This article appeared in the May 06, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Calling all teens: How would you solve the big problems?

Courtesy of Heart of a Nation
American, Israeli, and Palestinian students, meeting online with Heart of a Nation founder and CEO Jonathan Kessler (far right, second row), show their enthusiasm for the organization's first teen essay competition.

In high school, I had what I considered a fairly good sense of the big problems facing society. 

But if you had asked me how I might solve some of them, I would likely have stared at you blankly. I had been trained to critique the status quo, but rarely asked to think deeply about where to go from there. 

So my ears perked up when I heard about a new essay contest for teenagers. The prompt: What would you most like to improve about your own society, and how would you do it?

The competition is sponsored by Heart of a Nation, a nonprofit that connects Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans with the aim of “bettering, not battering, these societies we love.” 

Submissions, due June 1, can take the form of essays, poems, or songs. Three winners from each society will earn $500, and their pieces will be published in The Jerusalem Post, Al-Quds, and The Christian Science Monitor. Interested in entering, or know someone who might be? Get the details here

“We’re bridging the gap between what needs to be done and what can be done,” says Adina Siff, who suggested the contest as a Heart of a Nation intern last summer. Now, she is its youngest board member (and a recent Monitor contributor). 

Importantly, the contest will be judged by 12 teens, four from each society. These include Mohammed Abuzahra, a computer engineering student in the West Bank who believes in the “butterfly effect.” “Every word you say is meant for someone who will make something of it,” he says. Then there’s Nurit Eskar, who grew up on a kibbutz in southern Israel but says Arabic is one of her favorite classes, and Naomi Meyer, a high school senior and history lover from Maryland, who sees the contest as a chance to build bridges of empathy.

The judges are united by the conviction that progress takes place not in a silo, but shoulder to shoulder with people from “the other side.” 

To those considering submitting, Nurit offers this encouragement: “You’re just you, and you can only speak for yourself. It’s okay to just come as you are and write whatever you feel.”

Looking back (OK, not that long ago), I might have been nudged out of my moderate disillusionment by that message. Maybe it’ll propel today’s teens forward, too.

This article appeared in the May 06, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 05/06 edition
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