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Children of conflict: Worthington native writes one of Top 10 religious books for youths

"Sharing Our Homeland" by Trish Marx

All over the world kids go to summer camp where they play games and make new friends. There's nothing out of the ordinary about that, except when the camp is located in Israel and half of the young campers are Palestinian and the other half Jewish. Because of years of conflict between these two ethnic, religious groups, children who live only a few miles apart may never meet anywhere except at Peace Camp.

Trish Windschill Marx, a Worthington native, has written a new book, "Sharing Our Homeland: Palestinian and Jewish Children at Summer Peace Camp," which has been named to Booklist's Top 10 Best Religious Books for Youth 2010; Booklist is put out by the American Library Association. Her book also won a Sidney Taylor Notable Book Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries, and "Homeland" was on the short list of honor books for the Jane Addams Children's Book Awards, given to authors "who promote effectively the equality of the sexes and all races."

Marx is the author of well more than a dozen non-fiction books, many of them award winners. Most have a geographical and historical emphasis, stories about young people in Germany, China, Cuba, Kosovo, Hungary, etc. She's also written biographies about the flying adventures of the Wright Brothers and first U.S. Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin and a book about the Florida Everglades.

As Marx tells it: "Everywhere you go, there are these wonderful stories based on history that children can learn from."

Marx has made five trips to Israel and most recently spent several weeks at a day camp with her photojournalist colleague, Cindy Karp, who is responsible for the beautiful color photographs in "Sharing Our Homeland." There they became acquainted with the two children featured in the book.

Alya, an Israeli Palestinian girl, whose parents are Muslim, and Yuval, an Israeli Jewish boy, are "from two separate ethnic and religious groups who share the same land" but whose ancestors have been in conflict for centuries over who owns the land. Alya is growing up in the Arab village of Meiser and chooses to wear the traditional hijab, a covering for head and shoulders, which is "a way for her to express her connection to her religion," while Yuval lives in Maor, a Jewish community. One speaks Arabic, the other Hebrew.

The two young people meet at day camp at the baking house where they are making loaves of challah, part of Yula's Jewish Sabbath meal. Although Alya has never made challah, she's helped her mother with other breads, so she shows Yuval how to roll the dough and braid it. "They laugh together, and even though they may never see each other again after camp ends, this new understanding of separate cultures can stay with them as they grow.

"Givat Haviva, an educational organization that works toward Jewish-Arab peace, is responsible for Peace Camp. Some campers return the next summer while others may go on to different camps."

Marx explained that parents learn about the camp because Givat Haviva is well known in the area, and the camp has been going on for a number of years.

"A lot of campers had older brothers or sisters who attended in past summers. Also a man named Said Arda, who runs the camp, works with children during the school year, so he puts out the word, too."

At the time of the visits by Marx and Karp, 156 children were attending. They spent their first day just meeting campers.

"Cindy led the way on this since she wanted children with expressive faces who were not shy around the camera," Marx recalled. "When we talked to the counselors about the possibility of visiting in the homes, they could advise us as to which families might agree to that.

"Finally we sat down with Alya and Yuval to see if they were OK with our following them closely for the next two weeks," Marx said.

She went on to tell that both families were so hospitable.

"At Alya's home, we first met for tea and cookies, which included the entire family, and, as there was a translator present, we started learning about Alya's life. Another afternoon we had dinner with Alya's family: stews, breads and olives, vegetables and dips. Delicious!"

These delightful at-home photos are included in the book as well as those of Yuval's family gathered for their Jewish Sabbath meal.

The campers are divided into small groups, each group with a tent and a counselor who speaks their same language, either Arabic or Hebrew. The huge swimming pool and nearby beach are popular with the children. Games, including an Olympic Day competition, crafts and field trips, are all part of the agenda, with a sleep-over climaxing the two-week session. Parents are invited to attend one special evening event.

"In a country filled with tension and conflict, campers learn to take the first steps toward sharing their ancient homeland. . . . Counselors stress mutual respect, equality and shared experiences," Marx said.

In another way, Peace Camp differs from camps we may know. One morning, police officers and rescue workers conduct a session to show how to use gas masks and helmets, because all Israelis need to be familiar with what to do during emergencies. People there have become accustomed to living with protective high fences and barriers.

Marx, daughter of former Worthington residents E.J. "Red" and Jean Windschill, graduated from Worthington High School and earned a degree from St. Catherine's University and a master's in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She lives in New York City with her husband, an attorney.

Cindy Karp, whose home is in Miami, Fla., has had a distinguished career as a photo journalist, working for Time magazine and traveling around the world covering news stories.

Author Marx is a superb storyteller, and this current book is one to savor by adult readers just as much as by youths. I feel that I enriched my knowledge of the Israeli situation while enjoying the clear, lively and readable text. With its many colorful photos, selected from several thousand which Karp took at the camp, "Sharing The Homeland" makes an elegant "coffee table" book.

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