Education
 Israel
Project #1520

Training 80 Youth Encounter Leaders

by Interfaith Encounter Association (IEA)
From the outing
From the outing

29.8.2015

We started the year with a small picnic and a joint visit to the Japanese Museum. We met at Louis Promenade with a lovely view of the Haifa Bay. We brought refreshments - cake and cookies, coffee and tea, and a lot of love and good humor. We invited a guest to the encounter - Jennifer Beckman, a woman who came to Israel to study for a master's degree in Peace and Conflicts management at Haifa University. Jennifer reaches us through the reports of the Interfaith Encounter Association. She wrote to Dr. Yehuda Stolov and he referred her to me. In our conversation we did a short round of introduction, we listened to Jennifer while talking about her curriculum, and we talked a lot about the upcoming trip of our Ahmadi friend Farida to the hajj in Mecca this year. Of course we all wished Farida a good trip and success in this important task.

Then we went to the Japanese Museum, just across the promenade. We visited two exhibitions: photos of the Japanese street fashion taken by the photographer kilt Doaits, and the female figure of Japanese art. We were very impressed from the two exhibitions and the guide's explanation superb.

 

6.9.2015

We met at the home of our friend Tzaphi, to watch together various sections of the film taken by Community Television of Haifa, which took place in March during our encounter at the home of our friend Nawal. We watched the movie, and had planned together the editing of the film, the scenes that we want to preserve and the non important ones to arrive to a 20 minutes movie length. We also highlighted the sections that should be translated into Arabic and English.

 

20.9.2015       

Meeting at Rachel's house to watch the film again and translating into English all marked sections.

 

30.9.2015

A joint trip to Western Galilee College, for a seminar day that dealt with the theme of Arabs and Jews in theater and dance. First we watched the dance section of the "Bridges" group - an Arab-Jewish dance group of teens and young adults, who works and creates in Galilee, Kfar Yasif, Led by Raba Morcos and Ilan Palmyra. Another dance section from the dance show "Enta Omri" of the dance company of Liat Dror and Nir Ben Gal. Then we listened to a number of interesting panels: casting Arab actors in the theater, led by Danny Horowitz with participation of - Lee Perlman, Salwa Nakara, Yussef Abu Warda, Rawda Suleiman Haj Dibsi Haolh Adnan Trabsh, Salim Dow and Hisham Suleiman. A panel on Arabs and Jews in dance hosted by Rina Badash with participation of - Gaby Aldor, Amir Kolben, Liat Dror, Raba Morcos and Nir Ben Gal. The seminar day ended with an excerpt from the play "Nostalgia" of the Jaffa Theater, directed and edited by Yigal Ezrati and the actresses - Rawda Suleiman and Gaby Aldor. The show combined two stories, each of which is a journey following the parents' family memories. "Starting point" of the play is the people who do not live where they were born. On the one hand a story of an Arab born in Ein Hud, who was deported from his home village and now works as a gardener in Ein Hod on his family land, and on the other hand the story of a daughter who came with her family to Tel Aviv due to the rise of the Nazis and the deportation of Jews from Germany and for several years she lived in Berlin. The play illustrates the true and reliable personal narrative of both Arabs and Jews. The seminar was fruitful and very thought provoking.

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Attachments:

The IEA retreat of the South of Hebron group on the topic of “Finding Community” was held at the Biankini Resort from Thursday, November 12 to Friday, Nov 13, 2015. The retreat combined practice of Zen meditation with conversations on the theme of “Finding Community in the Muslim and Jewish Traditions.” Participants were asked prepare their presentation on the topic by addressing these following questions:

  1. What do my scriptures tell me about community?
  2. Who is my community?
  3. What do I receive from them?
  4. What do I give to them?
  5. What is my responsibility towards my community?
  6. How may I expand my sphere of community?

Due to the very tense situation in the Holy Land caused by the recent escalation of violence, the Biankini resort was empty except for our group. 4 Palestinian members from South of Hebron braced the difficult situations at the road checkpoints to attend, while the four women from Bethlehem who also wanted to join had to turn around half-way. The South of Hebron group mentioned how soldiers at the checkpoints would not believe that they were going to meet with a Jewish group for interfaith dialogue and laughed as if this was the greatest joke they ever heard. 5 students attended from the Yeshiva. Yehuda Stolov joined us on the last morning.

 

Maria gave the introduction consisting of a review of the basics and fruits of Zen-meditation, followed by an exposition on Sangha – community – in Buddhism. While the Buddha founded a monastic community of monks and nuns, the lay community supporting the monastic community and deriving spiritual guidance and help from it is a full part of the Sangha as well. A monastic life was deemed to be the most conducive way to overcome the basic three “poisons” that ail our humanity: the delusion of a separate ego-self, giving rise to greed and anger, both on the individual and group/ societal/corporate/governmental level. The goal of spiritual practice is not dis-engagement from world, but compassionate action based on awareness of the suffering caused by this delusion of a separate self. The ideal Buddhist community is based on the realization of the deep inter-connectedness of all life (including animals, plants) on this planet and the practice of universal friendship that does not privilege one`s own family or group over others.

 

In Islam, the community is based on the 5 pillars – profession of faith, prayers 5 times a day, charity (both obligatory and private), keeping of Ramadan and pilgrimage to Mecca. Everyone who professes faith in One God is considered a member of the Muslim community. The community is governed by Shariah law. The Imam/Sheikh ideally is an expert on the law and its interpretation. In Palestinian Sunni Islam, the Imam is not a spiritual figure, but a government employee of the Ministry of Religion who bases his sermons on topics given by the ministry. The Imams take turns at the various mosques. In their sermons, they typically take a verse form the Qu’ran and apply it to problems in society. There are now many internet sites or books with sermons/teachings by Sheiks that in many cases are found to be more inspirational than the sermons at a local mosque. Children learn prayers (verses from the Qur’an to be said in Arabic) in the family and school. They need to know prayers by the age of 10 to fully participate in community prayer. Prayers said in private at home do not get the same credit (27 credits) as prayers said in community, especially if they are said in the most holy places like Mecca (100.000 credits), Medina (1000 credits) or Al Aqsa (500). Community worship is the heart of the community. The credits are redeemed in paradise.  

The obligation to the community is taking care of one`s family and neighbors, charity, and work for justice. The most powerful way to change and open up community is through education that extends through college level. Some of the SOH members volunteer in local schools. They see their participation in IEA as their responsibility and contribution to creating a more peaceful and just society in Israel/Palestine, especially in absence of a political solution.

 

In Judaism, community is essential to practice the faith and of a Jewish life. It is the main aspect of one`s identity. I am part of a community that worships God. Jewish people understand themselves as the microcosm of the world. It is their responsibility to bring knowledge of the one God to the rest of the world and to take care of the world. A community is about values and takes responsibility for the spiritual life of its members. The most important Jewish institutions are learning institutions from early on. Teachers used to put honey on the letters of the Torah to teach small children the sweetness of Torah. The main goal of the community is to study Torah/together. The basic unit for Jewish community life is the family. Even the high priest had to be married, since a man without children cannot develop true mercy and is therefore not allowed to judge others. A father has to teach children the prayers, and if he is unable or unwilling to do so the community takes over. The synagogue is the center of the community, and one needs 10 people to pray in the synagogue. The age of obligation is 12 for women, 13 for men. Charity (10 percent) is an obligation, but the upper limit is 20 percent of your income.

Problems arise with virtual communities or communities that are too big and anonymous for the rabbi to know and guide everyone.

Ideally speaking, the synagogue should be located in the center and highest place of the community. Responsibility towards the community: You have to help your own family and community first before you extend your help to others. All Jewish people are related like a family. There are many volunteer opportunities – Chabad sends people around the world to create Jewish centers for worship and outreach, help of neighbors, charity, sharing your gifts – teaching yoga for example as spiritual lesson, teaching children, studying together.

 

For a final round, we asked all participants to share their impressions of the retreat. On both sides, there was the earnest plea to really listen to the suffering of each side, to practice compassion (literally: suffering with, as explained by Maria).  Without the feeling of the suffering of the other, there will be no solution. There was agreement that the cycle of violence needs to be broken as much as possible by spreading the good news that coming together in friendship and listening to each other, that disagreeing while staying friends, is a real possibility. On the Palestinian side, the danger of violence being spread via social media without any alternative voices was emphasized. The message young people receive on face book is “Kill, Kill, Kill! – Nobody says “Peace.” Thus, children react to the violent images on face book and get out of the control of their parents. What is needed is mutual respect as human beings, not reacting to images, but listening to the heart, like in this retreat. There needs to be understanding that the present violence comes from only a small minority of Palestinians, and that not all should be punished indiscriminately. Since no military solution is possible, building trust between the two communities is the most essential step. After the Yeshiva students also expressed their own fears for their communities being victims of violence, both sides committed to “Spreading the good news”, thinking of ways of doing this, in addition to spreading their experience by word of mouth. The idea was proposed of sending positive messages on social media, conveying that “We have met the other side – and they are not the enemy.” There was agreement that media feeds on violence, and that an alternative sort of media needs to be created. Yehuda commented on the fact that, through our spiritual work and dialogue, we have created a safe oasis, and that we need to enlarge this oasis and bring more people inside. Once we have 4000 groups of Interfaith Encounter instead of the present 40, change in the Holy Land will come….

 

We finished our meeting with meditation and a silent prayer for divine guidance and the song of Shalom/Salaam. As we found out later, there was a terrorist attack near the Yeshiva at the end of our retreat, which claimed the life of a rabbi and his son. But as tragic and shocking as this event was, it reinforced the communications of the group and the resolve of going on with the meetings, since there is “no [other] choice”.

Links:

Some of the people in the first encounter
Some of the people in the first encounter

On Wednesday, October 21st, the Tel-Aviv-Jaffa Interfaith Encounter group resumed its activity after 9 years of being inactive. It was important for us to resume the group especially in the hard days the Holy land is going through as a sign of hope and positive contribution for a better future. Due to various constrains potential participants were invited only two days before the encounter, which resulted in more than half of them unable to join this time. Still, we were a very diverse group, including, among others, air-condition technician, Ph.D. candidate in Mathematics and music producer.

 

We began with an in-depth round of introduction in which each of us introduced himself and shared key points in his life story. Each of us also told the others how he came to the group and stressed the significance of this type of dialogue in the building of relations between communities.

Not surprisingly the conversation also touched on the current "situation" and focused on suggesting reasons for it – mainly bad education and fear that leads to hatred.

 

The intention of the group is to meet every two to three weeks. It was agreed that next time we will ask each person to present the list of values that are most important for him or her and that together we will put together a list of values that will be used as themes for the coming encounters.

 

The encounter took place in the office of "One in Nine" and we are grateful for the hospitality. Next encounter was scheduled for 12 November.

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The encounter took place on Tuesday and the subject was Peace in Judaism and Islam. An Italian TV crew was also present during the encounter.

 

During the free conversation, before the encounter began, one of the Rabbis shared an interesting discovery of his: the famous Mishnah from tractate Sanhedrin (4,5): The reason that a single person was created is to teach that if anyonewho causes a single life to be lost, it is as if he has lost a whole world, and if anyone saves a single life, it is as if he saved a whole world. These words are also mentioned in the Quraan inSurat Al-Ma'idah 32 (5, 32) as a wisdom from God to the Jews, it says : Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land - it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one - it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.

 

We started our conversation about peace with quotation from tractate Berachot in theGemara: Rabbi Hanan mentioned three kinds of peace: river, bird and cauldron. We tried to bring up different approaches to those three different images. For example we spoke about the free bird which travels to so many different places without limits, and the protective mother bird which uses its wings to protect its fledglings and cares for their safety. We talked about the making of the cauldron which is made out of melting all the compounds into one final product – the cauldron makes water and fire work together to create a shared target.

 

Another quotation that we discussed came from Rabbi Nahman of Breslav (Torah 80): What is the peace that which binds two opposites. As our sages, may their memory be blessed taught about the verse He who makes peace in His high places, because that is an angel of fire and that is of water, who are opposites as water puts out fire, and God makes peace between them and combine them together . One of the participants noted that the world shalom (peace in Hebrew) starts with the Hebrew letter "shin" which represents fire and ends with the letter "mem" which represents water.

Another one of the participants shared a small amusing story about Rabbi Froman, may he rest in peace, which says that: someone turned to the Rabbi to ask him about how could secular and religious live in one place. He answered with his special sense of hummer "we have an even more special phenomenon: man and woman who are living not only in one place but even under the same ceiling …" 

 

After almost three hours, we fare-welled and everybody went home  

Links:

Conversation continues after official closing...
Conversation continues after official closing...

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.

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Organization Information

Interfaith Encounter Association (IEA)

Location: Jerusalem, Israel - Israel
Website: http:/​/​www.interfaith-encounter.org
Project Leader:
Dr. Yehuda Stolov
Executive Director
Jerusalem, Israel