By Karen S. Bloom
Non-stop press coverage showing images of the aftermath of terrorism in Paris and the United States, along with the recent attacks in Israel and other parts of the world can feel overwhelming. Inflammatory rhetoric and fear mongering is the response which seems to get the most coverage. Yet throughout the Project Kesher network a different news story has been unfolding.
Project Kesher leaders globally have taken to social media to denounce the violence. But more than just denouncing it, they took steps towards active prevention in 53 cities in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and Georgia, and in two cities in Israel, as part of a Global Week of Tolerance last month. Active in this annual initiative since 2006, Project Kesher partnered with more than 150 Jewish and secular organizations and brought together leaders and members of different religious and ethnic groups, nonprofits and government agencies to focus on building peace and tolerance in community after community. The initiative engaged 4,000 people directly, and an additional 100,000 people through mass media and city awareness campaigns. An international “Table Cloth of Peace,” patterned after the AIDS quilt project in the United States, sparked ongoing dialogue and is displayed in museums, government buildings and other places people gather. More than 2,000 teens and young people participated in thirty-six communities in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine.
Project Kesher’s Global Week of Peace coincides with The United Nations’ International Day of Tolerance on November 16th and the European Week of Tolerance.
In one week alone, Project Kesher planned over 100 separate events ranging from educational workshops, meetings, community events, trainings, city-wide campaigns, roundtables and more. In, Zaporozhe, Ukraine, “Trees of Peace” were planted with participants from the Jewish, Russian Orthodox, Muslim, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Polish, Armenian and other communities along with representatives of various organizations, government agencies and the media meeting in round-table discussions working collaboratively towards an inclusive community.
While the most sophisticated of programs brought together high ranking local government officials to commit to this issue, a different demographic caught my eye. Project Kesher activists in Kherson, Ukraine, brought children and their parents to a school for students with Down’s syndrome. They spoke to all of the children present about the importance of patience and tolerance and learning from each other. Joint activities were planned for the children and families to do together. The Director of the Center shared, “I was especially impressed by Project Kesher’s approach to this issue. Women brought their children with them and set an example of how to care about the needs of – and connect with – people with restricted abilities. The experience of communication between different children makes us understand that ‘different’ doesn’t mean ‘outsider’, and never should.”
So, when the news gets too much to handle, I like to think of the “other news” halfway around the world that is making my day so much easier. What do you do?
Karen S. Bloom is Chief Advancement Officer at Project Kesher.