Yakir Englander, a Fulbright-Yitzhak Rabin Scholar, is on a mission for peace. Englander is currently completing post-doctoral work in the department of Israel Studies while on a Fulbright program at Northwestern University in Chicago. He is also involved as the vice president of Kids4Peace. Kids4Peace is an organization that teaches youth from Israel and the Palestinian Territories skills in peace building, conflict resolution, and tolerance.
"This Fulbright scholarship offers me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I intend to grasp with both hands!” Englander said. “The title 'Fulbright Scholar' opens many doors for me; it is my responsibility to reciprocate by working for honest dialogue.”
The Fulbright program has already helped to broaden his opportunities to spread a message of peace. Opportunities for scholars to meet one another and to share their own life experiences on neutral ground are paramount to the program.
“I participated in a Fulbright seminar on U.S. democracy, and met scholars from 43 countries. We spent hours in open and honest discussions. Walls really began to fall for us during that Fulbright seminar,” Englander said, describing his time in Reno, Nevada, at the Fulbright Enrichment Seminar on U.S. Elections in a Battleground State: Observing Democracy in Action.
Englander grew up in an Ultra-Orthodox Hassidic family, and later studied in a yeshiva, a Jewish educational institution in Jerusalem. Later, he was drafted into the Israeli army. His experiences in the army and his newfound academic interests led him to volunteer with Kids4Peace five years ago.
In Kids4Peace, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim sixth-graders and their families – mostly from Jerusalem and the West Bank - begin the dialogue process with a year of meetings. Then, the youth fly to the U.S. with adult staff to share summer camp experiences with their American “Peace Pals,” who are also of the three faiths.
After returning home, the Israeli and Palestinian youngsters join multi-faceted continuation and leadership programs until the age of 18. The teenagers volunteer in the community, study the theory and practice of non-violence, and acquire leadership skills. They become leaders in their communities, motivated by faith and united by their deeper understanding of the culture and experiences of the "other".
Kids4Peace has become well-known throughout Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and has even found connections within the Fulbright Program. The musical group and youth peace organization HEARTBEAT, which was created by a Fulbright-mtvU alumnus, Aaron Shneyer, has played a concert for Kids4Peace and has interacted with the young peace-makers.
“I was impressed with how dedicated the young people were to the program,” Shneyer said. “it really speaks to how meaningful and powerful the Kids4Peace experience is.”
The hard work and lasting impact that Fulbrighters impart in both their home and host communities are important. Englander and Kids4Peace teach youth the skills to share interfaith messages of peace with their communities through sustained activities. HEARTBEAT teaches young people to spread messages of peace through music. Both are examples of the powerful movements that arise when people put their ideas into motion.
“I hope to create a new …language for peace, more fitting to the society of which I am a part. We need a language we can not only speak, but live by. Kids4Peace, now in its tenth year, has become a cultural movement, an educational tool, and an interfaith strategy for peace that is practiced in the very midst of violence. With my recent appointment as a vice president of Kids4Peace International, I hope to find the way to write a first lexicon for this new language of Peace.”
Yakir Englander will give several presentations about Kids4Peace in the United States throughout the duration of his Fulbright grant period. The next such event will take place in New York, NY on March 17, 2013.
HEARTBEAT is going to be in the U.S. for their first North American concert tour from February 21, 2013 to March 7, 2013. They will be playing an event at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC, on March 6, 2013. RSVP to attend this event.