Israel's late Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, famously remarked that advancing peace between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs was like jumping from a second-story window onto a galloping horse. In his mind, peace required exceptional leadership, involving courage, timing, resilience and planning. He was right, but his assassination on 4 November 1995 by an Israeli extremist opposed to the Oslo Peace Accords revealed that peacebuilding in the Holy Lands demands more than a bold rider.
Peace in Jerusalem requires a different horse. To this end, Jerusalem Peacebuilders (JPB) operates experiential, interfaith leadership development programs that unite and empower a new generation of leaders and citizens, who are committed to each other and to building a secure, shared and peaceful society for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Our experience in the field bears out the claims of academic literature that while only governmental leaders ("riders") can draft and sign peace treaties, only ordinary citizens ("horses") can make and maintain the mutually positive, healthy human interaction that we call peace.
2019 tested every fiber of JPB. It was a year of intense highs and lows. Highs included launching the EXCEL Teacher-Training Institute in partnership with the Palestinian Israeli NGO Retorika for Multiculturalism and Cambridge University, renewed board-membership and staffing in Jerusalem, and steady growth in Houston. Just after Easter, JPB Treasurer and fellow co-founders Stuart and Angie Kensinger died in a plane crash. Their tragic death forever changed our lives.
Thanks to your unwavering support, we remained true to our mission of peace, shared society, and the sanctity of human life in the Holy Lands. Robust adult and youth programming together with reduced expenses and active fund-raising positioned JPB to enter 2020 with strength and confidence. Special thanks also go to JPB educators Jack Karn, Yardena Prawer, Noura El Zokm and Sarah Benazera for their dedication as well as to Tamara Keshecki for her grant-writing. Special gratitude goes to co-founder Dorothy Porter and the JPB Board for their wise counsel and to Kensinger Donnelly, LLC in Houston for its invaluable pro bono administrative support.
School Programs: Key to our peacebuilding model, JPB operates year-round, interfaith peace and leadership education for adults and youth in cooperation with American, Israeli and Palestinian partners. Deepening partnerships with the Amal Group, QSchools, the Municipality of Jerusalem and our network of top teachers advanced our strategic goal of enriching peace education inside Israeli public schools, especially disadvantaged schools. Of special note in Jerusalem, JPB led three pairs of Palestinian Arab and Israeli Jewish schools as part of the Municipality’s groundbreaking Learning Together program. In Houston, JPB launched a model interfaith learning program with a triad of Jewish, Christian and Muslims schools. Partnerships with Palmer Episcopal Church and the Houston Congregation for Reform Judaism have produced the city’s most vibrant interfaith youth group.
Summer Programs: JPB summer programs play an essential role in raising up new leaders by providing a crucible for self-discovery, intensive leadership formation, and lifelong friendships. All four youth programs – TX I (Voyager), CT (Service-Learning), TX II (Interfaith Citizenship) and VT (Leadership) were fully subscribed with 85 teens and fully staffed with 22 educators and residential counselors, as well as with a full complement of 55 volunteers. The debut of an adult summer program – the EXCEL Teacher-Training Institute, operated in partnership with the Palestinian Israeli NGO Retorika for Multiculturalism and Cambridge University, exceeded all expectations. Soon afterward, three of its 20 Arab and Jewish Israeli educators won awards for teaching excellence soon afterward from the Ministry of Education. All five programs were intensive, residential and of 9 – 14 days in length. Essential to our summer success is the generous cooperation of Creating Friendships for Peace, Camp Allen in Navasota, Palmer Memorial Church and Christ Church Cathedral in Houston, IWagePeace and Christ Church in New Haven, Acer Farm, St. Michael’s and St. Mary’s Churches in Vermont, and St. Katherine’s College in Cambridge. (Links to articles about 2019 summer programs in VT and CT)
Pilgrimage and Other Programs: The spiritual impact of pilgrimage continually fuels committed American participation and partnership in JPB’s mission. Each year JPB leads at least one pilgrimage to the Holy Lands. Due to the tragic death of the Kensingers, the May 2019 pilgrimage was cancelled. Jack and I regularly speak at churches, synagogues, mosques, Rotary clubs and interfaith gatherings about the mission and success of JPB. 2019 saw a record number of such sermons and presentations. As part of our peacebuilding mission and together with MD Anderson Hospital, JPB makes available its network of relationships as a consultant to the Diocese of Jerusalem for its project to build the first radiotherapy cancer treatment center at the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza. When completed, the center will change the oncological health care system in Gaza.
Fundraising and Income: JPB receives no government funding. We rely on private donations, grants and program fees. In 2019, JPB received over $475K in donations, grants and other income. The strong response to the Kensinger Scholarship Fund, Giving Tuesday and the Matching Holiday Appeal allowed us to end the year with a strong cash position ($105K+). Grant writer Tam Keshecki won JPB $100K in grants, while limiting her expenses to less than $6K. She also wrote three successful grants in 2019 for $47.5K that JPB received in 2020. Our Treasurer’s report provides a complete and detailed analysis. (click here to read Treasurer’s Report of 2019)
New Board Members: Joining our dedicated board, 2019’s new board members – Danna Kurtin and Bruce Barrett – eagerly embraced their new roles at JPB. A successful Connecticut businessowner and peacebuilder, Bruce Barrett became JPB Treasurer. Danna Kurtin leveraged her years of involvement with JPB and the Houston medical community to provide leadership for JPB’s operations in Texas and Gaza. We are blessed by their contributions of energy, expertise and dedication. Learn more about Bruce and Danna here.
Non-Profit Status: In May 2019, the State of Israel recognized and registered Jerusalem Peacebuilders as a US nonprofit recognized as such in Israel. However, this status did not guarantee our ability to function legally in Israel. In December, JPB began pursuing the creation of an Israeli affiliate (JPB Leadership Development) with me as its president and a local board. The primary legal purpose of the affiliate is to employ Israeli and East Jerusalem residents as well as to obtain a preferred listing with the Israeli Ministry of Education for income producing contracts. (I am happy to share that as of June 2020 JPB successfully completed this process.)
Prognosis: Despite (or perhaps because of) the disruptions of the international COVID-19 pandemic and protests against police brutality, 2020 will be a banner year for JPB. Quarantining due to the pandemic and the protests have produced a wellspring of new appreciation for community, encounter and the sanctity of human life. This generational starburst of change can only advance involvement in JPB’s mission of peace and interfaith understanding. Legal status in Israel will allow us to hire reliable staff and win valuable Ministry of Education contracts. Both school and teacher training programs will expand, as will grant and contract income. The net positive effect will demonstrably further shared society between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs on the level of individuals, families, schools and the Israeli educational system.
Peace, Shalom, Salaam,
(The Rev. Canon) Nicholas Porter
Executive Director, Jerusalem Peacebuilders