Hands of Peace Celebrates Changemakers and Power of Purple, Prepares to Gather Youth for Transformative Summer Program

Hands of Peace held its Power of Purple Benefit on May 7 at Chevy Chase Country Club, raising $135,000 to bring American, Israeli and Palestinian teens together this July for its flagship Summer Program, a three-week transformative journey that empowers youth to become agents of change in their communities and around the world.

The Summer Program, a powerful, unifying experience, takes place July 12-31 throughout the Chicago area. Many of the American participants are from Chicago-area communities, and the Israeli and Palestinian participants live with local host families.

Gretchen Grad, Hands of Peace founder and board member, said funds raised at the Benefit will help the teen participants "find their voice, share their narratives and develop the compassion and skills they need to resolve conflict and serve their communities."

In dialogue sessions led by professional facilitators from Israel and Palestine, the summer participants learn about "the other," share complicated and sometimes painful stories about the conflict, and explore peaceful solutions, according to Grad. She says that since the Hands of Peace three-week Summer Program began, more than 750 alumni have embarked on the journey from dialogue to skill building to action, taking the lessons they learned to their communities and working for peace, justice, freedom and equality.

Grad had the idea for Hands of Peace in the shadow of 9/11. The non-profit 501(c)(3) interfaith organization was founded in 2002, and the first Summer Program was held in Chicago in 2003. Since then, the organization has expanded in size, strength and scope, with Summer Programs in Chicago and San Diego, alumni programs in Israel, Palestine and the U.S., and multi-narrative tours to the Middle East for American youth and adults.

The Power of Purple Benefit featured remarks by Hands of Peace alumni who have become accomplished changemakers, including Stav Friedman, who was only 13 when she participated in the first Hands of Peace Summer Program in 2003. Now an environmental scientist who is passionate about policy, plastic pollution and climate change, Friedman is currently leading research projects at Imperial College London and is the founder of Plastic Free Israel, considered one of Israel's most active and proactive organizations combating plastic pollution.

"Environmental issues transcend boundaries, traverse borders and affect us all. Stronger storms, drier droughts, rising waters, waves of plastic pollution - these things will impact us, whether we call our home Palestine, Israel or America," Friedman told the crowd at the Benefit. "When you get to the heart of the matter, nature isn't held back by borders, but neither is love, neither is compassion, and neither were the participants in a Hands of Peace Summer Program."

Also joining Friedman at the Hands of Peace Benefit were alumni Emily Kenward (2015, 2016), who is now the program's Chicago site director, and Logan Gouss (2022), Robert Poyser (2013), Eliza Schloss (2018, 2019) and Sam Weinberg (2016, 2017).

Hands of Peace will hold its 2023 Summer Program Farewell Celebration on Sunday, July 30, at Beth Emet - the free Synagogue, in Evanston. To purchase tickets and to learn more about the organization, visit

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