Last week, Kids4Peace had the unique opportunity to join around 1300 American and international youth at the 2017 Episcopal Youth Event in Oklahoma for 5 days.

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Adam and Charlie, an Israeli and a Palestinian, incoming 11th graders from K4P Jerusalem, Lana, an incoming senior from K4P Vermont (born in Baghdad, Iraq), and Liana, the community engagement coordinator from K4P Jerusalem, joined executive director and Episcopal Father, Josh Thomas, at the event.

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All of the interesting and fun activities during the week lead up to the final plenary event (keynote speeches) on Thursday morning, delivered by Adam, Charlie and Lana, with an introduction by Fr. Thomas in front of the entire convention.

After arriving late Monday night, Adam and Charlie jumped right into the swing of things on Tuesday, telling their stories, talking about Jerusalem and Kids4Peace and answering questions during a break-out session with about 40 people.

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We were able to watch the opening prayer service and welcome program, which included a live band, lots of standing and singing, a beautiful procession of the Bishops, a speech by the presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States, Michael B. Curry, and the communion service. For Charlie, a Christian Lutheran Palestinian and Adam, a Jewish Israeli, this kind of service, with singing, dancing, live instruments, impassioned speeches and 1300 people crowded into one University gym, watching and participating in this was a unique and special experience.

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Wednesday, we revised and practiced the speeches all morning, working hard and focusing on the speeches they were to give the next day. Being in the U.S., we also of course took a quick asian-fusion restaurant lunch break and Target run.

That afternoon, we went into Oklahoma City to join the rest of the group to participate in the food truck festival and street fair put on by the Episcopal Church of Oklahoma City. We enjoyed various fried American delicacies (including safe-to-eat raw cookie dough for dessert), watched different street performers, tried to stay out of the heat and mingled with the group. In the evening, we went to the site of the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing to have the closing evening service at the beautiful memorial site built there. There were several speakers, survivors that told their stories, and the Bishop from the Diocese of Oklahoma, and reflective singing and quiet meditation as the day came to an end.

On Thursday morning, Charlie, Adam and Lana got on stage as the entire convention gathered once again into the gym. With courage and focus, they gave their speeches, one by one, telling their stories, talking about growing up in Kids4Peace, and their future goals and aspirations, for themselves, in Kids4Peace, and for Jerusalem and the United States. At the end of each speech, they received standing ovations from the audience, and at the end of all of them, once again.

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Here is an except of the end of their speeches and pictures of them practicing them, so you can get a taste of these inspiring stories and leaders. For the full speeches, click here (starts at 40:00):

Adam:

“If each one of us will make the effort to meet the “other,” and find their own pathway to peace, like we do in Kids4Peace, If we can see the humanity on both sides, If we can know their pain, their fear, their hopes and their stories… Then achieving peace will be possible.

I would like to end with a prayer for peace from my Jewish tradition

First in English and then in Hebrew:

G-d, who makes peace in the heavens, Make peace on us, and on all Israel – and I add, on all the world, and let us say, Amen:

“.עושה שלום במרומיו, הוא יעשה שלום עלינו ועל כל ישראל ואימרו אמן

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Charlie:

“In my opinion, finding inner peace is the first and most crucial step of achieving a path to peace. Once inner peace is achieved, peace can prosper among us humans.

I believe Kids4Peace will be like a spark. A spark for change. A spark to a much larger movement, where thousands more families can meet people on the opposite side of conflicts – just like I did.

K4P is different and special due to the unimaginable spirit and devotion to peace, and I KNOW we can be the start of something great.

I want to close with a prayer for peace, from my Christian faith, first in English and then in my native language, Arabic:

Gracious and holy God, lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth. Lead us from despair to hope, from fear to trust. Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace. Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen

الله الكريم والقدس، قودنا من الموت إلى الحياة، من الباطل إلى الحقيقة. قودنا من اليأس إلى الأمل، من الخوف إلى الثقة. قودنا من الكراهية إلى الحب، من الحرب إلى السلام. دع السلام يملأ قلوبنا وعالمنا وكوننا. من خلال يسوع المسيح، مخلصنا وربنا. آمين

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Lana:

“I am so thankful that Kids4Peace has given me the chance to help the people that are around me. I challenge you to take that risk and give someone in your life a second chance, and be the difference that you want to see in the world.                                               I would like to leave you with a final prayer from my Muslim faith.  It’s a kind of prayer that we call a dua in Arabic:                                                                                                                O heart be patient. Prayer and patience heals all pain. Nothing lasts forever. Your pain will also come to an end. In Sha Allah”

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After the speeches, everyone surrounded them, taking pictures, thanking them, saying how impressed and moved they were by them and their stories. It was a beautiful moment, one that Kids4Peace will forever hold dear, watching these once young K4P youth, become the strong and motivated leaders our movement is helping to build.

After the speeches, at another break-off session, this time the attendance wasn’t 40 but 400, as people crowded in, wanting to hear more, wanting to learn more, and wanting to spend more time with these fearless young leaders.

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Thank you to the Episcopal Church for inviting us, thank you for giving us the opportunity to share our stories with the world, and especially thank you to Charlie, Adam, and Lana, for your commitment, your strength and your grit.  

Written by Liana Rothman, community engagement coordinator        

Written by Chelsea MacMillan (Interfaith Advisor) and Selina Petschek

 

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Two days ago at Kids4Peace VT/NH, we celebrated Interdependence Day. We began the July 4th morning asking the students if there really is such a thing as independence, considering how dependent upon other people we all are just to live our daily lives. To illustrate this concept, our Coordinator and Co-facilitator, Selina, had the kids act out the life cycle of monarch butterflies in which the presence of milkweed is crucial. Without milkweed the monarchs would not survive, no food or place to lay their larvae, and without the monarchs, the milkweed would never be pollinated and would likewise disappear. We followed up by moving into our peace groups to further explore the interdependence that weaves through each of our lives.

 

In each group, kids chose an everyday object to investigate: soda, Nike shoes, and pancakes, and did their best to trace all the materials back to their sources. They quickly got caught in the web of trade, commerce, ecology, humanity, the interconnectedness that we live in and partake in everyday. As one kid put it, “We could be doing this all day!” Each group presented their webs of interdependence and, together, we made lists of all of the people, materials, and earth systems that are required just to make pancakes or shoes! This may have been the first time these kids had really thought about the interconnection of all things, but it was also a great reminder to us adults.

 

This exploration led right into acroyoga and trust exercises with Jeff. The kids got to embody what it means to really let go and trust that their new friends will not let them fall, just like they have to trust that they will be fed and clothed by the systems that support them. The kids also learned what it looks like to give the support in return and will be more mindful of how their choices affect others.

Under Pressure

Kids4Peace —  July 2, 2017 — Leave a comment

Contributors: Ada (8th grade, NH), Deklan (7th grade, NH), and Fiona (Counselor, NY). 

As the rehearsals for the musical dramatic event “Peace Child” are in full swing, the campers and staff of Kids4Peace Vermont and New Hampshire’s first year camp are beginning to feel the challenges of memorizing, staging, and mounting a production. Fiona, a Senior Counselor from New York, NY, offers some perspective on the performers and their progress. Putting up a show in six days with six hour long daily rehearsals has her “nervous about their energy” on the day of the performance, for “it’s going to be a big stretch”. Ada, a rising eighth grader from New Hampshire, echoes Fiona, acknowledging that “it’s a lot of work”.

However, while the work can be stressful and exhausting, it is also just as rewarding. Now the campers are working on scenes and character development, helping them to realize the thematic value of this piece. Fiona believes that “they grasp that it’s something about peace and that it means more than other shows they might have seen or been part of”. That appreciation for the play has many of the campers eager to perform.

One in particular is Deklan, a rising seventh grader from Sunapee, NH. Because Deklan is “never one to get anxious or anything” while onstage, he is finding great excitement in his work. Especially in exploring his character, “Character”, in the play. Understanding his role and how Character connects to the other characters and action of the play is making him “feel more confident that [he] is going to enjoy it and have a really good time”.

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Downstage from left to right: Deklan and Mariam

While the play is helping the campers to find meaning and joy for themselves, it is also helping them to connect to others. Ada is finding that the activities they do at camp and rehearsals have helped her to connect “to the [other] kids and enjoy being around almost all of them”. Deklan has also “made friends with kids from K4P through the play”, and has had “fun [meeting] people and [hanging] out”.

But the impending audience incites nerves and excitement. Fiona cannot wait for the kids to have a “really cool experience” with a “whole sea of people all there supporting” the group. And among that sea of people will be familiar faces. Looking forward to “maybe get[ting] to hug them” and maybe “ask[ing] for a picture with them”, Deklan cannot wait to see his family. Surprisingly homesick, this performance is also an opportunity to reconnect to his loved ones and share a beautiful story.

A story that Deklan claims “speaks for itself and … is very persuasive”. Addressing peacemaking and bullying, they hope that they play inspires the audience to go out and lead change in their lives and schools. But do not be alarmed at the portrayal of bullying onstage. Deklan reassures us that “the bullies on stage are just acting”. Don’t let their impeccable acting fool you; the Peace Child “is not hurt, she’s totally okay!” To all planning to witness this event- please sit back, relax, and enjoy the peacemaking.

Contributors: Ana (8th grade, VT), Seth (7th grade, NH), and Sylvia (8th grade, VT)

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While Fridays in the United States typically give young and old alike a reason to celebrate in itself, Kids4Peace Vermont and New Hampshire campers learned about the religious significance of this day to both Islam and Judaism. During the early evening before dinner, the campers learned about and witnessed Juma prayer, the Friday mid-day prayer held each week for Muslims. In addition to learning about the physical and social nature of Muslim prayer, campers also learned about the significance of Friday in both the religion and the structure of a week, for Fridays mark the end of the weekend.

After dinner, the campers learned about and witnessed a Shabbat service, marking the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath while at camp (Shabbat Shalom by the way!). In addition to seeing the nature of Jewish prayer, the youth also learned how Shabbat affects people’s lifestyles and the structure of a week, for Fridays mark the first full day of the weekend. The staggered days of rest among the three Abrahamic faiths was a new concept to many. But Sylvia, a rising eighth grader from South Burlington, VT, embraced the knowledge, noting that “each religion has their own day of rest, [and hers] is just on Sunday”.

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Sylvia (8th Grade, VT) and Ana (8th Grade, VT)

Ana, also a rising eighth grader from South Burlington, VT, also related this lesson to her own faith tradition as a Christian. She found that it was her belief in the Episcopal Church that “helps [her], [and] leads [her]” by “teach[ing] [her] to welcome and accept other cultures [and religions] even though they are different”. She uses her own faith as a vessel of acceptance and appreciation, even to other faith traditions.

While Ana feels incredibly connected to her own faith, this sensation of connection embedded in the Juma Prayer was significant to Seth, a rising seventh grade from Henniker, NH. While he noted the physical state of connection between shoulders and knees in the different postures used during Muslim prayer, he continued to see beyond the traditions to the universal commonality of being human, for “we are all connected”.

And it is that connection that has inspired Seth to advocate for peace and understanding in his school, standing up for Jewish and Muslim students who “are just like [the Christian students], they just do things a little bit differently”. Although now, Seth feels more hope to “not give up right away”, for even a young peacemaker knows that “it’s easy to get overwhelmed” in the face of injustice and prejudice. But he intends to move forward anyway, for, as Sylvia puts it, “everyone deserves peace and rest”.

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Seth (7th Grade, NH)

Contributors: Hussein (7th grade, VT), Judah (7th grade, NH), and Sage (6th grade, NH).

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The early bird spreads peace and understanding at Kids4Peace camp, and these campers sure are living as peacemakers, waking up bright and early at 7:00 am yesterday morning. While they may not have bushy tails, the bright eyed campers headed off to the Flying Monkey House Theater for their first full day of rehearsal. And as they say in the theatre, early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable!

actingAnd these young professionals were on time as they headed into a six hour rehearsal day, consisting of singing, dancing, and scene work. Working with graduate students, staff, and faculty at Plymouth State University, the campers began the journey of breathing life into their musical dramatic piece, Peace Child. However, even the beginning stages of the creative process challenge young performers to reach outside of their comfort zones.

Dance in particular proved demanding, for dancing in front of others can be quite vulnerable. Judah, a rising seventh grader from Hopkinson, NH, “really hates dancing in public”, but nonetheless “had to dance in front of people”. And with that positive attitude and willingness, Judah found that after awhile, “it was even fun!” Sage, a rising sixth grader from Loconia, NH, was continually pushed out of her comfort zone today as singing and dancing is already uncomfortable. And when the campers had to improvise dance themselves, it “was an extra push”, for she “did not feel comfortable making up things on stage with just loose instructions”. Even on the outskirts outside of her comfort zone, Sage was able to appreciate the situation as something that, while uncomfortable, is in fact just “new”.

Being in the theater can be intimidating in itself. Hussein, a rising seventh grader from Winooski, VT, was “really shy” and even “scared” when they arrived at the Flying Monkey House Theater. But Hussein found that “when [he] tried to do the things [the instructors] showed [them], [he] wasn’t as shy anymore, and it was fun to be an actor!” That positivity flooded the day as the campers experienced memorable moments together: hearing the unique score that was composed intentionally for them, learning each of their specific roles within the group, and singing the opening song together.

Both Judah and Hussein enjoyed singing the opening song, or as Hussein calls it, the Group Singing 2“special music”. After the young campers put their all into singing that song together, Judah assesses that it was “definitely a memorable moment”, for “it was a team effort”. The new community they formed together during the first day was further strengthened as they became something even more powerful, an ensemble.

 

Contributors: Arbai (9th grade, Winooski, VT), Emma (7th grade, Andover, NH), Sherihan, (6th grade, Winooski, VT)

Water bottles were decorated and the ice was broken as the camp season was officially kicked off yesterday at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, New Hampshire. Staff members welcomed fourteen young campers as they entered into their first Kids4Peace camp experience. After name tags had been made and suitcases were unpacked, the staff introduced themselves, and the campers played some get-to-know-you games. Working up quite the appetite, all gathered in the dining hall for dinner. But of course, no meal is complete without a blessing led by a camper.

 

19437509_1349217565156574_413859909257907386_nThe newfound energy from dinner fueled the following discussion revolving the group’s values and expectations while at camp. As campers and staff voiced their hopes and ideals, a Community Agreement was composed that will serve as the group’s foundation while at camp. While the group’s expectations of each other are captured in the Community Agreement, each of the campers had their own pool of hopes and prospects for the next eleven days at Kids4Peace.

 

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Sherihan, 6th grade, VT

Arbai, a rising ninth grader from Winooski, Vermont, has high hopes to learn a great deal while at camp. She even aspires to pick up “more English”. The desire to learn is also felt by Sherihan, a rising sixth grader also from Winooski, Vermont, who wants to know “how other people practice their religions”. But sleep away camp with a group of strangers can be intimidating, for campers must “[be] away from family” (Arbai). Not to mention the first day jitters, as campers are “talking and laughing with people [they] don’t know yet” (Sherihan).

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Emma, 7th grade, NH

Emma, a rising seventh grader from Andover, New Hampshire, on the other hand is purely “really excited for everything”, hoping to “meet new friends”, “learn about religion”, and “know what it’s like” to be away from home overnight. Whether one is full of unbridled hope, consumed by worry, or anything in between, all campers got the opportunity to voice their hopes and fears and listen to others.

 

The day was closed, accepting all of these hopes and fears, expectations and worries. The campers, now a community, went to bed, marking a successful first day of camp.

 

Kids4Peace Iftar 2017

merk4p —  June 23, 2017 — Leave a comment

On Thursday, June 15th, Kids4Peace held our annual community Iftar event. Our entire community had the opportunity to join the Pathways for Peace (6th and 7th grade) Iftar and community service drive, funded by USAID. It was a moving, fun, inspiring, family-filled evening. With speeches from Meredith and Reeham, and two of our K4P youth, Eliana and Omri, a Ramadan coloring and lantern making station for kids, the charity drive, and two big interfaith text study sessions all happening before the meal even began, it was truly a community event.

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This time, thanks to USAID and the amount of people that came, we were able to get everyone even more involved than in previous years. For the first time at a K4P Iftar, in honor of Ramadan and our K4P values, we organized the charity drive. As people entered, we collected secondhand clothes and toys to be donated to Muslim, Jewish and Christian families in need all around Jerusalem. Each family was also asked to bring a dish to share with everyone. Also, thanks to an incredible donation by K4P father, Jared, we were able to greatly minimize our plastic use and waste production due to his generous donation of plates and silverware, which we will use at every future community event to come. At the end of the meal, there was a washing station set up which allowed us, as a community, to all clean up together.

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Omri, a Palestinian Muslim 10th grader, spoke about Ramadan and what it means to him to celebrate his holiday and traditions alongside his Kids4Peace friends. Eliana, a Jewish Israeli 9th grader, spoke of similar themes, and of the power and hope Kids4Peace gives her.

With 300 people in attendance, I heard people remark on what an amazing community Kids4Peace really is. Everyone participated in making the evening a success, and everyone left with their bellies full and their faces smiling.

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The opportunity to celebrate each other’s holidays in Kids4Peace, together, is meaningful and unique. For the Jewish and Christian youth at the Iftar event, to learn about Ramadan and to experience an Iftar meal, is a rare opportunity that helps connect the youth even more and helps them learn more about other religions and cultures.

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We are so grateful for our amazing community, and for the hope and power you give to us and we continue giving to each other. We are grateful to USAID for making this evening possible.

The final day of the Kids4Peace tour with the group of Mormon youth from Utah that were part of the Youth Summit Jerusalem 2017, was successful and meaningful. After three days of learning, visiting sights, questioning, and playing, the group gathered in the Kids4Peace office. As another group of Birthright students were coming in to meet with some of our other educators at the same time, we overlapped with a few activities. The two groups loved meeting each other and having the office filled with people was exciting.

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After lunch and a few games, we boarded the bus and were on our way to the beautiful Mormon Center on the Mount of Olives. One of the most fantastic buildings and views in Jerusalem, the group had a tour of the Center, and listened to an Organist play a few songs. Afterwards, we gathered again, with a few more Kids4Peace youth having joined us, and split up into groups to talk about interfaith projects they can work on and create when they go back home. We talked about how to create these projects using the core values Kids4Peace holds dear and presented once we came back together. The group said they really liked this activity, because for them the core value of most religions is being charitable and loving one another.

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The project ideas were great. They included: being pen pals with Kids4Peace participants here in Jerusalem, giving both the opportunity to learn more about each other, hosting a refugee dinner in their area, creating a committee of teenagers from all different faiths to promote this dinner, lead discussions about their lives and religions, create a community of interfaith youth. Another project idea was to create an interfaith club, to do service activities together, celebrate each other’s holidays. Another was to host an open question evening, to gather as an interfaith group of teenagers and learn about each other more; the entrance fee would be food items that they can donate to charity, to their local food pantries.

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After that activity we had a panel discussion with three of our Kids4Peace youth. This gave the group the opportunity to hear more about Kids4Peace and what it is like to grow up as an Israeli or Palestinian in Jerusalem and in this movement. They also were able to ask questions and overall it was a very interesting, engaging and learning-filled discussion.

Once we returned to the hotel and had dinner, we gathered in the meeting room to have a final session, to wrap up the last few days they had experienced together. They talked a lot about faith vs. national identity, about how pain is a constant in the conflict here, how it is hard to breach. They discussed what Kids4Peace is doing and what it means for Jerusalem, if someday we will be the majority here and how to make that happen. Omri, a K4P Muslim 10th grader said, “We must figure out how to live in harmony. People are already becoming more open-minded. I can see that there will be a big change in Jerusalem. We can all feel it. People are sick of living this way, so the silent majority is leaning towards peace.” This was so interesting to the group, they discussed all these topics for some time.

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Eventually, Carmiel led them in an activity he called ‘Interactive Postcards’. They had to think of their favorite or most meaningful moment and create a picture of it with their bodies. Some of these living postcards included a scene of when they were hosted at the Muslim home, another was of borders where two people were shaking hands over the border and two people were back to back, and another one was of Carmiel and Tamer leading a dialogue at a playground.

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Finally, it was time to end the evening’s session and to say goodbye. For their final task, each person went around and asked a question. The questions were not meant to be answered, but simply meant to be thrown out there, into the circle, to be held in the space they had created and thought about. Some of these questions included:

  • What can we as Americans do to help the situation?
  • Why is it so hard to see things from others’ perspectives?
  • How are my own walls and borders limiting me?
  • What now?
  • When will there be peace here?
  • Why is communication so difficult?
  • Will these two communities ever forgive each other?

Carmiel, to close the circle, asked, “will these three days make a difference in your lives?” Everyone nodded and started clapping, and the goodbye hugs and pictures began.

Thank you so much to everyone who made this trip possible, to the amazing K4P educators and tour guides Carmiel and Tamer, and to the leaders of this learning group. We hope to see you all again and look forward to staying in touch!

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Written by Liana Rothman, community engagement coordinator

On Friday evening, June 16th, 2017 a young Israeli woman was stabbed to death in the area of Damascus Gate, Jerusalem. Hadas Malka, a 23 year old women (See article here) from Giv’at Azar.  

That morning I began a three-day tour with a group of Mormon youth from Utah, who are in Jerusalem for a couple of weeks. Kids4Peace is running a tour for them through one of our new projects, “K4P Tours: Jerusalem Through the Eyes of the Interfaith Community”. The goal of these tours is to give people an experience of Jerusalem that discusses the challenges of the city while showing the importance and the beauty of getting to know one another and learning about one another’s religions and narratives. This is through encounters with Jerusalemites of all three Abrahamic faiths (Islam, Judaism and Christianity), Israelis and Palestinians from both East and West Jerusalem.

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We began our tour on Mt. Zion, with an introduction to an interfaith Jerusalem. We heard from Carmiel, our Jewish tour educator, and Suma, our Muslim educator. Both were raised in Jerusalem, and both have a strong connection to the city from a place of faith, and an understanding that we must  learn to live together as a community, each with his or her own narrative yet open to the reality that there are other narratives as well. We walked through the Christian, Muslim and Jewish quarters, experiencing the beauty of each one.

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We then took a break for a couple of hours and regrouped at “Kol-Haneshama” a Reform synagogue in South Jerusalem. From there we continued with the group to their hotel in east Jerusalem, not far from Damascus Gate. We wanted to continue the Jewish experience of Shabbat, knowing that on Sunday we would be going to visit a Christian home in Beit-Jallah and then a Muslim home in Beit-Safafa, after the Iftar (the break-fast meal at the end of the day, during the month of Ramadan). We all gathered in a room at the hotel in East Jerusalem, and Carmiel and I led together the Shabbat rituals of blessing the grape juice, washing hands and blessing the bread.

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We then walked into the dining hall at the hotel to find a group of Muslim men who were holding their evening prayer service after the Iftar. The dining hall was filled with a majority of Muslim visitors from around the world who came to Jerusalem for this holy month of Ramadan. All of this we experienced with a Mormon group from Utah! It was a truly magical experience, a true interfaith Jerusalem evening.

That Friday evening was a first for me. Not the interfaith experience but rather the location in which it took place. This kind of religious diversity in one location was something that would not normally happen in Jerusalem, in such a divided city — divided in its religion and its nationality.

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After dinner, we wrapped up the day, all sharing how appreciative we were to be able to learn about Jerusalem through the work that we do in Kids4Peace. I felt so honored and proud to be representing something that I believe in and is so needed in Jerusalem today. After this wonderful experience, Carmiel and I gathered our stuff to start our journey home, about a half an hour walk for both of us. Carmiel observes the tradition of not driving on the Sabbath, so I joined him.  

As we were walking out of the hotel, we heard about the attack near Damascus Gate. We discussed how it would be best to raise this tragic event with the group, while also trying to navigate the best way to walk home. I was scared, but having walked through these areas so many times in my life I figured it would be ok. I also trusted Carmiel, an experienced tour guide, to take us through the best possible route. Two of the leaders from the Mormon group felt responsible and wanted to make sure we were ok; they walked us down to Damascus gate. Here we were, two Mormons and two Jews, standing at Damascus Gate at the busiest possible time of the year for this place, all very much feeling like we were minorities in this situation.

Carmiel then walked up to the Israeli border police and asked him to let us pass to the road so we would not have to walk through the crowded Muslim Quarter. He said that due to the attack, they were not letting anyone through, while looking very confused as to why a Jewish man with a kippah on his head was even standing there at all.

Carmiel simply explained that we were guiding a group that was staying at a nearby hotel, and since we observe the Sabbath, we needed to walk home. The border policeman then proceeded to tell us that we could not pass and would have to walk through the Muslim Quarter. Our Mormon friends would not leave us alone and walked us all the way through until we reached a quieter area of the Old City.

I have never felt more like a stranger in my own city — the city I grew up in, the city I love and care about, the city I fight to make better, every day of my life. Yet, this feeling segwayed straight from experiencing what I love most about this city: the multifaith and multicultural reality. I dove directly from a hopeful high, into the soup of hate, fear and tension that Jerusalem is famous for brewing — the parts that I work hard to end.

Carmiel and I walked home together at 11 o’clock at night and discussed the current status of the city. We shared strong feelings of feeling compelled to continue the work of trying to make this city a place that embraces rather than pushes away diversity. I saw images of members of our community in my head, faces of the people I spend hours with every week, working together to achieve this dream:

Ismat, a 40-year-old man from Beit-Safafa who left a lifelong career of carpentry to commit his life to Kids4Peace; Reeham, a 42-year-old religious Muslim woman, a committed educator who believes that the youth we are educating are the ones who will make a real difference in Jerusalem; Meredith, a young mother of two, a religious Zionist Jew who moved to Israel from the U.S., and a strong believer in community as a force of change; Montaser, a Muslim Palestinian who grew up deep in the heart of the West Bank who often has to wait at Qalandia Checkpoint for two hours just to cross over to Jerusalem so he can do this holy work; Sarah, an American born Jewish young women who gave up her life in the U.S. to move to Jerusalem, serve in the IDF and through that came to truly believe in working together to create equal opportunity and shared community in Jerusalem. These faces and so many more come to mind when thinking about the kind of Jerusalem I wish to see in the future.

On Thursday night, June 15th, Kids4Peace celebrated Ramadan together with over 350 members of the community. Together we shared a potluck Iftar meal. This is the reality I want to continue to build–not the reality I was reminded of on my walk home on Friday night.  We need to educate our children to learn, love and respect, those who are different, not dehumanize and hate. Only together can we make this world a better place.

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My heart goes out to Hadas’s family, and it also goes out to the families of the three young Palestinian men who attacked her. If we all commit to educating towards mutual understanding and respect, maybe they would all still be with us today.

May we spend the final days of Ramadan and the holiday of Id Al Fider, as we segway into the Jewish fast of the 17th of Tamuz commemorating the fall of Jerusalem prior to the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem, in remembrance and peace.

Written by Michal Ner-David, tour group and grants coordinator

 

Last week, eight members of the Kids4Peace staff and youth had the unique opportunity to meet influential leaders at St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem.The youth in attendance were three ninth grade Leadership youth: Omar, Jessica, and Mira. We met and spoke with the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Brendan Carr, The Most Reverend Michael Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough, and The Most Reverend Suheil Dawani, Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem and one of the founders of Kids4Peace in 2002.

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All three said how much they admired the work Kids4Peace is engaged in, and expressed their gratitude and hope for our youth. The Lord Mayor asked about what it is like to be in a group with Israelis and Palestinians together from such a young age, growing up together. He wondered what the challenges and the opportunities are.

“When you’re in Kids4Peace, it is empowering to see Israeli and Palestinian youth together. We find the will to bring solutions to whatever is happening here,” Omar began, “There’s plenty of opposition to what we do. You’ll always receive criticism. My Jewish friends receive criticism from their Israeli friends and we receive it from our friends, from those who think what we are doing is not a good idea. But you know – every single leader who sparked a change had a lot of opposition, people might not have agreed with what they said or did. But you need the strength to be able to stand against that. To do your share in the political situation. Kids4Peace helps give us that strength.”

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Mira watched intently as Omar spoke, nodding her head in agreement. Once he was finished speaking, she chimed in. “Yes, it’s very hard at first. The situation we live in is not easy. Interacting with another side, another person, is not so easy. And it’s not so easy to explain it to friends. It takes a lot of effort to convince them that this is a good thing. But we aim for peace, and Kids4Peace proves to us that peace is possible.”

“It was really amazing when we started, when we were 12 years old. We were Christians and Muslims on one side of the room, Jews on the other. It was hard to say hello. But now, four years later, we do so many things together in the city and we’re just one family, together,” Jessica said. The Lord Mayor said noticed that even among the staff when the Kids4Peace delegation came to visit in the fall. He said how moved and inspired he was to meet a group like us, that more people need to know about what we are doing. He looked at two of the advisors, Ibraheem and Ahlam, and asked them what they think makes Kids4Peace so special. Ibraheem smiled, having grown up in this youth movement and continuing as a counselor and advisor into his twenties, his answer was seamless and to the point: “What makes Kids4Peace special is that we are all in this together, standing tall together, in the middle of this chaos, empowering each other.”

Ahlam spoke of how Kids4Peace has been growing and shifting. “This year, more than ever before, we feel like a big community and family. We focus on Jerusalem, on our connection to this place and to each other. We have more families joining, and are focusing on the big goal of Kids4Peace.”

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Strength in numbers is not just a Golden State Warriors tagline, but a truth for us here in Jerusalem at Kids4Peace. We are growing, we are strong, we are committed to one another and to our mission of creating a more peaceful and inclusive Jerusalem.

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Thank you to the Lord Mayor and Archbishops for taking the time to meet with us.

Written by Liana Rothman, community engagement coordinator