The 33rd Israeli-Palestinian retreat of interfaith encounter was jointly held between 21-22 July 2011 at the beautiful Austrian Hospice in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, by the Interfaith Encounter Association and the Palestinian Peace Club from Yata (south of Hebron). The theme was: "Who Can't We Marry?" and it brought together people from Yata, Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramalla and Jericho in the Palestinian Authority, and from Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv and Arad in Israel.
After a brief welcome and introduction by the directors of the two organizations, Mr. Raed Abu-Eid of PPC and Dr. Yehuda Stolov of IEA, and a round of getting acquainted, we went straight to the theme of the retreat: "Who Can't We Marry?"
The Jewish perspective was presented by Rabbi Bob Carroll. The conversation this time was weaved into the presentation, with people asking and commenting.
Some of the points touched were:
The Muslim perspective was similarly studied. Mr. Raed Abu-Eid presented the Muslim relevant laws and comments and questions by all participants were part of it. Points that were discussed included:
Then came the time to go deeper and more personal. Michelle Friedman introduced the following question to the group: since most of us are married – let's create a list of the things that sustain our marriages. Here are some of the points that were mentioned:
One of the participants shared a Muslim story: Prophet Mohammad gave a coin to each of his wives and asked her not to tell anyone. Then he declared to all his wives that he loves most the one who has the coin…
Finally we held a concluding circle in which everyone shared their reflections of the retreat. After having coffee or soft drinks in the lovely garden of the Austrian Hospice, we fare welled, already looking forward to the next retreat.
The Jerusalem-Yata Youth Interfaith Encounter group renews its activity!
First we thank those who joined the first encounter of the renewed group.
We apologized to the Jews who came during the fast day of Taanit Esther – we will not do that again.
The encounter was VERY nice. We started with general acquaintance of the old and new members.
Then the Jewish members explained about the Holiday of Purim, the Megila story and the meaning of the fast.
The Palestinians made sincere efforts to follow the curves of the plot…
For the last several years, the Circle of Light and Hope, one of the IEA’s 37 ongoing dialog groups, has been discussing a very wide range of religious topics at our monthly meetings and retreats. Meetings take place in either the Gush Etzion or Har Gilo/ Beit Jalla area, with retreats being either at the Everest Hotel near Har Gilo or at the Austrian Hospice in the Old City of Jerusalem. Recently, subsequent to the attack on a Mosque in the town of Beit Fajar, it was decided to discuss the idea of “Sacred Space” in each religion. At the end of this meeting, several of the Muslim members of the group asked if it might be possible for them to visit a synagogue at some point. Several of the group’s Jewish members, including myself, are members of Kehilat Yedidya in Baka, a Modern Orthodox synagogue which is both geographically convenient (walking distance from the Bethlehem checkpoint) and which regularly welcomes groups of non-Jewish visitors. So with warm encouragement from the synagogue's leadership we decided to arrange a visit.
The group of 6 Muslim members of the Circle of Light and Hope arrived, on Friday Nov. 26th, at about 3:30 PM, about an hour before the Sabbath began, in order to meet with the Jewish members who were present and spend a little bit of time learning about the structure and content of the Kabbalat Shabbat (Receiving the Sabbath) prayers. They were also given copies of the entire Kabbalat Shabbat prayer and much of the Maariv (evening) prayer in both English and Arabic. While we were studying the text of the prayers and customs/actions related to the prayers together, Drs. Yehuda Stolov and Taleb al-Hariti, the Muslim co-chair of the group, were interviewed by reporters from an Italian TV station. We then joined the synagogue members for a lovely, melodical and very peaceful Kabbalat Shabbat service.
The impact this visit had on all of us truly cannot be overstated; indeed it may have been the first time that Palestinian Muslims were welcomed into an Orthodox synagogue. We sincerely hope to be able to arrange more such visits to each other’s houses of worship in the very near future, in order to continue to break down walls of misunderstanding and build trust, friendship and respect.
Below you will find the story of a historical visit of a join Israeli-Palestinian interfaith encounter group to the Palestinian side of the City of Hebron, with permission from the army authorities.
With us was a reporter of ISRAEL21C and here is his story:
On a personal note: I joined this so special visit and encounter and for me there were several extremely unique elements to it:
First thing that was striking, was the calm and relaxed atmosphere of the tour. Most tours include a lot of anger – either towards the Jewish side or towards the Palestinian side. This tour was different and it was for me an indication to the high level of friendship and trust that developed within the group.
Another striking element was the emptiness of the old market. I was last in it when I was briefly a settler I Hebron some 30 years ago and I remembered it as full of life – with Jews, Palestinians and tourists filling it to the degree one could hardly move in it. It was very sad to see it so quiet and empty.
Then, in the Cave of the Patriarchs I met the spokesman of the Hebron Settlers and was happy to see how happy he was to hear about our group and its special visit and how he longed with me to the return of the good old days.
I went back from this day with a lot of hope!
On November 4th we had our encounter in the city of Hebron. We were around ten of the group members from Hebron, five from Qalqilia, three from East Jerusalem and seven Israelis.
We began with a visit which included a tour of the old city, the old market and the Cave of the Patriarchs. The tour was led by the Palestinian members of the group from Hebron. They explained why the market is nearly empty and showed us the division between the Palestinian side of the city and the Jewish side of the city. The explained the complexity of living in the city and its consequences. When we arrived at the Cave of the Patriarchs we split and entered from different entries: the Muslims from the Muslim side and the Jews from the Jewish side.
We then all went to sit in a café in the city center, where we talked about the sanctity of the the City of Hebron in Islam and in Judaism. Finally we reached the conclusion that the city is holy to both religions for the same reason: the fact that the Patriarchs are buried in it. We ended with Falafel, Nargila and lemonade and everyone said they enjoyed a lot this visit!
It is important to note that despite the political differences between the two peoples, the tour went in a very calm and peaceful way, in which we were privileged to get to know the city and hear about it through the people who live in it. May many such encounters happen!
Our third meeting was in Bethlehem! It was very exciting for the Israeli members, all of them young and never been there before. After a few days of handling the permissions issues, we drove from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.
At first, we met Nour, the Palestinian coordinator. Nour took us on a tour around the city. We visited al'Aida refugee camp, and drove all around beautiful Bethlehem.
Later on, we got to the YMCA Palestinian crafts center in the city. We saw wonderful Palestinian crafts and were exposed to this YMCA great project. Then, we had a break-fast dinner that ended the fast of the Palestinians for that day of Ramadan.
After dinner, we drank coffee outside and enjoyed the good weather and the sweets. We talked about Ramadan and about fasting in Judaism and Islam. After a nice conversation, we went to see the Nativity Church and the nice square of Bethlehem. We were driving threw the old city of Bethlehem on our way back to Jerusalem.
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