Ten people joined in the Interfaith Encounter center of IEA, to launch the group of students from Herzog College and young adults from Bethlehem and Hebron.
During the introduction round participants pointed their desire for us to be together and do things together. Others stressed that most people here want peace. A few referred to the fact that unlike the English work "peace" – in both Arabic and Hebrew, "Salam" and "Shalom" are names of God. Here we need to bring in God in order to succeed.
As a way to deepen our acquaintance, participants shared positive experiences from encountering the 'other': one participant described a new student joining his class, who had an illness that made him look strange. At first this frightened him but once he got to know him they became good friends. One of the Muslims told us that this is the first time for him to meet Jews and that before the encounter he was afraid, but once the encounter started he relaxed. Another Muslim said that although he is used to meeting Jews who are leftists, he was afraid from meeting Settlers, but in the encounter itself he was positively surprised and from now he does not make distinctions between people and respects every human. One of the Jews shared how he was posted in the army on a roof in Hebron and after a while one of the neighbors came up with water, as a gesture of hospitality.
The general topic was “Kashrut and Halal.” The Muslims began with an explanation of the general term, of how “Halal” means “Permitted,” and “Haram” means “Forbidden.” I think this is a common misconception amongst many, because people outside of Islam usually associate “Halal” with food, as if it is a form of Islamic Kashrut. So we first cleared that up.
Then we directed the topic to focus more on food in general, since that was the intended topic of the meeting. From there they proceeded to explain different rules for slaughtering animals, such as how one must have the proper intent during the slaughter, how full decapitation is forbidden, and how one can’t kill an animal in the presence of another animal.
From there they went on to explain how you must bless “Rachmana Rachim” or “Bismila” before eating anything, and how if you forget the blessing then you missed your opportunity. We also spoke about how "Rachmana Rachim" is very similar to the Aramaic way of referring to God in the Gemara. They also shared some sources from the Quran to show where things came from.
Once they had gone on for a while, we had our turn to speak about Kashrut. I explained about the Torah’s prohibitions of eating certain animals, like many types of birds and bugs. Then I explained about the requirement for fish to have fins and scales. This sparked a debate between the Muslims if sharks were “Halal” or not. Then we talked about mixing milk and meat, as well as the hours which we wait in between meals. We also explained about wine, our slaughtering process, and about "trumot" and "maasrot". At the end we told them about dipping our dishes in the "mikva" (=ritual bath), and about blessings before and after eating. They were particularly interested in what exactly we say.
On the whole it was a successful encounter. We managed to get into a lot of tangents which help foster friendships to grow in the group.