On Monday, March 28th, I participated with about 30 religious leaders from our GALILLEE RELIGIOUS LEADERS FORUM in a unique and important encounter at the yeshivah of the Kibbutz Hadati at Kibbutz Ma’aleh Gilboa, in the beautiful Gilboa mountain range overlooking the Bet Sha’an Valley and the mountains of Gilad in Jordan. This forum—which is co-sponsored by ICCI and the Division of Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Interior of the State of Israel—has been meeting for the past 3 years. It is one of most important initiatives with religious leaders in Israel because it is creating real regional relationships among religious leaders in the north of Israel.
Last spring—in April 2010—about thirty religious leaders from all over the Galilee who are affiliated with this forum–came to an Arab High School in the Israeli Arab town of Shfaram, for lectures, text-study discussions in classrooms and a school-wide assembly. This year, it was decided that it was time to do something similar in a Jewish school, and the leadership of Yeshivat Ma’aleh Gilboa volunteered to host us.
Yeshivat Ma’aleh Gilboa is led by three wonderful modern orthodox rabbis: Rabbi Yehuda Gilad, who is also the rabbi of Kibbutz Lavi, Rabbi Shmuel Reiner, who is also a rabbi in Mitzpeh Netufa, and Rabbi David Bigman. All three rabbis—and several other rabbis and educators from their professional staff—spent the day with us in a warm and intellectually stimulating series of encounters.
First, Rabbi Gilad took the Muslim, Christian and Druze religious leaders on a brief tour of the yeshivah, which focused mostly on the Bet Hamidrash (study hall), which is at the center of the yeshiva. He explained that this yeshivah combines Jewish Studies with army service in the Israel Defense Forces. This yeshivah is also unique in that it integrates study of Jewish and general philosophy with traditional Jewish learning of Bible and Talmud and other Rabbinic Literature. It is solidly Jewish and at the same time open to the world. The guests asked many questions since for many of them it was their first time in a yeshivah and they received succinct and direct answers to their questions.
Following lunch in a special section of the dining room, where these non-Jewish religious leaders got to meet and schmooze with rabbis from the yeshivah informally, a discussion was led by Rabbi Yehuda Gilad and Rabbi Yossi Skolnik and the question of how we all as religious leaders face issues of secularization in our communities. How do we educate towards loyalty to our own religious tradition while at the same time remaining open to the world. What are our core values? How do we confront dilemmas that arise as a result of clashes between tradition and modernity with our students? A very lively discussion ensued with active participation from many of the religious leaders in attendance. It was a rich discussion, with engaged most of the people there and left them with a desire to continue the discussion in future encounters.
Finally, a school-wide assembly was held for all of the approximately eighty students in the yeshivah. Four non-Jewish religious leaders presented basic ideas about the beliefs and the nature of their religious communities — one Druze, one Christian priest, one imam, and one leader of the Achmadiyeh sect (an offshoot of Islam) from Haifa. And then the students asked questions in a polite and serious fashion. This was a unique opportunity for them to learn a bit about other religions in Israel directly from other religious leaders from the Galilee, all of whom responded honestly and succinctly to the earnest questions of these students. They wanted to know more about the Christian communities in Israel—is their still a concept of “Christian Unity” with so much diversity among the Christians? They wanted to know more about Islam, especially about “Jihad”—does it only mean “Holy War”? or are there other meanings to “Jihad”? And they wanted to know more about the Druze communities in Israel: How many are there? What do they believe? How do they relate to the State of Israel?
I want to express my gratitude to the leaders of Yeshivat Ma’aleh Gilboa for opening their minds and their hearts—and those of their faculty and students—for a serious and sensitive encounter with religious leaders from all over the Galilee.
I left the encounter spiritually encouraged, with the hope that we will be able to do more such enriching encounters in the Galilee in other Jewish and non-Jewish schools and communities in the years ahead.
Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish