Positive Teens: United In More Than Name

Positive Teens: United In More Than Name

BT 17 NitshellOmri Massarwe and Omri Hochfeld (last two boys on right)

This is the first in our series of Teen Voices, where we interview teens about topics they care about.


By Ruth Ebenstein

Stroll into the offices of Kids4Peace in the Sheikh Jarah neighborhood of East Jerusalem during a youth meeting and call out the name “Omri! and two heads will turn.


Both brown-haired teens, one 6 feet tall and thin with straight hair, the other with a broader build and a head spiked in thick kinky curls, will break into laughter.

“Which one do you want? Hochfeld-or Massarwe?”

You’re likely to find “Hochfeld”, a 16-year-old Jewish Israeli, and “Massarwe”, a 16-year-old Muslim Palestinian, cracking jokes or comparing the players of Hochfeld’s favorite soccer team, Hapoel Katamon Jerusalem, with those of Futbol Club Barcelona, Massarwe’s favorite.

“Omri”, which means life in Arabic, is the first name shared by two peace activists who have become fast friends over the last 3 years. “With the same name, how could we not,” quips Omri Massarwe. “Yeah, it was destiny,” adds Omri Hochfeld.

They met at Kids4Peace, a grassroots interfaith youth movement dedicated to ending conflict and inspiring hope in Jerusalem and other cities around the world. Here’s what two teens discovered through becoming friends with kids from the other side of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.

Omri Hochfeld, 16, Salit, Israel

Why did you join Kids4Peace?

I’d always wanted to meet people from other places, and it was most natural to meet Palestinians. I’m an anomaly because I live near Kfar Saba, some 50 miles northwest of Jerusalem. I commute 90 minutes each way to participate in the activities whereas all of the other participants live in or around Jerusalem. We Israelis and Palestinians share this piece of land, and we need to learn to live together.

Tell us about your experience at Kids4Peace.

I joined Kids4Peace when I was eleven. Our group comprised Jewish Israelis and Muslim and Christian Palestinians. Over the years, we hung out at various activities and went to summer camp in the US. We developed strong friendships and a foundation of trust. When Kids4Peace started adding political discussions in later years, we already know each other very well. We could handle heated discussions about Hamas, hug and then jump into the pool.

Tell us about your friendship with Omri Massarwe. What it’s like to befriend young people from the “other side.”

I met Omri during my second year at Kids4Peace, when I was 13. He’s one of my dearest friends. We really clicked! Once you meet people from the other side and become friends, there is no “other side”… We’re all teenagers. There is no real difference between Palestinians and Israelis. Omri is not my “Palestinian” friend. He’s my friend-friend. We love to talk about girls, sports, food. What you learn by reaching across the divide is how very many people on the other side are good—and just like you. Ignorance and fear lead to racism and hatred.

What’s the most formative experience you’ve had at Kids4Peace?

Last July, Omri and I joined a delegation of Palestinian, Israeli and American teens that participated in the Global Institute, an advocacy and social action program in Washington, D.C. We met politicians like Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, advocated for a bill in Congress, went to the State Department, and shared our stories with public figures. I also presented at a Jewish overnight camp with Mutaz, who is Muslim, and with Adan and Zina, who are both Christian and from Beit Hanina, a Palestinian town in East Jerusalem.

For many campers, this was their first encounter with a Palestinian or an Israeli, and their first time listening to an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue about the conflict. We started arguing amongst ourselves, which I think surprised them. But the tones really soared when we fought about where to buy the best humus. They said the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, but clearly, the answer is Acre in Northern Israel!

All humor aside, last summer truly changed me. David Harden, Assistant Administrator for the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, U.S Agency for International Development (USAID), asked us how we are going to change the world. For the first time I thought, wow, I have the power to change things rather than just waste time on my PlayStation.

What’s your takeaway message:

Go out and meet someone from the “other side,” whatever that means for you. You will learn and grow in ways that you cannot imagine. Find a niche where you can have an impact. Remember that you are powerful! Be a link in the chain of making a difference.

Omri Massarwe, 16, of Beit Safafa, an Arab town in Jerusalem

What did you join Kids4Peace?

In 2013, my English teacher encouraged me to apply. She was a counselor there and said, you’ve got the English, go for it. I checked out the website and really liked their platform.

Tell me about your experience at Kids4Peace.

The first meeting was awkward. While I had spoken to Jews before, I did not have Jewish friends. How do you talk to the other side? We were a diverse group of Jews and Arabs, Muslims and Christians, all the same age. We played icebreaker games, and that was helpful. In time I learned how connected we are, what unites the three monotheistic religions, the ways in which we are the same. We coalesced into one family before we headed to summer camp in Atlanta.

My second summer at Kids4Peace coincided with the Israeli-Gaza conflict, a military operation also known as Operation Protective Edge, during July and August 2014. It was a very difficult time. Fearing for the safety of other people in our group, we checked in frequently across the Israeli-Palestinian divide. Kids4Peace gave me a safe harbor. That’s where I felt hope and comfortable with people from different backgrounds. On the Palestinian side, we did get flak. I heard comments like, Are you ignoring our conflict?

As we got older, our counselors at Kids4Peace raised more political discussions. And that made sense. The basic ingredients of dialogue and peacemaking include talking about contentious issues like the separation barrier dividing Palestine from Israel and military checkpoints. Those are real issues. The conversations were authentic, illuminating, frustrating. But because you know the people very well, it’s easier to stay connected.

Tell us about your friendship with Omri Hochfeld. What is it like to befriend young people from the “other side”?

My friendship with Omri is very special. We can argue, but at the end of the day, we’re friends. It’s hard to explain chemistry! Being in Kids4Peace and the friendships I’ve made highlight the universality of the human experience. More than ever, Kids4Peace gives me hope that there will be peace for the next generation in Jerusalem.

What’s the most formative experience you’ve had at Kids4Peace?

Going to Washington, D.C., last summer for the Global Institute was incredible. I loved lobbying for a bipartisan bill to create an international fund that focuses on people-to-people connections, economic cooperation and grassroots efforts like ours to build coexistence. As I lobbied Democrats and Republicans, I felt privileged to represent the Palestinian voice, sharing some of the issues that we deal with back home.

What’s your takeaway message:

First, volunteer. This year I’ll be a counselor for sixth graders and participating in the Youth Action Program, where we design and implement community service projects and do leadership training. Second, carve out your thing. Mine is photography. While the media highlights the tension and animosity in Jerusalem, I spotlight points of connection via my Instagram account, Life of the Lad. Every positive voice counts! Use yours.

RUTH EBENSTEIN is an award-winning American-Israeli writer, historian and peace/health activist who loves to laugh a lot and heartily. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir, Bosom Buddies: How Breast Cancer Fostered an Unexpected Friendship Across the Israeli-Palestinian Divide. Ruth has also penned a children’s book entitled All of this Country is Called Jerusalem. Find her online at RuthEbenstein.com, on Facebook at Laugh Through Breast Cancer – Ruth Ebenstein, and on twitter @ruthebenstein.












Teen Voices: Should Parents Be Friends With Their Teens

Should Parents Be Friends With Their Teens?

Caroline PhotoYes!

By Melissa Brandt

I’m not saying that my mom and I should stay up all night braiding each other’s hair and gossiping. But I will say that, in my experience, when I have an open conversation with her about boys, parties, school or anything, we fight a lot less. Instead of parenting me, and yelling at me, she’s talking with me and advising me.

As with many teens, I don’t react well to yelling. As soon as my mom starts to raise her voice, this immediately translates into white noise as I frame a huffy retort in my mind. That, or I just storm out.

And please, moms: don’t ever lecture. There’s nothing more satisfying for a teen than to do exactly the opposite of whatever was preached. It’s fun! There’s something thrilling about doing the prohibited.

This happened a couple of weeks ago when my mom sits me down and says in the I-know-more-than-you voice: “Now, just because you’re some big-shot, second semester senior, doesn’t mean that you don’t have to attend class…” I didn’t hear much beyond that, because now I’m frustrated. Here I am, proud of myself for how much effort I’ve been putting into school when so many kids around me are giving up, and yet my mom is still lecturing me? It feels like there’s no way to win. So now the idea of ditching a period or two creeps into my mind, where previously I had no such thoughts.

The parent-teen relationship, by principle, pits kids against parents—they’re the enemies! That’s just the way things are. But today there’s this novel approach in which parents assume the role of friends in their kids’ lives. This doesn’t mean they are lesser parents for it. Because a true friend will listen to your problems, advise you about solving them, hug you when things don’t go your way. Parents are guaranteed to be the kind of friends who have your best interests at heart, and the extra experience so that they are able to guide you with that much more wisdom.

So yes, I’ve learned to talk to my mom as I would a friend, and I expect her to treat me as a friend as well. I tell her almost everything in my life and it’s a relief. I don’t have to worry about what happens if she reads through my texts or gossips with other parents in town.

I’m comfortable asking, for example: “Hey, so there’s a party tonight at Elizabeth’s house. There’s going to be drinking, would you be able to give me a ride home?” Sure, she now knows that maybe I am drinking, but I’m doing so responsibly. Plus I’m not driving and I know that I’ll have to talk to my mom at the end of the night.

My mom knows better than to prohibit drinking. She’s aware that teenagers will find a way to drink no matter what the age on their driver’s license says. So rather than argue pointlessly, she talks to me as a peer would. She tells me to be careful, sharing an anecdote about how a night of drinking turned into one spent in the ER, after she fell from the porch at a frat house. It makes me realize that she is justified in her concern and I take her advice to heart.

It’s a lot easier to heed my mom’s advice when she doesn’t act like the all-knowing parent. When she relates to me and shares her own stories I want to listen. I feel comfortable telling her about my crush, having known she had similar boy troubles in high school. I’m willing to whine about the pressures of school, knowing she’s been in the same position.

So parents everywhere, don’t stop parenting. Just realize that you’re kids have grow out of diapers and, as teenagers, deserve to be treated as thinking, functioning people. We are not puppets to be controlled and trying to be that puppet master will backfire 99.9% of the time. I know from experience there will be at least a couple of smug parents, who read this with the impression that, no, they are the exception. They have their kid under control. Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that perfect child of yours is doing all the typical teenage nonsense—the only difference being that you have no awareness of it, and thus a lot less control.

Keep it simple. Talk to your kids. Really listen to what they have to say and remember being in their shoes as a teenager. Act as the friend you would want them to have. Pretty soon you’ll find that they treat you as a friend in return.

Megan and MomNo!

By Lily Ryan

Calling my parents my friends would imply some sort of equal footing between the three of us—that I have as many responsibilities as they do, that we owe each other insight into the details of our respective lives, and that I think of them as “Kathleen and Steve” rather than as “Mom and Dad.” This is not the relationship I have with my parents, nor is it the one I would want.

Eight months ago, my opinion on this subject may have been reversed. On their way to a party, my friends stopped by my house, forcing me out of bed and relieving my eyes Sent from my iPhone

My friends often don’t understand my mom’s rules—why she enforces a curfew, why she sometimes makes me drive to parties, or why she gives me ultimatums. To this she would answer that I am seventeen; I do not need to stay out all night, nor do I need to go out every night of the week. And if she doesn’t threaten withholding my allowance, my room will never get cleaned.

That is not to say that I love when my parents yell at me, or that I always willingly comply with their demands. My sisters and I have become the queens of eye rolls and muttering phrases under our breaths, just quietly enough so that our parents won’t hear, and our mother’s nagging will probably never cease to ring in our ears. And I seem to butt heads with my mom daily (she is the type of person who knows that she is always right—unfortunately, so am I).

But to me, this is how a family should work; the parents are in charge, because they have been through what the children have been through, and they know best. And the children, no matter how many inside jokes they make against their parents or how many tears they shed in the midst of an argument, know that at the end of the day, their parents have their best interest at heart, and through all the fighting and temporary/impulsive hatred, the two will always love and respect each other.

One of my acquaintances has a different relationship with her parents—they don’t enforce rules, but rather try to please her teenage angst and impress and fit in with her friends. In the nature versus nurture debate, I would blame their parenting style for the shady person that she has become.

I don’t think that parents necessarily need to befriend their children in order to create mutual trust or start a conversation. My mom is my biggest enforcer, but that is not to say that she will not always be my strongest supporter and my most trustworthy confidant. She is my authority figure, but we still love spending time together, not as friends, but as mother and daughter. I trust her advice and look to her for support in things I would not go to my friends for—and what my friends would consider gossip sessions are, with my mother, much needed, soul-relieving vent sessions only a parent could withstand. It is my mom as my mother, not as my friend, who will take me to the doctor when I’m sick, who will nurse my inevitable broken hearts, and who will transform me into the adult I will one day become.

In the final stretch of my younger teenage years, I will continue to rely on my mom for her nightly cooking, for her proofreading my work, and for her telling me when to get gas and clean my room. I will get frustrated at her for not giving me the freedom that some of my other friends have, and for not always listening to my pleas. I will never fail to blush when she dips her toe into boy talk, or forget to subtract one drink when telling her what I drank that night. And in three months’ time, I will leave for college, and I will miss my irreplaceable mother in a way that I could not miss my friends.


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