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by Jordan Goldwarg, Kids4Peace Director of Chapter Development

On Saturday, October 28, a group of friends gathered in a home in Seattle for dinner. They came together for a facilitated discussion about this question: What is one thing that is frustrating you right now about our city/country/world? What in your personal experience makes you care about this thing? How are you acting on those frustrations (if at all)?

The hosts of the dinner, Emily Patton and Matt Oppenheimer, are longtime supporters of Kids4Peace. They value the work that Kids4Peace does to build a community of interfaith youth peace leaders, but they were also looking for the opportunity to have their friends experience the magic of Kids4Peace. This led them to invite people to dinner to see for themselves the power of the honest dialogue that Kids4Peace helps facilitate.

After an hour of conversation about the night’s question, the evening culminated with the creation of Team Oppily (a combination of “Oppenheimer” and Emily”), a Kids4Peace giving circle. A giving circle is a group of friends who come together to support a cause in a variety of ways. Financial support can be an important aspect of a giving circle, but Team Oppily will also be giving to Kids4Peace through things such as providing snacks for youth meetings, mentoring youth through sharing their experiences during K4P meetings, and helping to set up for larger K4P events.

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The first gathering of Team Oppily!

 

Team Oppily is also pooling financial resources to provide a matching challenge for Kids4Peace’s year-end fundraising efforts in Seattle. They will match up to $1500 in year-end gifts, essentially allowing people to double the power of their contributions.

“All of us have experienced frustrating things in our lives,” said Emily. “While some people may resort to hopelessness, I am continually inspired by the youth and adults involved in Kids4Peace. I talk about the program all the time, so I wanted to find a way to have my closest circle of people reach a more comprehensive understanding of Kids4Peace, too. It was a really meaningful evening and I’m so grateful for our friends who were able to attend the dinner and commit to giving of their time and resources.”

We thank Emily, Matt, and all of Team Oppily for their commitment to building peace in our communities! If you are interested in starting a Kids4Peace giving circle, please contact Jordan Goldwarg, Director of Chapter Development, at jordan@k4p.org.

by Jordan Goldwarg, Kids4Peace Northwest Regional Director

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Kids4Peace youth at Camp Solomon Schechter

 

This week, a group of youth participants from Kids4Peace were privileged to be guests of Camp Solomon Schechter, near Seattle, Washington. These 13 youth, an interfaith group of Jews, Muslims, and Christians from Seattle and Jerusalem, visited Schechter as part of the Kids4Peace Global Institute, a leadership program for high school students that helps Kids4Peace youth become strong advocates for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

While at Schechter, Kids4Peace youth led educational programs for Schechter campers and staff. Youth shared their personal stories of what life is like growing up as Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem, including the struggles they face living in a divided city where peers and family members are often not supportive of their efforts to work together with people from the other side of the conflict. At the same time, American Kids4Peace participants shared why they also work for peace in the Middle East.

In addition to these peer-to-peer education sessions, Kids4Peace youth engaged fully in the life of the camp, learning new songs and traditions, doing activities side-by-side with Schechter campers, and seeing the rich culture of Jewish worship. Through being at camp, Kids4Peace youth saw clearly the deep love of Israel expressed by Schechter campers and staff, as well as the joy that the Schechter community takes in celebrating Judaism.

Kids4Peace youth and staff were grateful for the opportunity to spend these days at camp. At a time when conversation about Israel can be highly polarized, this visit afforded an opportunity to engage in a new kind of dialogue, one that is grounded in respect, civility, curiosity, and openness. It provided an opportunity for many American Jewish campers to meet a Palestinian for the first time, and to recognize that there are Palestinian partners who want to work–together–for peace. It provided an opportunity for Palestinian Kids4Peace participants to experience American Jewish life and to gain a deeper understanding of why a strong, stable Israel is so important for Jews the world over. And it provided an opportunity for all campers and staff to recognize that despite the deep disagreements that exist about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, a different kind of conversation is possible, one that helps move forward to new solutions and a hopeful future.

Kids4Peace thanks Camp Solomon Schechter and its director, Sam Perlin, for partnering with us in this endeavour. Judging from the comments of both Schechter campers and Kids4Peace participants, our time at camp provided a rich opportunity for exchange and forged new friendships that will carry on long past this summer. In doing so, Camp Solomon Schechter has shown itself to be a leader in creating deep, meaningful Israel education at camp.

Solidarity in Seattle

Jordan Goldwarg —  November 26, 2016 — Leave a comment

by Jordan Goldwarg, Northwest Regional Director

In my life, I don’t think I have ever had the experience of an unknown grown man hugging me while breaking down in tears. Today, it happened twice.

These have been an intense, emotional few weeks in the United States. To add to the weight of those emotions, last weekend, someone vandalized the main sign at the Muslim Association of Puget Sound, the largest mosque in the Seattle area and one of K4P’s oldest partners in the region.

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In an act of vandalism, someone took a sledgehammer to the granite sign outside MAPS (photo courtesy of MAPS)


In response to this act of hate, MAPS responded with love and hospitality by hosting an Open House for the whole community to come and learn the truth about Islam as a religion of peace.

The Kids4Peace community showed up in force for the Open House and also stayed afterward to hold up signs of support as members of the MAPS community arrived for the large Jum’ah prayer.

Standing in front of the mosque with our signs was such a simple act. It literally took only minutes to coordinate the invitation to our families and to make signs (which for some families, became a fun Thanksgiving activity!). This simple act, however, had a profound impact on the members of the MAPS community who saw it — and by extension, on all of us from K4P who were there. Countless people came over to talk to us and to thank us for standing together with them. Some brought snacks and sweets to share with us, further extending the hospitality of the Open House. Many people took photos or selfies with the group. And toward the end, a teenager approached and asked if it would be okay to take a photo of his grandfather with the group. The older gentleman had sunglasses on, so it was hard to read his expression. But when he put his arms around the shoulders of me and a K4P father as we posed for the photo, we could feel him start to sob. After the photo, without saying a word, he hugged each of us as the tears streamed down from under his sunglasses.

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Standing in front of MAPS

It is so important for Jews, Christians, and others to be strong allies for our Muslim friends and neighbors right now. A simple act of support goes such a long way toward lifting people’s spirits and making everyone feel like they belong in our communities.

In the wake of this divisive election campaign, if you are thinking about concrete things you can do to make a positive difference in the world, here is one easy solution: grab a group of friends of family (or both!), make some signs, and stand outside your local mosque during Friday prayers. You will be making a world of difference.

by Rebecca Sullum, Jerusalem Co-Director

“You know, I actually voted in these elections. I am registered in a swing state, so I felt that I had to vote,” I yelled on top of the noise at the US Embassy Election Celebration in Tel Aviv. I was speaking to Mohammad, my colleague of 5 years, and his wife.

I hadn’t told most people that I cast my vote this year for the first time in U.S. elections at the age of 35. I always held the belief that I should only be voting where I was living, and although I hold dual citizenship in Israel and the USA, I have only lived in Israel since the age of 14 and therefore had only ever voted in Israel.

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With Trump versus Hillary, this election seemed different, more polarizing, more important to vote. So I did. I have now taken part in the democratic process in Israel and the US, something that I should be proud of, something that should be a basic right to all people.

A moment after confiding in Mohammad, I started to feel that sick feeling at the bottom of my stomach, that feeling when you realize that you have asked the wrong question or said the wrong thing, and I suddenly remembered that Mohammad and his wife have never voted.

As residents of Jerusalem, by Israeli law they can’t vote in the Israeli national elections. They also had never been able to vote in the Palestinian presidential elections. During the previous PA presidential election in 2005 there were voting booths in East Jerusalem for Jerusalem residents, but there were many obstacles in the way including inadequate numbers of workers and a general feeling of fear at the polls. Therefore Mohammad and his wife had never voted for their leadership.

So here I was in the middle of the US Embassy Celebration in Tel Aviv celebrating American democracy while my colleagues and friends can only celebrate others’ right to vote.

This seems a bit ironic, to celebrate others’ democracy and freedom while you can’t celebrate your own.

My evening started with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement but took an unexpected turn, and now at midnight I sit here writing this blog, feeling torn and wondering what I can do tomorrow for the freedom of all in Jerusalem.

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by Jordan Goldwarg, Northwest Regional Director

On Sunday, May 8, Kids4Peace Seattle held its first joint activity with students at Noor Academy, the Sunday school of the Muslim Association of Puget Sound. Over the course of three hours, our youth began the process of getting to know each other through a number of activities. There were icebreakers and teambuilding activities, such as having to navigate a human obstacle-course while blindfolded.

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Youth navigating the human obstacle-course

 

We also explored each of our three religions through a game of Interfaith Bingo. Holding a bingo card that contained images and words from Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, youth needed to find out the significance of each item by asking other youth to share their knowledge.

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Working on Interfaith Bingo boards

 

Finally, we engaged in small-group dialogue on a variety of topics. In my group, there happened to be only Jewish and Muslim youth, and we had a fascinating discussion about what it’s like to be in the minority in our schools. Youth shared stories of needing to miss important rehearsals or sports games because of religious holidays. And while most of them enjoy the opportunity to share their religion with others, there was also shared frustration of situations in which people expect them to know everything about about Islam or Judaism.

Thank you to Noor Academy for hosting us for what we hope will be the beginning of many collaborations!

By Jordan Goldwarg, Northwest Regional Director

In Kids4Peace, we encourage our youth to be leaders, and one powerful way of exercising leadership is by speaking up for what you believe in. This is especially powerful when you speak up on behalf of another group. We called this being an upstander (as opposed to being a bystander when you see something bad happening).

This week, David, a participant in Kids4Peace Seattle, spoke up by writing a letter to the editor of his local newspaper. In recent weeks, David’s community has been the scene of an intense and, at times, ugly controversy about the building of a new mosque. Islamophobic sentiments, together with misinformation, have been spread very publicly, as documented by this article in the Seattle Globalist.

In response, David wrote a letter to the editor of his local newspaper, asking people to educate themselves and overcome their fears. Thank you, David, for being an upstander and speaking up for what’s right!

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David and other K4P Seattle youth, hard at work during a recent Kids4Peace Seattle service project at a local food bank.

by Hannah Hochkeppel, K4P Seattle Program Director

An Evangelical Christian Pastor, a Unitarian Minister, a Buddhist Monk, and a Jewish Business Woman walk in to a room … and it is not the beginning of a bad or confusing joke!

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry’s Interfaith Harmony Week banquet.  The theme of this year’s banquet was, “What in the world are we here for?”  This question, one I think many of us often ask ourselves in jest, was addressed by each of the 4 panelists.  Each panelist spoke from his or her own personal experience and personal faith tradition.  Despite the extremely different approaches to faith, spirituality, and the human experience, each panelist spoke of the interconnectedness of humanity and of a desire to work always for the greater good.

Rev. Jon Luopa, a Unitarian Minister, spoke of the transitive versus intransitive use of the word hope.   For so many, hope is confined to a specific item or idea – hoping for good weather on vacation, or hoping for a favorite present on our birthday.  Luopa challenged the audience to think more broadly about how we define hope.  What if hope was instead the way that we chose to approach our life each day?  What if hope brought about a self-awareness of the responsibility we have to the greater good?

Taijo, a Buddhist Monk, began his sharing with the story of a lotus flower, growing in a lotus pond to be big and beautiful, with an unrivaled delicious scent.  He painted the picture for all of us of this beautiful flower.  Then he began to describe the pond that the flower grows in.  Stagnant water, compost and waste, dirt and mud, the list goes on but it is obvious that this pond is dirty and smells decidedly less delicious than the flower.  This description jarred us from our image of this beautiful flower, to an image drastically different.  Taijo left us with this thought: if a flower as beautiful as the Lotus could grow from the disgusting lotus pond, what can come from the difficult, and decidedly less hopeful situations that we find ourselves in from day to day, week to week?

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As I was reflecting on the question, “Why on earth are we here,”  I settled on the word we.  We are here, we exist in the world.  I do not exist alone, nor do others exist alone, but we all exist together.  Many times this existing together as a dynamic we means that we find ourselves in messy lotus ponds fraught with political arguments, violent actions, and prejudice based on any number of judgements that one passes on the other.  Despite this mess, how does hope influence what grows?

In Kids4Peace, the interfaith work that we do is often messy.  It is hard, and emotionally draining.  Yet, it is also beautiful and life-giving.  The intentionality that we have as we cultivate growth amidst the messiness, intentionally seeing and upholding the gifts we see in others, gives me hope.  I am hopeful for the greater good of the we when I see others willing to come together amidst the mess, to find the roots for what one day, I hope, will be a big and beautiful flower.

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by Sarah Rose, K4P Seattle Counselor

Kids4Peace Seattle’s overnight last weekend was one for the books! It was filled with laughter, fun, and bonding between the first and second year participants. We watched the Disney/Pixar movie Inside Out, and then tried to connect the ideas presented with the mission of Kids4Peace. We examined the importance of accepting everyone, recognizing what individuals can contribute and that everyone has something valuable to offer to society in some way. We also discussed the importance of understanding our emotions. Our dialogue leader, Pam, asked us to share a time we felt sad but did not feel we could reveal it. One of the second year participants, Maya, noted that, she “learned that there are different perspectives on each side. Someone isn’t being mean just because they want to be mean, there’s always something else going on that causes them to act out that way. Listening and understanding where they are coming from is key to accepting them.”

The issue of popularity in school and its impacts came up and definitely struck a chord for all of the participants. Establishing a safe place for everyone to be open allowed for a meaningful and eye-opening experience for all. One of the first-year participants, David, explained that he “liked how we talked about popularity and shared our real feelings. We weren’t holding anything back. It helped me understand that we all have different situations but we can still connect.”

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The group hard at work at the Jewish Family Service food bank.

 

Emilio, another first-year participant, came to similar conclusions stating, “I really liked the discussion about popularity, because we never talked about that stuff before so it was nice to hear other people are experiencing the same things. I also really liked our discussion this morning about connecting more with each other. I feel like now the 7th graders are talking more with the 8th graders so I feel more comfortable talking with them.”

As I sat listening to the discussion, I became even more amazed and inspired by the participants. To be able to have such an open and mature conversation and share such insightful thoughts was truly an unforgettable experience. By allowing themselves to be vulnerable and talk about a tough and very personal matter, they become an even stronger and more connected group. In Seattle, we would refer to this as the “magic” of Kids4Peace.

Another magical experience of the weekend happened when we had Hebrew and Arabic lessons. Two of Seattle’s Program Team members, Tamar and Rula, taught us conversational phrases along with some food words (such as chicken, cheese, and bread). On the one hand, this was quite fun for the kids, but on the other hand it was very frustrating. This exercise helped the kids understand what it must have been like for their friends from Jerusalem to come to camp and not know a lot of English. Beginning to understand the difficulty of learning new languages led to a conversation about how to stand in solidarity with people they encounter who do not speak English well.

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The group learns some Arabic and Hebrew phrases with Rula (and baby Malka!) and Tamar.

 

Standing in solidarity with each other, our friends in Jerusalem, and everyone that we encounter has been our theme this year during discussions and activities in meetings. Hearing about the seemingly relentless violence in Jerusalem, where we all have friends living, has been heart-breaking for all of us here in Seattle.  We continue to find hope in the actions of others, not just in Jerusalem but around the world.

The fact that the Kids4Peace Jerusalem family is stronger than ever and continues to have hope that peace is still obtainable, is truly inspiring and amazing. Seattle will continue to stand in solidarity with Jerusalem. Although we could not be physically any farther apart, our faith, love, and connection to our K4P family on the other side of the world is closer than ever.

Above: A short film that Kids4Peace Seattle made for our friends in Jerusalem.

by Jordan Goldwarg, K4P Northwest Regional Director

There are times when the life of Kids4Peace gets so busy that time seems to warp in a way that allows us to do more than we ever thought possible. This past weekend was one of those times here in Seattle.

Friday

8:30am: The work of Kids4Peace spans the globe, and 8:30am in Seattle, USA (Country #1) is 5:30pm in Lyon, France (Country #2), where I Skyped with the leader of K4P’s chapter-in-formation there. They are hard at work building the first European chapter, in a country that has seen too much violence supposedly committed in the name of religion this past year.

10am: Hop on GoToMeeting with our Executive Director (currently in Jerusalem, Country #3) for a conversation with the director of a Canadian (Country #4) foundation that funds peacebuilding projects in the Middle East, seeking ideas for working collaboratively to drive greater funding to programs working on peace and reconciliation in Jerusalem, a place that too many programs stay away from because they view the situation as too complicated.

11am: Pull out my phone (how many different communication platforms can I use today?) for an extended conversation with a colleague in Boston about the program design of our new Global Institute in Washington, DC this summer.

1:30pm: In-person meeting with Hannah, our Program Director, and a local Christian couple who have been working on building relationships with local Muslims and who are interested in finding out more about Kids4Peace and where there might be opportunities for collaboration.

3:30pm: Back on the phone for a quick chat with the Education Director of a local synagogue who wants to explore the possibility of creating a Peace Pal program between youth at his synagogue and K4P youth in Jerusalem.

Saturday

2:00pm: K4P Seattle youth gather at St. Mark’s Cathedral for our first overnight retreat of the year. (Stay tuned for another blog post about the retreat, written by one of our counselors!)

2:30pm: With the help of local Palestinian and Israeli K4P volunteers, we learn some basic phrases in Arabic and Hebrew (Shalom! Marhaba!). Although lots of fun to learn these words, we also get frustrated as we learn more and more and start having trouble remembering what we learned early on. We have a discussion about what it must be like for our Jerusalem friends when they come to camp in the US and need to work entirely in a second (or third!) language.

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Risa and Evan play a language-learning game, practicing their Arabic and Hebrew.

 

4:30pm: After a game of Malcolm Ball (rules made up as we go by Malcolm, our Christian Faith Advisor), we cook dinner and settle in to watch the Pixar movie, Inside Out.

5:00pm: Meanwhile, I hop in the car and head across town to attend a Jeffersonian Dinner hosted by a K4P Seattle Board member. Over a lavish feast of Middle Eastern food, the group discusses the social justice issues that we feel drawn to, and we find a sense of solidarity through sharing our experiences. The guests also pledge generous financial support to Kids4Peace, allowing us to continue building interfaith communities that embody a culture of hope and empower a movement for change.

11:30pm: I head back to St. Mark’s Cathedral, stopping to pick up a late-night snack of chocolate for the K4P staff who have spent all night playing games and having fun with our youth. After debriefing the evening’s activities with the staff, we all get into our sleeping bags and lie down on our air mattresses to go to sleep at 1am.

Sunday

7:30am: Three of our older participants decide to replicate the camp experience by waking everyone up with cheerful shouts of, “GOOD MORNING, EVERYBODY!”

8:00am: Pancake breakfast bar! (With blueberries, bananas, and chocolate chips)

9:00am: We begin a final dialogue session for the weekend, focusing on the difficult question of how to integrate our two cohorts of participants (7th and 8th graders) into a single group. Despite all of our practice getting to know “the other,” it can still be a challenge to step outside our comfort zone.

12pm: Pack up our stuff, have a quick lunch, and then walk 30 minutes across Capitol Hill to our final destination of the weekend, Jewish Family Service, where we spend an hour volunteering in their food bank, packing bags of groceries to be delivered to people who physically cannot make the trip there.

1:30pm: I step out of the food packing for a few minutes to help one of our high-school counselors work on an application to have K4P represented at a Teen Action Fair hosted by the Gates Foundation Visitor Center. If selected, we’ll have the opportunity to tell hundreds of local youth about K4P and how they can get involved.

2:00pm: The weekend wraps up with a discussion hosted by a Jewish Family Service educator about the concept of dignity and how the food bank has been designed specially to preserve the dignity of people accessing the service (e.g. allowing people to “shop” at the food bank, selecting their own goods, rather than simply being handed a bag of food).

3:00pm: Parents arrive to pick up their kids, and the staff head home, exhausted but happy. What a weekend!

by Emily Holm, Kids4Peace Intern

Eagerly awaiting our kids, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Eagerly awaiting our kids, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

After a record-breaking Northwest heat wave, it seemed as though the sky gave a sigh of relief on August 5th, bringing forth clouds, sprinkles of rain, and the perfect cool breeze for moving heavy suitcases into new cabins. The American campers were warmly welcomed to the Treacy Levine Center with Chef Russell’s delicious fajitas and enchiladas as they eagerly waited for their Israeli and Palestinian peace pals to arrive. The community felt incomplete without them.

The American campers’ inquiries increased as time passed. They asked, “Has their plane landed yet?”, “Where are they now?”, and “How long until they get here?” Finally the bus full of new friends pulled up. Greeted with signs and cheering, the campers and staff from Jerusalem exited the bus and joined our Kids4Peace Seattle family. Though they were undoubtedly excited to be at camp, it was obvious that they had been awake for a very long time. Travelling across ten time zones is quite a feat!

Through the rest of the night’s activities, the campers did their best to keep their heavy eyelids from closing. It was surely a whirlwind for all of them. The group’s energy waned as the staff led introduction activities and icebreaker games. By dinnertime, it was clear that the kids were ready for bed. Only one session separated them from a long night’s rest: Closing Dialogue.

Here at Kids4Peace, we end every day by bringing all the campers together for a short debrief. This conversation is led by our dialogue leader, Pam, who believes the most important part of dialogue is that everyone feels included, heard, and understood.

For the first night, we closed our day with a discussion about thankfulness. One by one, the campers went around the circle saying one thing that they were thankful for. Some were very simple things like food, good weather, and sleep. Others were thankful for family, new friends, and the sponsors that helped make camp possible for them. It was a beautiful way to start off our time here.

Thankfulness is a universal concept. It is an idea embraced by Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Druze alike. Though there are many things that differ between us, we all feel the need to show appreciation for the things we are blessed with in life. In every circumstance, we are all called to shift our attention away from distress and toward God, the source of our blessings. Despite the unfamiliar people and place, despite the severe lack of sleep after a very busy day, and despite the initial cultural differences, all of our campers were united by a shared gratitude for the opportunity to be together.

The staff team here at camp is thankful to have the opportunity to be with these incredible campers. Though we have known each other for only a few hours, we have already begun to see glimpses of peace. And this is only the beginning! As our community grows closer together, we will surely continue to be led by the spirit of thankfulness—for this place, for this organization, and most of all, for each other.