Kids 4 Peace guests tell stories of hope
MIDDLEBURY— “There’s a war going on. A war that has caused the colors of life to leave the bodies of those whose names you ascribe to fear. I will never forget how much death loves these people.”
Lena Ginawi, a slam poet and junior at South Burlington High School, stood in front of about 20 Middlebury residents last Friday in an apartment in the Marble Works Condos and recited those words.
Ginawi and her friend Kiran Waqar are two of the four members of a slam poetry group called Muslim Girls Making Change. Ginawi opened the evening — a fundraiser for an organization called Kids 4 Peace — with a poem she wrote about the Syrian refugee crisis.
Her poem also addressed the mission of Kids 4 Peace, a registered nonprofit that seeks to bring together children, parents, educators and clergy in the United States, Israel and Palestine to open dialogue and inspire action. In Israel, where the program perhaps sees the most profound success, directors work to mitigate deep-seated conflict and develop peaceful change.
Kids 4 Peace was launched in 2001 by Huntington resident Henry Carse, who lived in Jerusalem at the time. It was during the Second Intifada, a wave of violence that deeply affected children.
“This was a particularly worrying and heartbreaking wave of violence because so many children were being hurt, basically as collateral damage in bus bombings, knifings, attacks of various kinds which were all over the city,” Carse said at Friday’s gathering.
Carse was affiliated with the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East, with which Kids 4 Peace still has ties. The church was a safe place where both sides could gather and engage in peaceful discussion.
“I’ve always been very interested in how people can reach out to each other,” he said, “and that’s where it began.”
Friday’s fundraiser was hosted by Kids 4 Peace President Diane Nancekivell, who organized the event to educate and update potential contributors about the organization’s most current developments. Special guest Yakir Englander, former director of Jerusalem’s Kids 4 Peace program, attended to give his last talk after visiting seven states in eight days.
Englander grew up as a Jew in a Hasidic Jewish community, but left at the age of 22 and has since earned his PhD in Gender Studies and Religion from the University of Jerusalem. He has done additional work at Northwestern University in Chicago and at Harvard’s Divinity School.
Now, Englander is working to grow Kids 4 Peace from a dialogue-based program into a program that brings action to the streets.
“Dialogue is not enough,” he told the audience on Friday. “It’s very hard to say that, because I really want people to have dialogue. I deeply believe in it. But there are two conditions for dialogue: One is that it’s an honest, painful dialogue. Second is that it doesn’t end with dialogue. It must go back to the street.”
One of Englander’s most profound challenges is to attempt to heal trauma that continues to occur. In Jerusalem, he said, many people have lost hope. His job is to bring it back — but carefully — while avoiding misleading messages that things will change radically.
While the name “Kids 4 Peace” may sound cute, its programs around the United States, and particularly the one in Jerusalem, address hard questions about how to avoid repeating mistakes and conflicts created by older generations. Too often, Englander notes, programs make hopeful promises to kids without being completely truthful.
“What kind of hope can we give them, and how can we do it seriously?” Englander said. “If, when they grow, they see no change, they become even more upset. They ask, ‘Why did you lie to me? Why did you use my youth in order to sell me a story that you want to believe in when there is no hope?’”
So far, Englander said he has seen success. To close Friday night’s event, he told a story about an American rabbi, doubtful about the program’s success, who visited Jerusalem to witness Israeli and Palestinian kids interacting peacefully. Englander introduced the rabbi to two young Palestinian men and one young woman, who took the obviously Orthodox-looking rabbi into the Muslim quarter.
“Let’s be honest — it’s not the safest place to be today in Jerusalem for sure when you don’t have soldiers with M16s next to you,” Englander said. “Coming down from the Muslim quarter, three Palestinians were waiting to beat him — because he’s an Orthodox Jew inside the Muslim quarter, with no soldiers next to him. I’m thinking, do I use my martial arts? Do I call the police?
“I didn’t even have time to think,” he continued. “When they come to the rabbi, (the young woman) jumps in a not-violent action, and she stood there between the rabbi and them, and they stop. They didn’t do anything.”
Englander said the rabbi, walking safely away, began to cry.
“All my life,” he said, “I’ve been raising millions of dollars by Jews and Christians to make Israel strong in military. The only person who saved me, during the only time I have ever been in danger, was a Palestinian woman. Maybe I don’t send my money to the right place.”
Audience members were struck by Englander’s accounts. Cornwall resident Jessica Lipnack approached him after his talk, thanking him for taking steps toward change.
“I’m going to find out much more,” she said. “I’ve known about Kids 4 Peace for a long time but I had no idea, the depth of what you’re talking about. I really appreciate what you’re doing, as another Jew who wants to see things change. This was very uplifting.”