Coexistence in Chicago

hop_20070726_0927.jpgToday marks the end of an extraordinary two weeks of coexistence, conflict resolution and peacemaking. I’m referring to Hands of Peace – a Chicago-based organization that brings Jewish-Israeli, Palestinian-Israeli, and West Bank Palestinian High School age youngsters together to engage in coexistence work with one another and with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Americans.

The program is intensive and substantive, in many ways inspired by the groundbreaking coexistence organization Seeds of Peace. What makes Hands of Peace particularly unique is the fact that it is community-based: participants live in host family homes and experience first-hand our local Chicago Jewish/Christian/Muslim communities. Last Friday night, for instance, JRC welcomed HOP participants to our Shabbat service (which they attended immediately after attending a Muslim Sabbath service at a local mosque).

The centerpiece of the HOP program are the “coexistence sessions” – intensive dialogues with trained conflict resolution faciliators. I have nothing but the utmost admiration for the staff of HOP, who engage and challenge these young people to dig deep into their own identities, their own fears, and find the wherewithal to access their common humanity. It is clear to me that making peace is not a lofty or ephemeral abstract concept: at its core it is difficult and often exhausting work. But clearly it is the most sacred work there is. At HOP’s closing celebration last night, I sat in awe as young Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Middle East and America stood together and proudly spoke of what they had accomplished together.

I have the honor of serving on the board of Hands of Peace, and encourage you to add them to your list of organizations eminently worthy of your support. In the midst of the seemingly intractable politics of this conflict, it is critical to know that there are institutions like HOP that are helping to create future peacemakers one youth at a time.

The Middle East participants are heading home today and tomorrow – and I will be hot on their heels! I’m off to Israel this Wednesday with 30 other members of JRC – and a portion of our itinerary will be devoted to ongoing coexistence efforts there. Looking forward to sharing my thoughts, experiences and pix with you.

Shalom, Salaam, Peace…

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