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Areej is a woman whose passion for peace comes from personal experiences of violence and hatred in her own life. She lived a very nice life in Iraq within a highly educated family for some time, however with the war of 2003, Areej and her family’s identification as Shiite Muslim put them in danger. Areej described to me the feelings she experienced during that time.

“There was no security, no safety, and you don’t know if you would live to tomorrow. It was very Areej Pic 5hard to find your way between the troops.”

Recognizing the danger of the situation, Areej and her family left Iraq for Jordan and eventually moved to Vermont. Though Areej has degrees in computer science and electrical power engineering, she became involved in different places as an interpreter, first as a medical interpreter and eventually working with refugees and in the school district helping newly arriving families. In working with a teacher who had a connection with Kids4Peace, Areej became aware that they were looking for a Muslim advisor for the Vermont Chapter of Kids4Peace and she was eager to help.

“When you already have a real experience where you have no hope for tomorrow you really love to help and work in a peace field to help the honest people who deserve to live a good life. I lived and had this real experience.”

Not only does Areej have a passion for peace, but she has a passion for children also. She described to me that “I love them because I feel that there is a lovely connection between my soul and theirs.” The kids seem to share this connection because Areej shared with me that at one camp; they chose her as “camp mom.”

“If I could, I wish I could put them all inside my heart and save them from the world. I wish for a very bright and colorful future for our kids.”

Areej and her sister have been board members on the Vermont Chapter of Kids4Peace since 2009, and in 2010, she participated in her first camp. Areej explained to me that “each camp has a unique spirit.” Similarly, each child has a story and sitting around in a circle, the kids each tell their story. Areej told me of one story where a boy said it took him two and a half hours to get to school and a girl spoke up and said “I am sorry my friend, I only need ten minutes.” In these telling of real stories, the kids learn to live the experiences together. Areej presented this as an example of what the real world should be like. “We need to think in a good way and listen to each other instead of killing each other.”

I additionally asked Areej about her experience at camps and she responded with a good story.

Areej Pic 2“One man came up to our group who was a part of the church we were visiting. He said that we were giving the church a good example of how we can live all together. The kids could live together having fun, doing good things and selling the message then we can do it too. He said he was hesitant to talk to a Muslim, wondering if he is going to accept him or not. I told him to go talk to him and tell your feelings. Don’t worry, just talk. Nobody can refuse nice words and a positive attitude. We are all human beings.”

Even though  the mission for peace is easy in theory, Areej described to me some of the difficulties of being a part of an organization which works to change societal ideals.Areej Pic 1

“Our mission is not easy. It is a very hard type of work. I told my friends that we are carving in the stone and the stone is very hard and harsh. We need to find a way to carve to mark in the stone so it will stay a thousand years or more. It is also like learning a new language. It looks easy but when you practice it and apply it, you can’t see your fruit easily.”

Areej additionally talked to me about her hope for the future. “I want to have a soldier checking during a check point and that soldier was a Kids4Peace camper. This is the story I want.”

“I do believe we are changing the world and I have best friends from all around the world from Kids4Peace. I didn’t have any Jewish friends before, now I have Jewish, Christian and Serbian friends. I hadn’t visited a synagogue or talked to a rabbi. Now Kids4Peace is in my blood. I feel so proud of myself that I am doing this job.”  Areej Pic 3 Areej Pic 4

Kate Pic 1Kate Atkinson was brought up in the Episcopal Church with her time divided between England and Connecticut and is now an Episcopal Priest at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Kate described to me a childhood where her family regularly hosted students from other countries.

 “I grew up knowing people of different countries, nationalities and religions. It was a natural part of my life to include different people. We didn’t view it as strange or unusual, it was just a part of our lives. The idea of encouraging children to break down the barriers of ideology and nationality was very appealing to me.”

Kate got involved with Kids4Peace through her Interfaith Council and is working with the New Hampshire Chapter, who just had their first camp this past summer. The kids came to Church the first Sunday of camp and Kate described this as a “wonderful experience.”

“The kids took part in the service, did readings, read prayers and sang a beautiful son in Arabic, Hebrew and English.”

In addition to working with the summer camp, Kate is a part of the steering committee for the New Hampshire Chapter. She and others work in “galvanizing support of different people. I would raise the topic of Kis4Peace at Episcopal diesis meetings. Financial support is important but prayer support is very important also.” They also create promotional materials and assist with Honor Card donations for when people want to contribute financially in someone’s name. Further, Kate’s daughter Georgia was at the camp in New Hampshire last summer!

I asked Kate about what she thought of the organization as a whole and she responded with thoughtful words and a good story.

“What works really well is the strong desire for living together in harmony. We all are different and there are fundamental differences between us but we don’t want to change one another. We can all model peaceful behavior.”Kate Pic 2

Kate told me that while attending the Kids4Peace summit several weeks ago, the audience heard from a boy who had been a part of the Boston camp. He spoke to the group about what they learned at Kids4Peace and he said he became a more peaceful person. His mother, who was in the crowd, stood up and asked if that was why he didn’t fight with his sister so much anymore. For Kate, this story reveals a fundamental part of Kids4Peace.

“We are not just learning about global peace but learning about individual peace. How we deal with one another on a human and individual level.”

I further asked Kate about what she would like to see for the future. She expressed that she would love to see the New Hampshire chapter moving forward to continue to offer a successful camp every summer and establishing more year round programming so that kids can take what they learned a few steps further, keep relationships alive and keep growing together. She also voiced that she would like to take Kids4Peace kids to Jerusalem.

“It is important to see the place that features so strongly in conversations and peacemaking exercises and it is important for young people to know more than just their corner of the world. The moment we step out of what’s familiar, we become more committed to making a difference.”

Kate also shared thoughts on what aspects of Kids4Peace are so important and why it is really making a difference.

“The most important thing that I have learned is that we can learn from our children. Since the entire camp came to visit St. Paul’s, we have had campers visit and they visit other places as well. Everywhere they go, they are helping to make a difference. Children can teach adults, adults can learn from children and sometimes that’s the way it has to be. In bringing peace to the world, that is a very important thing to remember, that our children have something to teach us.”

Dick Dutton is currently co-chair of the New Hampshire/ Vermont Chapter of Kids4Peace with Rabbi Robin Nafshi, and as a part of this role he “gets people, organizations and communities together” in the cause for peace. Though the New Hampshire Kids4Peace is brand new, Dick’s personal experience with peacebuilding is extensive and frankly, impressive.

Dick started off our conversation by describing himself as having “always been a bridge builder.” He grew up in New York State and St. Louis, Missouri and his father was a Baptist Minister who had people from different ethnicities, religions and cultures in their home all the time. Thus, Dick “grew up with excitement about the rest of the world” and told me that his room was filled with maps on the ceiling and walls.Richard Pic

After receiving an undergraduate degree from Baylor University in Texas, Dick went to a then very progressive Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. He described to me always having “imagination to bring together people of different cultures.” At his first church in Virginia during the American civil rights movement, he encouraged black and white dialogue and was almost kicked out. Captured by his vision for peace, Dick was gradually able to understand the sentiments against him and his cause at the time.

Dick’s quest for peace did not end there however. He moved up the east coast from Baltimore to New York State and eventually New England and created local interfaith groups with Jews, Christians and even Buddhists. Building bridges all along the way, Dick worked with a local Catholic Priest in New England to bring twelve kids from Ireland, some Catholic and some Protestant, to the US to interact with American children in a ten day camp much like Kids4Peace.

Two years ago, Dick became involved in Kids4Peace and helped most recently with the first New Hampshire camp this summer, which he described as a “thrilling success.” I asked him to give me his thoughts on Kids4Peace as a whole.

“They had such a good time playing but every morning had serious discussion where they broke into groups and talked about conflict resolution. Everyone was able to get involved and participate in discussion. We would like to think that this isn’t a ten day thing. All the kids have made a commitment to spend some of the next year doing social service with different groups. Kids are continuing to talk to their peers and their parents and having on going conversations about some ways that they avoided conflict, negotiated and conversed with each other at camp.”

Dick further described his favorite experience from last year’s camp as being the Abrahamic Tent. A show put on by the kids on the last night of camp to show case and parody  the different religions. He describes one funny scene of two kids dressed up as Jesus and John the Baptist where John baptizes Jesus and they come out of the water to take a selfie. Another scene however struck to the heart of the matter. The scene depicted children in sheets symbolizing Muslims making the pilgrimage to Mecca. For Dick this showed an important truth. “I realized that all the religions are on a journey and are in transition. No one has arrived yet.” Overall Dick said the first camp experience was for everyone a helpful one.

“Now people are aware of Kids4Peace and the camping program so this second time around we will learn from the last time, improving and building on what happened last year and making it even better next year.”

Additionally Dick expressed a humble appreciation for the many people involved in the camps.

“The willingness and cooperation between those who were helping to organize this was phenomenal. The volunteers who helped out with meals, transportation and those, who did 100 tasks, all the volunteers were just fantastic and so willing to give time to do this. A tent or booth was present at two multi-cultural festivals and we had volunteers for that. So the volunteers at all levels were just spectacular. And then the Director, the Faith Leaders, the counselors, other adults, parents and the Kids, the Kids…we had a real family, and all were committed to what we were doing.”

Mono Pic 3Montaser Amro, or as his friends call him, Mono, is from the city of Hebron the southern West Bank. He related to me that he grew up surrounded by a city of mainly close minded people, not open to new ideas and often unwilling to seek peace. “My family understands and supports me in my work but sometimes if it’s pretty tough, like with the recent war, a lot of people get more emotional.”

Mono is currently a Muslim Advisor for Kids4Peace and when I asked him about his plans, he told me plain and simple:

“I feel that what I am doing right now is one of the best things I could ever do. I am trying to make change in a nation and I am going to keep working for Kids4Peace.”

He was raised in a family of educated people, studied at a United Nations school and even attended 11th grade in the United States as a foreign exchange student. He continued his schooling to receive an engineering degree however; Mono’s life course altered when he was introduced to Kids4Peace and recommended to become a Muslim Advisor.

He started the winter of 2013 and since then has been involved in two camps; one in Atlanta and one in New Hampshire. Mono was involved in bimonthly meetings with kids prior to their camps in the US, which teaches aspects of community and peace and how religion is a push towards peace. In participating with the kids, Mono had some surprises along the way.Mono Pic 1

“I had this image of how the kids would behave but it was totally different. Once they are in the camp and get involved in the activities, they start becoming like really good friends.

Some of the kids have kept working with Kids4Peace. I was shocked that some of the naughtiest kids are actually being responsible and doing good and the shy kids are interacting a lot more with others. I am hoping to see the same thing from the kids next year.”

I asked Mono to tell me some about how he saw Kids4Peace and what peace meant to him.

“At Kids4Peace, we plant the seed of peace into the kids so that when they are grownups, they will understand what it means and will work for peace. I met two leaders who were youth advisors and in the camps ten years ago and I see that the program is growing and growing. There will be a lot of grownups who can affect change. Each person talks to five or ten of their friends and will spread the ideas of peace.

Peace is the most wonderful thing that you can ever see. Seeing a lot of people from different colors, backgrounds and nationalities live as if they are from one background living together. I cannot imagine what peace is going to be, but it is going to be awesome.

 

Mono Pic 2

As I sit here in the Kids4Peace Jerusalem office on the eve before the Yom Kippur Fast, which is considered the most holy day of the year for the Jewish people because it is the day that g-d decides who is written in the book of life and who isn’t, I can’t help but feel privileged and torn to be the co-director of Kids4Peace Jerusalem. I am privileged to be part of an inspiring interfaith community that strongly believes that Jerusalem can be shared by the 3 faiths in peace and not torn into pieces.  I am also internally conflicted as how can I continue to maintain both my religious Jewish identity and my interfaith identity.

For over the past eight years that I have been part of the K4P community, I have slowly become less traditional in my observance and more in conflict with my Judaism. At a first glance Judaism promotes a notion of peace, “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they experience war no more”.  But the daily prayers and weekly Shabbat Kiddush highlight a different view. We recite a blessing thanking g-d for choosing us from among all the nations in order to serve him (or her). The idea that the Jewish people are the chosen nation is a difficult one to come to term with, if you believe that all people, religions, nations are created equally, then why am I saying that we are chosen?

I and other observant Jewish people that are part of the interfaith movement have had to make adjustments in our prayers or have had to rationalize the meaning of these prayers in order to continue our interfaith work and give respect to the other religions. I know many other people cope by saying, we are all the same, we are all human beings, as the Israeli President posted in his New Year message (second 13-15). But I do not believe that the answer is as simple as that. I want all of us in the Kids4Peace community to understand and celebrate our differences. Because if we were really all the same, then what are all of these conflicts about!

This year, Yom Kippur (Jewish fast day) and Eid Al Adha (Muslim Feast of Sacrifice) concede and there is fear that in Jerusalem and other areas that have both Jewish and Muslim residents, will have clashes and violence. New Israel Fund and other NGO’s have already begun an awareness campaign, reaching out to both sides and informing them that the holidays overlap. But perhaps this is already too late, perhaps there is already too much fear and lack of knowledge.

This morning I got a ride to the Kids4Peace office with a fellow student from my beginner’s Arabic class. He is a religious Jewish Israeli settler that is learning Arabic in order to understand the Arab culture and to begin to break the stereotypes by getting to know the other person. This is very uncommon for a Jewish Israeli settler to want to get to know the other especially by going ahead and learning Arabic. In the car we picked up a hitchhiker on our way out of the Old City. The hitchhiker was also a religious Jewish Israeli man that looked to me to belong to a fairly extreme religious group. He overheard our conversation and our Arabic lesson cd in the background, and asked “aren’t you afraid of them?”

I didn’t want to assume I understood his vague question: afraid of what? afraid of whom? I thought to myself.  But before I was able to ask a clarifying question, my fellow student began to answer the question. He went on to explain that there are Arabs that want to kill us and Arabs that want to be our friends, the same way there are Jews that want to kill Arabs and Jews that want to be their friends. The hitchhiker challenged this answer and asked “but on the day that Mohammad Abu Khdeir’s body was found, weren’t you scared to be there with them?”  With that question he asked to be let out of the car as he had reached his destination.

I sit at my desk now with the same heavy feeling that I felt the day Mohammad Abu Khdeir’s body was found. I sit on the border between East and West Jerusalem, I co-lead an interfaith community, yet outside my door there is hatred, misunderstanding, racism and division in Jerusalem. I could allow myself to lock up the K4P office tonight in despair knowing that this weekend will be one of  violence and conflict, or I can send one last “What’s Up” message of holiday blessing to my interfaith community and ask that we all amplify our voices of understanding and peace today, tomorrow and throughout this year to come.

Eid Mubarak to my dear Muslim Friends.

Gmar Hatima Tova to my Jewish Friends.

And to my Christian friends, your holiday is approaching quickly, but it is still too early to be wishing a Merry Christmas!

“Two years ago we filled this same room [at the Ambassador Hotel in Jerusalem] with Kids4Peace alumni from 10 years of our programs,” shouted Kids4Peace Executive Director Fr. Josh Thomas to a room full of cheering youth and parents. “Today we fill this entire room with only ONE year of Kids4Peace!”
Over 250 Kids4Peace Jerusalem community members came together with their families for an evening of inspiration and looking forward to the new year. Kids4Peace Jerusalem Directors, Education Directors, and Steering Committee chairs welcomed the 7th-12th grade youth and families, shared upcoming opportunities for involvement, and showed a slideshow of the 7 summer camps that went on despite the increased violences this past summer.
While staff were available with program dates and descriptions and the Steering Committee presented opportunities for parent leadership, the youth enjoyed picking up their official camp pictures, decorating picture frames for each other, writing thank-you notes to sponsors, watching the 2014 slide show, and of course lots and lots of drumming.
“Despite everything we’ve been through as a community, we are sticking together. We are stronger than ever,” said co-director Rebecca Sullum. “We have heard from you, our community, that it’s time to take our message to the world and we’re ready for that. It is going to be an incredible year.”
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Marathoning for Peace

Jordan Goldwarg —  September 1, 2014 — Leave a comment
K4P Northwest Regional Director Jordan Goldwarg and Sam McVeety at the finish line of the Sunriver Marathon.

K4P Northwest Regional Director Jordan Goldwarg and Sam McVeety at the finish line of the Sunriver Marathon.

 

by Jordan Goldwarg, K4P Northwest Regional Director

Earlier this summer, Sam McVeety and I were thinking of innovative ways to fundraise for Kids4Peace Seattle. We decided to indulge our love of running and train together for a marathon, raising money and awareness for K4P along the way. While doing a marathon for charity is nothing new, we added a few twists by launching an Indiegogo campaign to help us with our fundraising. In true crowdfunding fashion, we offered some fun incentives to induce donations, including things like going on a training run with us (for a $200 donation), getting a cross-country ski lesson from me ($300), or getting some rowing lessons from Sam ($500).

The campaign was a success, raising over $1700 for K4P Seattle! And the marathon was also a success: yesterday, we competed in the Sunriver Marathon near Bend, Oregon, finishing together in a time of 3 hours, 24 minutes, and 18 seconds.

While the Indiegogo campaign is finished, people who want to support this effort can still make a donation directly to Kids4Peace. And if you want to take advantage of the incentives, we’re happy to oblige! Just email me at jordan@k4p.org after you make your donation.

by Mohammad Joulany, Co-Director K4P Jerusalem

We arrived to Camp Allen in Houston after about 30 hours of travel. Traveling is a very tiring yet enjoyable and educational experience. For many of our youth, it is the first time to leave Jerusalem. We were accepted very nicely with open hands as we arrived to Camp Allen by our American friends and peace pals, had dinner together, and then headed to rest after a long day of travel.

We woke up to the amazing nature and the fresh breeze energetic and curious about the day. Breakfast was served with its great variety of healthy choices. We gathers for the opening of the day ceremony where three kids from the three different religions lighted a candle that represents our togetherness and chose the words of the day, which were friendly, need, and hope. Then everyone headed to the beautiful lake at camp and tried their luck in fishing. It was very exciting especially that it is the first time for most of our youth to hold a fishing rod.

As the Friday prayer approached, our Muslim peace pal from the States, Shayan, led the prayer with a beautiful recitation of a number of Quran verses. He recited Sūrat al-Qadr (Power, Fate) which talk about the revelation of Quran in a special night during Ramadan. It was a very special moment where everyone listened respectfully to the story behind this chapter. After prayer ended, we listened to Tamika, camp director, and Malika, Muslim adviser, who shared with us the different levels in which they practice religion at a private level and at an inclusive level of their community and the rest of the globe.

As dinner approached, everyone gathered around the table to welcome Shabat with a prayer from our Jewish youth. Grape juice, bread, and the lighting of candles was how we welcomed Shabat together before dinner.

We started Saturday with a morning prayer from the three faiths followed with singing Kids4Peace song (Salam Shalom). After breakfast we gathered for the opening of the day where our youth again chose three new words for the day. We welcomed together Rabbi Gross who creatively introduced the idea of revelation. Everyone was engaged in thinking together about the creator and our relation to God and to one another. Rabbi Gross talked about revelation by narrating the story of Moses meeting God. A very powerful story that we all share in our different faiths traditions. The almost two hours session went very fast as everyone was excited and amazed by the great values that our faiths hold.

Kids afterwards headed to the Campsite for more and more exciting activities and games after an inspiring morning. We look forward for tomorrow to learn about the practices of our Christian friends and to participate in more and more fun activities. Stay tuned!

 

Check out Houston Camp Photos

Rebecca Sullum is Co-Director of Kids4Peace Jerusalem. 

“Rebecca, How are you? How has Kids4Peace been managing during this very difficult summer? My hopes and prayers are with you.”

Every day, friends from around the world reach out to me. They want to hear how I am and how my Kids4Peace community is coping during this very violent time.

This post is an attempt to share with you how a Jewish Israeli Zionist who is also a mother, wife and peace activist, is coping. I want to share my insights as Co-Director of Kids4Peace, where I engage daily with hundreds of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish, Palestinian and Israeli families.

Six weeks have passed by since the kidnapping of the 3 Israeli youth, Gilad, Naftali and Eyal, in Gush Etzion on June 12. Since that morning, I can no longer answer the question “How are you?” It is just too complicated.

My cousin studied at Yeshiva (Jewish religious boys’ school) with two of the kidnapped youth. Friday morning when it had become clear that the 3 boys had been kidnapped, my sisters and their daughters spent the morning picking berries in Gush Etzion, just a few kilometers from the location of the kidnapping. I wasn’t there. My husband Itai requested that I do not pick berries in occupied Palestinian territory, since weeks earlier the IDF detained Palestinian girls for picking cherries on their way to school. Itai thought that it would be too ironic, too cruel, to exercise my freedom in a way that Palestinian girls cannot. So I spent that Friday morning at home. As the Shabbat approached and the youth were nowhere to be found, I fell into despair that lasted for 18 days.

During the 18 days of searching for the three Israeli youth, a complete siege was held on the Palestinian people of Hebron and surrounding areas. Twice during those days, I reached out to a Palestinian friend and colleague who lives in Dura, a small village next to Hebron. On both occasions, the IDF had searched his home the night before while his entire family was there. He told me, “They even went through my underwear drawer and pulled out all my t-shirts. I couldn’t help but smile to myself as they threw my Kids4Peace shirt from the drawer.” Speaking to him, across what many people view as the lines of conflict, I felt a moment of hope in our ability to keep communication open during these times.

June 22, 2014- 19 years ago my family made aliyah from Allentown, PA to Israel. This year I couldn’t celebrate my Zionism. My return to the land of the Jewish people. It was far too difficult.

June 29, 2014– The Ramadan fast begins.

June 30, 2014– 18 days glued to Facebook and Israeli news, until Monday evening the media posted that the 3 youth bodies had been found. Complete and utter despair came over me.

July 1, 2014– I read warnings via Facebook from Kids4Peace Arab youth: “Don’t go to downtown Jerusalem, since there are riots and attacks by Jews on Arabs and it isn’t safe. “Avoid Jaffa street”- a Palestinian Christian youth remarked.

July 2, 2014– The next day I head into Jerusalem to work from the Kids4Peace office in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah. Upon entering the city, I hear on the radio that the light rail has been suspended due to heavy rioting in East Jerusalem by Palestinians. I then learn that a Palestinian boy’s body has been found in the forest, after he was kidnapped and burned to death by Jewish Israelis. My heart fell past my stomach and fear began to take over me.

I posted on Facebook: “Helicopters overhead, sitting alone in the Kids4Peace office, as the roads are blocked for Mohammad to join and the fear has left Meredith and Reeham at home on the other side of town. I am sitting in the midst of a war zone paralyzed from all sides.”

I scan through my Facebook to find Kids4Peace youth from all sides, posting messages of anger and fear. I begin to watch my beloved city of Jerusalem fall apart. All attempting to cope and make sense of it all:

“This morning: Palestinian youth Mohammad Abu Khdeir found dead in Jerusalem. He was first kidnapped and then killed by criminal terrorist settlers. Mohammad was 17 years old from shu’fat in occupied East Jerusalem. He was going to the morning prayer. May his soul rest in peace. You possibly won’t even find his name in today’s news stories, he is just a Palestinian youth. Nothing else. Today, the world will not mourn Mohammad or any other Palestinian waiting to be killed. Same old same old. Today, the world shall continue to mourn Eyal, Gilad and Naftali. Yes, I know their names. But just like always, we the Palestinians shall mourn alone. Not only the innocent lives we lost today and yesterday, but also humanity. Now a moment of silence to mourn the dead.”- written by a Muslim Palestinian female youth

Rebecca-Violence
I try to find some bit of light and decide to attend a Jewish Israeli Anti-Violence demonstration organized by Tag Meir. Rather than being uplifted from the speeches and the crowd, I am upset by how few people attended, and I recognized far too many people in the crowd. I suddenly feel that I am alone in this work.

In an attempt to find others that want to end the violence and claim back Jerusalem – to make it a place that belongs to all – Kids4Peace launched the #ViolenceStopsWithMe online campaign and decided to have an interfaith Iftar gathering, a moment of hope.

July 8th 2014– Haaretz Conference on Peace: I was privileged to be among 2,000 or so people gathering to hear, learn, share ideas and be inspired to understand how peace is possible. I was honored to hear speeches from Israeli President Shimon Peres and an interview with PA Prime Minister Abu Mazen. I heard him at a gathering of Israeli peace activists in Ramallah only a month earlier, but now that feels like a life time ago. A surreal atmosphere hovered in the air, as we speak about peace and just that morning Israel launched an air attack in Gaza in response to the rockets that were being shot into the south of Israel. This too was in response to previous violence, but I can’t contain it all.

The day ended literally with a BOOM. During the final session, sirens went off throughout Tel Aviv warning us that a rocket from Gaza from Hamas was heading our way. In that instant I had already forgotten everything that I learned that day and all the ways that I was inspired. At the conference, I heard the deepest authentic reasoning behind my work in Kids4Peace, but with that siren it all got left behind.

All I wanted to know was “where are my family?” Text messages on my WhatsApp app immediately came in to check on me, from my family and my colleagues Mohammad, Reeham and Meredith. But Mohammad and Reeham are Palestinians. Aren’t they on the “other side?”

We residents of Tel Aviva aren’t accustomed to sirens, rockets and running to shelters, unlike the south of Israel that has been under attack on and off for many years. So when that siren caught us all by surprise we panicked!

Almost daily since then, I have been running in and out of the shelter in Jaffa, the mixed Arab-Jewish neighborhood in Tel Aviv where I live. At first I was frightened to leave my son Yair (nearly 3 years old) at kindergarten, but I find that I can adapt much more quickly to the situation than I thought. Although the cosmopolitan city of Tel Aviv has quieted down a lot due the situation, people can still be found on the streets, coffee shops, beaches and bars. It is almost to say “Hamas you are not going to win”. We are going to keep on living our lives.

One evening at home with Yair, a siren went off, so we headed to the shelter. He has become great at following directions, and even remembers to bring our dog with us. We wait until we hear the loud BOOM, which is the sound of the Iron Dome intercepting the rocket. Then we go back to regular life.

An hour later as the call to prayer from the mosque next to our house was blasting from the loudspeaker, Yair ran up to me and told me we need to head to the shelter. In that very moment, all my liberal and pluralistic education for Yair crumbled in front of my eyes. How do I tell a 3 year old that some loud sounds are sirens warning us that rockets are coming and some are a prayer to g-d, one g-d just like we believe in?

Yair also saw the political satire in the paper. It was one of the Israeli Air Force bombing mosques and buildings in Gaza and the Israeli politicians turning their backs to the devastation. Yair wanted to know, why are there airplanes and helicopters on top of “Ramadan,” which is his word for mosque. Again I am lost for words.

July 9th, 2014- Despite my fear of leaving Jaffa, Yair and Itai are at home. I leave my house for the first time in days to attend the Kids4Peace interfaith Iftar in Jerusalem. Although many media agencies wanted to cover the event as a scene of light in a time of darkness I didn’t allow them to attend. Tonight is for the Kids4Peace Jerusalem community, this is for our time for internal healing and coming together as a community not for public consumption. The evening was incredibly inspiring. I confronted my fears and spoke to Palestinian members about how they are coping with their fears in what has become a hateful Jerusalem. I felt supported, heard, listened to and grateful for the evening that over 60 people attended, despite the fear of leaving your home due to rockets or hate crimes/violence.

July 10th 2014- Arab-Palestinian Muslim Israeli moderate writer that portrays in Hebrew to the Israel Jew what is it like to be Arab in Israel, Sayed Kashua decides to leave Israel and heads with his family to Chicago. Part of me screams to him to come back because I know that he takes with him insight and hope that only he has given, but part of me also screams please let me come with you!! Get me out of here! And I begin my countdown to Kids4Peace camp, one month to go.

July 11, 2014- I turn 33 years old. I jokingly blame my parents for not teaching me as a child from Allentown, PA to run to shelters and ways to cope with post-traumatic stress. How I am going to teach Yair? I read this morning a piece by Israeli writer Etgar Keret, suggesting that instead of working towards peace let’s work towards compromise. Since peace is perceived as a gift from g-d that we do not need to work hard towards. As compromise is clear that we will need to give up something to make it happen and it won’t come on its own, we need to work for it. I then decided to dedicate my 34th year of life toward fighting for peace, since working for it peacefully hasn’t succeeded so far.

“Thank you for the birthday wishes! It is especially meaningful to receive birthday and peace wishes together from my friends from the USA, Palestine and Israel. As my friend Rula said it is hard not be celebrating a summer birthday at Kids4Peace which is certainly more fun and inspiring then spending part of you celebration in the shelters and stairwell. I am committing this year to promoting and advancing tangible peace in Jerusalem and Jaffa. As Etgar Keret wrote, peace isn’t a godly present that we are waiting for. It is something that we need to work hard for and that we will need to make many sacrifices along the way.”

http://www.haaretz.co.il/opinions/.premium-1.2373490

July 12th, 2014- Encouraging Yair to pick out his own clothing in the morning, he choose his favorite t-shirt: Kids4Peace, of course. I also put on my very stylish t-shirt. With some fear of promoting peace via our shirts during this difficult time, especially in diverse Jaffa, Yair and I head off to kindergarten following the morning rocket attack. Only a few hours later I ran to pick him up after the second alarm. As we left, a few of the teachers thanked us for reminding everyone that peace is possible and for inspiring them to hope again. Yair and I highly suRebecca-Yairggested reading David Grossman’s article “On Hope and Despair“.

July 13th World Cup Final, I think to myself, maybe tonight will be quiet, doesn’t Hamas want to watch the World Cup? My sister attended the Left Wing Anti War/Violence Peace rally in Tel Aviv. Shortly after she left, right wing extremists attacked the protesters.

I have begun to fear sharing my ideas, thoughts and feeling publicly. “Left Wing” has now become a curse word. I over hear people telling each other, “don’t think that I am left wing, but I feel badly for the people in Gaza.”

I too can’t stop thinking of the people in Gaza, as every day goes by, the death toll rises. Sometimes, I need to step away or I would go into deep depression seeing this loss.

July 14th, 2014– An unmanned aerial vehicle (uav/drone) entered from Gaza to Israel this morning. I call Itai a million times in panic, thinking he will get called to reserves.

July 17th, 2014- Itai and I have been married 6 years. We were hoping to celebrate at the Neil Young concert in Tel Aviv, but he canceled a few days earlier. At least he donated money to two peace music programs. That night Israel launches a ground incursion into Gaza. I will forever remember my anniversary as the day that marks the beginning of this horrible escalation of violence. And I can’t keep thinking that next year when it is Ramadan again, we will carry in our hearts the sadness and anger from this year.

July 20th, 2014- Days of news and FB. Caught somewhere in the middle, as I too was once a combat soldier. I pray for their safe and fast return, but I hate my government for putting them there in the first place. Why? Why? Netanyahu couldn’t you have kept up your end to the Peace Negotiations??? There are other alternatives to violence.

Sometimes I wonder, if Netanyahu, Bennet, Lieberman, Lapid and other political leaders had a Palestinian friend then maybe they would act differently. Maybe if they had a child in the IDF they wouldn’t so hastily send them to Gaza.Rebecca-IDF

Friends and family are separating themselves from me. Upset that I condemn this invasion. “Rebecca, we had no other choice the Hamas forced us to doing this”. I can’t decide if “we” Israel had to do this (or not) for our safety. What I know for sure is that this cycle is never going to end through violence, “We” the peacemakers, humanitarians and activists need to pursue much more forcefully other channels. I find that I am pushed away from the national “we” that I thought I belonged to and now need to find my “we” that is beyond national identity and relays on values and ideals to bring us together.

In a loss of what to do and how to move forward I post:

Spent the morning between FB, news and phone calls to my incredible Kids4Peace Jerusalem staff that are still keeping lines of connection open during these very sad times. I keep asking myself what can I do? I found this as a suggestion from scholar Marc Gopin:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marc-gopin/what-we-must-do-right-now_b_5599510.html

July 21, 2014- Two failed attempts to bring the Kids4Peace older youth, 9th-12th grade together. It is easier for them to hide behind their Facebook pages than to come together for dialogue in person. Honestly I understand them. Every time I see my Co-Director Mohammad, I take a deep breath and pray that we do not find ourselves in an argument that we won’t be able to get out of. An argument that wouldn’t allow us to continue to work together. Looking beyond my personal fears, we arrange for an Emergency Staff Meeting, so our 30 staff members in Jerusalem can come together.

July 22, 2014- WhatsApp text message from my boss, Josh in the USA: “Yikes, Delta just suspended flights to and from Israel”. I head to the news to see that a rocket/rocket fell near the airport and very quickly international airlines suspend their flights. I become claustrophobic. I can’t breathe, I can’t leave this country. I’m trapped here! I feel like I am under occupation, but in real life I am the occupier.

I won’t let this feeling stop me, I won’t let this stop Kids4Peace, we will have contingency plans, we will move on, we will have camp. Yes, camp. The great savior for all of us during this time! I went out with friends for the first time since June 12th. I actually had a drink and smiled. I need a moment’s break. Luckily my phone battery ran out, so I can’t check the news, I didn’t know that the area surrounding the airport was under attack. I decide not to check the news or Facebook for a few days. I need to live in a bubble for a moment – to breathe.

July 23, 2014- Since I haven’t been reading the news I actually get a lot of work done. I discover that none of my Palestinian staff can obtain permits due to the situation to travel through Israel to their Kids4Peace camps in the USA. I work with the team to reroute them through Jordan. At night I meet with a group of 12 Kids4Peace families in Beit Safafa. The meeting is so relaxed, calm and quiet. I realized how we all need a break. Families and youth took the opportunity to talk face to face, human to human. I didn’t want the evening to end.

July 24, 2014- Walk into the office ready for the Emergency staff meeting, only to hear: “Rebecca, Qalandiya checkpoint is closed, many of our Palestinian staff can’t come into Jerusalem”. At this point I have learned not to panic. We will move ahead with our meeting and update them afterwards. I try to gather sympathy from my Jewish Israel friends and tell them, forget about politics, imagine if you were the director of a company and every day your workers couldn’t come to work because of your government. I am certain that you would also be frustrated. So beyond my political frustration is my challenge as a director not having a third of my staff available to work.

The emergency staff meeting brings with it an incredible hope and want to move forward. I feel that I am in my community, one made up of Christian, Muslim and Jews that want to live in Peace, sorry Etgar Keret, I refuse to live in compromise.

July 26th, 2014– On my way to the non-violent anti war protest, I was verbally attacked on the bus by 2 Israeli men that cursed my very existence and wished that a rocket fall on me and the entire protest. They also felt that they have more “claim” to Israel then me, since they were combat soldiers. I too was a combat soldier I told them, and this quieted them for at least a minute. Given me just enough time to share with them one of the pillars of democracy, freedom of speech which they can’t take away.

I was petrified the entire demonstration, scared from the right wing demonstrators. I wanted to take one of their Israeli flags and bring it to the left wing demonstration, this is my flag. Everything that I do is what I think is best for Israel. We, the Israelis clearly have a lot more internal work to do. I do not want to become one of the lefties that hate Israel, that hate religion, that are apologetic. I love my Judaism, my nationality and I am proud to be an active Israeli citizen.

And I found another article by Etgar Keret: Israel’s Other War

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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).