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By Candace Jordan | Candid Candace
Chicago Tribune

Hands of Peace, an interfaith organization developing peace-building and leadership skills in Israeli, Palestinian and American teens, hosted its annual Seasons of HOPE benefit on April 7. The event was held at the Chicago Botanic Garden with 230 supporters in attendance and featured inspiring remarks from young leaders whose lives have been changed by the organization’s Summer Program.

Keynote speakers and program alums Zinat Kabbani and Noam Preminger recounted their journeys as young Hands of Peace teens and how those experiences transformed their lives and inspired their volunteerism and activism. They are both recipients of the Hands of Peace Rooftop Consciousness Award that recognizes an outstanding alum who exemplifies a higher level of thinking about “the other.”

Kabbani lives in Israel and self-identifies as a Palestinian citizen of Israel. “The Israeli community that we live in expects us Palestinians to accept the reality of the country as it is. Palestinians from the Palestinian territories expect us, who are still living on our own lands, not to accept any interactions with Jewish Israelis,” she said. Kabbani works in an Israeli hospital, often treating Palestinian soldiers.

“Hands of Peace has taught me how to reach out and connect with people without forgetting or canceling anyone’s identity, mine or theirs,” she said.

Preminger was raised in a part of Israel that is 50 percent Arab, but he didn’t know any Palestinians until he joined Hands of Peace. “I heard, firsthand, stories of Israelis living under missile attacks from Gaza and of Palestinians living under occupation and suffering from a lack of freedom daily,” he said. “I learned from Hands of Peace how I could be the one to build a bridge and am grateful to them for giving me the opportunity to speak to people whose worldviews are different from mine.”

Co-chaired by Silvia Schneider-Fox and Julie Orr, the event raised $135,000 to help fund and grow the organization’s teen leadership program, which brings American and Middle Eastern high school students together for three weeks each summer in the Chicago and San Diego areas.

The program currently has 600 alumni living and working toward peace across the U.S. and throughout Israel and the Palestinian West Bank.