Workshop for facilitators

Dear friends,

I felt privileged last week to participate in a special workshop for facilitators on the topic of Facilitating Dialogue in the Context of Conflict and Diversity, with about 20 Jewish and Palestinian facilitators from all over Israel. ICCI co-sponsored this worskhop in cooperation with the St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, based in London, and the Corrymeela Community, based in Belfast and Ballycastle in Northern Ireland.

The two-day workshop was led by Justine Huxley and Helen Gilbert, of St. Ethelburga’s, and Susan McEwen of Corrymeela. These highly trained professional women brought a great deal of experience to our discussions, which made this experience so valuable for all of us. The tools that they shared with us in an experiential and interactive way–and the models and concepts with which they challenged us–will remain part of our consciousness for a long time to come.

Some of the highlights of the workshop included discussions on creating safe space, issues of co-facilitation, models for analyzing conflict, and the value of silence in the dialogue process.

What I found most useful about this workshop was the technique of “collaborative learning”, i.e., not only did I learn a great deal from the presenters but I also learned much from all the participants in the workshop, many of whom came with extensive experience in the facilitation of dialogue groups in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I am grateful that this is the beginning of a process, and I look forward to more workshops in Northern Ireland and London later on this year.

Also, I invite other participants in the workshop to add their reflections on the ICCI blog.

Ron Kronish

Marianne Dacy Book Launching at ICCI, September 6, 2010

A book launch event in honor of “The Separation of Early Christianity from Judaism“, a book by Sr. Dr. Marianne Dacy (pictured), took place at ICCI’s Educational Center, in the presence of the author, on Monday, September 6, 2010. The event was co-sponsored by ICCI and The Congregation of Notre-Dame de Sion.

The following are excerpts from the introduction, greetings and remarks.

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Letter from an American Muslim friend

On Friday, September 3rd, I received the following condemnation of the recent terrorist attacks against innocent Jewish civilians in the West Bank from an American Muslim businessman in the U.S.A, by the name of S.A. Ibrahim, who is originally from India. Mr. Ibrahim, who has become a friend of ICCI during the past two years and who is a man deeply committed to interreligious dialogue for the sake of peace, gave me permission to post his e-mail to me on this blog.

Dear Rabbi Ron:

Earlier this week, I called the Israeli Embassy in Washington, with the message that as an American Muslim I condemn the killings and violence directed against Israelis that occurred in the last few days. This violence as well as other hateful words and actions by extremists are designed to derail the peace process. More than ever, decent people of all faiths should come forward to condemn such actions, regardless of which side they come from and continue working towards peace.

I also wanted to pass along my appreciation for Prime Minister Nethanyahu’s Ramadan greetings to all Muslims and wish him, as well as Chairman Abbas, courage and wisdom as they take their people (and the rest of the world) on this new path to peace. May their efforts be successful and bring peace, prosperity and security to all the people of the Middle East.

Finally I wanted to wish my Jewish friends Shana Tova for the New Year and my Muslim friends Eid Mubarak — both a few days away. It may be an auspicious sign that these holidays are at the same time this year.

As always my dear friend, I close with deep admiration for your tireless efforts in bringing the people from the three great Abrahamic faiths together.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Last Jumma in Ramadan,

S.A. Ibrahim

Our Christian Neighbors and the Problems They Face

by Rakheli Hever, ICCI’s Communications & Development Coordinator

I recently had the pleasure of participating in a study tour of the Christian and Armenian Quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem, sponsored by the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations (JCJCR) and Kehillat Yedidya. Having taken part in coordinating this tour and the previous two as an ICCI staff member, I was grateful for the opportunity to experience the tour as a participant.

And so, on Friday, August 27th, I joined the other participants (about 30 people) at the entrance to the Jaffa Gate, where we met our guide, Hana Bendcowsky, Program Director at JCJCR. As we walked into the Armenian Quarter, Hana directed our attention to important Christian buildings in the area, and to the Christian symbols carved into the stones in their walls or appearing on signs. Soon, we met with Archbishop Aris Shirvanian of the Armenian Patriarchate, who spoke to us at length about the history of the Armenian minority in Jerusalem and the current problems they are facing, including the problem of being spat on by Jewish religious extremists as they go about their business, problems related to the legal status of mixed citizenship families, and problems related to inter-Christian factors (for example, the joint custody of some of the holy places in the city).

We continued to the Christian quarter, where we learned about the Greek Orthodox community in the city and the Catholic Franciscan Order, and met with Fr. Athanasius Makora, of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, who spoke to us about the Franciscan Order’s role as Guardian of the Holy Places, which involves great responsibility and sometimes great problems. He also spoke about issues such as the difficulty in obtaining entry/exit permits for Palestinian Catholics, and another pressing problem I’m sure every Jerusalemite can identify with: the disturbances caused by the ongoing Light Rail works in Jerusalem. Despite the seriousness of some of the issues he spoke about, Fr. Makora displayed a good sense of humor and remained positive.

Leaving the Old City via the New Gate, we then entered the St. Louis French Hospital just outside the walls. We enjoyed the hospitality of the staff and heard about the place from the charming Mr. Bassam Abid, the Administrative Vice-Director of the hospital, an Arab Christian from the North of Israel. We then visited the garden (in which there is a Loquat tree Sir Moses Montefiore once sat under…) and the chapel, and climbed up to get a rooftop view of both the old and new parts of Jerusalem.

Although the focus of the tour was the problems our Christian neighbors face, I was most impressed with the positive things I’ve discovered through the tour. For example, the significant contribution of the members of Catholic Orders in Israel (representing some 100 different orders!) and other Christian clergy to the foreign and local Christian communities, as well as to locals of other religions. They handle the upkeep of the holy places, offer religious, educational and welfare services, and provide medical and financial help.

I was also relieved to learn that—overall and despite the issues and problems they face—the Christians we spoke with had a positive attitude and reported that they did not feel discriminated against (for example, in the job market, or by government officials). I discovered also that there is a wonderful place in Jerusalem called the St. Louis hospital, arguably the only Christian hospital serving glatt-kosher food, in which local and foreign Christians, Muslims, and Jews do holy work to alleviate the suffering of patients from all three religions. This is exactly the sort of organic interreligious cooperation I, for one, would like to hear more about.

Additional images can be found on our Facebook photo album.

Interreligious Iftar Seminar: The Moral and Social Implications of Religious Fasting

Approximately 60 religious leaders—Muslim, Christian, Druze and Jewish—gathered at the Konrad Adenauer Conference Center at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem on August 25, 2010 to discuss the meaning of fasting and to have an iftar meal together breaking the fast of Ramadan. 

Our goal in bringing together Jewish, Muslim, Druze, and Christian religious leaders for this special seminar was to bring about greater interreligious understanding in order to enable us to live together in peace in this land, and to get this message out to the general public in Israel via the media.

Dr. Lars Hansel, director of the KAS in Jerusalem, opened the event by welcoming the participants and talking about the many perspectives and the riches of the different religions.  One of the places where this richness can be studied is certainly in Jerusalem. He also explained that we wanted to use this opportunity of getting together during Ramadan to talk about the meaning of fasting in the different religions.

As director the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), I talked about our desire, in planning this event, to celebrate together the two holidays and the two traditions – Ramadan and Rosh Hashanah, Islam and Judaism.  I was pleased that this was able to happen at this event.

We were honored to have Kadi Muhammed Zibdeh, the former Kadi (judge in the Muslim courts of Israel) of Jerusalem and currently the Kadi of Jaffa, give the keynote address on the moral and social implications of the fast of Ramadan.  He began by praising Allah and thanking Him for everything. Fasting is not only worship, he explained, but also about a spiritual quality in that it emphasizes our special relationship to God.  In the Koran, it says we are inspired by God and that believers should fast.  Fasting is about being God-fearing, about demonstrating the correct virtues, and about avoiding sin.

He went on to explain that fasting teaches us restraint, self-control and self-understanding. Furthermore, fasting helps prevent us from harming others and teaches us to walk the holy path, the path of good deeds, the path of ethical personal and social behavior.

The month of Ramadan is a special time for giving charity in a systematic fashion. Since charity is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, Muslims must give money to charity during Ramadan. In fact, one is required to donate 2.5% of one’s income to charity. There is another charity – a Muslim who cannot fast because of an illness is allowed to provide a financial contribution instead.  Also, the tradition in Israel is for a man to contribute 15 NIS for each member of his family per day during the month of Ramadan to charity. These forms of charity provide for an entire social framework that provides for the needy during Ramadan.

Kadi Zibdeh concluded his presentation by explaining that all Muslims must be humble and rebuild family ties during Ramadan, must turn away from hatred and disdain, and must increase love, compassion and solidarity. This is the righteous path, the path of Ramadan. 

As our Muslim friends in Israel and around the world are in the midst of their observance of Ramadan, it was very helpful for Jews, Christians and Druze in the audience to understand more about the goals of the fast, as perceived by Muslims.

For me personally, it was fascinating to learn how much the process of fasting and repentance is similar in Judaism and Islam. Moreover, the focus on ethics and charity—which is also very much the focus of the fast in Judaism—links us with a common social consciousness towards Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. Our fast will not be complete—neither on Ramadan or Yom Kippur—if we don’t do our part to make the world a better place for all of God’s children.

See also:
Jerusalem Post article about the seminar
– Reshet Bet report: Hebrew audio / English transcript


Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman and I were privileged to attend an iftar dinner in Vadi Ara (at ths Miss Elrim Hall in Arareh) on August 16th, which was sponsored by Division of Religious Communities of the State of Israel, with which ICCI has worked closely for the past several years. This office, which is part of Israel’s Ministry of Interior, coordinates religious services for all non-Jewish communities in Israel—Christians, Muslims, Druze and Circasians. For the past 5 years, they have sponsored an iftar dinner for Muslims from throughout Israel, to which they invite Jewish leaders, such as the chief rabbi, Rabbi Yonah Metzger and Rabbi Eli Yishai, of Shaas, who is Minister of the Interior. We were invited this year as rabbis who are active in inter-religious dialogue in Israel.

Greetings were given by leading representatives of Christianity and Islam in Israel, as well as by the mayor of Nazareth, who represented the Union of Local Councils. Each person who spoke also offered polite critiques of the functioning of the Ministry of the Interior vis a vis their communities. The Christian leader—Bishop Marcuzzo of Nazareth, the vicar for Christian communities in Israel on behalf of the Latin Patriarchate, rebuked the minister for non-responsiveness to problems of the Christian communities in Israel since 2004, and reminded him of his recent promise at a meeting in Jerusalem by urging him to make the promise concrete! The Muslim leader hinted that we need peace more than ever before and implied that the minister of Interior was not doing enough to make this happen. And, the major of Nazareth reminded the minister that more and better budgets are necessary for the Arab local councils, which are struggling with huge debts for long time.

As an observer, I was a bit surprised at all the public criticism at what was meant to be a festive holiday occasion. But I was told that this was normal for this kind of event, and that the minister of Interior, who is a veteran politician in Israel, would have no problem in dealing with this criticism. Indeed, in his brief response, Rabbi Yishai rebuffed the criticism quickly and used the occasion to call for more dialogue among members of the major religions in Israel, an idea which we of course applaud.