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Monitor Board of Contributors: A multi-faith peace effort in your own back yard

In May of 2000, I moved to Jerusalem to begin my studies to become a rabbi. It was an exciting time. Relations between Israelis and Palestinians were cordial, and in fact the Palestinians were preparing to declare statehood on Sept. 12, which just happened to be my 40th birthday.

But the mood quickly shifted. Was it Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the Temple Mount? Was it pent-up frustrations or fears of statehood? Maybe it was all of those things; maybe it was none of them. But whatever it was, instead of calm, the region exploded with conflict – bombings, gunfire, explosions and sirens became a part of my everyday life. By the time I moved back to the States in June 2001, my ear had become sufficiently fine-tuned to know the differences among a bomb exploding, a gun discharging, fireworks, and an Israeli Air Force jet breaking the sound barrier.

I moved back to the States. The residents of the area remained and lived and died and were maimed as the violence continued.

A small group of people from the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem dreamed of a way to take children out of the violence to a place of peace and calm – and to give them an opportunity to get to know similarly aged children from “the other side.” Their dream became a reality called Kids4Peace, which began operating in 2003. Kids4Peace is a camp, which now has chapters in North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Boston and Vermont.

Each summer, Kids4Peace brings together 12 youth from Israel/Palestine and 12 youth from the state-side community. Each group of 12 is made up of four Christian, four Muslim and four Jewish youth, two boys and two girls from each faith, around the age of 11 or 12. The 24 young people spend 10 days together doing typical camp activities, along with learning about each other’s faiths. They visit a church, a mosque and a synagogue. They talk. They laugh. They question. They break stereotypes. And most important, the youth from Israel/Palestine return home determined to help Israelis and Palestinians find a way to live together in peace.

In both Israel/Palestine and the United States participants connect with each other before they come together to go to camp, and remain connected after the summer ends. At the 10th reunion celebration of Kids4Peace held in Jerusalem last year, nearly 400 people showed up. Young people who themselves were campers return as teen leaders and then later as adult chaperones, as each group of four attends the program with extensive support to help them navigate issues relating to religion, culture, language and more.

Last month ago seven people of faith – Jewish, Christian and Muslim – met to discuss the possibility of bringing a chapter of Kids4Peace to New Hampshire.

We met with some of the board members of the Vermont group to explore the possibility of working together to create a camp in New Hampshire for the summer of 2014, as the Vermont program will not bring youth to the program this year or next, but rather, will serve as an adult leadership training facility for Kids4Peace.

The initial group of seven, now close to 12, needs to expand greatly to make this dream a reality. We are looking for people who want to learn more. We are especially looking for Muslim members of the community to join us. We have reached out, invited and have had interest expressed by members of the Muslim community, but no Muslims from New Hampshire have attended any of our prior meetings. Please, we need you.

Ultimately, if we are able to move forward, we will need volunteers involved in planning. We will need volunteers to lend their names to the advisory board. We will need volunteers to help with fundraising. We will need volunteers to become teachers and guides and coaches along the way. We will need volunteers to help get the word around. The opportunities are endless for anyone with skills or time or both. And as a team, we can help bring peace and understanding to our world.

Please join us for our first statewide planning meeting, this afternoon from 4:30 to 6 at Temple Beth Jacob, 67 Broadway, Concord. For further information, contact Rev. Dick Dutton, in Wilmot  Flat, or me, in Concord.

Shalom, Salaam, Peace.

(Robin Nafshi is the rabbi at Temple Beth Jacob in Concord.)

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