Interfaith program teaches students to foster peace, calm conflict

Published in The Boston Globe August 7

NEWTON — Omri, a 15-year-old Palestinian boy, has traveled thousands of miles from Jerusalem every summer for the past four years to learn more about his Muslim faith, cope with conflict, and become a leader.

As members of the interfaith group Kids4Peace, Omri and other students met with US government leaders and others in Washington, D.C., to get a clearer picture of how to find solutions to the conflicts in the Middle East before returning to the Boston area to reflect on their experience.

“It’s opened up how to communicate with people from other cultures,” he said.

Jewish, Muslim, and Christian students from Boston and the Middle East make up Kids4Peace, a nonprofit that infuses religion with social action.

Peggy Stevens, a founder of Kids4Peace Boston, said the program spans six years. Starting in 6th grade, students head to Camp Merrowvista in New Hampshire each summer to learn how to become peace leaders, she said.

Older students work on service projects and eventually take on roles as counselors to lead and mentor younger students, Stevens said. In all, 22 students participated, she said.

Kids4Peace students gathered at Temple Beth Avodah in Newton Sunday afternoon to discuss what they had learned and celebrate with family and friends. The group allowed the students to be interviewed on the condition that only first names were used.

Rabbi Keith Stern introduced the students, saying their advocacy gives him hope.

“Every day I read the news and it breaks my heart,” he said. “I thought of the three main Western religions and how they have a prayer for peace. It’s a beautiful prayer, but peace takes will and commitment. It’s about love and respect.”

Half the students donned turquoise shirts, and the others wore light blue ones. The Arabic, Hebrew, and English words for “Peace” were printed across the front.

Shayan, 15, of Needham told the crowd about a negative experience with racial profiling. His family, who are Muslim, was stopped at the airport while returning from a vacation, and a transportation agent yelled at his father for accusing him of being a racist.

“I want to end that narrative for every 8-year-old who has to learn the definition of racism after a family trip,” he said.

Yasmine, 16, from Lexington, said she also hoped to inspire social change. “I don’t believe in extremism and terrorism,” she said. “Where is that empathy? . . . I am proud of my Muslim identity and my advocacy for peace.”

As the celebration came to an end, about 40 students took the stage together and sang the camp song “We Can See That Peace is Coming,” with verses in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. They put their arms around each other and ended with smiles on their faces, singing “Lean on Me.”

 

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