Palestinian and American teen leaders during a hike last year in the Chicago area. Credit: Eliza Schloss

Tensions are flaring in Israel and the West Bank. Of the 733 hate groups the Southern Poverty Law Center tracked in 2021, 61 were based on antisemitic ideologies and 50 were based on anti-Muslim ideologies. 

The statistics are discouraging, but there is some good news taking place right in our own backyard.

Hands of Peace, an interfaith non-profit organization, brings together Israeli, Palestinian and American teen leaders to talk and learn more about one another in order resolve conflict and build peace. 

Founded in 2002, the group gathers teens together in Chicago and Glenview as well as in San Diego for a “three-week dialogue-based experience led by professional facilitators from Israel and Palestine.” The program is designed to help the teens learn about one another and “explore peaceful solutions to foster equality, freedom and justice,” according to the program’s website.

But they need host families to volunteer for the 2023 program for July 12-31. Here’s what that means.

What are the responsibilities of a host family?
Safety is the primary responsibility of a host family. Participants need their own bedroom and privacy as well as access to laundry facilities. The home environment should be “warm, open, tolerant, communicative, and respectful.”

What about meals and driving to activities?
Host families provide their guests breakfast every day (19 days) and some dinners when there is not an evening activity. Some Hands of Peace program participants will require special diets, but the program coordinators provide guidance in this regard. Program participants require daily transportation to and from activities, although sometimes carpools can be arranged. On the two or three free days when there are no formal program activities, called Host Family Days, it’s recommended host families take Hands of Peace guests around Chicago to see local sites, try local foods and more. 

Is there an orientation for host families? 
Yes! There are a minimum of two mandatory orientation sessions for host families. A manual is given to each host family and families of participants and hosts are encouraged to meet one another over Zoom before the program officially begins. The program provides a great deal of support before and during the actual program.

Are host families invited to any activities during the three-week program?
Yes! Host families are included in Culture Night, when the program visits religious institutions such as churches, mosques and synagogues, and at the Farewell Celebration.

What are the safety precautions for COVID-19?
All participants, host families, staff, and volunteers are required to be fully vaccinated with a U.S. approved vaccine. Participants flying from Israel or Palestine are required to take a PCR test prior to getting on the airplane. Masking and social distancing requirements will follow current local, state and federal guidelines at the time of the program, according to the program’s website.

How do people apply and who can they talk to if they have additional questions?
Click this link to fill out the application. Chicago-area residents may contact Emily Kenward, Chicago site director, at

Wendi Kromash

Wendi Kromash is curious about everything and will write about anything. She tends to focus on one-on-one interviews with community leaders, recaps and reviews of cultural events, feature stories about...

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