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We live in challenging times. COVID-19 continues to reshape how we think about interacting with others. Radical political messages and movements that we thought we left behind seem to be rearing their heads. In the United States, frustration with unaddressed institutionalized racism is driving a new civil rights movement. And in the Middle East, the threat of unilateral action threatens to push Israelis and Palestinians even farther apart and further diminish dreams of peace.

In all of this, I’ve asked myself, “Where do I fit in? In the midst of all the turmoil, what can I do to make things a little bit better? Is there a future for my family and me?” I see family, friends, and colleagues asking similar questions. Some respond with fear and anger, upset that the world is seemingly spinning out of control. Others continue doing what they have always done, seemingly apathetic or unaware of what is happening around them.

As the challenges mounted at the beginning of 2020, the team and Board at Hands of Peace asked themselves the same questions: “Where do we fit in? What can we do to make things a little bit better? Is there a future for us?” Rather than responding with anger or a stubborn determination to stick to what we know, through the Reimagine Hands of Peace process, we have done what we have trained young people to do for 18 years – lean into the discomfort. We choose to see opportunity in the uncertainty and growth in the uncomfortable. 

And, just as our almost 700 American, Israeli, and Palestinian alumni learned, this opportunity and growth begins with listening. As we Reimagine Hands of Peace, we are listening to our alumni, supporters, and volunteers. We are asking them to tell us, “Where does Hands of Peace fit in your life? What can we do as an organization to make things a little bit better? What should the future look like for Hands of Peace?” Just as our participants discover each summer, the answers and conversations were sometimes hard to hear. And that is the way it should be. 

Hands of Peace is not just an organization or even a movement. We are a family. We are thousands of people spread over half the globe who believe in doing the hard work of supporting, encouraging, and lifting each other up. Families have hard conversations because they care about each other. Families understand that what they are creating together are strong and loving individuals who will be agents for change and good in the world. 

It is an honor for me to join Hands of Peace in the middle of the Reimagining process. And while I am new to the family, the challenges and opportunities of our work are not new. I spent much of the last decade leading intercultural teams helping young people find their voice and facilitating opportunities for them to see the “other.” Living and working with Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem for two years was a transformational experience. It was the same experience Hands has facilitated for young people for nearly two decades. It is the same experience we will continue to provide, along with the skills and network necessary to turn those initial 19 days in Chicago or San Diego into the launchpad for sustainable personal, community, and global change. 

In the coming months, we will complete the Reimagining process. The staff and board will integrate what we heard into forming a new vision and a better way of serving. We will continue asking ourselves hard questions: How are we strengthening our community bonds and ensuring everyone’s voice is heard? How are we preparing our participants for their future? How are we empowering our alumni to continue what they started? How are we honoring the trust and investment our supporters put in us? How are we celebrating the contributions and service of our volunteers? How are we changing ourselves and our communities to create a more peaceful reality?

I look forward to leading and serving the Hands of Peace family as we approach our 20th Anniversary. We may indeed live in unprecedented and challenging times. And they are exactly the kind of times for which Hands of Peace was created.