Sharing Wisdom: What Religions can Learn from Each Other

sharing-wisdom.jpg

by: Raanan Mallek, PTIJ coordinator

On Monday, June 12th, 2017, four leading experts in interreligious dialogue gathered at the American Jewish Committee to discuss what religions can learn from each other.  These distinguished scholars from different traditions shared how their experience of learning from each other, with all the complexities therein, has enriched their spiritual lives and deepened their faith.  The speakers included: Didi Sudesh, the European Director of the Brahma Kumaris; Rabbi Dr. David Rosen, the international director of interreligious affairs of the American Jewish Committee; Fr. Dr. David Neuhaus, Patriarchal Vicar for Hebrew speaking Catholics in Jerusalem; and Sheikh Awad, representing the Ahmadiyya community.  The evening was moderated by Peta Jones Pellach, education director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute.

Fr. David Neuhaus spoke about how his first friend in Jerusalem was a Muslim and that he had the blessing to go with him and Rabbi David Rosen to visit Pope John Paul II in 1985. Fr. Neuhaus spoke of the touching connection he has seen develop among Jews driven by their faith observance of commandments to stand in prophetic solidarity with asylum seekers in Israel.

Rabbi David Rosen spoke about how he had a theological epiphany which forced him to confront the question of what the existence of other religions means for Judaism.  He went from a place believing that everyone else is in varying degrees of darkness to a place of being able to see the light in the other.  If we preach the omnipresent and omniscient nature of the Eternal Creator of All and He can relate to us in diverse ways, is it not logical that we can relate to Him in different ways?  Logically, other religions are expressions of the Eternal encountering individual human beings created in the Divine Image.  Amidst the challenges of our modern time, there has never before been more interreligious dialogue as there is today.

Didi Sudesh spoke about how in education, you teach yourself how to move from a place of fear in asking questions to a place of being in awe that the question can be asked.  There is a spiritual meeting space where we can all experience a relationship with the Supreme Soul.  This relationship will allow us to forgive ourselves and others.

Peta Jones Pellach presenting at Limmud Tel Aviv on Who is Afraid of Christianity?

It is understandable why Jews in Europe feared and hated Christianity, the cause of so much of their suffering. But why now and why here? Is Christianity still a threat to us or to Jews anywhere? What should our approach be to Christians in this country? This session will open up discussion as to whether and how Christianity has changed its perspective towards Judaism and what the Jewish and Israeli response.

Click here to register:LimmudTLV

We Need to Talk by Peta Jones Pellach

Originally published here: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/we-need-to-talk/

I once offended a city council-woman when she asked me if my children lived in the city. I said, “No. My girls live in the Tel Aviv area and my son lives in Pisgat Zeev.” “That is Jerusalem,” she responded indignantly. Of course, I knew that it was officially a suburb of Jerusalem. However, having to pass through several Arab villages to get there had made me forget. I always feel that I am leaving the city when I visit my grandchildren there.

Technically, the claim can be made that Jerusalem from Pisgat Zeev and Ramot to Gilo in the south is one city. In reality, it is not. It is nearly fifty years since Jerusalem was united, in the sense that it all came under Israel’s political authority. However, Jerusalem is far from a united city. The issue is not only geography and political boundaries. It is about the people – the residents of this Holy City. Fifty years have passed and the barriers between the different segments of the city’s residents are more imposing than ever. There are whole segments of society whose presence we are aware of only through the media, in waiting rooms or by meaningless encounters on public transport.

Those who celebrate living here – and I am among them – need to acknowledge the problem and to address it. On a national level, politicians argue whether we need one state or two. In Jerusalem, we have to ask if we want this to be one city or more.

Last Thursday night was surprisingly cold. It had been a beautiful summery day and many found themselves without coats when the weather changed. However, the cold did not deter a group of Jews, Muslims and Christians from praying side-by-side at one of the sites outside the walls of the Old City. Nor it did not stop most of them from staying in the city to join the diverse group of citizens and visitors who continue to transform Zion Square every Thursday night.

Praying Together in Jerusalem, March 30, 2017. Photo: Raanan Mallek

For many of the Christians, the new city, the western part, the almost exclusively Jewish part of  Jerusalem, is completely different from the Jerusalem they inhabit. Christians who spend extended periods in Jerusalem as part of their religious formation or to fulfil pilgrimages, usually stay in Christian sites inside the Old City or in the Eastern part. There is only a small Arab Christian population in Jerusalem and for the most-part they choose to keep a low profile and avoid any form of confrontation.

Similarly, the Muslim population of the city mostly lives separately from the Jewish majority. True, the affluent enjoy Mamilla Mall, the children play in Gan Hapaamon and families can be seen at the Tachana Rishona, all attractive sites for residents and tourists. And the medical system provide first class care for all residents equally. However, making use of these public facilities does not necessarily lead to a proper integration of the different sections of society. It does not mean that Arab young people feel safe and accepted in Jewish Jerusalem. It does not mean that Jewish Jerusalemites mix with their non-Jewish co-residents, even in the few integrated suburbs.

Ben Yehuda Mall and Zion Square at its junction with Jaffa Rd, which is the centre of town for most of us, is another world for many Christians living here. This is simply because their business and daily social interactions don’t extend this far. This is also true for Jerusalem’s Muslim population. In fact, the centre of town similarly holds little attraction for the ultra Orthodox Jewish community.  Haredi neighbourhoods are only metres away but the distance cannot be measured in physical terms.

If Jerusalem is to be one, united city, there is a need to actively create the situation in which its residents   will talk to each other. Thanks to various initiatives, on Thursday nights, Zion Square has become a safe meeting place for Jews of all types and a small number of Muslims to enter into conversations with one another. Last Thursday night, the circle was expanded to include Christians.

The Meeting Place in Zion Square, March 30, 2017. Photo: Dina Weiner

“The Meeting Place”, sponsored by the “Yerushalmit Movement,” was founded in 2015 as a response to the murder of  16-year-old Shira Banki. Concerned citizens organized a public shiva for Shira in Zion Square. Professionally facilitated dialogue circles allowed thousands of people from across the social, political and religious spectrum to meet face-to-face. Throughout the seven days of shiva, Zion Square was transformed from a place of violence and racism to one of reconciliation. When the shiva ended, there was a yearning for more. Ever since, every Thursday night, the Yerushalmit Movement has filled Zion Square with music and dialogue; religious and secular, LGBT and straight, locals and passers-by join together in peaceful dialogue around various controversial issues affecting Israeli society.

They were not the first group there. A group calling themselves “Medabrim BaKikar” (“Speaking in the Square”) was founded in 2014 in response to the activities of extreme right-wing activists, who had begun to publicly promote their agenda in Zion Square on Thursday nights, including harassing Arabs who passed by. The aim of Medabrim BaKikar is not to allow extreme racist views to be aired unchallenged. Participants engage in conversations with those handing out leaflets or carrying banners promoting a racist agenda and challenge them to reassess their position, particularly in terms of the Jewish values by which they purport to be guided. Every week, volunteers put themselves in the uncomfortable position of arguing with extremists who rarely understand the principles of respectful debate. Having dialogue circles in the Square alongside them has provided some comfort and support for these pioneers in changing the face of Jerusalem.

The specific incident which inspired Medabrim BaKikar to invite Christians to join them in the Square last Thursday night took place six months ago. It was obvious that for some Jews, Christians pose a threat. It is clear that many Israelis do not meet Christians. Their only familiarity with them is from the history of Europe or the negative attitude of the Talmud. They have no opportunity to talk to Christians and befriend them. There was a need to grapple with the topic, “Can we be friends?;” specifically, “Can we be friends with people of other faiths without risking our fidelity to our own?”. The Yerushalmit Movement was happy to make this the topic for their dialogue circles.

Christians, Muslims and Jews who had prayed together earlier in the evening did not return home immediately. They came to meet the people in the Square. Luckily, there was no shortage of orange blankets to go around. So, many of us wrapped in blankets,  sat on the mats in circles and introduced ourselves. Unfortunately, language was an issue. None of the Christians who had come spoke Ivrit, so the dialogue was restricted to English-speakers. Fortunately, several Israeli felt confident to participate and there was a group of tourists who joined us. A Muslim couple, a sheikh from Nablus and his wife, who had been at Praying Together, were able to participate. She spoke English. A tri-lingual volunteer made sure that the sheikh was able to follow.

After introductions, I posed the questions, “Can we be friends with people of other faiths? Isn’t his dangerous? Isn’t it also a little ingenuous – after all, don’t we always hold back a little in interfaith friendships?”

My Muslim friend was incensed! Of course you can have deep friendships with people from other faiths! She was passionate. The interchange led one of the young Jewish participants to exclaim that she was overcome with emotion. This was her first genuine interfaith experience. Indeed, none of the participants in the circle was prepared to acknowledge that interreligious friendships can be challenging. Whether or not it is always true, this group felt that difference in religion was not a barrier to a positive relationship.

The conversation flowed. Many of the Jewish participants took the opportunity to ask Christians about their faith and the Christians were delighted to be able to explain their beliefs. The conversation took another turn when we were joined by Megan Phelps-Roper, who had arrived in Israel only a couple of hours earlier. She acknowledged that some Christians continue to vilify Jews but she explained that she personifies those who can have her views changed by a positive, personal encounter through rational and well-informed dialogue. Her presence was a great testimony to the importance of the dialogue in which we were all engaged.

Those who participate in Praying Together in Jerusalem events, held on the last Thursday of every month, have come to feel a deep bond with one another. We develop friendships which are based on mutual respect. Our gatherings comprise of people of prayer – a group who recognize that whatever way we choose to pray, in whatever language and through whatever religious tradition, we are all addressing the same Divine being.  This is unity through diversity.

PTIJ Feb

The medium of prayer is one important way to form relationships but it alone will not change Israeli society.  We need to talk to each other.  There is nothing more powerful than an open, honest conversation. And we need to invest time in learning about each other.

The activities of the groups that gather on Thursday nights in Zion Square are contributing to this goal. In two months, we will celebrate the reunification of Jerusalem. Celebrations will be hollow if we only consider the military victory which has led to Jerusalem being totally under Israeli political authority. The real unification of Jerusalem will be when all its residents see themselves as having a common interest in the peaceful future of the world’s most holy city.

“The hall was filled with love and hope”

k4p-article

“We all gathered there for the same reason, to make peace and still keep our own identity, while also sharing it with one another” – Alona, 9th grade K4P participant

On Sunday, Kids4Peace participated in an interfaith prayer and dialogue event called Praying Together in Jerusalem. Over 150 Jerusalem faith-based activists gathered at Tantur and spent three hours together, praying side by side, engaging in dialogue about constructive conflict in religion and sharing a meal at the end to the soft and poetic music of the Oud. The beautiful simplicity and also staggering rarity of seeing Muslims, Jews and Christians praying simultaneously, side by side, in their own groups, but in the same room, was striking, and set the stage for what was a moving, empowering, and engaging evening.

Seven Kids4Peace staff members helped facilitate a few of the dialogue groups and 30 youth, parents and community members from Kids4Peace participated in the evening. The dialogue was led by two facilitators of two different faiths with groups of 10-15 participants from all over the world. We examined sources from the three Abrahamic faiths as well as a modern conflict resolution studies text, which all discussed how to engage in conflict and how to do it in a constructive way. We mused on how to take these pieces of wisdom and bring them to our daily lives, how to be more compassionate and engaged in conflict, and how to continue working towards a more peaceful and inclusive Jerusalem.

For Adam, a Jewish 10th grader in K4P, it was an interesting evening: “It was great to have a dialogue with different people from different religions, and not only with the kids I know from K4P.”                                                                                                                                              Anton, a Christian 12th grader in K4P, was really happy to find out that “there are way more communities that support peace than I thought! I was glad to meet them, and it was nice to talk about my experience in k4p!”

The prayer part of the evening was almost indescribable in its simultaneous simplicity and courageously unique bravery. In one big room: Muslims set up their prayer mat and began praying facing Mecca. Next to them one Jewish group had a traditional prayer service, facing the Western Wall. Next to them was an egalitarian Jewish prayer circle, and next to them was the Christian prayer service, being led by the director of Tantur, Father Russ McDougall. Each group could be heard singing, chanting and praying silently, simultaneously, in a moment of awe-inspiring holiness and beauty.

“Watching the joint prayer from the side was an unforgettable experience. The hall was lit up by people filled with love and hope.” – Yael, Pathways to Peace coordinator

“It was a very special experience. There was one moment that was the most meaningful for me. The Muslim, Christian and Jewish prayers that were just right next to each other felt so strong and full of faith. We all gathered there for the same reasons, to make peace and still keep your own identity, while sharing it with each other.” – Alona

Praying for One Another, Even When We Disagree

02 March 2017article

By Loyola Ranarison*

Around 170 people gathered and prayed together on 19 February in Jerusalem, observing the fifth annual “Jewish Week of Constructive Conflict”.

From 19-25 February, the special week was celebrated by the “Praying Together in Jerusalem” movement (PTIJ) comprised of faith-based organizations. On 19 February, around 170 people met at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute of Jerusalem for an evening called “Praying Together for Constructive Conflict in Jerusalem”. There were times of prayers, reflection and singing. Participants were Christians, Muslims and Jewish and everyone could pray or meditate. They also shared talks and meals at the end of the session. Blessings were given in Arabic, English and Hebrew.

Dr Yehuda Stolov, executive director of the Interfaith Encounter Association, says “In the current reality, where the situation is unstable in the Holy Land and the Middle East, it is essential to consistently build peaceful inter-communal relations that will ensure ethical and caring behaviour towards people of other communities, as the Interfaith Encounter Association does on a daily basis”.

Despite the difference, there is room for dialogue

The Jewish Week of Constructive Conflict is also known as the 9Adar Project. The aim is to address political divisions and to attempt to build bridges within and between Jewish communities.

What is “constructive conflict”? It recognizes that, despite the differences of opinions, engaging and dialoguing are still possible. This year, synagogues, schools and local institutions focused on “constructive communication”. Activities and workshops were organized around contentious conversations and hurtful words.

While this event is mainly held by and for the Jewish community, the PTIJ initiative joined the events to show that religions, often linked to conflicts, could also be part of a peace process. “The importance of this festive event is in its inclusion of larger audiences and their attraction to the ongoing work of interfaith encounter,” shares Stolov.

PTIJ is an initiative coordinated by the following organizations: Tantur Ecumenical Institute, Elijah Interfaith Institute, Abrahamic Reunion, Interfaith Encounter Association, Kids4Peace, Sisters of Sion, Microphones for Peace, Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution, ADAShA, Jerusalem Center for Interreligious Encounter and Dibbur Hadash.

They meet every last Thursday of the month in the Old City of Jerusalem to pray for each community and to learn more about the beliefs, practices and sacred texts of the respective traditions.

Originally published at: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/praying-for-one-another-even-when-we-disagree