Hands of Peace (HOP) is an interfaith organization developing peacebuilding and leadership skills in Israeli, Palestinian, and American teenagers through the power of dialogue and personal relationships. Since 2003, the organization has held an annual 18-day Summer Program in Glenview, Illinois and a year-round Alumni Club Program in the U.S. and the Middle East. Hands of Peace launched a second Summer Program in San Diego in 2014. HOP's Summer Programs bring together 66 Israeli, Palestinian, and American teenagers (42 in Glenview and 24 in San Diego) for intensive daily dialogue sessions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The teens stay with local host families, and most meals, activities, and facilities are donated. In addition to daily dialogue sessions led by trained Israeli and Palestinian facilitators, the teens complete educational and community service activities—including visits to worship services at a church, synagogue, and mosque.
The Hands of Peace journey does not end with the Summer Program. This is a first step in a long process of understanding "the other side" and working together to create a better future. HOP supports graduates with year-round American and Middle East Alumni Clubs, quarterly multi-day seminars in Israel, community service projects, an intensive leadership program for outstanding participants, and movie nights and meetings throughout the year for American host families and volunteers.
Hands of Peace was founded in 2002 in Glenview, Illinois in response to the devastating events of Sept 11, 2001. Gretchen Grad (a member of Glenview Community Church – UCC) wanted to do something in her own community to try to reduce conflict and build bridges between people of different faiths and cultures. She was soon joined by a Jewish mother and a Muslim mother, and the interfaith effort took shape. The organization started by offering an intense, dialogue-based Summer Program for a small number of teenagers, and was completely volunteer-based. Activity space was donated by Glenview Community Church, which also helps support HOP with generous financial donations. UCC Global Ministries began supporting HOP in 2005, and has played a key role in the organization’s continual growth in size, strength, and scope. HOP achieved 501(c)3 status in 2006, and now has a full volunteer Board, a full-time Executive Director, 10 part-time staff members, and 26 summer staff members.
In 2014, HOP is expanding its impact by launching a second Summer Program in San Diego, California! This new program will bring together 24 American, Israeli, and Palestinian teenagers (age 15-17) for intensive daily dialogue sessions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Participants will build conflict resolution skills, learn about the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths represented, and complete educational and community service activities. This program will also directly benefit more than 150 San Diego-area volunteers—including local families who will host Middle East participants and staff.