Interview with Kids4Peace

On Thursday evening January 14th towards the end of our pilgrimage, we gathered in the downstairs meeting room at our hotel, Knights Palace. We met with 3 staff from Kids4Peace:  Rev. Josh Thomas, Executive Director, based in Washington DC; Reeham  Subhi, a 40 year-old Muslim who serves as Program Coordinator and Yakir Englander, Visiting Scholar, Divinity School, Harvard University and Program Director for Kids4Peace International  who grow up as a Hasidic Jew.  I was aware of their program as we at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral hosted some of the kids from last summer’s program. I have met a number of times with Jordan Goldwarg, Northwest Regional Director to learn more about the program. The Kids4Peace program’s aim is to bring together youth ages 11-18 years of age from the three Abrahamic faiths to get to know each other. They have run full-year programs including a summer camp experience at Mount Vernon, Washington for the past two summers (with both kids from  the USA and the Holy Land).  Throughout the year, in both the United States and Jerusalem, kids meet to continue relationship building and doing a range of activities that deal with the conflict.    Some of their statements include: “We are working for change – we talk with one another; we organize for action.”

I have chosen to speak about Yakir and his message to us. Yakir grew up as a Hasidic Jew.  He speaks passionately; he answers the question of why is this conflict so important to so many people.  He says that the conflict is due to its religious aspects.  His own history is that his parents were impacted by the Holocaust; his father spent 5 years running from the Nazis and his mother’s parents lived within steps of Auschwitz.  He says that the Jewish belief in humanity has been compromised; they believe Hitler will come again.  They live and believe that they are a minority and have experienced trauma and the trauma lives on.  They have learned to live and take risks. Yakir says, “Trauma is in our DNA”.  However, he says we can choose to live differently.

At age 22, as he was leaving the Hasidic community, he was drafted to serve in the Israel Defense Force, where he witnessed the suicide bombings.  It was 2000-2002. His job was to identify the body parts. Sometimes he could not even distinguish who belonged to whom, who was Palestinian and who was Israeli.  Burial got mixed up. At that point, Yakir felt called to do something differently rather than continue the hate: he decided to seek to heal.

He feels it is very important to hear the stories of the kids and that is part of the program. Yakir mentioned that an intern from Northwestern University, Natalie Bergner, is developing a program for young adults – a continuation for the kids as they grow up – not just turn them loose to have to deal with the continuing conflict.  Focus is moving from interfaith dialogue to Action. Ten Palestinian and 10 Jewish young adults representing the three faiths and between the ages of 18-25 years of age meet together.  The plan is for them to deal with the conflict by focusing on three elements: 1) Jerusalem, 2) the conflict and 3) their religious traditions. They examine the violent elements of their traditions and its influence on their life in Jerusalem, and learning and reading texts from the three holy books and discussing the following topics: gender, memory, holiness, and the coming future. The uniqueness of the program is that all of this work will be done in the public sphere, in the streets of Jerusalem. By means of this program, the group hopes to demand back the public sphere of Jerusalem as a place where people can live and be together: Palestinians and Israelis and demand to admit the violence that exists and work to end it.

We asked Yakir the question, “What can we do to help when we return to our homes in Seattle?”

  1. He said “America needs to do less harm.” Funding the war machine at 3.1 trillion dollars per year will not and has not led to peace; there is no incentive for peace by those in power if funds to support the military keep flowing.  By continuing to fund this war machine, we continue to create more traumas.”  We must remember that the reason why America agreed to military support for Israel was in order that the leaders of Israel can focus on doing peace. He believes that in order to continue it, the conditions must be stricter.
  1. He said that that the internationals (volunteers, staff) do something that they, the people living there, cannot do for themselves, that is to hold their pain, to help them breathe. We are not part of the daily experience of trauma, so that we can be of help to listen to their pain and to hold them.
  1. Third, we need to create dialogue with Muslims in America and to forge healthy positive relationships with Muslims. We need to get to know them, learn what are their experiences here in the United States, how are they being profiled, and how to help them integrate into our society. Only by having deep relationships inside America among Jews, Muslims and Christians, can America then demand Israelis to do the same.
  1. Get involved and do something with local organizations!

This coming summer, Kids4Peace will be running two programs in Seattle in August .

  • From August 8-12, we will be hosting a new interfaith day camp for local Muslim, Christian, and Jewish youth. This will be taking place on the St. Mark’s campus.
  • From August 4-9, we will be hosting a small group of high school youth from Jerusalem who will be doing homestays in Seattle. They will be visiting a number of congregations and civic groups to talk about their work in Kids4Peace. Stayed tuned and thank you! For more details, check out the website:   k4p.org

Written by Mary Segall, parishioner of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Seattle, WA, chair of Kairos Puget Sound Coalition, and member of Pilgrimage group with Dean Steve Thomason and Rev. Hunt Priest, and FOSNA Witness trip January 2016.

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