Project #1520

Training 80 Youth Encounter Leaders

by Interfaith Encounter Association (IEA)
During the visit
During the visit

On June 28th, the Reut-Sadaqa Interfaith Encounter group had a very moving field trip to Beit Hagath, in Ein Karem with Etienne Lepicard MD, PhD, who is its founder and inspiration.

Beit Hagath was originally the farm for the Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion which is now under jurisdiction of Monastery of Abu Ghosh. Beit Hagath’s natural setting full of flowers and gardens maintains a certain wildness in which the soul can flourish. It is a unique location which approaches interfaith in a unique and humane way. A Christian, Jew and Muslim live together on its grounds and have breakfast every morning together.

They have interfaith study groups, e.g. studying the weekly Torah portion with the Hebrew Midrash and Christian Fathers, such as 3rd century commentator Origen who lived in the Holy Land. Later study of Qu’ran was added. It hosts an interfaith music festival and many other projects. One of the most stimulating is its partnership with the Master Chef Ezra Kedem, who teaches culinary skills to hearing impaired high school students or students of cooking from Notre Dame centre, opposite New Gate who come to learn and cook and taste together in an atmosphere that is reflected in the architecture of the kitchen and nearby dining room, both of which are made of transparent glass. It seemed a powerful metaphor for their open hearted work. We came away smiling.



January 22-23, 2016


Languages weekend in Ecome.

Seventyparticipants met for a weekend of learning languages at the Ecome Center, including Israelis who came to learn Arabic, Palestinians who came to learn Hebrew, and international visitors who came to learn both languages. There were also English classes for those who wanted to improve their skills in that language. Six groups studied separately according to their language and skill levels.

This weekend was organized based on the belief that if we learn to speak each other's language we can get closer, know each other better, and create a deeper trust. We ate together, played together, sang and made music together and went for a walk in the desert. It was inspiring.



February 5-6, 2016


Kibbutz Yagur- Teen and parent delegation preparation

On February 5-6 we held a preparatory encounter a youth delegation. Eight Israeli and Palestinian students will be part of a youth delegation to snowy Switzerland, where they will meet with Irish and Swiss youth. Prior to the trip, the 8 participating students and 8 parents met, along with their two guides. The purpose of this preparatory encounter was to provide the youth and their parents with the logistical details of the program as well as the ideal behind it, and material to be covered. We met for a few hours in the afternoon, ate delicacies from Kafr Manda and answered the parents’ questions. At first some seemed worried but they became more open and relaxed. The initial introduction was positive and sowed seeds for this exciting trip.



February 22-30, 2016


Youth Delegation - Israelis and Palestinians, in Switzerland

The youth delegation of 8 Israeli and Palestinian left from Ben Gurion airport on the morning of Monday February 22. The Palestinian guide left the previous day, through Jordan. We arrived safely in the Governors Mountains of Switzerland, where we meet 14 Irish and Swiss teenagers and six guides. During the week we spent with the Irish and Swiss group we learned about their cultures and told them about ourselves. We learned non-violent communication, did yoga, and sang each morning in German, English, Hebrew and Arabic. We hosted a cultural evening, for which we prepared traditional foods from our cultures, showing the diversity and color of the countries in which we live.


March 4-5, 2016


Languages weekend at Ecome

Sixty Israeli, Palestinian and international participants met for another language weekend at Ecome. As at the first and second language weekends, Israelis came to learn Arabic, Palestinians came to learn Hebrew and internationals came to learn both languages. We also taught English for those who wanted to improve their skills in that language. Six language groups studied separately according to their language and level of proficiency.

These meetings are inspired by the belief that if we learn to speak each other’s language we can get closer and create a deeper trust. We ate together, played together, made music and sang together. We went for a walk in the desert. It was inspiring.

We left with a taste for more, and intend to continue to develop this program in the future.



March 10-24, 2016


2 weeks of non-violent communication at Ecome.

150 people participated during the two-week session at Ecome, including Israelis, Palestinians and international visitors. There were various workshops on non-violence communication, with several different tracks on deepening foundations, teacher training, transformation and social change, offered by a dedicated team of seven teachers from the USA, Slovenia, Germany, Brazil, Palestine and Israel. The encounter was deep and meaningful. Some people came to participate for a few days of the workshop and others remained for the whole workshop. This activity is expanding. We plan to create a similar but even more sophisticated study forum next year.



April 1-2, 2016


Sensory Writing Workshop at Ecome

30participants, Israelis, Palestinians and international visitors met at Ecome for a weekend writing workshop taught by Madeline Kent, who came from New York to lead the workshop. Over the weekend we wrote and shared our writing in groups. We had a Feldenkrais exercise which helped us develop and get in touch with the senses that lead us to write more accurately, authentically, and to connect to who we are and what we are experiencing.



This encounter of the Rabbis and Sheikhs group took place after a long wave of violence and the fact that we managed to maintain it raised great excitement.


Some 22 participants came to this encounter. Participants introduced themselves and the group coordinators – Rabbi Nagen and Sheikh Abu Khalil - welcomed everyone. One of the guests was Dr. Omer Salem, who finished not long ago a doctorate at Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Sheikh Abu Khalil honored Dr. Salem to present the Muslim view of the theme. Dr. Salem detailed the religious significance of the place, and emphasized that we are neighbors. Another participant described how he got up early in the morning and passed four checkpoints just to participate with us in building peace between the two peoples.


Rabbi Nagen stressed that from Jewish point of view, the temple should be sacred to all. Solomon built the First Temple in collaboration with Hiram, King of Tyre and prayed that God listens to the prayers of everyone through this place. Isaiah's prophecy also emphasized that the Temple will be an open house of prayer of all nations. Hence, the fact that the place is holy for both Jews and Muslims is not only a problem but also a challenge to all of us to connect together.


Hadassah Froman quoted from her late husband Rabbi Menahem that the place does not belong to either Jews or Muslims, it belongs to God. The solution is that the leaderships of the two religions Jews and Muslims will together care for it.

From the outing
From the outing


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.



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.



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



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.



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”.



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Organization Information

Interfaith Encounter Association (IEA)

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

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