JIYAF Closes a Year of Dialogue by ‘Opening a Window’

On Thursday night May 27, at the Evangelical Lutheran Church on the Via Dolorosa, the thirteen JIYAF participants gave their friends, family, and other community members a taste of their experiences over the past eight months taking part in interreligious dialogue in Jerusalem.  At their final group presentation entitled “Opening a Window,” they exhibited the photography project that they have been working on all semester and engaged the audience in the types of activities that they did in their meetings.  I have been working as an intern at the ICCI office for the past three months, but this was the first time that I really got a sense of what it is that these discussion groups do.

I was placed in a group of ten, made up of Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  We began by going around in a circle, introducing ourselves, and talking about the significance of our names.  We then did a fun activity, where we all moved around the room and assumed different poses whenever the leaders said a word like “falafel.”  After that, we were divided into partners, and got to ask our partner as many questions as we wanted to—but they were not allowed to respond.  These fun activities showed that, despite the differences between all of us—language, religion, age, nationality, etc—we were all able to have fun together.  With that common basis, the JIYAF participants explained, we would be able to talk about the more difficult issues that divided us.  The JIYAF participants reflected on their experiences from the past eight months.  They had all joined the group hoping to deepen their understanding of one another and of the situation.   Indeed, before the program, most of them had never spoken to anyone from “the other side.”  Despite all of the difficulties they encountered over the past year, every JIYAF participant said that the experience was “completely worth it.”

You can view more pictures from the event here.

Hiba Aliyan of Face to Face

Jason Kaufman, a high school student from Westchester, NY, has been volunteering in the ICCI office for the past few weeks, meeting with and interviewing individuals involved in various aspects of ICCI’s work.  Here is his next interview, with Hiba Aliyan, an alumna of  Face to Face  currently working as a translator for the program.

I interviewed Hiba Aliyan, who has been involved with the ICCI since she was 15. She is now the program coordinator of ICCI’s youth programs (Face to Face) and is the interpreter for the current Face to Face group and camp in New York. She studies English and Spanish at the Hebrew University. She returned to Face to Face in 2006 as a leader in training, and then started working at the ICCI as an interpreter (between Arabic and Hebrew).

Hiba explained that her work at the Face to Face camp “never gets old,” as every year there is more or less the same conflict with entirely new students. She explained how it was interesting to see how each year’s students deal with the problems. Face to Face brings together students from Israel, South Africa, Northern Ireland, and the US. The aim of Face to Face is to bring students from regions with ethnic conflict. When I asked her how her work with Face to Face has changed her, she explained that it changed her the most as a child. She grew up in a primarily Jewish neighborhood but never had a Jewish friend. She said that she would talk to Jewish people on the street, but nothing serious. She explained how she went from knowing nothing to suddenly knowing a lot; from talking quickly on the street to sleeping in cabins together at camp. She found the initial impact to be the strongest.

Hiba referenced one anecdote that stands out in her memory. Before leaving on her first trip to the US when she was 15, she had become closest with the Jewish students on the trip. When she and her friends reached security in Ben Gurion airport, she had a much harder time getting through than her friends. Hiba revealed that she felt that she wanted to cry and was confused at what was happening. She was confused at why she, like her friends, possessed Israeli citizenship but was not allowed to cross with them.

Reflections on the consultation at St. George’s House on Effective and Sustainable Reconciliation, May 21-23, 2010

On the weekend of May 21-13, I was privileged to be part of a special weekend “consultation” hosted by St. George’s House on the campus of Windsor Castle in England on the theme of “Effective and Sustainable Reconciliation”. This program—which was a partnership between St. George’s House and Winchester Centre of Religions for Reconciliation and Peace, supported by the Comino Foundation—brought together 25 scholars and practitioners in the field of peace and reconciliation from the UK, Northern Ireland, Israel, Sierre Leone and Sri Lanka for 2 days of intensive discussions, dialogue and dining together in friendly fellowship.

I was invited to this special “consultation” due to my ongoing professional relationship with the St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation in London over the past 2 years. At first I didn’t pay attention to the invitation a few months ago. But when I opened the e-mail, I was intrigued by the protocol of St. Georges’ House, which has been hosting these “consultations” for small groups of people since the 1960’s. Among other things, the protocol announced the special nature of the discussions that were to take place there:

  • You are free to use information received while at a Consultation
  • Reports of the Consultations are published only if that is the collective decision of the participants
  • You may not divulge the identity or participants
  • You are encouraged to speak openly
  • You are encouraged to listen carefully
  • Respect must be shown to all participants at all times
  • You must be open to the possibility of changing your mind

It seemed to me that this was going to be an atmosphere which encouraged genuine dialogue and responsible reflection, and I was right. It was a fascinating experience, one that I will never forget.

Since I can’t mention any of the names, I can only share with the readers of this blog some of the contents and spirit of the discussions.

Firstly, various people shared their personal experiences of dealing with complicated conflicts in different parts of the world. In some cases, the violent phase of the conflict has actually ended, but education for peaceful coexistence remains an ongoing long-range task, and often the conflicts revert back to a violent phase. Many systematic changes need to happen to prevent this.

Secondly, we had the opportunity to get to know each other not just as “peace-builders” but also as people. In so doing, I met some extraordinary people who have done—and are doing –pioneering local and global work in this field in significant ways. I’m sure that I will keep in contact with many of these people.

Thirdly, I left this unique consultation with some hope for the future. While the global, regional and local conflicts we encounter are daunting and frightening, I came away with a feeling that much good strategic thinking is being done in many places in the world to deal positively and productively with the challenges we face in the field of peace and reconciliation.

Zuza Radzik

Jason Kaufman, a high school student from Westchester, NY, has been volunteering in the ICCI office for the past few weeks, meeting with and interviewing individuals involved in various aspects of ICCI’s work.  Here is his next interview, with Zuza Radzik, ICCI’s Polish student intern, who helped develop a special course about the relations between Jews and Poles.

Three years ago, Zuza Radzik, a Catholic student from Warsaw, Poland, was studying at the University of Notre Dame, and had no real intention or desire to come to Israel. Because of her interest in Christian/Jewish relations in Europe, her professor encouraged her to come to Israel.  Now, Zuza has lived here for three years and speaks Hebrew!

When ICCI started a Polish/Israeli conference two years ago, Zuza, impressed with the work that she seen, immediately wanted to get involved. She loved that the conference opened up the field of Jewish/Christian relations in Poland and Israel. Zuza helped expand the conferences, and then helped plan, in cooperation with the Polish Institute of Tel Aviv, a year long course about Poland at ICCI: “Encountering Poland: Relations between Jews and Poles – Religious, Historical, and Social Dimensions.” The program is meant mostly for guides of high school groups to be ready to take groups to Poland and understand Jewish life there. Zuza hopes the course will continue after she leaves this fall, as this has been the first year the program has been carried out.

Zuza spoke about a newfound interest in Jewish culture in Poland. Students are beginning to want to study Yiddish, and now few students finish the University of Warsaw without taking some courses on Judaism. Zuza explained how students learn about Judaism and begin to relate it to themselves. Students are suddenly discovering that their small hometowns have Jewish histories. Zuza explained that this trend is bringing an interest in Christian/Jewish relations; however, the Jewish population in Poland is so small today that it is mostly theoretical.

Zuza’s favorite part about working at the ICCI has been meeting the people who work there. Zuza came to Israel knowing no one, and immediately found a circle of people at ICCI similar to the circle of friends she previously had, all with an interest in global issues. When Zuza returns to Poland at the end of the summer, she plans to continue pursuing a PhD in Christian/Jewish relations at the University of Warsaw. She will write her thesis about how the thoughts surrounding the Christians’ accusation of Jews for the death of Christ have changed from antiquity to the present.

Rabbis for Human Rights

Jason Kaufman, a high school student from Westchester, NY, has been volunteering in the ICCI office for the past few weeks, meeting with and interviewing individuals involved in various aspects of ICCI’s work.  Here is his first interview, with Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, of Rabbis for Human Rights.

As part of my work for ICCI, I interviewed Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, who founded Congregation Kol HaNeshama, a Progressive Jewish community in Jerusalem, in 1985. Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman teaches at the Hebrew Union College and the Schechter Rabbinic Seminary. He has been a board member at the ICCI for a long time, and now represents Rabbis for Human Rights. He has a long-term commitment to interfaith dialogue and coexistence and is very involved in the Jonah group, which is a dialogue between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Christians.

Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman

Rabbis for Human Rights is a multidenominational group of rabbis. He described it as a “watchdog” organization to monitor human rights in Israel. Rabbi Weiman-Kelman is most specifically involved in fighting against home demolitions when they are unjustifiable. The group has also helped Palestinians with their harvesting of olives when tension with settlers prevents them from reaching their orchards. The group was also very successful in fighting against what is known as the “Wisconsin Project”, which made it very difficult for people on welfare to find employment. The group tries to work with Palestinians to highlight human rights abuses. Rabbi Weiman-Kelman explained that, when Rabbis of all denominations along with a Priest and an Imam take a stand for human rights in Israel, it makes a powerful statement.

Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman explained that ICCI supports grassroots interfaith and coexistence groups with a belief that, in the future, they will succeed in achieving peace. Even though he has “no rational basis,” Rabbi Weiman-Kelman is still hopeful for the future.