by Lauren Fialkow, K4P Intern
The halls of the beautiful Brigham Young University campus, situated overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, were bustling with families of local Christians, Muslims, and Jews. The hundreds of people in attendance came together to honor the 15 years that Kids4Peace has been creating its community. Each person present has been touched by the work of Kids4Peace, and watching these kids naturally playing together and parents casually laughing together demonstrated to me the power of the work being done by this community.
Despite the lively conversations, exciting capoeira performances, and tubs of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream consumed, the event did not ignore the stress and confusion that some of the community might have been feeling. A typically joyous time of year surrounding Christmas, The Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, and Hanukkah, this year’s annual event came just a week after the President of the United States announced the US’s acknowledgement of Jerusalem and the capital of Israel. At a time when many Palestinians and Israelis are processing the news and deciding how to react, many questioned why Kids4Peace would come together to celebrate at such a rough time.
In the words of Meredith Rothbart, the Jerusalem Kids4Peace Co-Director who spoke that night, “Our work does not stop here. Not now. …It is not enough just to be together. We have to take action to influence the situation around us….It is not upon us to complete the task, or to solve all of the political turmoils of our leaders. But we cannot stop trying.”
The number of families in attendance was proof of the strength, mission, and unstoppable spirit of this community. When teens and parents got on stage to speak about what they’ve gained from Kids4Peace, the hope for a brighter tomorrow became very tangible.
Many ask, what would peace look like, is it even possible? The firsthand stories shared by students Hussam, Loure, and Nadav demonstrated an authentic relationship between friends where different backgrounds, perspectives, and opinions can’t break the trust and support they have for one another. They spoke of getting into a heated argument regarding Jerusalem politics while having a picnic on the grass after visiting Congress in Washington DC. They had expressed their beliefs strongly and never came to consensus, but afterwards they went “right back to being the friends that they are.” Building a world where people come together to build relationships that look to understand the ‘other’ may seem like daunting task, but our 16-year-olds in Jerusalem are showingus that it IS possible, what it looks like, and how to do it.
I found the energy and friendships of these teens so inspiring, but I was equally blown away by the parents and their stories. We heard from two fathers, a Muslim Palestinian, Maher, and an orthodox Jewish Israeli, Yisrael. We often look to the younger generation to build peace because it’s perceived that the older generations have too many scars from past conflicts and are too set in their ways of being.
Because of this, the genuine sensitivity, respect and care that these fathers had for each other was incredibly moving but also undeniable as they embraced–standing with their arms around each other–and told the story of how they met, initial expectations and what that relationship grew into. Maher spoke of how touched he was by Yisrael’s thoughtfulness when he brought a gift on his first visit to Maher’s neighborhood. You could see in their eyes and by their enthusiasm that they were speaking from the heart, that their perceptions were changed through experiences with Kids4Peace and that they felt gratitude for these new relationships and cultural discoveries.
Kids4Peace has a few catch-phrases and “hashtags” like “Together Peace is Possible” and #KeepHopeAlive. When hundreds of members of a movement for peace come together to celebrate, share stories, and bridge gaps—despite the political volatility of the time—it’s clear that Kids4Peace’s work stands for itself and by just talking to some members it’s easy to see how together peace is indeed possible and how this community is absolutely keeping hope alive.