On Tuesday, January 13, Kids4Peace Jerusalem hosted the Annual Winter Event, and saw record-breaking attendance, even after rescheduling last minute due to the anticipated snow storm in Jerusalem. Over 350 youth, families, and supporters came out to acknowledge the despair we have felt for the last 6 months and seek the inspiration to keep moving forward together as a community during such difficult times in Jerusalem.
With two Kids4Peace youth as the hosts (Omar, age 12 Muslim and Talia, age 13 Jewish), the evening opened with remarks from Kids4Peace Executive Director Fr. Josh Thomas, who mentioned several testaments of Kids4Peace’s success in the face of local shocks and setbacks. Firstly, Kids4Peace keeps working and coming together no matter what. Despite the violence and the war and the tension, Kids4Peace has yet to stop and that alone is huge. Secondly, Josh asked the audience to look around and notice that Kids4Peace has grown so much this year that a new location was necessary for community events!
The US Consul General of Jerusalem Michael Ratney, then addressed the audience with an empowering endorsement: “Kids4Peace embodies what we in the Consulate General strive to achieve – ending the conflict and inspiring hope in Jerusalem and beyond.” Ratney’s words were so personal, showing such a close understanding of Kids4Peace’s activities and mission, that some community members mistook him for a parent or volunteer. Kids4Peace’s relationship with the US government has strengthened immensely in the last several months after receiving support from the US Consulate for the Video Newsletter project, personal visits with Shaun Casey, U.S. Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and as demonstrated by an unannounced visit from USAID of West Bank & Gaza. Kids4Peace is so thankful for this growing partnership.
Three youth from the Counselor-in-Training course, Carla, Waleed, and Emanuel, then shared their stories. Read the transcript of their inspiring speeches by clicking here! Their words were followed by the annual slideshow, which can be watched here.
The next part of the evening came after some deep thinking on behalf of the Kids4Peace staff and volunteers.What is the best way to inspire hope for peace in Jerusalem? How can we address the pain, fear, and distress we all fear while also showing our strength and belief in this important work? We decided to just be ourselves. Mohammad, Kids4Peace Jerusalem Co-Director and Meredith, Kids4Peace Director of Development stood side-by-side on stage and told their honest stories. They spoke of their fear of the “other”, their moments of realization that they misunderstand the “other”, and their unwavering commitments to Kids4Peace.
At this point in the evening, everything stopped. Mohammad and Meredith asked everyone present to turn to one another, say hello, and ask the tough question. “Why are you here? What is your story? What keeps you committed to Kids4Peace?” With tears in their eyes, Kids4Peace community members began to open up. They told each other their hardships, their fear, and their confusion. They confided in one another and found hope in one another. Kids4Peace embodies a culture of peace and empowers a movement for change. For the 350+ members of the audience that night, both were accomplished.
Kids4Peace would like to thank the international board, the US Consul General, the Kids4Peace Steering Committee, staff, advisors, volunteers, parents, and youth for not only attending the event, but for infusing the room with energy and inspiration. Together, peace is possible.