From These Ashes

I was floored by the realization that what these kids have been through is comparable to the Nazis in Germany: the selection and ethnic cleansing, the concentration camps and all that went with that. It was (and is) shocking to think that the Yazidis can relate to this, on so many levels, and that Corrie’s experience will most likely resonate with them in ways we can’t even being to imagine

Several weeks ago I met with a woman who lives and works in northern Iraq/Kurdistan with ISIS survivors (Yazidi and Muslim), most of them former slaves (and mostly children). Dina* had heard about the Curriculum and wanted to know if it was something she could take back to Kurdistan with her, to use in her restorative therapy center. Sitting there with her, listening to her tell story after story about these communities and what they have been through in recent years, was both devastating and intensely hopeful – a tension I wasn’t sure how to navigate emotionally. I just listened in silence, stunned by the extent of the suffering these children have been through, awed by the work that she and her staff are doing to help these kids heal and give them hope for a better future, and completely humbled by her desire to use the Curriculum to that end. Continue reading “From These Ashes”

Broken

We cannot undo our brokenness, but we can, perhaps, remake it into something beautiful

In Japan there is an ancient art form called kintsugi in which broken objects, rather than being thrown out, are reconstructed with liquid gold – the precious metal holding the broken pieces together like glue. Kintsugi is based on the belief that “fractures don’t represent the end of the object’s life, but an essential moment in its history” (“Kintsugi: the Art of Embracing Damage”). The purpose of kintsugi is to reveal how mended objects can be more beautiful than their original, pristine forms. Kintsugi bears witness to an often-neglected truth: that brokenness can be a powerful medium for transformation. It’s simply a question of how the pieces are put back together. Continue reading “Broken”

Miracle Mother

“Mum Shirl’s enormous compassion and her endless generosity towards all people in need were without equal . . . She will never be forgotten for her tireless work for justice for the Aboriginal people”

August 9th marks International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. According to the United Nations,

Indigenous peoples are inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment. They have retained social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live . . . Indigenous peoples have sought recognition of their identities, way of life and their right to traditional lands, territories and natural resources for years, yet throughout history, their rights have always been violated. Indigenous peoples today are arguably among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of people in the world.

One of my favorite units to write for the Curriculum was the one on Australia, probably because I was least familiar with that country’s history and was absolutely fascinated by all that I learned. Though there are many inspiring Australians I could have written on, I chose to focus on the Aboriginal community’s history as well as its long quest for dignity and equality in modern-day Australia. The peace heroes featured in that unit are amazing individuals who found ways to make a change for good in that tangled and often tragic story. On this day, which honors the world’s Indigenous people, it is my privilege and honor to share an abridged version of one of these heroes’ biographies – an Aboriginal woman whose life of limitless compassion has left its indelible mark on Australian history. Continue reading “Miracle Mother”

A Word From South Africa

“South Africa is such a special country that still has a lot of pain and hurt to work through. Many of my students spoke about things that they had not discussed openly with their peers before. It was a beautiful process, watching them respect the opinions that differed from theirs”

Dear Elie: This curriculum is important because in our society, today, people are so broken and so hurt, that they forget how to forgive and they forget about peace. This curriculum teaches us how to find the broken links and repair them . . . I found my hurt – and conquered it!

– 7th grade student, South Africa

One of the most encouraging aspects of this pilot year has been receiving feedback from teachers and students about the Curriculum. The school in South Africa has just completed its first term using Peace Heroes, and the report I received from Chay, the 7th grade teacher, was so heartening, I asked her if I could share it – word for word – on my blog. At this particular school, Chay had planned to teach four heroes during the first term, beginning with Desmond Tutu – one of South Africa’s most prominent and well-known peace heroes. However, learning about their own history through the lens of peace was such a monumental experience, that the two 7th grade classes never got beyond their first hero. Instead, they took an entire semester to delve more deeply into Tutu’s life, allowing it to impact their own lives in unforeseen ways. Here is Chay’s summary of the experience: Continue reading “A Word From South Africa”

The Heart of the Matter

In learning about the peace heroes, students learn about what it means to be human, first. Yes, they learn history in the process; they learn some geography; they learn about key issues affecting people around the world. But the primary learning happens on a different level altogether. And that’s what makes all the difference

“History holds the potential, only partly realized, of humanizing us in ways offered by few other areas in the school curriculum” [1]

Someone recently asked me some very poignant questions about the way in which the Curriculum engages with today’s accepted historical method of inquiry. The conversation, though fascinating and insightful, made me realize how important it is to set down expectations about what the Curriculum is – and what it isn’t. The purpose of the Curriculum is not historical inquiry. Rather, the Curriculum aims to develop students’ ability to take historical and current narratives and find ways to connect these to their own life-circumstances in a way that inspires them to step out and take responsibility for the realities around them. In other words, it’s not about gathering and analyzing information, but about transformation – on a personal, communal, and even global level. More important than the historical details are the values that will hopefully be remembered and applied. Continue reading “The Heart of the Matter”

Seeing Otherwise

Let us not underestimate the transformative power of right seeing. While we do not have the power to take from people their intrinsic worth, we do have the capacity to make it visible

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu tells how, when he was a child of nine, he was completely taken aback when he watched a white priest, Father Trevor Huddleston, tip his hat at Tutu’s mother, who was a domestic worker in a hospital for the blind. Tutu could hardly wrap his mind around the gesture – in 1940s South Africa, for a white man to show a black woman such a sign of respect was a thing rarely seen. In a single act, Father Huddleston acknowledged that this woman was valuable – that there was a loveliness in her that most white South Africans could not see. And it blew little Desmond away.


People sometimes ask what has been my guiding principle as I write the Curriculum, and I always answer with just two words: Human dignity. While the answer might sound straightforward (and perhaps a little idealistic), it is actually a surprisingly hard principle to follow.

Continue reading “Seeing Otherwise”

The Choices We Make

It is often said that the parallel worlds of victimization that these two people live in makes it virtually impossible for each side to comprehend, let alone accept, the other’s pain. But when attempts to cross over that divide do happen, they are deeply moving – as is illustrated in Dalia’s life-story, or in the community that is being created at Hagar

This week I had the opportunity to visit a bi-lingual (Hebrew and Arabic) elementary school in Beer Sheva (approximately an hour and a half south of Jerusalem) on account of the school’s interest in the Peace Heroes Curriculum. The school, called Hagar, is a truly amazing enterprise – I was completely blown away by how they have managed to create an environment of equality, mutual respect, and shared living for all of their 250 Jewish and Arab students. The school was started ten years ago by Jewish and Arab parents who were unhappy with the way the education system separates the two peoples. So they decided to start their own mixed school, beginning with kindergarten and gradually increasing their capacity so that today they have classes all the way to 6th grade. The school is completely bi-lingual and each class is co-taught by two teachers, one who speaks Hebrew and once who speaks Arabic. There is a strong emphasis on identity at the school, and students are encouraged to learn about their own heritage and culture as well as that of their peers. As part of this journey toward a deeper understanding of self and others, the school celebrates all the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian holidays. The environment they have created at Hagar is a remarkable manifestation of what shared life between Jews and Arabs in Israel can look like.

Continue reading “The Choices We Make”

Girl Against All Odds

Malala knew she was putting her life at risk, but being denied her basic human right to education was not something she was willing to accept quietly, without a fight. Silence was what the Taliban wanted of her. Silence was what she refused to give them

Several weeks ago I had the honor of visiting one of our Israeli pilot schools, where the 8th graders were giving presentations on the first peace hero they had studied. The teachers were quick to point out that this was a special event (“8th graders don’t do presentations!”), and the school even opened up its auditorium for the occasion. In total, six groups presented on Malala Yousafzai, each of them focusing on a different aspect of her life and work. Two of the teams did presentations that looked at Malala and children’s rights (the right to education) and Malala and women’s rights, and the various issues that arise from a violation of these rights and freedoms. It was fascinating watching Israeli students talk about their Muslim counterpart (Malala was a student just like them). The discussion that followed the presentations was also quite remarkable, as the teacher deliberately guided the students into an examination of these issues as they are manifested here in Israel. For many of the students, it was an exercise in awareness – suddenly they were able to transfer what they had learned about Malala into their own personal context, which, in turn, raised some very poignant questions and led to a very passionate/heated debate. I was pleased to see how interacting with this peace hero was making the students grapple with their own reality. That, I thought, is exactly the point of the Curriculum.

Inspired by this school visit and in honor of International Women’s Day, I thought I’d share an abridged version of my write-up on Malala from the Peace Heroes Curriculum. May her life story inspire each and every one of us to look at our own contexts with new awareness of and sensitivity for the rights and freedoms of those within our sphere of influence.

Continue reading “Girl Against All Odds”

Sites of Encounter

For the Jewish and Arab children at Sataf, the joint experience was accidental. But I couldn’t help but wonder: what if this convergence of lives extended beyond the day’s hike down to the springs – what if they were given the opportunity to carry on through shared learning, through intentional encounters?

There is a beautiful hill on the outskirts of Jerusalem, a nature reserve that is well known and very popular among those who enjoy the outdoors. It is especially stunning in the springtime, when the almond trees, anemones, and cyclamen – which grow there in abundance – begin to bloom and blossom, dappling the landscape with a burst of bright colors, tantalizing the senses with scents of every kind. I’ve walked there often, and have, on many occasions, felt that here is a little piece of paradise – an oasis of beauty, peace, and tranquility in the midst of what can only be described as a chronically frenetic, tense, and potentially explosive city.

But Sataf is not as pristine as it might seem. Its history is as sad and tangled as any landscape in this country, with only the remnants of long-abandoned buildings left to tell stories from a long forgotten past. Scattered over the hill, mostly on the eastern and southern slopes, are the skeletal remains of what was once a thriving Arab village – agricultural in nature, as attested to by the many man-made terraces that scale the hillsides. Like so many, this village was abandoned in 1948, in the wake of the creation of the State of Israel. But the crumbling structures (built during the Ottoman era) are joined by a good number of more modern looking buildings – or shacks, rather – square, thin-walled, with asbestos cement ceilings (that have long-since caved in), broken down metal gates, crumbling asphalt roads – the remains of an old Israeli army base, also abandoned many years ago. These deserted spaces, now very much part of a much more natural and overgrown landscape, are silent reminders that even behind all the natural beauty there are hidden secrets, a jumble of histories, the unknown joys and sorrows of a multitude of people who, at some point or other, lived in this place and made it their own. Continue reading “Sites of Encounter”

The Children’s March

One little boy said to his father: “Daddy, I don’t want to disobey you, but I have made my pledge. If you try to keep me home, I will sneak off. If you think I deserve to be punished for that, I’ll just have to take the punishment. I’m not doing this only because I want to be free. I’m also doing it because I want freedom for you and Mama, and I want it to come before you die”

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, which was celebrated on January 16, I am posting an excerpt from the Peace Heroes Curriculum that tells the story of the Children’s March, which was one of the more unusual campaigns led by Dr. King in his fight for justice and freedom for all.


In the early 1960s, Birmingham, Alabama was known as the most segregated city in the South. Even though Federal Law had rendered Jim Crow illegal, Birmingham found ways to continue practicing segregation. But when civil rights activists challenged the city’s segregation laws, violence against blacks became a matter of course. Between 1957 and 1963, 18 bombs were set off against black targets, earning the city the nickname of “Bombingham.” And though some of the bombs were lethal, no one was ever arrested in connection with them, or for any of the other acts of violence committed against black people during those years.

As the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum across the South, the black community in Birmingham decided that it, too, had had enough; the people were simply “tired of the assaults on their dignity and their freedom, and ready to demand justice” (Hunter-Gault). Continue reading “The Children’s March”