The 30th retreat of Israeli-Palestinian interfaith encounter took place on Thursday and Friday, June 10th and 11th, in the charming guest house of the Austrian Hospice, at the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem. We are grateful to them for their wonderful hospitality. The retreat was jointly organized by the Interfaith Encounter Association and the Palestinian Peace Club from Yata (south of Hebron). The theme was: marriage.
The retreat did not start on time. Technical difficulties resulted in late receipt by the Palestinian participants of their entry permits to Jerusalem. So we first met each other during dinner. After dinner we squeezed two sessions into one: we briefly introduced the two organizations and the guidelines for our conversation during the retreat. Then we quickly introduced ourselves and heard a short presentation of the Jewish perspective by Ms. Shirel Guez. All this briefness left us nearly an hour and a half for good conversation in small groups – including more detailed self-introduction, sharing by each of us of a marriage story that moved us and a conversation following on the Jewish presentation. Conversation continued long after the session officially ended.
The morning started with the Muslim presentation by Mr. Raed Abu Eid and the Christian presentation by Ms. Raffaela Corrias. Participants then went back to the small groups to continue the conversation, for about an hour and a half, until they broke for coffee and cake.
After the break we gathered together for the closing circle, in which each of us shared a short sentence about what he or she is taking back home from the retreat. We went down for lunch and then fare welled warmly from our new friends.
The Interfaith Encounter Association
P.O.Box 3814, Jerusalem 91037, Israel
Ms. Evelyne Savir (Chair)
Dr. Shlomo Alon
Ms. Nadia Tutunji-Nuseibeh
Ms. Saheer Siam
Mr. Rizk Azam
Ms. Randa Zreik-Sabag
Dr. Yehuda Stolov, Executive Director
Mr. Salah Alladin, Assistant Director
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On the weekend of February 19-20 2010, the Gush Etzion Interfaith Encounter group held a retreat in Nes Amim, with 15 Palestinians and 17 Jews who came with their children to talk together about "Happiness and Joy" in the religions.
Before reaching Nes Amim we stopped at the beach north of Acre and then we began to get to know each other better and learn more about the Interfaith Encounter Association that organized this encounter.
Then we went to Nes Amim and talked about happiness in the Jewish religion. Rabbi Elhanan said that the Jewish religion encourages us to bring happiness into the souls of people, especially in the Holidays.
On the second day, Ribhi – one of the group's coordinators – talked about happiness in Islam and said that the Muslim religion also encourages making people happy, especially in the Muslim Holidays and special occasions like birth and marriage. Also in everyday life and especially to make the children happy.
The group divided into two groups that discussed the theme of happiness according to every one's view and interpretation. Participants also talked about bringing to religions together on the theme of happiness.
The Muslims watched the Shabbat prayer from its beginning to its end. The Jews saw the Muslim prayer and learned how many "Raqas" are there in each prayer, how each Raqa is performed in the five daily prayers, the time of each prayer and what is usually read from the Koran.
The retreat also included different types of encounters, according to its program, with interactions that bring the people of the two sides closer together.
The hospitality and food were very pleasant and both sides were happy with the retreat and thanked Nes Amim for the hospitality. We all hope to be able to have more such retreats and deepen the interfaith encounter of the two sides.
The 28th Israeli-Palestinian retreat of interfaith encounter was dedicated to IEA's 30th on-going group – the Circle of Light and Hope, an Israeli-Palestinian group that resulted from the 25th retreat, which was also kindly hosted by the Austrian Hospice.
I hope you will all enjoy the update below, written by Rabbi Bob Carroll, who together with Dr. Taleb Alharithy of the Palestinian Peace Society coordinates this group.
The retreat was held at the Austrian Hospice in the Old City of Jerusalem. While unfortunately some of us had to leave early because of a family member being hospitalized (we hope and pray for her full recovery!!), we nevertheless had some fruitful and engaging discussions on the theme, which was Nabi Yussuf/Joseph.
The Jewish presentation, which was given by Bob with many very good questions/comments from Taleb, consisted of a very short summary of the story of Joseph as it is presented in the Torah, together with some thoughts and questions. Bob mentioned that in the Jewish tradition, Joseph is primarily referred to not as “Joseph the Prophet” as he is in Islam, but rather as “Yoseph haTzaddik” – “Joseph the Righteous.” This is somewhat difficult to understand, as at many points in his life’s story, Joseph seems to be somewhat egotistical, perhaps even cruel. In rabbinic teachings, his description as a “Tzaddik” is often linked to his not succumbing to sexual temptation… but even in this regard the record is equivocal. While some did in fact feel that the title of “righteous” is greatly exaggerated in Joseph’s case, others felt that if one looks at the story closely, one sees that there is much going on “under the surface”. Specifically, God, in the Torah’s version, is not mentioned very often throughout most of the story, outside of Joseph’s assertion that his interpretations of dreams came from God. But at the end of the tale, when Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers, he realizes that everything that had happened, even including the things he himself had done as a young boy to arouse their jealousy and enmity, had come from God. It is this realization, that God had been acting behind the scenes all along, which causes Joseph to forgive his brothers for selling him into slavery. Perhaps it was this ability to see God’s hand in history, and to perceive that all that had happened was for good and was planned by God so that the Israelites might live, which indeed makes Joseph into a true Prophet and Tzaddik.
On Friday morning we had to cut our discussions short, but nevertheless had a wonderful informal conversation about interfaith work and the role of IEA, which included one participant sharing some liturgical texts that her synagogue (in the Jewish Reform tradition) had written, and which emphasize the Jewish commitment to the welfare of all people and peace between all people. We also briefly discussed some aspects of Sufi and Christian and Jewish mystical/Chassidic teachings and how they are often so strikingly similar, even in different religions. It was suggested that it might be a wonderful idea for IEA to host an event or retreat focusing on mystical poetry in the three religions, from people like (but not limited to) Rabbi Kuk, Rumi, San Juan de La Cruz, etc.
One participant wrote after the retreat: "Thank you so much for organizing the interfaith encounter at the Everest Hotel, November5th-7th.
It was a stimulating and exciting experience for me, and all the participants clearly felt likewise. It was a unique opportunity to bond with Palestinians across the national and religious "divide", and to learn about one another's respective traditions and culture.
Above all, it was a very significant reminder of the plain fact that we are all individuals, with similar hopes, dreams and concerns."
What actually happen at there retreat?
In the afternoon of November 5th we opened the 27th Israeli-Palestinian retreat of interfaith encounter. It was again a joint retreat of the Interfaith Encounter Association and the Hope Flowers School, sponsored by Canada's Networking for Peace program – to whom we are deeply grateful.
We began by briefly introducing the two organizations and their activities, followed by introduction of the agenda for the retreat and its guiding principles. Then participants went into small conversation groups for a session of self-introduction. They first shared their life story and then they each shared with each other elements of the story of Joseph that inspire or move them.
After dinner we enjoyed a social evening with Palestinian flavor of the Oud and singing, followed by relaxed conversations into the night.
The morning of the second day began with the Jewish perspective. Unfortunately, Nachum – who was planned to deliver the Jewish presentation – could not come in the last minute so Yehuda replaced him. He presented the Biblical story from Genesis about Joseph being the son of Jacob's beloved wife, being favored etc.
As usual, after each of the presentations the conversation continued in the small groups.
After the Muslims returned from the Jumaa prayer, Yasser presented the Koranic story, which is nearly identical to the Biblical one. There are, though, a few interesting differences between the stories. According to the Koran Jacob suspected that the brothers plan to harm Joseph and did not agree he will go with them to the field until they swore to him that they will bring him back safely. Later – Joseph refused to go out of prison until it was proven that he was innocent. Joseph revealed himself to Benjamin already when they were together for the first time, but asked hin to keep it secret. The brothers did return without Benjamin but after Jacob became blind out of sorrow – they went back to ask Joseph to release Benjamin. Then Joseph revealed to them, they apologized and he gave them his shirt to put on Jacob's face in order to cure him.
Before sunset we all gathered for a prayers session. The Jewish participants gave a short explanation about the special prayer for the receiving of Shabbat and performed it with a lot of singing, Karlebach style. Then the Muslim participants explained the Muslim prayers and their preparations and performed the evening prayer. The conversations around prayers continued for some time. Then Chana shared a story, coming from the Jews of Afghanistan, about the search for justice, followed by personal reflections of participants.
Dinner was followed by relaxed informal conversations through the evening, which continued on Saturday with some of the Palestinians who returned to visit the Jews who stayed in the Everest Hotel until the end of Shabbat.
Our Father Abraham – Father of Monotheism
in Judaism, Christianity and Islam
A joint retreat of
Palestinian Peace Society and Interfaith Encounter Association
The 25th Israeli-Palestinian retreat of interfaith encounter started on Thursday, July 16, 2009, in the charming and tranquil guesthouse of the Austrian Hospice, at the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem. We were a highly mixed group of Israeli Jews of different levels of practice, Palestinian Muslims and International Christians of different denominations – Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox.
We began by introducing the two organizations – by their directors: Dr. Taleb Al-Harithy of the Palestinian Peace Society and Dr. Yehuda Stolov of the Interfaith Encounter Association. We also introduced the program and the guiding principles for the retreat. Then we briefly introduced ourselves in the plenary and split into small groups for more in depth personal introductions. Beyond the sharing biographical details we also shared with each other ways in which Abraham is meaningful and inspiring to us, as a way to deepen the way we get to know each other and at the same time start the conversations about the theme of the retreat.
The first session focused on the Jewish perspective. The short presentation was delivered by Dr. Yehuda Stolov, who used the nice summary of Rabbi Yehezkel Abramsky. Abraham was born in the year 1948… to the Hebrew calendar (on which now the year is 5760). He was born and raised in Mesopotamia, in a society that heavily worshiped idols. Abraham thought from an early age that this could not be the real worship and made a lot of intellectual and spiritual effort to discover the real God, until finally God revealed himself to him. His love to God derived love to all his creatures and his main way to bring people closer to God was through his amazing hospitality, open to all. After the person ate, drank and rested and wanted to thank him – he would direct them to the real source of the good things they got, God. For Abraham – belief in God was the ultimate key for peace, as no nation would attack another if they really understood that God is the real source of what they will have. Abraham became a famous leader in his generation and it is interesting to note that according to Philo of Alexandria, Abraham invented writing. After he discovered God he started to combat idols and promote the worship of God. His father Terah had an idol shop and when he left it under Abraham's care – he smashed all of them but the biggest, and put the stick in his hand. When his father returned he said the big idol smashed the others. This was told to Nimrod the king and he through him to a burning oven – but God saved him. God ordered him to go to the land that at that time started being invaded buy the Canaanite tribes. Hi relations also with them were very good and when needed he protected them – both his sward, for example when the four Mesopotamian kings captured his nephew Lot; and by his prayer, when God decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. His 100th year was eventful: at 99 he was ordered to circumcise himself and Ishmael, argued with God trying to save Sodom and Gomorrah and had his second son Yitzhak, who was the main continuation, according to the Jewish tradition, of Abraham.
Following the short presentation, participants went to their small groups for a more personal and in-depth conversations around the theme and derived issues, as they did in the following sessions. These group conversations are the heart of the retreat's experience and process.
In the morning Dr. Karam Nasreddeen presented the Muslim perspective. Most of the stories were exactly the same as the Jewish stories. He added the description of Abraham's way to Monotheism. He saw a star and said this is the God to worship but then the star disappeared so he knew it was not. This repeated with the son, the moon etc. until he realized the God who created all of them.
Abraham was born in Iraq and then lived in Arabia with his wife Hagar and their son Ishmael. He left both of them in the desert without explanation and in the fourth day Angel Gabriel knocked with his foot on the ground – and Ein Zamzam started to give water, and still does so today. The tribes around came to Hagar for the water and she allowed them to use the spring in return to their protection.
Abraham and Ishmael built the Qaaba in Mecca.
Abraham wandered to southern Syria (=the Holy Land) and lived between Beer Sheba and Hebron. Lut's people lived not far in 7 towns and the three angels came as men dressed in white to inform Abraham about God's decision to destroy the area.
Abraham is most important in Islam. One of the biggest Suras of the Quran is dedicated to him and he is called the father of all prophets.
Ms. AnnMarie Micikas presented the Christian perspective. Abraham is mentioned 234 times in the Old Testament and 72 times in the New Testament. Abraham is in the middle of the faith chain. In Protestantism especially salvation is by faith rather than by action and Abraham is significant as he is the first person who was saved by faith. By having faith everyone can become the son of Abraham. He is also special for forming the covenant with God that does not depend on human deeds. For Christians the most important story is the sacrifice of Isaac as this is parallel to the sacrifice of Jesus. And the understanding of the great difficulty for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac makes us understand how difficult it was for God to sacrifice Jesus. Abraham did not finally sacrifice Isaac, but he did sacrifice his final decision of what's the right deed. Even though Abraham was not perfect and did make mistakes – still he is called the friend of God and the whole world is blessed through him.
In the moving concluding session many of the participants pointed out their surprise from how harmonious the conversation went. Many expected confrontation but the interfaith encounter approaches directed the conversation to be of dialogical nature.
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