by Pam Orbach, Kids4Peace Seattle Dialogue Facilitator

It’s been a wonderful first year of Kids4Peace in Seattle. The gift I have experienced as dialogue facilitator has been to watch our 13-year-old future peace leaders grow together. They have learned the art of acceptance and belonging; they have forged bonds and increased their commitment — to each other and to the program. I am filled with gratitude for the potential their unique wisdom as leaders may offer in the future.

Kids from K4P Seattle working on a community garden-building project, shortly before the dialogue session.

Kids from K4P Seattle working on a community garden-building project, shortly before the dialogue session.

With this awareness and deep gratitude in my heart, I met with the group on May 17 for the last time before the next generation of K4P kids join their meetings. I wanted a dialogue that would call out the hidden power in each individual through a process of acknowledging and championing their spirit. I longed for them to recognize their full potential of whom they might be when they believe in themselves. Talking Behind My Back (with a twist) was the perfect activity.

Each kid took a turn to be “IT” and sat up front with their back turned to the group. Everyone else, including our supporting adults, had the opportunity to describe and recognize actions that the ‘”IT” had done at any point in the year that were worthy of appreciation and gratitude. Individuals in the group expressed gratitude for what they love about “IT”. It was the privilege of the “IT” to just listen and take it all in: to see their very best own self, positively through the eyes of their community; to not only glimpse their most positive self, but also to be inspired to become the full self they might be devoid of self doubt.

The face of each teen, as they turned back to the group in acknowledgement, was overflowing reward for those of us assembled. My wish for these kids is that they embody all that they heard.  When they step into their power, I am confident they will create peace wherever they are. It has been an honor to work with them. Thank you, kids from Kids4Peace.

“From the moment I was introduced to Kids4Peace last summer, I knew I had found an organization I believed in, one that I could see myself working for and I made it my goal to do just that. After 10 months doing various projects as a volunteer, I am honored to join the Kids4Peace family as the Operations Manager in the new Washington, D.C. office.

Shoshana

I hail from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and grew up in the reform Jewish community. I received my B.A. in Government and International Politics with a minor in Middle East Studies from George Mason University and my M.A. in Conflict Resolution and Mediation from Tel Aviv University. I have focused most of my studies on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, transformative dialogue, and the necessity of people-to-people projects to foster change. I believe that there is no greater goal than to empower youth to become activists and leaders in their communities. I have seen first-hand the successes of these programs and I am thrilled to make a contribution to this movement.

I currently reside in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C. I am a member of 2239’s steering committee and I work part time at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. In my free time I enjoy exploring the city (and its many restaurants), drawing and painting, catching great live music, hiking and backpacking, and having intellectually stimulating conversations.”

by Mohammad Joulany, K4P Jerusalem Co-Director

Yesterday marked sixty-seven years of what my people refer to as “Nakba day” which means the day of the catastrophe. On the day of Nakba I remember my grandfather who was forced to move from his spacious apartment in Baka to live in a tiny room in the Muslim quarter of The Old City of Jerusalem.

I remember those who suffer until this very moment from the consequences of their displacement in refugee camps in the West Bank, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. The day that I commemorate is the same day that my Israeli colleagues celebrate and refer to as Independence Day. Here I ask myself the same question that our Jerusalem steering committee chair asked in a previous post: can we really bridge the gap when our worldviews are so different? A simple answer would be a “yes” or “no” answer but an honest one would be “I am not sure”.

The gap is huge for a reason. It is huge because of over sixty-seven years of the unwillingness of recognizing the other. It is due to the education that Israeli’s and Palestinian’s have that does not teach about the other and if it does, it is often to dehumanize the other. While I believe that my people’s cause is just I am sure that my people’s victory should not be over other’s misery. This might sound like a romantic discourse but the reality is that in a small country like ours it is impossible to live alone and pretend that the other side does not exist and here I remember the words of Martin Luther King when he said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”.

One may ask why I refer to coexistence when I commemorate the Nakba day instead of referring the right of return for example. It is almost impossible to convince Israeli’s of the “right of return” if they see you as a threat and when their prime minister encourage them to vote for his extreme government because as he called it “the Arabs are voting in droves”. The mutual responsibility we have is to encourage our people to interact and live together. Israeli’s and Palestinians should be convinced that coexisting is not a naïve choice rather a strategic one to face growing extremism in our societies and the region as well.

Last week a number of angry Palestinian youth stopped an Israeli-Palestinian meeting that was about to take place in East Jerusalem. While I understand the frustration of those youth living under occupation, I do see that what they did is mainly contributing to the policies of the extreme right in Israel, which calls for Isolation. What damage is to happen if this meeting actually took place? Well, I can only think of so many advantages and very little disadvantages. It is our role as Palestinians to present our suffering, hopes, and fears in front of Israelis before anyone else in the world. “The system” does not allow for much interaction, most encounters are on the surface and are not deep enough to the level when gaps are identified.

My message is also to those who pretend to do the “coexistence work”. Being polite and friendly will not help much. Be honest but sensitive when presenting your fears or sufferings to the other. The best present to your people on the Israeli Independence Day or on the Day of Nakba is to be proactive and take a step forward towards talking to a new person from the other side.

Tomorrow is what the Israelis refer to as “Jerusalem Day”. It is the day when the extreme right march towards to Eastern side of the city chanting “Death to Arabs” and “Mohammad is dead”. I dream of the day when we citizens of Jerusalem can walk for peace unified, regardless of our religion or national belonging.

We at Kids4Peace provide a trustworthy platform where Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Israeli and Palestinian families come together on an equal basic to work towards a better present and a promising future for us and our children.

Returning to Ramallah

merk4p —  May 7, 2015 — 2 Comments

by Meredith Rothbart, K4P Director of Development

“Have you ever been to Ramallah?”
This seems like a simple question. If you were to ask me if I’d been to New York, I would say, “Yes, I have been to New York.” If you were to ask me if I have been to China, I would say, “No, I have not been to China.” With Ramallah however, the answer is a bit trickier, as some Kids4Peace International Board members and US Chapter directors found out last week.

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For many of “us,” (Israelis), the answer last week on the bus on our way to Ramallah was “well, not as a civilian.” This confused the foreigners among us, and sent shivers up the spines of some of our Palestinian colleagues. Many of us had been to Ramallah or villages in the Ramallah area as IDF soldiers on missions, just like I had during my time serving as a Non-Commissioned Officer in COGAT. Few of us had walked the streets, chatted with locals, and ordered a local coffee.

“Marhaba.”

“Salam Alaikum”

“Ana bidi…ehh….kaweh. Kaweh ma chalib? Cappucino?”

I have had many opportunities to travel into Ramallah before, but I have always had an excuse. Most recently, when a friend celebrated the birth of his child in his home, I just said flat out, “I want to visit, but I’m too scared.” I sent a gift instead. It wasn’t the same.

unnamed-2When one of our American colleagues asked me if I felt calm after passing through Kalandia checkpoint, I didn’t know how to respond. Calm? Of course not! Calm would have been the Israeli soldiers sending me home and giving me an excuse not to face my fears. Calm would have been a friendly face in all green telling me that for my own safety, I cannot cross into enemy territory. Making it through Kalandia checkpoint was not calming–it was terrifying. There was that big red sign spelling out “DANGER!” and we just drove right past it. I wasn’t protected anymore. My identity alone now put me in danger. “No,” I said, “I am not calm now. It’s not the checkpoint I was afraid of, it is being here and G-d forbid, being killed.”

So then why did I go? Well, for a few reasons

Reason #1. Deep down I just felt that it would end up ok. I trust my instincts and I trust my Kids4Peace family. We’re a team in the deepest sense of the word. I knew that my Palestinian brothers and sisters were there with me, holding my hands, and making sure that everything was ok. I know that they actually legitimately care about me and wouldn’t put me in danger.  So, as much as they could promise and as much as they could control–they would keep me safe from the unknown that had me shivering with fear on that 20-minute drive to Ramallah.

“Ehh, sure, I’ve been to Ramallah…”, I’ve said to those who ask.

What I don’t always say is “with a bullet proof vest, a helmet, an M-16, and armored vehicles in front of me and behind me.”

Reason #2. I’m a leader in Kids4Peace. Believe it or not–this scaredy-cat has to admit the reality. I’m one of many leaders in this awe-inspiring community and the community deserves the intellectual honesty from its staff that we as leaders ask of them. I ask our youth, our parents, our graduates, our volunteers, our educators, and our facilitators to step outside of their comfort zones all the time. I ask them to step into enemy territory. And you know what? They do. Some of them do every single day. I don’t know that if the tables were turned if I would be as strong as my Palestinian colleagues. So I decided to at least take a first step.

Reason #3. On Yom Hazikaron (Israeli Memorial Day), I realized during the siren that I was the only Jew in my office. I stood silently between my Palestinian friends as we stared at each other—trying to internalize the complexity of this moment of silence together. One colleague sat quietly and respectfully so not to disturb me, but did not stand. Another stood, partly out of respect and partly (admittedly) out of confusion. We spent the rest of the day discussing, arguing, crying and trying to make some sense of the reality we live in. We did not solve the conflict that day, but one thing became clear to me–they know Israeli society a million times better than I know Palestinian society. So I figured…yalla, let’s go get some coffee in Ramallah.

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by Guy, Facilitator for Kids4Peace Jerusalem’s Leadership Group
We arrived at Ein Gedi on time where the weather was excellent, and the youth were at their best, cheerful and engaged.  We had one workshop before the Sabbath designing and brainstorming ideas for a billboard that represents our work in Kids4Peace…. (On the last day of the leadership camp (Sunday, 2 August) we will have the opportunity to paint a large peace banner.  The banner will then hang over America’s busiest highway – I-95 in Connecticut.  This is all possible due to the generosity and friendship of Bruce Barrett, who works with the Combatants for Peace).
After dinner we had a dialogue about the tour of Jerusalem we had recently, the dialogue was deep and interesting. On Sabbath we started with a long hike, wow, so much fun and some insights and overcoming fears.
The following 2 dialogue sessions were then dedicated in concern to the interaction our youth had with 3 classes from Or Yehuda, a Jewish religious group that was also staying at the same hotel with us. The youth where mostly religious and haven’t meet an Arab their age or a Jewish that has Arab friends up until now.
The previous night had not been easy. Our youth had some free time with the Or Yehuda youth which seemed ok at first, but when our youth wanted to go to sleep some of the Or Yehuda youth insisted to continue talking. When our group insisted that they wanted to go to sleep, some of the youth from Or Yehuda became racist, calling under their porch and knocking at the door… Bahiah, my Palestinian colleague, and I and the hostel’s guard and one of the Or Yehuda teachers (who was not friendly  and later on some of the youth from Or Yehuda told us that he hates Arabs) were up till 2:00 in the morning trying to monitor the situation.
Between our two dialogues, we had a short meeting with the Or Yehuda group to discuss what had happened. It was important to have this time to debrief so that we could feel and see our differences and our similarity’s through some dialogue.
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In Kids4Peace we realize that facing communities who challenge our work is always possible. We were very impressed with the way our Leadership youth asked for help and were open to a dialogue with the group that had been rude to them. A Kids4Peace parent then suggested we get together at her home and process the incident together. We as a staff agreed and look forward to meeting with youth and parents together.
At the meeting, parents requested to draw up an official protocol that would help guide advisors and facilitators during weekend seminars. The protocol includes many suggestions such as checking which other groups will be lodging at the hostel at the same time, involving parents in the programming for weekends, and maintaining more frequent communication with parents throughout seminars, especially in the event where there is tension.
We wish to thank the youth for their mature response, as well as the parents for their careful attention to detail and desire to make the process better for all of us in Kids4Peace.

NC staff MattMatthew Doeing is a current M.A. student at Providence College in addition to being a graduate assistant for the college’s Theology department.

He has past experience of living in a multi-faith community at the Presbyterian Retreat Center in New York, as well as work experience that includes the development of multi-faith initiatives at Elizabethtown College, the institute from which he obtained his B.A. in Religious Studies and Biology.  Additionally, he has been involved with campus ministry and youth ministry for his local Catholic church.

His hobbies and interests include hiking, gardening, cooking, board games, having good conversations, and anything that “allows for reflection on the rich beauty in the world.” 

by Udi, Kids4Peace Jerusalem Steering Committee Chair

As we are approaching Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haaztmaut Israel’s Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers of the IDF and Day of independence, we are also nearing the Nakba. These events play a major symbolic role in the dispute between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Whilst one people mourn the dead soldiers and celebrates independence the other mark the day of the disaster.  The narratives for the same event cannot be more different. And here we are, trying to communicate with each other and bring peace. Thinking about these two days and the heated debates around them made me reflect on the work of Kids4Peace.

The first question is: can we really bridge the gap when our worldviews are so different? Can we overlook the fact that our friends see our day of independence as a disaster? What does that say about their feeling for our fallen soldiers, our brothers, sons, and friends? Can I ignore their feelings and pretend that it is not happening, keep smiling and ignore this issue? On the other hand, how do they feel about me celebrating their disaster? How can I mourn the loss of soldiers who sometimes represent the worse image for them? How would I feel about them mourning what I call a terrorist? Can I even compare, do I/we even want to enter this discussion?

This leads me to the nature of our dialogue. Is it real or are we just being polite and friendly? Are our conversations honest like real friends? Can we cross over to the other camp and be friends with one or two of the others, real friend or are we there mostly for the kids, it is a good program after all.

I believe that the key is in the narrative. We all stepped out of the norm and made a statement for whatever reason, that we want our children to get to know the others. We all did something that is not what most people do. But we are often caught in the same old narrative. It is us and them, the Jews/Israelis and sometimes the occupiers Vs. the Palestinians/ Arabs / Christians/Muslims, them.  The problem is that we do not talk about the real issues and if someone brings up a sensitive issue, people get defensive or aggressive which terminates the conversation

Looking at the days ahead of us, I think that dealing with a conflict in a good way is an opportunity to grow. I work as a director of kindergartens. We teach the children to see the good in others, we teach them to resolve conflicts by saying sorry, playing together and becoming friends, we teach them to share and to care. We teach them that violence is wrong, that what might be good for some is not good for others, we teach them that people have different taste in things and we should learn from one another. We teach them to take responsibility and own up to what they did as part of growing up and being independent and trustworthy. Yet, when it comes to us, the adults, we forget most of it.

These are not easy times for both sides. We can pretend that it is not happening, smile to each other and make a comment to ‘our’ side about how ‘they’ are celebrating/commemorating ‘that day’. Or, we can be honest with each other and bring it up in a discussion. We can try finding a middle ground or a space where we can share what we think and feel. I suggest we bring some food along because it can be a long conversation but nonetheless a good one that will require fueling of good stuff from both sides. If we drop our guard a bit (use some humor) and give the other person credit for wanting to be there and make peace, we can go a long way and celebrate friendships that will grow of this conflict. Kid4Peace is giving us the best platform to move forward, let us use it.

I invite anyone who is interested to meet and talk over a good meal to contact me at steeringcommittee@k4p.org

Shalom and Salaam,
Udi

by Mike, K4P Jerusalem volunteer

There’s nothing so simple and joyful as just watching kids at play. You give them the space to run and jump and laugh and express themselves, and everything else seems to just fall away. But sometimes it’s not as simple as it seems.BNC_5876

On Friday, April 17th, I spent the day with the 66 newest members of Kids4Peace – the latest crop of 6th-graders that just started this January. It was field day at the Beit Safafa School in East Jerusalem, and that meant a day of popsicles, games, cheers, and letting kids be kids.

And that’s what they did. At first glance (or at first listen – as you approach the school playground from a distance and hear only the giggles and shouts as they drift out into the famously resonant and echo-friendly city of Jerusalem), it was indistinguishable from any other group of 6th-graders discovering lacrosse for the first time or getting into a game of tug-of-war.

BNC_5547But this was so much more than that. For one thing, it was the start of a six-year journey with Kids4Peace.

These kids are evenly split between the three Abrahamic religions that call Jerusalem home: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, and even within those categories there’s remarkable diversity: Palestinian, Israeli, European, Arab, religious, secular, wealthy, poor, and all the seemingly endless ways each of those identifiers can mix and match and combine to form fascinatingly different but uniformly adorable and engaging children.

All of that plus the occasional language barrier means there’s still some awkwardness and clumping. The social circles that form organically when the kids sit down on the pavement for lunch aren’t exactly fully inclusive – and if you’re watching closely you’ll notice that “random selection” when picking teams for baseball often leaves the sides suspiciously unbalanced.

But you can’t expect 6th-graders not to *cheat* a little bit to be on the same team as their friends. And – in true 6th-grade fashion – these self-selected teams and lunch groups were divided by gender far more often than by anything else. (Especially considering that, without the occasional hijab or crucifix-necklace or kippah, the non-gender based differences can be a lot harder to spot.)

At this point, when the kids are still wearing nametags, when they’re still struggling to find the best, most comfortable ways to communicate somewhere in the chaotic mix of Hebrew, Arabic, and English – it’s hard to imagine that these kids really know what is in store for them.BNC_5286

Sixth grade means 11 or 12 years old. They’re teetering on the edge of the “kid world” that dominates in elementary school, beginning to drift dangerously into the emotional, socially-stratified world that follows, populated by preteens and adolescence.

As if middle school wasn’t enough, these kids have the troubled world around them to contend with as well. They haven’t necessarily fully come to terms yet with what the Israeli-Palestinian context will do to shape their lives, and they surely have no idea what the next six years in Kids4Peace might mean for them.

There will be powerful friendships, challenging emotions, painful dialogues, and difficult but ultimately worthwhile coexistence – and who knows what else. But for now there is play.

BNC_5776One of the four stations of the day is for assorted silly games, especially ones that require a lot of running. Tug-of-war is a big hit, although it leaves some guys a little shamed and disappointed. (The girls crush them every chance they get, while the boys sit idly by and wait for growth spurts.)

At another station the kids learn the traditional Kids4Peace cheers, shouting their way through them alternately in English, Arabic, and Hebrew. As the years continue, this cheer will become more and more significant and unavoidably loaded with emotion and energy of one kind or another – but for now it seems like little more than a mildly amusing chore. One boy laughs as he helps lead another round through the chant, but then wraps his arm around his buddy and remarks loudly, “I’m not having fun!”

BNC_5344Only an hour later, however, the boy is running bases in his first experience of Baseball. “This is the best game ever!” he exclaims to no one in particular as he lands on second.

The last two stations are thus reserved for Baseball and Lacrosse – two pure American imports that produce some funny looks on kids’ faces, sometimes amused, sometimes frustrated, sometimes just confused. But there is no “This is stupid,” or “I don’t get it.” They dive in, joyfully and eagerly getting into something new. They do some quick training as the volunteers from the Baseball and Lacrosse organizations show them the basic skills and rules, and the game is on.

The newness of the sports means no child is an expert. Even if they’ve seen it on TV before, most kids have probably never swung a bat. Everyone feels a bit silly, and maybe the slightest bit uncomfortable as they get used to swinging this weird Lacrosse stick around – but they’re learning together, and that’s what this is all about.

“Everywhere we go (echo)

People want to know (echo)

Who we are (echo)

So we tell them (echo)

We are Kids4Peace

Mighty Mighty Kids4Peace

Tired of the fighting

Time to do the right thing

We can do it better

We can live together

Shalom Salaam

Salaam Shalom

Kids! 4! Peace!”

NC staff LaurenLauren Rosenfeld, M.A., M.Ed. is a lifelong educator with thirty years of experience teaching children and adults.

She currently serves as the Director of Education at Congregation Beth HaTephila in Asheville, offering hands-on, experiential education to children from 18-months to 18-years old.

She holds graduate degrees in Child Development and Judaic Studies and is the author of Two Books: Your To Be List and Breathing Room. Lauren is also a mother of four children ranging in ages from 14 through 18. Her daughter, Tamar is a two-time Kids4Peace camper!

“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