Hands of Peace young people make a symbolic representation of the goals of the two-week cross-cultural program. Photo by Ashley Bates

Hands of Peace is an interfaith non-profit organization formed in 2002 by the combined efforts of Gretchen Grad of Glenview Community Church, Deanna Jacobson of B’Nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim Synagogue and Nuha Debusseh of the Islamic Cultural Center in Northbrook.

As stated in their website www.hands-of-peace.org: “Our goals is to begin the process of developing leadership skills in young people from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so that one day they will play a positive role in promoting peace and reconciliation between their two peoples. The hope is that these young people through their encounters with one another will come to see the humanity on both sides of the conflict and to realize that long-term cooperation is the only way to resolve the issues that lay at the heart of their shared conflict.”

“Since participating in HOP, I feel like I am more inclined to find out about conflicts in other parts of the world as well.” — Josh Greenberger

This year HOP has grew to 18 Middle Eastern participants (7 Jewish Israelis, 7 Palestinian, 4 Arab Citizens of Israel), 14 American participants from a variety of faith backgrounds and 8 eXtraordinary Leaders (XLs) chosen from last years’ Hands to serve as leaders and role models. The ages of the participants range from 14-17.

The Middle Eastern participants lived with host families. This aspect of the program is unique to Hands of Peace. Each day, they join American teens in daily two-hour structured dialogue sessions led by trained facilitators. There are team-building and conflict-resolution exercises as well as cultural social and recreational activities during this intensive program. In addition, the young people all attend Jewish, Muslim and Christian services hosted by the affiliated congregations.

The Evanston families hosting these young people were Richard and Heidi Katz, Hank and Harriet Conroe, and Gary and Judith Childrey.

When asked how she heard about Hands of Peace, Ms. Conroe explained that she had noticed a Hands of Peace table set up at the JRC (Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation), and then attended a HOP informational program. Before she knew it, Ms. Conroe was accompanying Jim Tatsuda, Operations Committee chair, to observe his presentation to Evanston Township High School students taking Hebrew classes.

From that presentation three ETHS students participated in this summer’s HOP program – Max Antman, Joshua Greenberger and Hannah Weinstein.

These students were more than willing to share their involvement in the two-week program.

ETHS Student
Reflections

Josh Greenberger wrote, “Since participating in HOP, I feel like I am more inclined to find out about conflicts in other parts of the world as well. I realize how much I still have to learn.”

Hannah Weinstein shared that “HOP has made me more knowledgeable about the conflict by allowing me to have more of an insight into the Palestinian side of the conflict. Before HOP, I had no idea about the Palestinian experience at all. I really enjoyed the dialogue sessions – they really let you know each other and bond together as a group.”

Max Antman wrote, “Hands of Peace has been one of the most fulfilling, educational and rewarding experiences of my life. I have gained so much knowledge of the conflict that I did not previously have. … I have made so many friends through this program that I hope I stay in touch with, Palestinians and Israelis alike. HOP has changed my life, and now I have the knowledge and the motivation to go out and make a difference.”

“HOP has made me more knowledgeable about the conflict by allowing me to have more of an insight into the Palestinian side of the conflict. … ” — Hanna Weinstein

Ms. Conroe noted that she is looking forward to visiting ETHS next year to interest more students in the HOP program. Ms. Conroe also planned the Farewell Dinner on Aug. 2 for more than 200 people.

In addition, the Conroes were the host family to 17-year-old Osher Hen, an Israeli from Sderot. Osher was a second-year participant who became an eXtraordinary (called XLs) and who participated in a leadership training program tailored to the needs of the second-year students.

It is interesting to note all participants are part of an ongoing program which continues to engage and support the young people during their summer experiences in HOP. Now the program is over, meetings will continue in both Jerusalem and Chicago to support the integration of new and evolving beliefs. The young people are also encouraged to discuss topics using a listserv to help continue the relationships made during the HOP program.

“I have made so many friends through this program that I hope I stay in touch with, Palestinians and Israelis alike. HOP has changed my life, and now I have the knowledge and the motivation to go out and make a difference.”
— Max Antman

Another Evanston couple, Richard and Heidi Katz, told the Round Table that their neighbors, the Conroes had initially told them about HOP. Mr. Katz also attended an adult education class at the JRC led by Alan Rubin that interested him in finding out more about HOP. They eventually talked to Gail Tatsuda, who interviewed prospective families. The careful screening and interviews beforehand have created a wonderfully integrated experience for them. The Katz’s hosted Wael Omar, a Palestinian Muslim from Ramallah. Wael’s is also a second year in the program and he is an XL as well.

Gary and Judith Childrey hosted Bashir Said, an Arab-Israeli from Haifa. They were very involved in the cultural and social activities for the two-week HOP program.

The Katzes explained that, in their opinion, HOP is very well organized, activities were thoughtfully scheduled, and the host parents were quickly notified of any changes in the activities of the day. Their observations about the group were that the young people were very close and friendly and exhibited sincere concerns for one another.

Even after days packed with dialogue sessions, cultural and social activities, the Hands of Peace teens try to organize their own activities at the end of the day. The host families were a committed and hard working group of people who graciously volunteered their homes, their guidance and their time for the HOP program.

As Julie Kanak, executive director, explained, “… the core of this program is to provide an opportunity for these teens, who are directly affected by the conflict, to share their stories in this rich, intercultural setting connecting them with others who come to understand what their life in the Middle East is really like.”

Farewell Dinner and Program

On Aug. 2 was the Farewell Dinner, hosted by the Islamic Foundation North-Libertyville, Glenview Community Church and the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston.

The dinner, held at the JRC with more than 200 people in attendance, concluding with a program organized by the HOP participants from the Middle East and their American counterparts, these included the 2009 slide show. Afterward, the young people reflected warnly on their experiences by sharing readings and also performing a lively and entertaining program which included dancing, skits, and singing – audience included – all together.

There was a positive atmosphere throughout the evening and this writer was honored to be sharing dinner with a group who share a vision and a mission in promoting peace and reconciliation.

Hands of Peace welcomes involvement. For more information, go to www.hands-of-peace.org. For volunteer opportunities contact Eve at volunteer@hands-of-peace.org.