Approximately 170 people came to participate in the “Praying Together for Constructive Conflict in Jerusalem” at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute with people were arriving from as far afield as Nablus and Tel Aviv as well as all the suburbs and surrounding towns of Jerusalem; the layout of Tantur was not familiar and a little overwhelming – some were looking for bathrooms or coffee, others searching for friends who had arrived earlier; and we were operating in four languages (Hebrew, Arabic, English, French). For many, it was their first interfaith and intercultural event and they were not quite sure what to expect.
Gradually, the foyer emptied, as people made their way to the auditorium for the opening ceremony. Father Russ McDouggall, Rector of Tantur and one of the founders of Praying Together in Jerusalem (PTIJ), welcomed everyone and explained the importance of our gathering together. He was followed by Sheikh Ghassan Manasra of the Abrahamic Reunion, who blessed the gathering in Arabic, Hebrew and English. Speaking about the power of side-by-side prayer, he likened our lives to being in an aeroplane. We are all concerned as we take off and each of us prays that the journey will be safe. If G-d listens to the prayers of just one of us, all of us are saved.
Rabbi Daniel Roth and Nurit Bachrach from Dibbur Hadash explained the context of the event. This was the first of over one hundred events to be held around the country in this week of Constructive Conflict. Although this is not the first year that the first week in Adar has been dedicated to the principles of Dibbur Hadash, which is based on the respectful way in which our sages of the Second Temple period, Hillel and Shamai, engaged in argument, it represents a breakthrough in the number of people involved.
More details can be found on http://www.9adar.org
For the first time, this year the emphasis is on interfaith “constructive conflict.” Religion, which is sometimes seen as the cause of conflict, can be the source of peace and increased understanding, provided that the conversations take place in the spirit of mutual respect and appreciation that difference can be enriching rather than threatening.
Peta Jones Pellach, of the Elijah Interfaith Institute and a co-founder of PTIJ, introduced representatives of the 13 organisations who were involved in the program, including Interfaith Encounter Association, Bar Ilan University’s Centre for Conflict Resolution and Rabbis for Human Rights. It was already time for Muslim afternoon prayers and there was some urgency to move into prayer mode. The chairs were stacked, the prayer carpet rolled out, and the crowd found their way to their respective groups.
Muslims prayed facing Mecca, mainly in silence. Two groups of Jews gathered, one facing Jerusalem and praying the regular Maariv (evening service) and one in a circle, singing a selection of Psalms and other readings dedicated to Peace. Christians recited readings and sang hymns, their beautiful tunes blending with the other voices. A small group chose to meditate rather than pray. There was space for them, too.
As the prayers finished, people made their way to rooms around the beautiful grounds of Tantur to join one of fifteen study circles, led by volunteer facilitators. Before they engaged with texts, participants took the opportunity to get to know one another a little better by sharing their personal experiences of unhealthy disagreement. Some groups operated in more than one language, which enabled Israelis and Palestinians to share their experiences and ideas with each other. The sounds of happy conversation, including laughter, emanated from many of the rooms.
All the facilitators had participated in a training session to familiarize themselves with the selection of texts, one Jewish, one Christian, one Muslim and one from the field of secular conflict resolution. In most cases, they worked in partnership with a co-facilitator from another faith. Under their guidance, participants found a learning partner, in order to employ the traditional Jewish methodology of chevruta, learning in pairs. It was an intense experience of seeing texts through the eyes of another. And it was all too brief.
Praying Together in Jerusalem concludes all its gatherings with a final circle which brings everyone together. In the courtyard, nearly two hundred people joined the circle, where Professor Mohamad Dajani, whose family have been the keepers of Nabi Daud-King David’s Tomb offered his blessings and support that we continue our monthly meetings at David’s Tomb. Eliyahu McLean and Ghassan Manasra led a shared prayer for peace – a powerful moment with everyone chanting together. The formalities ended with two minutes’ silence, with each person reflecting on the power and beauty of the event in which they had participated.
It was already late and people were free to leave – but few did. Enjoying a light meal and the pleasant background music of an oud player, people stayed well into the night, talking with one another. It was beautiful to see the efforts being made for people to find interpreters, so that they could meet new people in a relaxed atmosphere. Event coordinator, Raanan Mallek of Tantur, and volunteer coordinator Allyson Zacharoff could finally relax and look on with satisfaction at the crowd.
The event achieved many things. A coalition of thirteen interfaith and peace organizations worked together, without any sort of rivalry. Participants made new friends and had profound conversations with people whom they would not have an opportunity to meet in their daily lives. Texts were shared that showed both common values and subtle differences between the approach of the three Abrahamic traditions to the question of respectful disagreement. There was increased awareness about the importance of disagreeing in a healthy way – not eliminating diversity of opinion but embracing it.
The event launched a nation-wide week of activities. We were proud to be involved.
PTIJ meets on the last Thursday of every month.
Join us for an evening of prayer, conversation and fellowship as we discuss Constructive Conflict according to the different Abrahamic Traditions
A meat/parve kosher meal will be provided for the attendees.
Please pre-register to indicate any meal restrictions.
by: Raanan Mallek, PTIJ Project Coordinator, Shalom Crafter Radio Show host
This reflection was compiled from the Shalom Crafters radio show on Microphones for Peace. The interview took place on Feb. 8th. Rev. Russell McDougall, CSC (Fr. Russ) was ordained a priest of the Holy Cross in 1991. He has been rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute since 2014.
The show began with Fr. Russ reflecting on the time that has passed since our first show two years ago with Dr. Marcie Lenk from the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. I suggested that we look at what progress has taken place in interfaith activism since that time.
Fr. Russ wanted to clarify that he does not consider himself an activist in the plain sense of the word. He is a Catholic priest and priests in the Christian tradition are supposed to be mediators and reconcilers. “We are challenged and invited to reconcile people to G-d and hopefully to draw people closer to one another. And that has been the heart of my work at Tantur which is an academic theological institute that tries to bring people with very different theological convictions together to understand one another and hopefully to build closer bonds of friendship and communion.”
Fr. Russ explained that Tantur’s mission is principally among Christians but interfaith dialogue has been part of the mission from the very beginning. Were he to consider himself an activist, it would be in the sense of his friend, Dr. Debbie Weissman, the past president of the International Council of Christians and Jews. Debbie Weissman recently wrote in her Memoires of a Hopeful Pessimist (2017) that she is an activist through dialogue.
Instead of progress, Fr. Russ sees a number of different developments. He spoke of this year’s successful Christian Unity Week where for nine evenings, Christians of all different traditions gathered for their evening prayer. There were Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans, Syriac Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox. The experience of going on pilgrimage from Church to Church each evening and standing before G-d together was a very moving experience for all.
The experience of facing G-d together and standing before G-d in prayer is what has been at the heart of Praying Together in Jerusalem. Praying Together in Jerusalem is an interfaith initiative that invites Jews, Christians and Muslims to come together to pray their evening prayer alongside one another. This has been happening on the last Thursday of every month for the past year and a half.
There have been a lot of challenges especially in finding a place where all three faith communities feel comfortable coming to. It was a shock to Fr. Russ to realize how few are the places in and around the Old City where everyone can feel comfortable praying alongside one another. That being said, the places that we have found allowed for relationship building between all the different types of people.
One place where all three religions do feel comfortable is at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute. There have been four large interreligious gatherings which allowed for over a hundred and fifty different types of people from all over the Holy Land to come together for an in depth experience of fellowship and communion while studying texts, praying and eating alongside one another.
We are looking forward to the next interfaith encounter this Sunday evening called Praying Together for Constructive Conflict in Jerusalem. At this encounter, we will explore the values of ‘constructive conflict’, ‘adeb el ikhtilaf’ (ethics of disagreement) and ‘machloket leShem Shamayim’ (disagreement for the sake of Heaven) as described in the different Abrahamic Traditions.
This special event is being held as part of the Dibur Hadash: Week of Constructive Conflict taking place throughout the country and the world between February 19th to the 25th. The event was sponsored by Dibur Hadash, the Elijah Interfaith Institute, the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, the Abrahamic Reunion. The event is supported by the following organizations: Microphones for Peace, Rabbis for Human Rights Interfaith Department, Three Faiths Forum, Kids4Peace, Pardes Center for Judaism & Conflict Resolution, Interfaith Encounter Association and Mosaica.
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