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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.” 

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!

Alex Pic UseAlex Milkie has always had connections to the Middle East. His family originally came from the Middle East, modern day Syria and Lebenon. Though he was raised  in the United States by a Catholic mother and an Orthodox Christian father, Alex explained that “no one spoke Arabic but we had a strong Arabic tradition in my household.”

Further, he studied Arabic and Middle Eastern Languages and Culture in college and worked in graduate school at the University of Chicago on Modern Middle East History and Politics. Though heavily involved in Middle Eastern affairs, Alex stated to me that he “always had a lot of frustration and anger about things in the Middle East and it was generally put against the backdrop of us and them. Us being Arabs and them being Jews or Israelis. I didn’t even bother separating Jews from Israelis or Israelis from Zionists. My frustrations mounted and ended up coming out in unproductive ways.”

Alex was introduced to Kids4Peace through Pastor Hunt at Emmanuel Episcopal Church. “Kids4Peace was what I’d been looking for, for quite some time, a rational and compassionate answer.” I asked about how Kids4Peace was making a difference and Alex acknowledged the importance of this grassroots movement.

“Answers have to come from the ground up. It cannot come from politicians; it has to be the people. One of the great things about Kids4Peace is that it is heartwarming to realize that you are not alone in what you are doing and how you feel.”

I asked Alex what had impressed him or perhaps been surprising in his interactions with the kids. He said that he had expected that they would interact and have excellent thoughts on peace however; he was surprised by something else.

“I was mostly impressed by just how talented so many of them were. There was an Israeli girl who could sing very well and a young Palestinian boy who spoke Hebrew, English and Arabic fluently. It was really incredible watching these kids. My Middle Eastern background held preconceived notions about what a Jerusalemite is like but the kids proved otherwise.”

Alex is currently on the steering committee for Kids4Peace Seattle and helps substantially with fundraising efforts. Part of what Alex sees for the future for Seattle is for it to become more of a regional hub. He described to me some trouble with bringing newly arrived Muslim families into the Kids4Peace community and how wonderful it would be to “see Seattle have branch camps all around western Washington into Oregon to drum up support at a more regional level.”

Laura PicName: Laura Brogan

Position: Board Member

Educational Background:

B.A. in Nonprofit Management from Mount Olive College; M.A. in Ethics, Peace & Global Affairs from American University.

Published in the Journal of International Studies on the topic of child combatants, specifically the long-term effects of conflict on youth who are active participants in the conflict.

Currently working in the DC area in human resources for an international nonprofit.

How did you get involved with Kids4Peace?

“I was looking to volunteer for a great organization. Since my skill set is in organizational development and I wanted to work at the strategic level of an organization, being on a board of directors seemed like the best fit. The Kids4Peace board is a great opportunity to use my professional skills, as well as my education in peacebuilding, to support a great organization I am passionate about.”

What do you most look forward to in working on the board?

“I am most excited about working to ensure that Kids4Peace has healthy and sustainable growth; that the systems and infrastructures exist to support the staff and volunteers in doing the hard work of peacebuilding. The board should ensure that the organization is headed in the right direction and that staff and volunteers have clarity on the mission and the resources and support they need to make it happen!”

“I was in Jerusalem last month and as an outsider I got to experience a little bit of what it is like to live in such a divided society. It was enlightening and helped me become more aware of some of the divisions in my own community; the experience showed me that I can also be an advocate for peace in my own city of Washington, DC.”

What challenges do you expect to encounter?

“Kids4Peace is in a critical time in it’s organizational development and it will be important to clarify what we are good at as an organization, what is our niche. It will be very important to identify where, and in what contexts, Kids4Peace can provide the tools for divided communities to end conflict and inspire hope. This is some of the hard work the board will be tackling in the coming year.”

Kids4Peace is constantly growing and developing, striving to expand its influence and steer the world towards peace. Kids4Peace is gearing up for another expansion in programming this summer with a new Kids4Peace summer camp in Hendersonville, North Carolina. I got the chance to sit down with the newly hired camp director for North Carolina, David Rowan who told me about his preparations for the summer and his thoughts toward the future.

David Pic 1David described the connections he formed over the years with Kids4Peace. He began as an intern, writing up stories on different members of the organization just as I am. Additionally, he studied at the Arava Institute in Israel. This collegiate program consisted of an American, Israeli, and Palestinian student body working with the idea that nature knows no borders. They worked to resolve environmental issues that affect us all regardless of background. David also worked as a professional poker player, which despite first impressions, may have a lot more to do with Kids4Peace than you would think.

“As a poker player I had to make decisions rapidly, being at peace with the way things unfold and practicing acceptance. In this job, you can only plan so much. Things happen and you can only act accordingly.”

David and I also discussed what his role will be this summer as camp director. The director is the point person from which all other leaders coalesce. He emphasized that he will not be “in charge but will field questions and empower everybody to do their best work.”

This summer will be David’s first camp so I asked what he most looks forward to.

“I look forward to being with the kids. I am excited about planning, and I love being in go mode. I want to help answer questions and think out of the box; challenge them and be challenged.

“Children are powerful teachers. We can learn so much from their sense of wonder and dexterous, beginners’ minds.”

Being an active member of the community is also high on the list of priorities for David. He told me that he was eager to use his connections in the Jewish Community to “throw Kids4Peace in the mix, especially local.”

I also asked what David imagines for challenges in his first camp.

“Having no experience in this first year is a big responsibility. The first step is always the hardest and it takes time to get adjusted.”

“This is a serious endeavor and I will treat it as such. It is an opportunity to plant seeds that will, in our lifetimes, lead to sustainable peace. Education is the pathway to let people open up and see each other.”

The new North Carolina camp is sure to be a successful addition to the Kids4Peace family, working to grow and develop young people in interfaith dialogue. Good luck to David and all those involved in all camps this summer! Your work is appreciated and your impact is tremendous.

Susan | Vice Chair

danielleives —  February 13, 2015 — Leave a comment

Name: Susan Blochsusan pic

Position: Vice Chair of Kids4Peace International

How did you get involved with Kids4Peace?

My dream was to apply my corporate experience, where global, multicultural, multi-faith and virtual teams form a foundation of organizational performance to Kids4Peace. I applied for the role of board member to fulfill my aspirations and strive to enhance communication and compassion across culture, faith and race.  Having lived in Israel for 20 years has given me insights into the successes, complexities, challenges of living and working in in a society struggling with conflict. Kids4Peace strives to facilitate dialogue and harness understanding of others.

What are the favorite aspects of your job and Kids4Peace?

Kids4Peace team is driven by shared values, and a mission to diffuse conflict and build understanding in multi-faith communities and countries.  The impact we make on individuals and families and how they go about their daily lives is enormous. The diversity of our team is a core strength and enables us to strive to develop the next generation of peacemakers.

What are your goals in your position as Vice Chair of Kids4Peace International?

We aim to grow the organization, reach out to more kids and more families and have a real impact in communities and society as a whole.

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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NNaomi Pic 1aomi, originally from New York, is currently living in Vermont and has close ties to her Jewish faith and the area of Jerusalem. Living in Israel for some time, and returning there later with her family, Naomi has been greatly impacted by events in the area as have many others. She originally got involved with Kids4Peace when her daughter Noa participated as a camper in 2009.

“When Noa had the opportunity to participate she was really excited. She had the perfect peace pal and they are still in touch. It was a really great experience for her to be amongst those kids”

Naomi got more involved as a Jewish advisor in 2011 when her step-daughter Mira participated at the Vermont Camp. She told me about her experience there.

“It was the most difficult and most exhausting thing I’ve ever done in my life…it’s a learning experience not only for the kids but for the staff as well. The issues arise amongst the counselors more than conflict amongst the kids.”

“It was a moving experience and I thought how absolutely brave of these kids to come to a country so far away, often not being able to speak English well and going back home to a precarious situation…Knowing that they are going back to situations that could be much more challenging made me feel sad for them.”

After 2011, Naomi stepped away from the organization for a while. She explained to me that it felt imbalanced among the three religions and she felt uncomfortable with that, though she knew it was a worthwhile organization and a worthwhile effort. Several years later, she decided to rejoin the organization and saw a real effort to “reorganize things and an effort to make things more balanced. Kids4Peace had grown out of baby steps and started to become a real player in the NGO arena.” Back in the organization, Naomi became the official blogger for the Vermont region and spent time last summer at the New Hampshire camp taking pictures and visiting with the kids. This camp had their first reunion last Sunday and Naomi was happy to report that the event had a good turnout and she saw the kids continue to be comfortable with each other.

I asked Naomi if she had any thoughts on the ideals Kids4Peace or what needs to continue to be done and she had some important comments on the organization and its aims.

“The main idea is to take kids from Palestine and Israel out of an area of conflict into a neutral zone and mix them with kids from the US that are also neutral zone. Give them an opportunity to learn from each other and discover what is so much the same between the groups. Its just a taste, the introduction to connect as people and as they get more involved in the continuum, they get involved and get into more issues. Kids4Peace gives them the tools and the support to continue what they start each summer.”

“The prize that everyone is aiming for is so huge, and has such potential. It is important to forget why you are so mad at each other if you’re going to move forward. Don’t forget where you came from, but learn what compromise means. Compromise is that you get some of what you want but not all of what you want so the other can get some of what they want also. It is never going to be perfect or exactly what you want but the stake is huge. Palestinians and Jews together would be the pearl in the oyster of the Middle East. It would be amazing.”

“For us it is so important to continue to support the kids who have been involved in the program. Young kids are very idealistic, they think they can change the world then they come against the adults who say no you can’t and they lose creativity and enthusiasm. It is very important to give them avenues to continue their work and make them feel like they are making progress.”

As Naomi expressed, it is important that Kids4Peace continues to work to affect real change in the world with the education and empowerment of kids through camps and later followup experiences with the organization.

Adnan Pic 2Adnan Abu Rmalieh was born in an Arab neighborhood in the old city of Jerusalem and from an early age, he experienced the violence brought on by the conflict in his area. His parents were told to leave their neighborhood but refused, and because of their courage, their house became a target for hand grenades. Only then did his family leave, fleeing for their lives. Adnan is officially registered as a Palestinian refugee and noted sadly that “we ended up as refugees in our own hometown.”

Adnan worked to get an education however, graduated from Bersic university in the West Bank and received a masters in teaching English as a foreign language. Adnan is currently married with six children and teaches English as a second language in Jerusalem where he has been teaching for twenty years.

Adnan first became involved with missions for peace in 1988 with a program between Jerusalem and France. In this program, Palestinian and Jewish kids went and met the French. Adnan described the experience as one of exchange but without dialogue. Through this involvement, he saw that

“it is possible to talk to others, to travel with others and to just have fun. We always have the idea of Israelis as occupiers but at the basic human level, we have a lot of fun and a lot of interests.”

After this experience, Adnan “kept looking for opportunities to do it again” and found his opportunity in 2006. He was offered to become a chaperon of Peaceittogether in Canada, which took ten Palestinian and ten Israelis for three weeks of filmmaking. He also was involved in PeacecampCanada in 2007, though this program soon ended.

Last year, Adnan made the decision to join Kids4Peace as a Palestinian Muslim advisor. He went during the summer to the Boston camp and saw that “the people in Kids4Peace are really sophisticated people.”Adnan Pic 1

Speaking with regard to his past experiences with peace initiatives, Adnan described to me that he saw “no hidden agenda” in Kids4Peace and that it was “more like a family” than he had experienced before. This summer, Adnan participated with the New Hampshire Vermont Camp, and at this camp, he made an important observation.

“Very often, I look at the kids from far away. I know who is Muslim, who is Christian and who is Jew. But when you look at them from far away, you cannot tell. All are walking side by side, laughing together, hugging each other and playing together. Who’s who? You can never tell.”

“This is the kind of moment that gives me pleasure to see all these kids as equals. These people have been fighting for so long and now they are together. No one is patronizing each other, no mistreatment, no prejudice. They have been hearing so many stereotypes but they realize that they are talking to another human being who is worth being heard, and being felt.”

I also asked Adnan why he thought this organization, and other peace organizations, find it so useful to involve kids.

You get honesty from kids which is not found say when adults are around the negotiating table. Adults have their own agendas, and so many things to think of…very often they are not interested in the real or actual thing. But when you leave it to kids, kids make it work because they want to play, have fun and talk. What is on their mind is immediately said on their tongues. Sometimes its not their homeland’s interest that they are looking out for but with kids it is the simplicity and honesty that they have in their behavior.”

Adnan additionally shared with me his thoughts on the future and on improvements for the program. He explained that the Jerusalem staff undergoes extensive training and spends quite a bit of time with their camp kids before sending them to camp. “What I would like to see work better is that the US staff goes through the same training and hold the same kinds of meetings that we do.” In general, training “helps a lot…because you come to know how to deal with kids and what to expect.”

Adnan also expressed for me his satisfaction with the Kids4Peace organization saying, “I hope to continue with this program because I am so comfortable. I don’t feel pressured or pushed around.”

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SONY DSC Hannah Hochkeppel is an enthusiastic Kids4Peace leader who is originally from Virginia. She grew up as a Christian Baptist, however in college, Hannah became a Catholic and went on to study Pastoral Studies in graduate school at Seattle University. She is currently a children’s minister at a Catholic Church in the Seattle area.

I got a chance to sit down with Hannah to discuss her Kids4Peace experience thus far. She got involved with Kids4Peace through being a graduate assistant for a Rabbi on the Kids4Peace board. She describes the way things fell into place as “Kids4Peace magic.”

Hannah got involved with Kids4Peace just in time for preparation for Seattle’s first summer camp experience. She related to me that having a new camp meant freedom to break boundaries. They were able to take information from past camps and play on new ideas. Hannah describes the camp experience as being just as she expected.

“In the first few days the kids tended to stick to their own groups. The first few days are somewhat awkward. By the middle of the week however, the kids were interacting and playing all together.”

The new camp however came with inevitable difficulties as a result of the different cultural groups within the camp attendees.

“A lot of disputes came from language barriers and cultural barriers.”

“Often times the immediate reaction is to become offensive and standoffish when someone else does not understand you or your culture and that was a major challenge. We ended up spending a lot of time on getting the kids to work out and learn how to communicate.”

Hannah gave me an example of two boys at camp that seemed unable to get along for the entire duration of the camp. When the boys were sat down together to talk out their differences, one was upset because the other picked on him and called him names. The other boy then said the only reason he did that was that he had not been allowed to sit with them at lunch the first day. In the end, it was a misunderstanding, which could have been solved if the boys had been able to communicate better. This may be one of the challenges for Kids4Peace in going forward is making sure to take into account cultural differences and learning how to communicate with language barriers.

Despite language and cultural barriers, kids4Peace still hopes for a world of peace and though peace is hard to define, I asked Hannah to give me her own definition:Hannah Pic 2

“I define peace with the idea that you don’t necessarily understand everything about someone, but that you take the time to talk things out before you decide not to like them. A lot of times people jump to conclusions about people they don’t really know about and Kids4Peace is making a change away from that.”

I also asked Hannah to give me her thoughts on the future of both Kids4Peace as a whole and the new Seattle Chapter.

“At Kids4Peace each day is like a week. It is so long and so much happens at one time. You are completely drained emotionally and spiritually but we hope to take the ideas from camp to the real world. Kids4Peace is becoming a brand name in a sense that people know what you’re talking about. As long as that continues, I hope that it becomes a symbol and sign of peace worldwide. Seattle specifically will be focusing on relationships from camp but also we are going to be focusing on food justice.”

This new program for the Seattle program will focus on helping local people gain better understand of and access to food facts, nutritional information and produce.  It is the hope of the entire Kis4Peace organization that the Seattle program and others continue to grow and develop ways to find peace worldwide.

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