Archives For Josh

Tahera AhmadStand Up for Each Other
A Message From the Executive Director

Maybe you saw Kids4Peace in the news last week?

Tahera Ahmad, a Muslim scholar, interfaith leader, and chaplain at Northwestern University was on her way to DC, when she experienced an act of discrimination on her flight, compounded by hateful words from a passenger.

She was coming to speak with the Kids4Peace Board about interfaith relations in America and the challenges facing American Muslims.

In an interview, Tahera said this:

It’s indicative of something much deeper happening in our country right now… Minority groups are saying they’re in a lot of pain. If you fail to recognize the bigotry, prejudice and stereotypes that create a culture, that continues to promote cyclical injustice. We can’t continue to do that. All this pain and all this hurt, it’s just not OK.

Kids4Peace is working to change this culture of prejudice and injustice, so Tahera’s experience of discrimination does not happen again.

To me, the most painful part of Tahera’s story is the fact that other passengers did not support her.

“I thought people would defend me and say something,” she said.  

No one did.  Where were the people of faith and courage?  Where were my fellow Christians, who are taught over and over to stand with those on the margins?

In the face of bigotry and hatred, real change begins when we have the courage to stand up for each other.  That’s what we do in Kids4Peace.

I hear so many stories of Kids4Peace youth standing up for the other, at great personal risk – both in Jerusalem and here in the USA.  From the age of twelve, K4P youth are challenging the prejudices of their teachers, defending peers against bullying, and refusing to join the vitriolic chants of their ‘friends.

They have courage to do this because they have each other, and because they have you standing alongside them.

This week, Board member Sue Bloch published a  powerful profile of Eve, a young peacemaker in Seattle.

Eve said it well: “I joined the Kids4Peace movement because I feel that the mission is a crucial one. I would like to be a part of it. But I can’t do it on my own.” 

We can only do it together.  Together with Eve and Tahera and interfaith leaders across the globe, Kids4Peace is building a new culture of peace and a powerful movement for change.

It’s time to stand up and tell the world that there is another way.

Stand up for each other.  Stand up, when you hear words of prejudice.  Stand up, when you see injustice.  Stand up, when you see someone’s pain.

Kids4Peace also needs you now.  As tensions rise at home and around the world, we need everyone to do their part.  What can you do?

  • Volunteer, make a donation, spread the word.
  • Share Eve’s story on social media or write a note to Tahera.
  • Host a speaker in your congregation or community.
  • Encourage kids to sign up for  camp.  Preach a sermon about Kids4Peace.
  • Visit us in Jerusalem, and so much more.

We are #UnitedForTahera – and united in our commitment to challenge all acts of discrimination and injustice.   It’s time to stand up for peace.

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Fr. Josh Thomas, Executive Director
Kids4Peace International (josh@k4p.org)

PS — K4P Board Vice-President Yakir Englander was a colleague of Tahera’s at Northwestern.  His reflections are on the Kids4Peace Blog.  Read more >> 

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We Are Thankful

This Year, Kids4Peace faced a world of violence and fear.

But we faced it together.

Over and over again, Kids4Peace came together when it seemed impossible.

At Ramadan iftar during the Gaza fighting.
At a demonstration for peace on the streets of Jerusalem.

We stood together. You stood with us.

With more than 100 youth at camps this summer – no cancellations.
With courageous parents who set their children on a path of peace.
With young leaders ready to move from dialogue to action.

You stood with us.
And it has made all the difference.

For the courage and strength to continue, we say thanks.

Shukran and Todah,
From all of us at Kids4Peace

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Amid the turmoil, pain, and violence around us: we have just learned that ALL of our Palestinian and Israeli youth and staff will be able to participate in Kids4Peace camps this summer.

Participants include 99 youth, 8 counselors, 22 adult staff, joining their counterparts from America.  They will attend summer camps in Seattle, Houston, Vermont and New Hampshire during the month of August.

Kids4Peace camps are part of a six-year year-round program of interfaith dialogue, leadership development and nonviolent action. Youth from Jerusalem and the neighboring areas of the West Bank meet new friends from North America for a two-week summer program, where they learn about each other’s religious traditions, practice dialogue and conflict resolution, develop skills to be peacemakers and form lasting friendships across the barriers that divide their communities.

 

Follow Facebook and Twitter (@Kids4Peace) for daily updates from camp.  Learn more at http://www.k4p.org. Thanks to our community of partners around the world whose prayers and financial support make this possible.

Contact: Josh Thomas (josh@k4p.org) or Meredith Rothbart (meredith@k4p.org).

Josh Thomas To the Kids4Peace Community,

As Shabbat comes to Jerusalem on this first Friday of Ramadan, our prayers are mixed with tears.

An escalation of violence in Jerusalem and the surrounding region has brought death and suffering to yet more Palestinian and Israeli families. Calls for retaliation and vengeance threaten further destruction.

In the midst of overwhelming fear,

Kids4Peace remains a powerful sign of hope.

We are one of the only places where Jews, Christians and Muslims from all parts of Jerusalem and the West Bank meet face to face.  Our long-term approach is our strength. With the leadership of Jerusalem Co-Directors Mohammad Joulany and Rebecca Sullum, we are responding to the current situation with courage and compassion.

    • Interfaith Iftar: Next Wednesday, K4P Jerusalem will gather for an Interfaith Iftar: A Dinner of Prayer, Community and Hope.
    • #ViolenceStopsWithMe: K4P Jerusalem launched a #ViolenceStopsWithMe online campaign, to counter the message of vengeance and retaliation that is spreading through Jerusalem.  Join them by changing your cover photos to the pic above.
    • We continue our regular programs and meetings, to the extent that safety will allow.

Kids4Peace was born in the midst of violence, by brave families who risked coming together, precisely when the conflict was driving them apart.  Two years ago we met to pray during the violence in Gaza.  We face another moment of deep pain, suffering and fear.

As violence spreads in Jerusalem, it is time to come together again.
  • Together, we mourn the death of Mohammad Dudeen, Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach, Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir and the many victims of the conflict whose names have been forgotten.
  • Together, we affirm the sanctity of all life and pray that no more families will feel the pain of this most tragic loss.
  • Together, we commit to continue our daily work of ending conflict and inspiring hope in Jerusalem and beyond, through interfaith learning, leadership development and nonviolent action.

And it’s only possible because of you.

Next month, nearly 100 Jerusalem youth will attend camps in the USA, and I want to shower them with support. Here are some ways to help.

  1. Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem. Remember the victims and the peacemakers in your congregation’s prayers.  As people of faith, we need to acknowledge the pain and maintain our hope.
  2. Send a Message of Support. Write a note to a young peacemaker on this online form.  This year especially, it will be so hard for the Jerusalem kids to leave home and come to camp.  Your support will make all the difference.
  3. Follow & Share the Kids4Peace Blog There is so much bad news coming from the media.  We need to remind the world that people still work for peace. Follow k4pblog.org and share daily updates with family and friends.    If you have contacts in the media, please email me.
  4. Give as Generously as you can. This is a critical time, and you can be part of the solution.  Help Kids4Peace end this conflict, so no more children will die of violence.  Donate Now.

Thank you for keeping the light of hope alive.

Fr Josh Thomas, Executive Director
Kids4Peace International | josh@k4p.org
Kids4Peace 3300 Chimney Rock, Suite 301, Houston, TX 77056
Donations are tax-deductible

Interfaith Prayer during the Fighting in Gaza Two Years Ago

Join the Campaign #ViolenceStopsWithMe

Kids4Peace International

3300 Chimney Rock, Suite 301, Houston, TX 77056 www.k4p.org

Sermon preached at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Atlanta
July, 2008 by Fr. Josh Thomas

For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

I greet you this morning on behalf of Dr. Henry Carse, director of Kids4Peace, who would normally be standing here on this Sunday morning, to bring you words of gratitude and hope from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim kids and families of Jerusalem and from our peace pals and peace parents here in the Diocese of Atlanta.

It is an honor to be here at St. Anne’s, and to offer to you, on behalf of Kids4Peace, our gratitude for allowing us to make your home – our home, for a while–– a place of refuge, safety, and welcome on our difficult journey of building peace. It has been an honor for me to serve as a counselor and dialogue facilitator with Kids4Peace over these last three years, to share with 72 Jewish, Christian and Muslim young people from Jerusalem and Atlanta their lives, their struggles and joys.

And there are many struggles and many joys here at Kids4Peace, as a new group of twenty-four children of Abraham from Palestine, Israel and America come together each summer to spend two weeks at Camp Mikell and here in Atlanta learning about each other’s religions, cultures, and ways of life, in order to develop friendships strong enough to last in the face of conflict, division and pain. In these last two weeks, we have shared the struggles of living in close quarters, sometimes too close for comfort.

We have struggled to understand each other’s languages, to stay focused through long days, to respect stories different from our own, and to become friends with those we have been taught were enemies. These holy struggles are the stuff of peacebuilding, and the Kids4Peace always inspire me with their compassion, openness and love. They have done what many said was impossible, and I honor them for that.

But when we think about making peace, we often think only of struggle, only of the hard work of overcoming violence and hurt. When we think about Israel and Palestine, we often think only of checkpoints and rocket attacks, only of separation walls
and bus bombings, only of suicide bombers or politicians, or soldiers.

For most of us, most of the time, these images of war fill our imaginations, and they can trick us into believing that peace will never come.

At Kids4Peace, we do not ignore the reality of this violence that inspired a few adults, seven years ago, to dream of a summer camp where Israeli and Palestinian children could leave the fighting, for a while, and learn new ways to live together.

But here at Kids4Peace, we do more than this. When I ask groups of Kids4Peace alumni what they have learned about making peace and what they most want to share with adults, it’s almost always the message that making peace can be fun. There is so
much joy here at Kids4Peace. The joy of learning that what unites is always more than what divides. The joy of creating a beautiful mosaic picture frame. The joy of learning anew word in another language. The joy of singing, very loudly, for the millionth time “give me your unconditional love.” The joyful, holy curiosity in each other’s mosques, synagogues and churches, a desire to learn so strong that there is seldom enough time for all their questions. The joy of silly songs, of swimming and soccer games, of foursquare and vollis; the joy of delighting in God’s creation at the Georgia aquarium, and of conversations that touch the soul. Here is where peace comes, hand in hand, side by side, day by day – weaving together the stories and hopes and dreams that lead to peace.

Last night, downstairs in the St. Anne’s library, the Kids4Peace shared their dreams. Inspired by a visit from civil rights leader John Lewis, and with faces whose smiles radiated so much joy that we advisors were in tears, they shared these dreams:
I have a dream of equality between poor people and rich people. I have a dream that I will make wise choices in my life. I have a dream to save the environment. I have a dream to see world peace. I have a dream to be a field surgeon in the army. I have a
dream to win the Nobel Peace Prize. I have a dream that wars will be a thing of the past and not the present. I have a dream to protect nations from war. I have a dream to stop the wall so I can see my cousins. I have a dream to be a famous musician. I have a dream to be a WNBA player. I have a dream to be the peacemaker who will bring peace to Israel and Palestine.
In the face of these dreams, I want to take off my shoes, like Moses, for this is holy ground. At Kids4Peace, I sense the reign of God is very near, so close I can feel it in my bones. At Kids4Peace, I see the signs of the redemption that Isaiah speaks of in his
prophecy today, about what will happen when the Exiles finally are able to return from Babylon to their long-awaited home. Thorns and briers turn to beautiful trees, the powerful Word of God finally accomplishes God’s purposes, and all of Creation,
mountains and hills and trees of the field burst into song at the joy that is coming to lead us to peace.

But as deep as this joy is, as strong as these dreams are, as holy as the struggles may be, they are fragile, too. Fragile joys, fragile hopes, fragile struggles, and there are still many thorns and briers in our path toward peace. Thorns of awkwardness and fear, of suspicion and hate, briers of hurt and separation and ignorance that ensnare us, trap us,and keep us from each other.In the face of these dreams, joys, and struggles, there is more we need to do thansimply marvel in the face of the holy, or offer pious congratulations.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us in the parable of the sower that what mattersfor whether the seed will grow is the kind of soil on which it falls. The seed on the path is eaten by birds, snatched away by evil. The seed on the rocky ground has no depth andwithers in the hot sun, as initial excitement without deep roots dries up under pressure.The seed among thorns is choked and prevented from growing, by the enticements ofselfishness and superiority.

And while the work of making peace belongs most strongly to these amazing young people as they shape a future for themselves and the whole world, we all can prepare some good soil for them. Turning it over, watering it with love, softening theground, tending it gently and carefully, allowing the seeds their best chance to grow. We can model what it means to have a faith so deeply rooted in God that nothing can drive usaway. We can join them in solidarity as fellow peacemakers, supporting one another in the face of ridicule, indifference and greed. We can uproot the thorns of anger, prejudiceand separation that threaten to choke the life out of all of us and become with them acommunity of peacemakers, a garden of joy.

We know what we need to do. The Kids4Peace yesterday reminded us that wecan’t make peace unless we understand each other, love each other, listen to each other,talk things out, stop fighting, know our religious customs, use nonviolence, speak ourrights so that all will have freedom. We can’t make peace unless we WANT it and TRY.And this week we have wanted it, and tried really hard. In our struggles and ourjoys, we have lived Gandhi’s timeless counsel to become the change we want to see inthe world. We have lived together, Jews, Christians and Muslims; Palestinians, Israelisand Americans. We have made peace … not an easy peace where everything seemsperfect, but a real peace forged through honesty and challenge, through a commitment toeach other strong enough to stay connected through whatever frustrations come our way.

There are still many thorns and briers in our path, still many challenges that await us when we leave this place of safety and closeness and return to our communities where division and suspicion are the norm. There is still much to do before one kid’s dream of seeing peace will come true. But I can see here today at least twenty-four young cypressand myrtle trees, signs of hope and healing, and perhaps if you join us again in our journey of peace, we might even begin to hear the mountains singing and the hills clapping for joy.

Salaam. Shalom. Amen