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Resigning From ECYP

February 18, 2019

Dear Kathleen:

Please feel free to share this message with Congressman Cummings, the ECYP fellows, as well as the program’s Board, and funders – as you see fit.

It was two years ago that I opened an email, and accepted the job of teaching yoga and mindfulness to the young people involved with the Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel.

Few things in my life have been more consistent than Congressman Cummings’ representation of Maryland’s seventh district – a place I’ve solidly called home for twelve years now – and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to be involved with his program. I have great respect for the Congressman.

What I couldn’t learn on the ECYP website, is that the Congressman himself selects the young people for this prestigious fellowship; he cares that much, and has for twenty years. This made me respect the Congressman even more, as I too believe that the success of the young people in our district is vitally important.

Our sessions at the Pearlstone retreat center in Baltimore County have been an idylic setting for beginning a yoga and mindfulness practice. We’ve now shared four beautiful mornings together over two years.

The first year I was involved with ECYP, I supported the young people during our sessions but did not learn how their trip to Israel went. My role with ECYP entailed meeting with the fellows only twice, before they traveled internationally for the first time. A third meeting at one time seemed possible, but only briefly.

You and I discussed the intention of my role, and together we hoped that the young people might utilize some of the tools from these yoga and mindfulness sessions in challenging moments during their fellowship – including their trip to Israel, and especially on the airplane.

The second year I was involved, I supported the young people during our sessions and I invited myself to attend the “welcome home event” meant for their families, the ECYP Board, and the program’s funders. This is where I finally learned firsthand how the trip to Israel went, and I’m thankful that I got to hear the fellows’ stories.

However, it was by attending this event, that it also became clear to me that I could no longer be involved with the program.

It wasn’t just the stories the young people told about eating Israeli food while using Arabic names, or how unsafe their hosts made them feel while they were deemed safe enough to visit Ashkelon. It was also the fact that none of the students talked about seeing checkpoints, or the separation wall, or the indigenous people of the land/Palestinians, or shared any opinion about what is often euphemistically called “the conflict.”

Additionally, while the ECYP fellows were on their trip, I know that Jewish youth were simultaneously leaving their birthright trips in order to learn about the occupation of Palestine. Either the fellows weren’t aware of these things, or they were groomed to not discuss them.

Neither of these above scenarios are acceptable to me.

As much as I would love to continue to support the ECYP fellows as the beautiful young people that they are, my heart won’t let me ignore the plight of the Palestinians.

I’ve come to learn that there is an ongoing call from many Palestinian people for an Academic Boycott, in the hopes that the occupation/apartheid system they live under will crumble.
Not long ago, John Cheney Lippold was punished by the University of Michigan for not writing a letter of recommendation for a student wanting to study in Israel because he supports this very same boycott. A second more vulnerable instructor by the name of Lucy Peterson also voiced her concerns about supporting discriminatory practises.

Then came Dr. Marc Lamont Hill and Angela Davis!

Likewise, I know that by taking a stand on Israel, even in this small way, I may be falsely labeled an anti-semite and that my support of the BDS movement could hinder my movement if I were to attempt to visit the region again, and that future employment opportunities may also be impacted. And yet, my heart and conscience know just what to do; and so, in honor of the yogic philosophy that is Satya (truthfulness) – I hearby resign from participating in ECYP in 2019.

I can not in good conscience, continue to teach yoga and mindfulness in a program that turns our young people into pawns in the Zionist’s sick game of apartheid. I’ve now seen what this word means, firsthand, not just in Israel-Palestine currently, but also in South Africa in when I was a graduate student. If I’m totally honest, I have also seen how it shows up within my home district.

May we all have better vision before 2020, long before our democratic freedoms of speech and movement become even more restricted in the United States; as they now are for the Palestinians that are being ethnically cleansed from their land in the West Bank and being held behind a wall in the death camp that is Gaza.

Sincerely, and in solidarity,

Amy Genevieve Kozak

“There’s a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience, it supersedes all other courts.” – Gandhi

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