New Haven youth program supports Syrian refugees and urban poor
Twenty-three American, Armenian, Israeli and Palestinian teens unified for ten days in the heat of a New Haven August. Representing different faith traditions often at odds with one another, they joined hands in service. Jews, Christians and Muslims, they broke bread together and the barriers that divided them.
Early in the week, participants met with Chris George, Executive Director of Integrated Refugee and Immigration Services (IRIS), a refugee resettlement agency in New Haven. There they served the refugee population with their minds and their muscles. The teens helped move freshly arrived refugees into apartments, finally beginning the new lives for which they prayed. Additionally, participants assisted as teaching aides in English classes for adults and children. Arabic speaking participants proved integral to assisting translation for refugees, including many Syrians and Iraqis.
JPB participants not only learned that the spirit of service binds us together; they also
Volunteers from the refugee community also worked alongside the group, one of them named Espoir. A JPB participant reflected, "Instantly, I felt connected to him, even though we come from extremely different places. I am white, and he is black. He is not from America, and I am. He is Christian, and I am Jewish. Yet, it didn't matter, we connected through service. The act of service connected people who would never be able to connect."
"When I was doing that work and hanging out with Espoir, It felt like G-d was working through me."
- Yosef, 16
Furthermore, service binds each of us to the divine. Participants attended services at a Friday Prayer Service in a Mosque, Shabbat at a Synagogue, and a Sunday Church Service. They learned throughout the program that each of the Abrahamic traditions values service as essential to a life of faith.
"Service made me feel connected to G-d," Yosef continues. "When I was doing that work and hanging out with Espoir, It felt like G-d was working through me." In French, 'espoir' means 'hope.' He concludes, "Through service I was able to connect with Hope and bring a little of it into the world."
The week was filled with many other exciting learning opportunities including service at the Community Soup Kitchen at Christ Church New Haven. The historic church also served as home base for the program as the participants slept and ate many of their meals there. The week concluded with an excursion into New York City with a special briefing at the United Nations on the Middle East peace process, a visit to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, and a special tour of the Guggenheim's new exhibit called But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise: Contemporary Art of the Middle East and North Africa.
During their visit, the group observed the United Nations daily briefing. Their visit is posted on the UN website. Check out the video here!
"In truth, peace actually looks ordinary. It doesn't look like two officials
shaking hands on the White House lawn. It is the oppressor and oppressed
playing soccer, sharing a meal, cooperating in service. It is meeting a
stranger and discovering your sister, your brother."
- Fr. Nicholas Porter
At the heart of the program was the discovery and embodiment of peace. "In truth, peace actually looks ordinary. It doesn't look like two officials shaking hands on the White House lawn," says Jerusalem Peacebuilders Executive Director Nicholas Porter. "It is the oppressor and oppressed playing soccer, sharing a meal, cooperating in service. It is meeting a stranger and discovering your sister, your brother." The activities of participants were, in many ways, ordinary: eating, praying, learning, playing, and serving. And yet the spirit of peace that inspired them made their time truly extraordinary.
This summer, hope came to New Haven and found a home. These young American, Armenian, Israeli and Palestinian leaders embraced this hope and discovered peace by breaking bread, serving alongside one another, and recognizing one family in the face of a stranger.
"Interfaith camp inspires next generation of peacemakers"
Watch teens discuss their experience in the program on Israel Hayom