by DanDan, Kids4Peace Intern
Last weekend, a group of yellow backpacks broke through the gray monotony of the stately buildings and rising monuments of Washington DC. Carrying the message “Together, Peace is Possible” through the wide tree-lined streets, they were enough to cause a few passerby to stop and ask where these kids came from.
Coming from their camp in North Carolina, 29 K4P 7th graders from Israel, Palestine, and North America spent four days exploring the cultural offerings of the nation’s capital and meeting with important representatives. Their tour began with an exclusive meeting at the State Department, where a line-up of prominent politicians spoke about their peace-building work and shared their insights on conflict. “Politicians are afraid of religion, because they see it only as a source of conflict and violence,” said Sean Casey, Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs.
As much as these government officials spoke from their own perspectives, they seemed more eager to hear from the kids themselves. Ira Forman, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism asked the group a question: “What is the hardest thing you all have to deal with in your fight for peace?”
Lola, a 13 year old Jewish girl from New Hampshire, answered: “I think the most difficult part is that when you’re really young, you don’t always feel like there’s a lot you can do. Even though I’m going to a camp and making a lot of friends, I don’t feel like I’m making a big difference when there’s still a war going on and so I feel sort of powerless.”
Shaarik Zafar, Special Representative to Muslim Communities, could relate: “I work for the State Department and I have access to many important people. When I pick up the phone, people will listen to me, and sometimes, I feel the same way. But sometimes it’s the question of inches, not even miles or kilometers…I’ll be honest with you, just by sharing your stories with me, you’re making a difference. This has been the most important meeting I’ve had all week.”
This message resonated with many K4P students, who expressed this as the most important take-away of their time in DC. Gayil, a 13 year old Jewish girl from Jerusalem, said: “When I joined K4P, I thought it will not change. We’re just kids, but they give me a feeling that we are important and that we can change something even if we’re kids.”
Other leaders present at the meeting were Betty Bernstein, who spoke about women’s equality, and Chris Hensel, who spoke about US relations with Israel and Palestine.
From here, the kids took a tour of the US Capitol building while some of the campers went to meet Senator Leahy and attended Jummah prayer. “I have never ever dreamt in my life that I’m going to pray Jummah in the Capitol,” said Montaser, Muslim faith advisor. “It was such an amazing thing.”
Due to the recent acts of violence in Jerusalem, the kids all returned to the United Methodist Church to engage in group discussions and share their feelings about these events instead of visiting the next stop on the tour. There was a strong sense of solidarity, as tears, words, and vigil-like moments of silence were shed. Rabbi Scott spoke about these events at the Shabbat service at Sixth&I Synagogue which closed the evening with Shabbat services and dinner.
The next day was packed with fun trips to the White House Visitor Center, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, and the Native American Museum. These visits were interwoven with two special guest speakers.The first was Lauren Shreiber, who spoke about her experience as an American who converted to Islam. The second came from our own K4P family. Gerald Tieyah, father of K4P camper, Shoshana, spoke with his daughter about their Comanche identity and culture. Shoshana, a 13 year old Jewish girl from Vermont, reflects over this experience: “Ever since I was in Kindergarten, my dad would come into my Jewish day school and talk about being Native American to my classmates and so I was quite proud to share it with my new family.”
The third day was just as packed as the first two. It began with a Christian service at St. Mark’s Church, which featured a sermon given by Josh Thomas, Executive Director of K4P International. The kids then visited the National Zoo and attended a closing potluck party at the DC Jewish Community Center. Featuring Aaron Shneyer from Heartbeat, a music organization which unites Israeli and Palestinian youth, this event brought together DC community members, sponsors, and K4P staff in a night full of song, dance, and testimonials.
When reflecting over what she had learned in DC, Alona, a 13 year old Jewish girl from Israel, said: “I felt a lot more confidence that it’s not just me and this group, but there are more people who want peace and doing a lot of it. It felt really nice to see it. Being with kids from America, I felt better because it’s not just us in Israel who want peace, but also kids from around the world.”
When reflecting over his take-away from DC, Montaser, said:
“These kids are even smarter than we thought they are. I always hear things from them and maybe because of the age group they belong in, it makes it harder for me to understand that they’re thinking on a bigger scale. But today after the discussion we had, I saw that these kids have really amazing ideas. They have really bright minds and I think something’s going to happen in their hands.”
If something does happen, perhaps the kids should take Shoshana’s advice: “DC is where all important stuff happens so if you want to make a difference, try and make it happen in DC.”