Last Thursday night, I was witness to a rare and beautiful opportunity for encounter and dialogue at the ICCI Education Center in Jerusalem. Fourteen high school students from all over Jerusalem gathered in our center with their parents for the opening of the 11th year of the Face to Face/Faith to Faith program. Eight Palestinian families—Muslims and Christians—and six Jewish families, religious and secular, joined together to begin an exciting year of dialogue and education.
As I explained to the parents, Face to Face/Faith to Faith is a unique program that combines the methods of Interreligious Dialogue with those of Conflict Transformation for high school students in their 10th and 11th grades of school from 4 regions: South Africa, Northern Ireland, the United States, and Israel/Palestine. We are the Israel/Palestine “home group”. While most programs in conflict transformation are secular, the Face to Face/Faith to Faith program adds the interreligious dimension which suits our organizational mission because we believe that religions can be a force for peace and reconciliation, rather than for violence or war.
In my remarks to the parents, I talked about an encounter that happened a few years ago in our center. One year, when we invited a group of parents of Face to Face kids for a study evening devoted to themes relating to the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the facilitator of the first part of the evening’s program asked each person to share a personal miracle from their lives, since it was Hanukkah, the season of miracles. Most people shared medical stories of themselves or of families and friends. But one woman, who was sitting right next to me, said: “The real miracle is that we are sitting in this room together, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims and Christians from all over Jerusalem.”
I felt the same sensation last Thursday night. The dialogue was so fascinating. Some of the parents were visibly moved, almost to tears. It was an inspirational evening of the possibilities of living together in Jerusalem. There was so much openness and curiosity about encountering the other, about learning each family’s personal narrative. It was a hint of what could be in Jerusalem, rather than what is at the moment.
ICCI’s Face to Face/Faith to Faith program is in partnership with Auburn Theological Seminary, based in New York City, and operates under the banner “Peace is Possible”. Indeed, people of different religions and national identities can live together in Jerusalem. It is not a dream. It is possible.