It wasn’t the Middle Eastern food and belly dancing that made the
Summer evening so great. And it wasn’t the raucous line dancing and celebratory air that was so delightful at the beautiful Scottish Rite Temple in Santa Fe. It was the presence and the stories of eighteen Israeli and Palestinian teenage girls that brought wonder and inspiration welling-up in my heart. These girls, ranging in age from fifteen to twenty-two (the oldest four were returning campers serving as young leader mentors) have the courage to face the challenges of participating in a program that promotes friendship and peace between their two peoples.
Creativity For Peace is the organization that brings these groups of girls to a camp outside of Santa Fe for three weeks and then supports them with year-round leadership training and communication skills back in their homeland. They have been running this program, developing leaders for peace, for ten years. Two hundred- five girls have completed the program and one young woman who trained in the program in its early years has declared her intention to become Prime Minister of Israel.
It is this kind of commitment- in the face of many in their communities who call them traitors- that gives me hope for the future. As one young leader said, “We have been living with this conflict for over sixty years. I don’t care what people say about me. I’m proud of what I’m doing.” A number of the girls have lost family members to rocket attacks, bombs, and border conflicts. Here at the camp they learn the power of friendship and of love. At the closing ceremonies on the last day the girls uniformly spoke of their surprise that their former “enemies” were just like them. “We laugh at the same things, we dance, we eat the same food, and we love to shop.” Their motto is, “The enemy is someone who’s story you have not heard.”
As a teen, the expectations I had were, one, that I get good grades, and
two, that I was well-liked. Neither required courage. The truth I find in mid-life is that courage is required to defeat the inner demons of defense that have been with us for so long and would keep us living in limitation. Our own Hero’s Journey demands the courage and determination to break through to the dreams and desires that have quietly lived at the bottom of our hearts and start finding the resources to make them manifest- for our own happiness, and for the example we set for our friends and our children.
I’ll be following the Creativity For Peace girls and their mission through my journalist daughter, Megan, who is going to Israel and Palestine this fall for her upcoming book on Forgiveness. She’ll learn more from these young women and their program leaders about what courage, commitment and empathy for “the other side” makes possible.