Some 15 participants came to this encounter. Some were new participants, and some of the participants from the previous encounter could not attend due to schedule challenges.
We opened the encounter with a round of responses on "What is most disturbing to me now", and then we had a round of sharing on "What makes me optimistic". In both rounds issues were related to politics, rifts in society, family, dialogue, culture of discussion and meeting with other groups in the country.
Then we moved to the subject on which we have focused on for the rest of the encounter: The concept of identity. We asked participants to share elements of identity and wrote them on the board. We divided the participants into three groups of 4-5, and asked them to make a list of five elements that express the identity of the group, in hierarchical order. After this activity, we returned to the circle and asked participants to view the lists that they created. We discussed the difficulties that arose from all the lists. We asked if all the members of the group agreed to the final list, and if they felt that they were required to "give up" on elements of their identity, or if there was anything on the list that does not characterize them. We continued to discuss the complexities of collective identity versus the personal identity, and the conflicts that exist between individuals/communities in the same group/country. We referred also to the importance of community identity, and the fact that personal and community identity often mix. The discussion touched general and personal experiences of different groups within the country.
In summary, we related to how the various participants in the group deal with being part of the conversation group, we raised the fact that some people feel more comfortable in the group and some less, and people express their identity in different ways as part of our group.
On Tuesday, 23 September, some 25 of the coordinators of the Interfaith Encounter Association went together on a day's trip to the north. This was the first time such a trip happened and it was made possible thanks to the generous grant of the Fetzer Institute.
We began our journey in the checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, where coordinators of the south part of the West Bank, as well as southern Jerusalem, boarded. In a north-east station of the light rail we picked up more coordinators, from other parts of Jerusalem and the West Bank, and headed towards Nazareth.
After leaving Jerusalem we prayed the Jewish and Muslim prayer for the road, introduced the program for the day (visiting some sites but mainly having a pleasant day together) and encouraged people to use the ride in order to get to know fellow coordinators whom they never met before or don't know well.
Our first stop was Mount Precipice. We heard about the old traditions about Jesus' jump when he was expelled from his synagogue in Nazareth, enjoyed the lookout Jezreel Valley on the one side and on Nazareth on the other.
Next we went to the city of Nazareth and spent some time in small groups – having coffee and sweets, eating Falafel or shopping. We gathered in the spring's square and held a circle in which we introduced ourselves as well as attracted attention of passers-by. Then we went around the market and other parts of the old city, hearing both informative explanations and sharing of experiences by some of us who grew up in Nazareth.
From Nazareth we went to the Shavei Zion beach, where we enjoyed the view of the see while having together cold drinks and relaxed conversations.
Our final stop was Acre where we also had dinner, using the opportunity for electing the new Board and Audit Committee and handing the IEA Prize to the best group in 2013 – the Mount Scopus Interfaith Encounter group.
It was a really wonderful day that helped coordinators who work with very different groups who are also far away from each other geographically to get to know each other, connect and consolidate as one team. We hope that it will be possible to hold such trips at least once a year.
The theme of the IEA retreat held at the Biankini Resort from Thursday, Nov 20 to Friday, Nov 21 was “Spiritual friendship across boundaries.” The retreat combined an introduction to and practice of Zen meditation with conversations on the theme of spiritual friendship in the Muslim and Jewish Traditions.
Participants were Yeshiva (=religious Jewish academy) students and young Palestinian Muslims.
Imad gave the Muslim perspective on the topic– telling the story about the person of another religion who abused and cursed the prophet passing by his house every day, until one day the person was nowhere to be seen. The prophet inquired about him, found out that he was sick and went to give him his best wishes, which led to dialogue and changed the negative attitude of the other person. This attitude of forgiveness and readiness to help even the person who abuses you is a model for relating to the religious Other.
Killing another is forbidden – according to the Sunna –killing another person it is as if you destroy the temple.
Diversity is encouraged – God created the different nations so that they compete with each other in good deeds and serving God.
The mention of the temple triggered an engaged discussion on the recent events at the Temple-Mount – since Rabbi Yehuda Glick who advocates prayer for all at the Holy Site and was severely wounded when recently shot teaches at Otniel.
Imad emphasized that prayer for all at the site is a religious act only after the existence of a Palestinian state. Before that it is a political act.
The Jewish perspective, prepared by the entire group:
Genesis is the story of all humankind, not just of Israel. We should go back to the original condition where all were connected. Before the tower of Babel, all spoke one language. Diversity is in the divine plan because of its richness, but we have to work towards oneness from diversity. Many people mistakenly think that only they are created in the image of God – which leads to hate and friction. We have to learn to be in God`s image, work as a symphony in the name of God and transform hate into love. The challenges are doing justice, to love and have patience with our neighbor, to walk humbly before God.
Avraham is the father of many nations, and Isaac and Ismael buried their father together. God is our father, we are the children. On the last day, all nations will come to the mountain of the Lord, they will be judged, make their spears into ploughs, there will be peace (Isaiah 2, Mica 4). After each nation fulfills its task they will all come to the Holy Mountain – the one place to bring life and to heal the world.
This triggered further discussion on the Temple Mount. According to some Muslim understanding, Isaiah`s prophecy is about the end of the world, the mountain is the judgment place, Issa (Jesus) will coma as Messiah, there will be a great tribulation and then the establishment of a World Caliphate. In Jewish understanding, the Messiah does not necessarily have to be a person – it can be a new way of existence, a new age.
It was pointed out that in Islam, we are not called children of God, but servants, slaves. God is not addressed as father, only as King.
This triggered discussion on judgment and forgiveness. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur at days of judgment, you may be judged like a servant, but forgiven and loved as a son, if you repent and atone.
All participated in the meditations between the discussions, returning from words and arguments to breathing together in silence. At the end, we all joined in friendship in a simple song in Arabic offered by Imad. In the final sharing, participants shared how these meetings are like lighting a candle in the present darkness, how the dialogue is “the first step on a ladder out of a dangerous situation”, how the meditation clears up the “bad things” and gives rise to the “good things”, how it is safer to disagree when you know that you have so much in common, how they want to continue learning about the other – about the stories of the prophets, the notion of judgment (din) and last days in particular, how they are aware that the media splits us apart, but how they want to continue these meetings: “if you stay away from my eyes, you stay away from my heart. When we sit together like this, our hearts stay close.”
August 7th 2014
We met at seven o'clock in the café in entrance to the cinema and we were five Palestinians and two Jews. Also participated the encounter Yehuda and Salah, directors of the Interfaith Encounter Association.
The subject of the encounter was the laws of war in religion. At the beginning of the meeting, we talked about various subjects related to the theme. Then Itamar began to talk about the subject from the Jewish perspective and we were asking them questions. Then we took coffee and cold drinks and I Moatasem spoke on the subject from the Islamic perspective.
At the end of the encounter the conversation flowed to what was happening in Gaza from the religious perspective, to both sides. At ten o'clock we closed the encounter and went wandering in the area together.
The group of Rabbis and Sheikhs met again on 16th November with four Jews and four Muslims.
First we got to know the new people and reviewed several media articles that mentioned the group (the two versions of the YNET article got almost 5,000 likes!) and the meeting of the rabbi and sheikh coordinating the group and IEA director with the Special Advisor to US Secretary Kerry on Faith-Based Initiatives.
Then we moved to talking about the theme of the encounter – Sanctity of Life. Rabbi Yacov started by presenting several key Jewish texts on the theme: Bible, Genesis 1: 27: "God created Humanity in his own image, in the image of God he created them"
Rabbi Akiva, Mishna Avot 3:14: "Beloved are Humans who are created in the image of God"
Rabbi Akiva, Sifra: "love your neighbor as yourself" this is the essential principle of the Torah"
Rabbi Abraham Kook Chapter 1 "For the Perplexed of the Generation":
"That Humanity is created in the image of God, this is the essence of the entire Torah" Bible Genesis Chapter 18
17 And the LORD said: 'Shall I hide from Abraham that which I am doing; 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice.
Then Sheikh Abu Wisam presented the Muslim perspective. The Quran respects others, especially Jews and Christians, and we know that this is also true for Judaism and Christianity. But unfortunately sometimes political issues cause separation between the people, with conflicts that are only between the political leaderships, not between the people. People want security and stability in their lives and for that we should live in mutual respect. There are indeed groups that seek power and wealth and political, not religious, goals, and misuse Islam to justify terrorism. These groups bring bad name to Islam and when we will return to the true Islam they will vanish. We should work together to rebuild the relations between the communities and put aside the mutual harms done. The original situation was good but the British imperialism deteriorated our relations. When we advance in restoring them – we could live in harmony together.
A long, friendly and vivid conversation followed the two presentations. Some of the points that were made were:
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