Seeds of Peace

Last month I have started my journey with Seeds of Peace. As a new staff member in the Jerusalem office, it was essential for me to join the 2016 Seeds of Peace’s summer camp which took place in the forests of Maine. 
During the first week of July, we had our staff orientation. I quickly realized that a fair amount of counselors were returning counselors who knew the drill of peace fairly well. But I was surprised by fellows who never been to the “region” most of the kids were about to arrive from. Somehow, with all my years outside of The land, it conquers 80% of my soul at times, especially the times I go to a peace camp.
I guess I wasn’t expecting the other counselors to be too different from me in this regard.  Not sure what I was expecting exactly. But they ended up being a sweet mixture of special backgrounds and talents. I hope these people will stay in my life forever 🙂 
We were all in the forest for the kids and their extraordinary experience, that, more than anything, made me feel in the right place.
Kids came from Israel/Palestine(West Bank and Gaza), Egypt, Jordan, US and the UK. We welcomed them with the most noise I’ve ever heard or produced with my lungs. Cheerful screams and hugs were flying around when each delegation stepped out their buses.
For some, it was overwhelming, confusing even, others appeared very confident and in control. I was somewhere in the middle. But as a counselor, I just kept smiling for hours.
The Israeli delegation, of two buses, were mostly kids from my area. Hamerkaz. And evenדרום  השרון.  In short, Kfar Saba and the much smaller towns around it. When I was their age, my mind pumped with Jewish solidarity, bible stories and shadows of doubt, that tiny area was my life. Those days seem far away, but they aren’t really. 
I didn’t say this out loud because the counselors were supposed to keep neutral as if we came to this world in our olive green t-shirts and peaceful sing-song minds. Kids are smart though and I’m really bad at being mysterious so it didn’t take them too long to figure me out.

All the photos here besides the ones with a flower beneath them are with credit to Bobbie’s Pictures from SoP Intl Camp
As the first couple of days rolled in, I found myself comforting and joking with kids from places I used to associate only with wars. I wasn’t at all surprised by our similar concerns and happy moments. I was a homesick kid too. Today, I am just a few years older.

Sport and art activities alongside daily dialogues of discussing the conflict came one after another. I was making art with people who weren’t sure what to do or never used clay before, they ended up creating marvelous things.

When I was really happy about someone’s work I became a bit childish or overly joyful. It happened at meals too, when we shared pudding. It happened everywhere if I wasn’t too tired.

I was yelling Yallah and Khalas on everybody here and there because it was incredibly more effective than English. But English was everywhere and people stuck to it more than I was expecting, even those who struggled with it.
After hard dialogue sessions, however, people run back into the shells of their native tongues. Frustrating and aching in Arabic or Hebrew, crying and seizing each other in small groups.
We as counselors were there to listen and bring back the English, alongside with trust. Trust is so fragile to maintain. It wasn’t easy and sometimes I felt bare and useless in the face of someone’s hurt or anger.

Who am I to convince them to “trust the process”?

Back when I was a teenager, I felt like my “side” was lying to me, even using me. But I didn’t know much about the “other side”. Later on, I was angry with the “liberals” for twisting Jewish history. Eventually, I learned that being a person means more than taking sides, seeing the world in black and white or being angry. I learned that each person, everywhere, and on each “side”, has a story.
We cannot ignore people’s stories because they will catch up to us in the end. Because in Israel/Palestine we are all connected and taking sides gets us farther away from peace.

Our hatred and fears, our conflicts, are not bound to last forever, but they cannot solve themselves.

The process is long.

Historical facts, myths, and world views aside, being so far away from home in an environment that challenges your basic beliefs and constantly pushing you out of your comfort zone, is hard at any age. Being there in the forest with those brave kids, I cherished them.

Soon, the spirit of togetherness dominated the camp and every person had a meaningful place in our young community.

It was beautiful, yet filled me with sadness.

How far away is this place from home? Sometimes it felt so far, too far. How will these kids face home? Home is cruel, home is anguish.  But home is also home.


Overall, I have had a special month in a special place surrounded by dear people. It is only the beginning for each one of us and I look forward to our next meeting in the holy land. 
I am hopeful, I am inspired. 

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