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”

One Year On

What happened during the year in this regard is significant: the students came to understand that anyone can be a peace hero, even (and especially) those within their immediate sphere of influence. They learned about famous people “out there,” but in the process they grasped the most important message embedded in these people’s stories – that “peace begins with me”

When we started the pilot program a year ago, we asked some of the schools to perform pre- and post-assessments on students so we could document the way in which their perceptions about peace and peace heroes changed throughout the year. The questions we suggested were simple ones, like what is peace and how does the word peace make you feel; is peace weak or strong; who is a hero, and so forth. Once the pre-assessments were completed, I set them aside until the end of the school year, when we would have the opportunity to compare them to the post-assessments, which would consist of the exact same questions as those given at the beginning of the year.

Needless to say, I was curious to see what this exercise might reveal, but it wasn’t until the end of the school year that I finally had the opportunity to make the comparison.  Continue reading “One Year On”

The Power of Story

There is something very powerful in the idea that someone else’s experience can become our own simply by reading about it

“It has long been averred that reading stories “enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined.” (Murphy Paul)

On a recent trip to Kenya I had the great privilege of meeting the directors of a school in Burundi that (I’m excited to report) will be joining our pilot program next year. The school is a unique mix of Hutu and Tutsi students – something truly amazing given the violent and terrible history between these two communities. As we sat together hashing out the details for implementing the Curriculum in their school, the directors asked me what kind of teacher they should hire to teach the peace heroes, and without a moment’s hesitation, I said: “someone who knows how to tell stories!” Of course, there are many other qualifications and characteristics a teacher needs in order to implement the Curriculum well; but since the material revolves around people’s life-stories, the ability to tell stories should, in my opinion, be chief among them. And here’s why. Continue reading “The Power of Story”

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”

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”

Radical Welcome

Love – in its essence – is boundless. It has no borders; no stop signs; no inherent law that says “thus far and no further.” On the contrary: the nature of love is to grow, not diminish. Peace heroes are those who understand the worth and value of all life, and who are propelled to action by the desire to restore dignity to a broken world

In March 2016, Muslim extremists carried out a terrible attack in Brussels, Belgium, killing 32 innocent people and injuring more than 300. Two days later, on Holy Thursday, while Europe was still reeling from the bombing and anti-immigrant/Muslim sentiments were on the rise, Pope Francis washed the feet of twelve asylum seekers, including Muslims from Syria and Pakistan. “Today, at this time,” said the Pope, “let us all make a gesture of brotherhood, and let us all say: ‘We are different, we are different, we have different cultures and religions, but we are brothers and we want to live in peace.’” It was a powerful expression of what can only be described as radical welcome.

Continue reading “Radical Welcome”