In the afternoon of April 30th we opened the 24th 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 a story of a personal meaningful experience of prayer.
Conversations were so alive that it was difficult to break for dinner and when we did – they continued during the meal.
After dinner we had a joint social evening with happy songs led by Ribhi's oud for many hours.
The morning started with the Jewish perspective. The short presentation of prayer in Judaism was given by Rabbi Gideon Sylvester. Rabbi Sylvester shared a story he heard from his rabbi about a child taken by his father to the synagogue for the first time. He is so touched by the sincerity and intensity of the prayer that he feels overwhelmed with his wish to pray to God, but as he doesn't know to read he reaches to his whistle and blows it loudly. Many are upset but the rabbi says that all the prayers of the community were elevated to God thanks to the pure intention of this whistle. This story stresses the most important element – which is the heart's yearning to God. But one should also know the procedures and follow them.
The guiding principle is to remain in connection with God all the time. There are three daily prayers – in the morning, afternoon and evening. They are coming from the Patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – and also represent the sacrifices of the Temple. This represents the past. In the synagogue the praying are facing the ark, which contains the Torah scrolls so represents the present of the full commitment to the whole of the Torah and its commandments. The synagogue itself is directed towards Jerusalem, which represents the future with the Third Temple and the better world which will come with it for everyone.
The presentation raised many points of interest and the conversations continued in the small groups.
Following the groups' session we broke for the Jumaa prayer and lunch.
The afternoon was dedicated to the Muslim and Christian perspectives.
The Muslim presentation was delivered by Mr. Samer Ghaboun. The presentation started with a brief idea about the Muslim prayer and its importance; which is considered the most important element among the five elements that Allah ordered the Muslims to do. Muslims should pray five times a day from sun rise to sunset. There is importance to the way of how to be prepared for the pray through purification ("alwodoo") and it is very important to clean the self before praying because people pray for Allah (God). Samer also spoke about the declaring for praying through alathaan (announcer) and that is to call by the loudspeakers in the mosques. He also explained the way of praying and what people shall say during the prayer.
The Christian presentation was given by Ms. Seren Ghattas. The presentation started with a brief introduction about Christianity and the Old and New Testament, which are the two parts – the old and the new – of the holy book in which the Christians believes. The prayer of Christians can be done any time, unlike Islam which has specific time for each pray. The presentation gave an idea about the bread Christians eat after the prayer, which represent the body of Jesus which is called communion.
In the concluding session many participants spoke to the high potential of interfaith encounter in the building of peaceful relations between the peoples. Many said the retreat helped them regain the hope they lost.
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