I recently had the privilege of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem — the heartbeat of world faiths, and city of richly colourful co-existence in a land of deep contrasts and challenging paradoxes.
A few miles to the east of Jerusalem, one begins the long descent into the desert landscape, en route to the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on Earth, where every rare drop of potable water is precious. Yet a couple of hours to the north lies the fertile plain of Jezreel, where farmers can make eighteen cuts of alfalfa in a season.
Barely an hour’s drive from the fairly secular bustle and wealth of Tel Aviv’s bars, high rises, and gay-friendly beaches, ultra-Orthodox Jewish men stand at the platform of the long-destroyed Jewish temple, the Western Wall (the Kotel). On a Friday, you can hear some of them whistling to drown out the “unseemly” prayers of liberal Jewish women who dare to challenge tradition and conservative biblical interpretation by wearing the tallit (prayer shawl).
As Christian pilgrims en route to Bethlehem, one can travel beyond the West Bank checkpoints and behind the eight metre concrete wall to a refugee camp, where third-generation refugees carefully monitor their water meters for the weekly supply offered to them through the limited provision controlled by the Israeli government.
In all this stunning diversity, latent tribalism, potential flare-ups and yet often strangely harmonious co-existence, I bring with me a request from two young adults in Jerusalem, to let you know about the exciting work of a grassroots non-partisan NGO that helps kids go to camp in a different way.
Mohammed (Muslim) and Rebecca (Jewish), co-directors of Kids4Peace (k4p.org, kids4peace.ca), organize camps and programs that build a platform for peace by bringing together young people from highly diverse and often isolated backgrounds to play, work and share each other’s lives.
They courageously take on the prejudices of extremists to form a community where young people can open the door to the beauty of mutual respect and compassionate consideration for others, whatever the “other” looks like.
They were delighted and excited to hear from me the stories and see the video clips about how the Compassionate Action Network International is making a similar non-partisan impact locally and globally.
Let’s take a moment to give thanks for these signs of hope, and put our energy behind them in any way we can.
As our Palestinian Christian tour guide, Nidal, put it, when Jesus said “blessed are the peace-makers” (Matthew 5.9), he really meant a blessing for those who actually “build” peace, not those who just think it might be a good idea for someone else to act on.
The Rev. Andrew Twiddy, The Anglican Parish of St. Anne & St. Edmund.