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Prof works with 'sparks of peace' in Israel

By: Heidi Ulrichsen - Sudbury Northern Life

 | Mar 13, 2014 - 4:19 PM |
Yakir Englander (right), Kids4Peace International vice-president and visiting assistant professor in religious studies at Northwestern University in Illinois, recently gave a lecture on the role of religion in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He's seen here with University of Sudbury religious studies professor Andrii Krawchuk. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.

Yakir Englander (right), Kids4Peace International vice-president and visiting assistant professor in religious studies at Northwestern University in Illinois, recently gave a lecture on the role of religion in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He's seen here with University of Sudbury religious studies professor Andrii Krawchuk. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.

Kids4Peace works with youth, communities

Yakir Englander grew up in the Israeli ultra-orthodox city of Bnei Brak, where he was sequestered from western culture. He said he was raised with a certain “disgust” of his Palestinian neighbours.

When he was 22, though, he decided to leave his community because he wanted to experience what the outside world had to offer.


Immediately after leaving Bnei Brak, though, he was conscripted into the Israeli army. With a few exceptions — including ultra-orthodox Jews — all Israeli citizens must serve a stint in the army when they turn 18.

Englander's military service exemption ended when he left his community.

Upon completing his three-year term in the army, he attended university, studying Jewish philosophy and gender studies.

Englander never left the academic life, and is now a visiting assistant professor in religious studies at Northwestern University in Illinois.

He spoke to Northern Life on March 11 during a visit to Sudbury, where he presented a talk on the role of religion in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Englander said he was a member of the Israeli army's reserve as a university student. About the time he began his education, the Palestinian uprising commonly called the Second Intifada began.

Every time another bomb went off, it was his job to identify the casualties. It was an experience that affected Englander deeply, and made him examine all of his values.

He said he wanted to understand his Palestinian neighbours. Englander joined a few interfaith groups, but found they didn't get to the root of the issue.

Eventually, he became involved with Kids4Peace, an interfaith peace education program that brings Jewish, Muslim and Christian children together. While the program started in Jerusalem, it's now an international organization.

“So we work with them from the age of 11, every second week, during the whole year until they finish high school,” said Englander, now the vice-president of Kids4Peace International.

“It's not that they just have a dialogue, they grow up together.”

But creating this dialogue is also “dangerous,” as it destroys the narrative they've grown up with, and may leave them feeling isolated if everyone they know still hates those on the other side of the conflict.

If the rest of the population isn't on board, it isn't going to work, Englander said. That's why Kids4Peace also works with participants' parents and the wider community.

“We work with sparks of peace,” he said. “Peace will not happen because a politician signs a peace agreement. Peace happens when we live in peace. Each community, each neighbourhood that we reach out to, and we succeed in bringing them into Kids4Peace, this neighbourhood lives more peacefully.”
Heidi Ulrichsen

Heidi Ulrichsen

Staff Writer

@heidi_ulrichsen

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