower a movement of change . I immediately enrolled to become an Advisor !

People often ask me what Kids 4 Peace means to me. There is no simple answer to this. When you truly have a passion for something, you’re following everything with your heart- not your mind.

Therefore, I can not quite put a simple answer into words. However, I reflect on my past. I think back to the days that I vowed to see Israel fall. I think back to the days that I viewed America as a corrupted country. I then think back not too long ago when my mind was changed and I realized I was wrong. I could not continue to live life generalizing every culture. I realized during my visit in 2007 that no two people are alike. However, it didn’t stop at someone’s nationality, it also extended to their religious beliefs. Famous, influential musician John Lennon said it best when he said, “I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Moses , Jesus and Mohammed and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.”

These spiritual leaders had many messages, verses and direction. However, every word ever spoken by them was deeply rooted by one simple message- love. Anne Frank believed that no matter the physical and psychological torture she and her family were put through people still had good in them , she said that despite everything I believe that people are really good at heart.  Despite everything a young girl who was beaten , starved , molested , witnessed hundreds of thousands of Jewish executions , this girl said despite of all that people still have a heart , as many know , the conflict between Israel and Palestine have gotten worse throughout our lifetime , there’s unnecessary killing and violence on both sides , there’s unfiltered hatred on both sides and will never be validated.

Imam Ali “ KAW “ even said , “ ignorance reveals itself in the following , being very angry without cause , speaking without need , rewarding the undeserving , not distinguishing between friend and foe , the ignorant never realizes his mistake “ , I believe change can happen , when you refuse change for humanity , you’re putting your own selfish agenda before anyone else .

As Leon Uris once said “After all, the only thing that is going to save mankind is if enough people live their lives for something or someone other than themselves.”  It was also John Lennon that helped coin the phrase “all you need is love.”

This message is so simple, yet so influential. All you need is love. The world does not need us. The world does not need the Bible, the Quran or any other religious text. Because that’s all it is- text. It is a tangible thing. However, love is intangible. It can not be physically touched, but can be felt. Love does not have an image, but can be seen. It can not make a noise, but can be heard. Love is the most complex, confusing, terrifying yet gorgeous and fascinating thing that will be a part of this Earth for eternity…as long as we let it.

Kids 4 Peace has helped me utilize my tools to show that love can overcome anything.

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

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

Rabbi Noah Weinberg said “ if you don’t know what you’re living for , you haven’t yet lived “ I feel my purpose on this Earth is to make change and bring peace. Change starts young, with kids. I can bring change with Kids 4 Peace.

I would love to thank kids4peace for helping me come back to where I now call home- America. I would also like to thank them for allowing me the opportunity to create the change that my heart aches for every day. Many people walk through life wondering what purpose does their life have. I’m privileged to not only know what my purpose is, but be able to fulfill it. I would also like to thank the congregation of Temple Kol-Emeth for the invitation to come and visit with you , as well as the acceptance of someone of my Islamic faith my faith in rooted in my love for mankind no matter their background.  Thank you

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Kids4Peace Boston participants take a break from preparing their meal.


By Matt Loper, Executive Director of Kids4Peace Boston, and Jordan Goldwarg, Northwest Regional Director of Kids4Peace International

On Sunday, December 14th, while some of the youth from Kids4Peace Seattle were at an Albertsons supermarket in Seattle, collecting donated food items to benefit Northwest Harvest (Washington State’s largest hunger relief agency), Kids4Peace participants in Boston were at the very same time cooking donated food into a delicious meal to be served at the First Church in Cambridge Men’s Shelter.

Six of Boston’s year round participants cooked up a Brown Rice and Turkey Casserole and chopped tons of pineapples, mangos, cucumbers, carrots, and mint for a colorful and tasty Mexican Fruit and Vegetable Salad.  They served it to the 14 residents of the Men’s Shelter who shared their gratitude for a warm meal on a cold Boston night.  The Kids4Peace participants had the opportunity to meet the shelter’s guests, learn about current issues related to homelessness in Boston, and tour the facilities. As the group did the dishes and cleaned up from a fast paced preparation, they spoke about homelessness within the Kids4Peace Boston community and ways in which they, as teen Peace Leaders, can make a difference.

Meanwhile, 2500 miles away, Kids4Peace Seattle participants, counselors, and adult volunteers were asking supermarket shoppers to make an extra purchase of food and baby supplies to donate to Northwest Harvest during the holiday season. In a little over two hours, the group collected enough items to completely fill up the trunk and back seat of a car (requiring a little engineering to figure out how to make it all fit!). As Kids4Peace Seattle continues its year-long exploration of food justice, the group also had time to talk about what it would be like to be on the receiving end of donations, and to discuss ways of making sure that all people in our community have enough to eat.

In both Boston and Seattle, our youth did an amazing job showing what it means to give back to our communities!

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Kids4Peace Seattle shows off all the food they collected.

Meredith Pic 3Meredith Rothbart is currently the Director of Development for Kids4Peace in Jerusalem. She handles external relationships, marketing, fundraising, social media and the website, and has been involved in the organization since 2009. Meredith was gracious enough to sit down with me and talk about her past, how she got involved in Kids4Peace, and how the organization has changed, and changed her.

Meredith describes her childhood as one in which religion developed pluralistically. She grew up in Pennsylvania and got involved extensively with her Jewish faith in many different facets. Active in University Jewish groups and attending Jewish school, summer camp and youth movement, she gained an intimate understanding of Jewish values and traditions. She was unable, however, to decide what sect of Judaism to identify with most. Her parents, wanting her to be “balanced”, sent her to an Orthodox Jewish Day School and a Reform Jewish summer camp. In America she participated expansively in Jewish reform camps and activities, now living in Jerusalem, she considers herself to be Orthodox and religious Zionist. “I’m definitely a proud product of the Reform movement in America,” she explained, “just one who followed the spiritual, social-justice, and Israel-connections all the way through to the lifestyle I have today.”

Despite growing up surrounded by Jewish faith and customs, the moment of realization came to her not in a camp or at school but in Poland in 2008. She described to me going to a concentration camp and in this camp, there are no records of the victim’s actual names. Instead, on the walls of the gas chambers, are thousands of first names, and as Meredith looked on the walls, she saw her own Hebrew name, and the names of her friends, relatives and neighbors. She was previously planning on “eventually” moving to Israel yet at that moment, she knew she:

“just had to move to Israel, join the army and devote my life to making the world a better and safer place for Jews, and for the rest of the world.”

She did just that. Meredith immigrated in 2008 and spent a year in religious seminary, then joined the military where she was able to see “the complexity of the situation” for the first time.

When Meredith spoke of joining the military, I imagined that to be very counterintuitive, given that the military traditionally uses force against different groups of people. However with further discussion, Meredith explained the side of the military which the media does little to cover, and a side that as an American, I was completely ignorant to. She describes the military as “more of a conglomerate. Some people teach in schools as a soldier, or help underprivileged kids. It’s like America’s military, Peace Corps, and Americorps all in one.”Meredith Pic 1

Meredith served in the West Bank in Ramallah as a part of the Civil Administration of the military. She worked in COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territoris), and was a liaison between the Civil Administration and international agencies working on international development projects for Palestinians in Area C. She told me of working to coordinate medical aid and food supplies to the West Bank and Gaza. One task which she described involved coordinating the transfer of 2000 tons of explosives from Israel to Palestine to create cement for housing. Yes, Israelis gave explosives to Palestinians. Yet they were used for improving the lives of many. With this, I understood Meredith’s role as a peacemaker even in the military.

Meredith started her first Kids4Peace summer in 2009 when she went to a North Carolina camp and was “in shock the entire time.”

“I was always really scared of Arabs, but these weren’t scary, they were nice. I felt betrayed by my upbringing, that I was never exposed to the challenge of the Palestinians and the struggle of the Palestinians. When it ended, I just cried and cried. I couldn’t handle the realization that I didn’t know anything. I needed to learn more, and know that this was what I wanted to do with my life.”

The lack of perspective that Meredith received before Kids4Peace is unfortunately the norm. However, Meredith told me that we must “look at it as something we need to improve. Do not be self-hating because that doesn’t help make a difference. We need to see it as an opportunity to make ourselves something better.” Kids4Peace is working to change the conversation — to bring new questions, and new answers to the struggle for peace, ones that are based in real relationships of trust and understanding.

“I hope that society, including our leaders and ordinary people see that Kids4Peace is able to do it. We are able to bring all sides together with respect and understanding.  If we can reach more people, it won’t even matter what the political solution is because society will be ready for peace. That is what we need.”

Meredith’s passion for peace certainly runs deep. Meredith had a beautiful baby girl in March of 2013 and named her Shalva Henn, Shalva meaning Peace, and Henn meaning Grace. In 2012, Meredith joined the Kids4Peace team, first as Director of Communications and Special Projects, and now as Director of Development. She continues to work to make the world a better, safer place for all people.

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Apply 2016

by Liana, Jewish Advisor, Roots 

This Roots seminar was a weekend of love, inspiration, thoughtfulness, solidarity; all shared by justice-seeking peace builders. Before the weekend began, with the recent escalation of violence and fear-mongering attacks and threats, I was unsure how the weekend would go. I wasn’t sure if parents would send their kids, I wasn’t sure if we would be able to fight against the isolation and separation our two societies live in day after day, and I wasn’t sure what anyone would even say if we all did come together. Despite all these reservations, after spending the weekend with 25 Roots teenagers, three advisors, two counselors, and countless others, I am re-inspired, re-energized, and reminded that peace is possible.

After a smooth arrival to the beautiful and quiet oasis that is Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, we all gathered in our tent, where Rebecca went over guidelines and expectations for the weekend. Then we lead the group in a process of setting intentions for the weekend. Many said they hoped to make better friends and to get closer to people they weren’t yet close with. Some said they hoped to spend this time learning and growing together, to create peace, and to strengthen their group identity. After this activity and a short break for Kabbalat Shabbat and candle lighting for whoever wanted to participate, we all gathered in the tent again. Samach, our dialogue facilitator for the weekend, led the group in an activity focused on eye contact, listening and hearing, and personal connections. After this powerful and poignant activity, the Jewish participants led prayers over the bread and grape juice, and we all sat down for a delicious dinner.

Once dinner ended, Roots had a costume party led by our amazing counselors, Eden and Yuval! The costume party was a lot of fun, and included creating skits and competition for best dressed.

In the morning, following breakfast where we heard the Christian blessing for the food, Samach led the group in another activity. This time, the boys and girls separated, and each group had to think about their own roots: where they came from, who they came from, what was going on in their family’s lives when they were born, and how did they get to where they are today. Each group created a play that was supposed to show their reflections to these questions, and then they performed for each other.

We then finished that activity and went to lunch, where we heard the Muslim blessing for food. Afterwards, we played sports, got to know each other better, and enjoyed some well-deserved downtime! As our last facilitated activity, Samach led the groups in an identity-focused session. Roots members talked about their identity, how they identify themselves and why. We also discussed current events and were able to have a respectful, honest dialogue, where everyone had the chance to express their feelings, and process together on the recent escalations of violence.

Once this was over, the Jewish group did Havdalah, everyone packed, and we all climbed back on the buses to go home.

Overall, it was a very successful, fun, meaningful seminar, and we all can’t wait to continue fostering honest and important conversations, relationships, and experiences together.

Despite these hard times, it is things like this, and people like this Roots group, that inspire and motivate everyone around them to work towards a better future for all of us.  

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We Are Thankful

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

But we faced it together.

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

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

We stood together. You stood with us.

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

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

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

Shukran and Todah,
From all of us at Kids4Peace

Kids4Peace is thankful for you!
In the toughest times, we stand together.

Watch and Share.

Vermont Chapter Gala

Fr. Josh Thomas —  November 25, 2014 — Leave a comment

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

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

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Rabbi Joshua Chasan

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Bishop Tom Ely

Lisa Speaks k4p fundraiser

Since our New Hampshire/Vermont chapters will be starting a new year-round program, our small staff is seeking assistance for this growth.  There are opportunities for community members to become a Friend and/or an Ambassador.

  • Friends will volunteer time and talent to assist with year-round youth activities, service projects, photography & video, mailings & administrative tasks, media & public relations, special events, etc.
  • Ambassadors will be trained to become spokes-people for Kids4Peace to help with camper recruitment, presentations to community groups, faith communities and spreading the message of peace.

(If you are reading this, please consider signing up at k4p.org/vermont  We need your energy! The choice of activities and level of commitment will be up to you.)

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

past & present k4p kids

Past & Present Kids4Peace Kids

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

Photo Credit: Kelley Gage

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

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

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

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

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

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

In peace,

Rebecca

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by Dagan, K4P Volunteer

On Friday, we started with a small sharing presence exercise in small groups asking questions: What do I see? what do I hear? What do I feel? Each kid shared a meaningful thought and we moved on to some tougher questions:

  1. Expectations from our parents — do our parents understand us? I asked if their parents had no expectations from them at all, how would it be for them?

  2. Qualities of a leader: communications skills, charismatic, brave, powerful, thinks of others… Can anyone be a leader? Inside we all have the potential, but for some of us it’s harder because somethings is blocking us from achieving this goal (for example, a shy person).

  3. What can we change in ourselves? Somethings we are born with and cannot change, but inner qualities can change.

During our dialogue on Saturday, the youth had some incredible thoughts:

“If we are all human, why don’t we take care of each other?” -Eyal, Jewish

“War doesn’t resolve the conflict, it only makes it worse… the cycle of revenge.  We should remember that in reality, there are different perspectives than ours.  I don’t necessarily agree with you, but I can respect your way and your own thoughts.” -Lara, Christian

“If peoples’ needs are met, they will be no more reason for war.” -Ismail, Muslim

As the conversations got deeper, more questions were raised in the circle:

-What started the war in Gaza?

-Are we effective? Are we doing enough for peace? We meet each other and talk.. but then what? Can we do more?

-How will the world know about us? Some of the kids talked to other guests, and told them about K4P and even invited them to join us!

-What happened to us personally during the war?

Then Rebecca, K4P co-director asked the youth: What is missing in the dialogue? Where are the things that we don’t agree about, or hard for us to raise? Is talking enough? Can we do more? How can we take more responsibility?”

10801494_10152334784256292_753821377979961704_nBefore closing up the weekend, we all came together for a summary circle to look ahead at the eyar:

  1. During this year we’ll be going deeper into the subjects of this weekend seminar.

  2. One of our main goals: being more aware of ourselves, bringing our full presence to the circle.

  3. Learn to express more of our feelings, and notice the difference between feelings and thoughts.

  4. K4P is not only fun any more, this year will be more meaningful and demands more.

 

We asked the youth, what did you learn?

  • The importance of listening.

  • To respect others is key…

  • That I can understand someone without agreeing with him.

  • About myself and my friends.

  • On other’s opinions.

  • I don’t know all the facts about the war, and what I know is not the entire story.

  • Not to complain but to deal with the way things are.

Questions we take home:

  • What is unchangeable in me?

  • Is it enough to speak, or should we act (to give others hope)?

  • Do I do enough in my community?

  • Can anyone be a leader?