A Summer of Growth: Kids4Peace Jerusalem

I would like to start off by saying thank you. Thank you for giving me the funding I needed in order to make this summer a possibility. I would have never been able to work halfway around the world if it were not for the WOW grant, and I am forever grateful that Brandeis offers its students opportunities like this to help enable valuable work experiences like the one I had.

This summer was a complicated, but it was a summer of growth. As I mentioned in my last post, working within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a fulltime job… and by that, I mean twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. As the intern for Kids4Peace in Jerusalem, I learned an incredible amount about the conflict, religion, how to work with people who come from different backgrounds, and what I want in the workplace as a professional.

Before I started working at Kids4Peace this summer, I hoped to bring what I learned about integration in Israel and Palestine back to America. As an education major, I feel that it is within the education system’s reach to narrow the achievement gap by integrating the public school system. By no means did I want to create a career out of working within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That was mainly because I thought that it would be pretty depressing work. However, after this summer, I am beginning to be more open to working for a peace building organization between Israelis and Palestinians. At Brandeis, I am the coordinator of the Brandeis-Al Quds Student Dialogue Initiative and the vice president of J Street U. I feel very passionately about bringing peace to Israel and Palestine and seeing the Jewish values I was raised with reflected in the Jewish state. It did not occur to me that a career in the peace building was a possibility until I started working within it. I always felt that it is a job that is too unstable for me, but now I cannot imagine myself doing any other work than in this field. When I was not at the Kids4Peace office, I spent my free time organizing steps toward reestablishing the Brandeis-Al Quds student dialogue initiative and in meetings in Jerusalem and the West Bank with J Street U. I completely immersed myself in the conflict because as a Jew, I feel it is my role to do everything in my power to make the Jewish state the best it can be, allowing Palestinians equal and human rights, and ending the occupation. This summer, I truly lived my work. How can I not continue something I am so passionate about?

And then I go back to where I started: this work is too depressing to make it my career. By the end of the summer, I was excited to go home so I could escape the stress and tension in Jerusalem’s mixed city. Admitting that makes me feel selfish because I know that Israelis and Palestinians have no choice: this is their reality. So, I am keeping my options open. The past two summers, I worked with Israelis and Palestinians. The test will be trying out a different kind of career next summer to be able to tell if peace building really is my calling, or if another career path is more fulfilling.

I would encourage anyone interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, non-profits, or NGOs to apply to intern for Kids4Peace. The best part about working there was the community. Kids4Peace is a family. All my colleagues this summer knew everything about each other’s families and personal lives, and they were always so supportive of one another both in and out of the workplace. Experiencing that these past couple months helped me realize how important a community within my work is when I am a professional. Working for an NGO/non-profit helped me realize how much change a small group of people can make. It really opened my eyes and excites me about the possibility of working for an NGO or non-profit in the future. The main piece of advice I would give someone working in activism, conflict, or peace building, is to take care of yourself. It is so easy to get wrapped up in a mix between our work and our own personal activism (because a peace builder practices their values). This summer, I got very overwhelmed because of the things I saw on my time off, including IDF soldiers shooting rubber bullets at Palestinians and Palestinians throwing burning furniture at IDF soldiers at Qalandiya checkpoint. I learned that it was important to give myself a break so I could be productive as both a Kids4Peace employee and an activist working in my own self-interest.

Before this summer, I had never had concrete dialogue with a Palestinian peer. While I have worked with Palestinian children in the past, working alongside Palestinian adults is an entirely different story. I had this opportunity at Kids4Peace and through the Brandeis-Al Quds Student Dialogue Initiative. After befriending Palestinians, I felt a sense of trust for the “other” that I had never thought I would feel. This newfound trust allowed my to visit the West Bank on my own (with just a friend and me) and let the experience take me. Never in a million years could I have imagined doing something like this on my own. I am proud of my ability to break down the barriers between me, a Jew, and “them.” Palestinians. This summer, I truly lived the values the Kids4Peace practices, and that is what I am most proud of.

-Leah Susman ’18

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Kids4Peace campers learning about sustainability at Kibbutz Lotan. The back of their shirts say “peace” in English, Hebrew, and Arabic.
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Kids4Peace campers (Muslim, Jewish, and Christian Israelis and Palestinians) exploring spirituality together at the sand dunes in the Arava desert in Israel.

One thought on “A Summer of Growth: Kids4Peace Jerusalem”

  1. I wanted to start of by saying that I think what you did is incredibly inspiring and really interesting to someone like me-who really doesn’t know much about the conflict between Israel-Palestine. I find peace building on the ground to be necessary but also incredibly terrifying-you are putting your life in the middle of a hostile spot where peace doesn’t seem as easy as violence does. In response to you feeling like you need to take a break because of the overwhelming feelings you had, I can most certainly understand. Although I wonder if anything would be as fulfilling after working so hands-on and upfront, and to be able to express so much empathy because of the things you have witnessed on both sides. I think breaking physical and emotional borders by going to the West Bank alone is really inspiring. I’m sure you will have so much to teach and help facilitate conversations here at Brandeis!

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