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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 Hana, K4P Jerusalem Media Intern

Last Thursday Kids4Peace Jerusalem’s Leadership youth (9th graders), met with diplomats from the US Consulate, the US Embassy, and USAID.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The session started with each diplomat giving a brief presentation, explaining their jobs and responsibilities. Some of their positions are more political, linked to the Consulate, others more cultural. They all express their admiration for the kids Congratulations, you are our hope for the future.

The first question that broke the ice was direct and had no hesitation: If you say you support the two state solution why does US always vote against it at the UN?

The diplomats smile at the question and make comments about how the kids go directly to the point. One of the diplomats assistants replies:

“We are working towards a two state solution to bring peace into the country. By getting involved we provide a neutral space so that both sides feel comfortable. We want to bring peace and establish a Palestinian state, however a big impediment is the estrangement between the two sides.”

The answer was followed by another question directed to the US, Why is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict such a big issue for the US?

The diplomats answered: The US is deeply connected to the history of the area, with a large population being Christian and having very important Jewish and Muslim communities. Many Americans feel spiritually connected to this land. Israel was an important ally of the US during the Cold War, and it’s very connected to WWII, so there is a spiritual, cultural and political connection. Furthermore there is a feeling of frustration for the endurance of the conflict and we believe stability within this region affects the global economy. The instability of oil and global market could get better if the region had more stability.

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The kids also wanted to know wether the US supports not only organizations working with kids, but also with adults.

One of the answers the kids received was: Definitely, we also support the parents circle of Kids4Peace and are involved in environmental issues. It’s true that it gets more tense whenever parents are involved. We are also currently learning negotiation between Israeli, Palestinians and diplomats. Not only do we learn technical skills, but we also get to know each other and deepen the relationships within our community.

The diplomats also want to make clear that it is our kids job here at Kids4Peace to continue with this work as they grow up: It’s also on you guys to continue to engage when you grow up as adults.

Finally the diplomats say that they find it easier to work with both sides within similar communities:  People with common interests working together helps create peace. So working with educators, social workers etc. from each side is helpful. 

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At this point the diplomats feel they also want to know more about the teenagers sitting in front of them: Why do you participate in K4P?

Adam, 15, answered: Both sides are in pain, so the only way to understand the other side is to hear their story. Some of my friends are against it and I also lose hope sometimes. Even if we don’t change the world, we can change ourselves.

Talia, 15, added: As we grew up there was a moment when my classmates started discussing politics and the conflict, and I realized I didn’t know anyone who was Arab. As soon as I joined the program I started to understand that the reasons of “the other side” were rational and that it’s not fair to put the blame on them.

Aviya, 15, also expressed: I had only heard what my side was saying “They kill people, so they’re bad” I wanted to know what they were thinking as well.

Omri shared his personal experience in the public space: With my family we bought in Arab shops, we went to Arab restaurants, even my parents had Arab friends who spoke in Hebrew. Also, many of my friends said it was ok to get to know Arabs, we played football together. I didn’t have Arab friends myself and decided to join K4P. I prefer to come to Jerusalem every month because here Arabs and Jews really live in the same city, it’s not like two different cities.

Zeina: Many of us heard a lot about the other side and knew a lot of things from what people had told us, but we had never met or knew anyone from the other side. We were curious to know what they think about us too. After we joined Kids4Peace, we noticed that the others are just normal people as we are and we share many similarities.

Tia: Older K4P members and program Alumni’s encouraged me to join, some friends were against it, but I believed I had to hear what they have to say.

Guy (Leadership program coordinator) : We’ve reached a moment where more kids come to us that we can afford to accept. Friends and relatives of K4P members want to join too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the kids had been in the spotlight, they all had a short break. After the break it was their turn again to ask some more questions. The conflict is again, the main topic.

One of the kids asked: What do you think about “drawing a line”, creating a boarder in areas people live in? what do you think about the future, post boarder?

The kids received an interesting answer, referring to world history: It’s not up to us to draw any line. Societies have been able to work together without diminishing their pain like the example of France and Germany who have been enemies in different wars through history and now are allies.

The diplomats then received a very direct question: What are some personal goals you would like to achieve during your service in Israel?

The diplomats were pretty surprised and pleased with the question. “It’s a good question / I hadn’t thought about it. Freedom of movement is something that would help my job so much. There’s a sense of being displaced depending on the city you’re in. My wife is an Arab and she doesn’t speak arabic in West Jerusalem. If we could reduce the tension and help make people more comfortable to walk around.  A better access to resources (water, electricity) everywhere. More patience and manners: traffic is an example.  That there would never be a reason to turn away a student in K4P for lack of resources

The last question that was asked: How are we gonna get peace if there is a wall of separation? If the two populations are not connected?

The kids received a complex but yet hopeful answer: Any border is an invisible wall, and also walls can fall like in Berlin. The greatest wall is the mentality of people. Even if there are two states, you will also need some kind of border between the two states.

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The Diplomats also reminded the kids of their power and responsibility and working towards a change: “Remember that you guys have a lot of power, talk to the people about your dreams, about what you want to achieve. Raise your voice. Remember Rosa Parks ( African American civil rights activist) she was not alone and didn’t come unprepared. She was from a peace group in Tennessee. You can also bring change in society like Rosa Parks did.”

Overall kids showed a level of maturity and preparation that definitely surprised the diplomats who praised them. The kids were also satisfied with the session, feeling that their questions have been answered and the difficult topics addressed.

 

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.

Blog Post for Vermont/New Hampshire Chapter, by Nancy Stone. Photos by Nancy Stone

Our Spring over-night retreat took place April 16-17 at sisters Lola and Zelda’s spacious home in New Hampshire with 15 alumni and adults attending.  Our first activity was lessons in Arabic. Then, divided into two groups, we were told to create skits using only Arabic, adding new vocabulary as needed.  One teen remarked, “That wasn’t super hard!”  Someone else commented, “It felt good to be a little part of your culture.”  Shukran, Abeer and Lana.

The unusually warm evening found us walking through a covered bridge leading to a pizza place.  After supper on the deck beside the Contoocook River, we returned home for popcorn and the animated movie “Inside Out”, which is a fun but richly layered exploration of personality, memory and emotions. Our follow-up discussions asked: Which emotions do you feel most often?  What are your core memories?  Which emotions do you think our society values over others?  The adult staff participated by drawing a map of their own “islands of personality.”

After breakfast the next day, we lined up single-file for a silent meditation walk down the quiet street, with a focus on our breath and steps rather than the environment.  This led to sharing time about how to use this skill to calm and focus in daily life.

Art teachers Jill and Nancy then taught everyone how to make their own musical flutes called, ocarina, from kits ordered on-line.  The pre-cut wooden sections were like a puzzle needing to be carefully pieced and glued together; cooperation was often sought from a neighboring crafter.  Once the four-hole instruments were completed, everyone gathered outside to practice songs.  The activity became a metaphor for the peace-making process that leads to making beautiful music together.

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Program Report: Friday, March 11th, 2016

Goal: Introduce the K4P community to sacred places in Jerusalem.  Understand the importance of Jerusalem for each faith tradition – and why the old city is a place of so much conflict.

Original Plan:
“Jerusalem 360” – Interfaith Walk through the Old City (rescheduled due to violence)

Revised Plan:
Dialogue for 30+ youth, parents and staff about daily life in Jerusalem, with guest facilitator Jay Rothman


STAFF NOTES

IMG_0029We just finished our meeting today and I have to tell you that we feel the support and we are thankful that Kids4Peace is a real community where people feel safe and obligated to. We will continue to do our work inshala and will continue to inspire and be inspired.
– Mohammad, Co-Director

 

It is not easy to keep living in Jerusalem with the amount of daily violence. Everyday, our kids4peace staff must make decisions about our lives: should we go to the office? should we keep the meetings and risk our children, young adults and ourselves or not. Each day I have the question: does my peace work really deserve to risk my life? if anything will happen to me (and too many times I have seen/hear the violence) — do I really believe that my work was deserve this risk?  I admire our team.

 

I feel holiness each day to be next to them, to hear the stories of their daily lives and see how they risk themselves for creating change. Each staff meeting looks as both: a special unit military meeting, which deal with life/death decisions and also as a seminar lead by the Dali Lama, full with mindfulness, spirituality, compassion, love and care.
 – Yakir, Director of Dialogue to Action project.  

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REFLECTIONS BY PARTICIPANTS

This morning we had a unique event of Kids4Peace, for parents, staff and children who decided to join together to deal, together, with the trauma of these days, to support each other and keep the work at homes, schools and in kids4peace for change and peace.

K4P children shared that they suffer at schools since they are youth for peace. Almost all of our staff had to deal with violence next to their eyes because of their decision to keep working in Kisd4Peace. We are all called with names – “traitors” is the most known.

We all lost friends and people we love because we demand to see the other side as humans too, since we demand from ourselves to feel their pain too (and not on the account of feeling the pain of our “natural” side). 


There was an attack close to my home in Jaffa. And we have a what’s up of the parents of my child’s kindergarten. I have sent a message about being ok, and no one answered. There are 35 people in this group and no one answered. And in K4P, always people write and care and call.


I feel there are two Jerusalems. In the Jewish one, no one really cares what is happening in the other side. You can live and not care and know what is happening a few miles next to you. Even during the shooting and stabbing I don’t talk about it.


I want to talk about feeling numbness. As an Arab, we are so using to hearing about shooting and stabbing and it sounds that the people are interchangeable. I was one of these people who just “heard about things.”  But 2 days ago, the shooting was next to the shop of my grandfather who is 80 years old. So, when it affects your family, it affects your personal feeling. I am so thankful for the meeting and have the place to express the feeling. I know that it will be taken in consideration that it is fragile, and I am thankful for feeling supported.


I had a bad experience at my school and class. My classmates had a debate with the teacher about the events from two days ago. We spoke about these crimes. But they didn’t even call it crimes – they supported the actions. The teacher called it a crime. I didn’t want to join the debate, since most people were against my opinion. The teacher closed the debate, since people were shouting.  So, I am glad to be here and to share my experience, and here I can express my feelings and make my hope stronger.


I was born at the heart of the old city in 1966. The place where I was born was called, Halti Sharaf. A few months after I was born the war of 67 happened, and it became part of the Jewish quarter. My parents and myself became refugees. And we got a place at Shuafat refugee camp, but when my parents saw the situation there, (and it is till today) they decided not to live there and they went to Siliwan.

And I grew up there as a refugee at this place in Silwan. Back then, as a child, I didn’t see the war, but my childhood was ok, but my school was at the old city, so I walked by the western wall and walked by the mosque (everything was open then) and went to my school. I have walked this way everyday. There was a monastery and we played there football and learned languages. Till they put walls.

Later, my father bought some land in Beit Haninah and we went there, but when the separation wall was built, our home was in Palestine, and it is all empty area and no one can live there because of the military.

The situation in Jerusalem has made everyone to lose the hope and dreams. I really want for real peace. Only then we can live together.

 

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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!

This sounds like such a simple concept. But it is a remarkable fact of life in Israel that Arab and Jews who are sharing the same air and the same space and the same hot, daily grind, whose lives are so intricately bound up on one another, for the most part barely speak to each other.

One of the most precious aspects about the Kids4Peace parent meetings is the discovery that, as parents, we are all pretty much the same. We all try to get our kids off the computer, we all try to get them to clean up their rooms, we all live for school plays, academic presentations, sports games, and we all really just want a nice life for ourselves.

Still, Thursday night, October 22, was a little different. This was the first time we were meeting in a context of violent tension. Many people at the meeting said that they don’t remember a time when Jerusalem was this edgy: when life had completely come to a halt as everyone seemed to be staying home.

People are so anxious right now that Kids4Peace held a phone meeting for parents a few days earlier, under the assumption that most would not want to come in person. Significantly, Thursday’s group proved them wrong and, despite the surrounding events, some 60-70 parents turned up, from all sectors of society.

As people began sharing feelings and experiences, one Arab woman described a scene that really shook me. She had been looking after her elderly father in the hospital for the past few weeks, which gave her a ringside view of the comings and goings in the hospital around terror attacks. One day, when a female soldier had been stabbed and badly injured, the hospital staff made visitors make room for them to wheel the victim through the corridors. As she stood with her 8-year-old son she had a jarring conversation with him. He assumed, she told us, that the victim was an Arab woman. The mother said, “No, she’s Jewish”

“I don’t understand,” the child replied. “Why would a Jew stab another Jew?”

“No, no,” she gently explained. “The attacker wasn’t Jewish. He was an Arab.”

The boy could not comprehend this. His mother recounted that in his mind, the only violence that exists is Jews hurting Arabs. This is all he knows, and it’s all he has seen. He had no idea that the violence goes the other way, too.

When he realized his mistake, he said, ”That’s okay then.”

The woman, who is a long-time peace activist from Jerusalem who currently works in hi-tech, was also shocked by part of the conversation. And she said plainly, “I failed as a parent.” How can her son ever justify violence, she painfully wondered out loud.

Still, I don’t think she failed at all. First of all we cannot control everything our children see and experience. Second, she is trying to have compassionate conversations with her son and instill in him a deep sense of shared humanity — which is I think what many of us are trying to do. And let’s face it, considering the social and political tensions we are living through, it is a hard task. I told her, in the way so many of my female friends are constantly telling one another, to be kinder to herself. Still, she was shaken by the discovery that her son had it in him to believe that sometimes violence is okay, if it sort of “balances the scales” so to speak.

I was shocked because I could not believe how different the world looks for Arab children and Jewish children living in the same city.

For Jews, the only violence that we see or that “counts” is violence perpetrated against “us.” Against Jews. Meanwhile, for Arab children, apparently the only violence that they see is violence perpetrated against them. There is a symmetry here that would be charming if it weren’t so utterly tragic.

Jews like to deny this. When “numbers” of killed and injured on both “sides” are counted, Jewish pundits will go immediately to arguments of self-defense. Israeli news outlets frequently report only numbers of Jews dead, not Palestinians. News reports say, “There was an attack. No casualties reported; three terrorists were eliminated.” So actually, three Palestinians are dead, but their deaths don’t count as deaths if we can call them terrorists. Nobody dead means nobody Jewish dead. It is chilling that this is standard reporting in Israel.

Why are we then surprised that in the Palestinian community, they do the same thing? Why do Jews have so many media watchdogs to correct Palestinian narratives when our own narratives are just as skewed? It’s all messed up.

Plus, there is something even more chilling in this new round of violence in that so many of the terrorists are kids. I cannot conceive of a 13-year-old boy as a terrorist. I don’t know how he got to be a knife-wielding, but we cannot simply label a 7th or 8th grader as a “terrorist” without asking difficult questions about how he got to where he is. I don’t know the stories of these teenagers committing acts of violence, but I do understand that their families and friends will mourn their death regardless of their weapons. Israel may not count Palestinian dead as dead, but we should not be surprised that 8-year-old children witnessing events certainly will count their dead as dead.

One of the opinions shared by almost everyone in the group was that there is an awful lack of leadership — on both sides. When Palestinians said that Israelis need to elect better leaders, I could feel myself sinking into my post-election depression. Bibi again? What’s worse, he won precisely because of how successfully he instilled a fear and hatred of the other in Jewish Israeli minds: Run to the ballots because Arabs are voting in swarms, he effectively told voters on Election Day. And it worked! When people in the group last night said, “Elect different leaders”, all I could think was, I wish I knew how.

Significantly, it seems from our discussion that the Election Day experience has had a powerful impact on this current wave of violence. The dreadful validation that Arab Israelis — citizens and taxpayers of Israel — are still viewed by Israeli leaders as “the enemy” was a slap in the face to so many people. I totally get that. Rather than embrace Arabs who want to create a normal life for themselves in Israel, rather than look for ways to build bridges and find common ideals and passions, Bibi time and again reverts to the narrative that all non-Jews are potential enemies. Bibi created this nightmare that we are all living in.

Still, I said that I also came out hopeful. And that is because despite all of this, there are still many people (many? I don’t know exactly what many means, but enough to fill two large rooms with engaged conversation) on both sides who believe that another way is possible. There seems to be a growing number of people who are willing to think differently from friends around them, who are willing to challenge traditional narratives that we have all been fed about the “other” in society, and who are willing to consider perspectives other than their own.

This makes me hopeful because, previous elections notwithstanding, I think we are living in changing times — times when social media creates blink-of-the-eye awareness of events and at times unexpected relationships. Although researchers are mixed about whether social media makes people change their views on things or whether it creates millions of echo chambers, I think that it is impossible not to be influenced, even a little, by the volumes and volumes of ideas and perspectives that come through our personalized news feeds. It’s just not possible that we are not all changing, even a little, as we learn more about others. We are exposed to so much stuff all the time. And sociologists generally confirm that we are all becoming a little less driven by traditional communal affiliations and are instead redefining boundaries of affiliations, creating our own customized connections and communities. I think maybe this creates new opportunities – like the Kids4Peace parents meeting – for all of us to come to new understandings and new awareness.

At least I can hope. Hope itself is an idea worth hanging onto at times like this.

— Elana Maryles Sztokman, PhD is founding firector, The Center for Jewish Feminism

Read more: http://forward.com/sisterhood/323345/why-im-shocked-and-inspired-by-kids4peace/#ixzz3pngm6Ilh