Ruth Ebenstein
Ruth Ebenstein
Writer, Peace/Heath activist, public speaker, historian, mom/stepmom

Breaking the Ice

Eitan (left) and Mohi play a game of coin toss with marbles where the rules keep changing at the Kids4Peace/Seeds of Peace office in East Jerusalem. photo: Ittay Flescher.
Eitan (left) and Mohi play a game of coin toss with marbles where the rules keep changing at the Kids4Peace Jerusalem/Seeds of Peace office in East Jerusalem. Photo: Ittay Flescher.

Two teens, a Jewish Israeli and a Muslim Palestinian, play a game of coin toss with marbles where the rules keep changing. Join a group discussion about fairness and trust in Jerusalem.

If only it were normal.

If it only it were normal for my religiously observant Jewish Israeli 13-year-old son, Eitan, to hang out with Mohi, of Beit Safafa and other Muslim and Christian Palestinian peers from across Jerusalem, play icebreaker games and talk sports. If only it were normal for them to chill, chat about life, school, friends. If only it were normal for them to see how they’re different, but also all the ways that they’re the same.

Muslim, Jewish and Christian seventh- and eighth-graders hang out at the Kids4Peace Jerusalem/Seeds of Peace office in East Jerusalem. Photo: Ittay Flescher

If only it were normal for my husband Yonatan to text the Parents WhatsApp group of Kids4Peace Jerusalem, an interfaith youth movement, in search of a carpool to the first Kids4Peace activity held after Operation Guardian the Walls ended six weeks ago and have Salah, Mohi’s father, offer to pick up Eitan. And afterwards for Yonatan to pick up Eitan as well Mohi, his brother Baha, and their cousin, Nuran, and drop the triumvirate off in Beit Safa, a Palestinian neighborhood just a bit more than 2.5 miles from ours in Baka.

If only it were normal to attend a program staffed jointly by Jewish Israelis and Palestinians.

If only it were normal for the education director to carefully curate activities around building trust, where the snacks are kosher, halal and sensitive to allergies, of course, where tremendous thought goes into how to safely and comfortably bring together Muslim, Jewish and Christian youth from across Jerusalem.

If only it were normal.

But it’s not normal.

Yet it is some kind of normal for Eitan. He doesn’t totally get how not normal this is. He’s been a part of Kids4Peace Jerusalem since 6th grade, but started attending communal events in fourth grade, including the annual holiday party and communal iftar. We have very close Palestinian friends. He’s lunched at their home, played with their children. In his life, that’s also normal. But this is different. It’s all teens his age, and it belongs to him.

So how was the activity today, carpool, I ask Eitan, my eyes fastened on his.

He returns my gaze with a blank expression.

Mom, why is this interesting, exactly? His tone dismissive, bored. Then he shifts his eyes back to the flat-screen television to catch an instant replay of the NBA.

Because for him, that’s part of his normal.

Eitan hanging out at a Kids4Peace gathering earlier this year at the Train Station in Jerusalem. Photo: Ittay Flescher
About the Author
Ruth Ebenstein is an award-winning American-Israeli writer, historian, public speaker, and health/peace activist who loves to laugh a lot--and heartily. She is the author of the forthcoming book, Bosom Buddies: How Breast Cancer Fostered An Unexpected Friendship Across the Israeli-Palestinian Divide. She is also the author of "All of this country is called Jerusalem": a curricular guide about the contemporary rescue operations of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and has written two teleplays for children, Follow that Goblin and Follow that Bunny. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Atlantic, Washington Post, Los Angeles Review of Books, Tablet, WomansDay.com, Good Housekeeping, Triquarterly, CNN.com, School Library Journal, USA Today, the Forward, Stars and Stripes, Education Week, Brain, Child, Fathom, and other publications. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
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