Messages of Hope

“Do one good thing every day that everyone else is scared to do” — Leymah Gbowee

In honor of International Day of Peace, celebrated on September 21st, it gives me great pleasure to share a couple of short videos from two of our peace heroes, Leymah Gbowee from Liberia, and Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish from Gaza, Palestine. These messages are directed towards all students of the Peace Heroes Curriculum.

For a description of our interaction with Leymah Gbowee during the women’s peace march that took place in October 2016, please read the blog post entitled “When Lives Collide.”

For a description of Dr. Abuelaish’s visit to one of our pilot schools in March 2017, please read the blog post entitled “Brave Is.”

May these messages of peace inspire each and every one of us to continue to play our part – big or small – in bringing hope to people, both near and far.

 

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”

Brave Is

“The refusal to hate is the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of human experience”

I had been told that there is a group of fifth grade girls at the Jerusalem School that gathers most days during the lunch break to do peace-related things: they draw pictures, put on dramas, recite poems, write and perform songs, and have lively discussions about whether or not they themselves are peace heroes – like the ones they are studying. Apparently this little get-together has been going on for some time, and this week I was invited to join them during lunch to see what it is all about. Continue reading “Brave Is”

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”

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”

Where There is Hope

“True change begins with the strong, beautiful, broken individuals in a nation”

These days it is easy to fall prey to a growing sense of despair – I’m almost afraid to read the news, afraid to hear of the latest development, be it locally or abroad, that is guaranteed to increase the rift between peoples, obscuring the inviolability of our shared humanity. While I was feeling increasingly helpless and hopeless, it was the students participating in our pilot program who reminded me that despair is, in itself, a kind of illusion – a willed forgetfulness. For isn’t it fundamentally true that so long as there is even one person working to heal the wounds of his or her fellow human beings, there is still hope – a light shining in the darkness, robbing the darkness of its killing power? Continue reading “Where There is Hope”

Only Love Can Do That

There is a certain irony to the fact that the very first fire to break out when the high winds began was at the Jewish-Arab village of Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam – the only place in Israel where Jews and Palestinians live together in an intentionally shared community

When our 5th/6th grade teacher asked the students to rewrite Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote that “Hate cannot drive out hate – only love can do that,” one of them offered this alternative: “Fire cannot put out fire, only water can do that.”

For the past few days, countries in this region of the Middle East have experienced unusually high winds that have caused an unprecedented outbreak of fires [1]. The strong winds are coming from the east – from the desert – meaning that the air is almost completely devoid of moisture. The combination of wind, dry air, and a parched landscape still waiting for the winter rains to arrive has turned any outbreak of fire into a potential disaster, on both the environmental and humanitarian levels. Forests and houses have simply gone up in flames.

In Israel, negligence and arson have both been cited as the causes behind these fires [2]. In the current political climate, it didn’t take long for politicians to start throwing accusations in the direction of the local Palestinian population as a whole, which, helped along by the media, only added fuel to the emotional fires that have been burning out of control for quite some time. Meanwhile, on the Palestinian side, there were those who did not attempt to hide their delight at Israel’s misfortune, with some even calling on people to deliberately start more fires.  Continue reading “Only Love Can Do That”