Impressions from President Peres’ Annual Reception for Christian Leaders in Israel

Dear friends,

I was privileged to hear President Shimon Peres speak today at the annual reception for Christian leaders in Israel at his presidential residence in Jerusalem, an event that I attend every year.

During the presidency of Mr. Moshe Katzav, the previous president, it was an embarrasment and a disgrace to hear him berate Christian leaders again and again for promoting terrorism. One year, there was shouting and screaming–rightly so–after Katzav’s address, which was humiliating and insulting.

During the presidency of Shimon Peres, the situation is completely different. Mr. Peres speaks eloquently and in a dignified and respectful manner to all the Christian leadership, and you can see how much they appreciate this. Today he said: “We are proud of our relations with the Christian communities in Israel… Each religion should be free to pray the way it wants and to have equal rights and opportunities… as a Jew, I respect other religions. All of us are created in the image of God…”

When talking about peace, Mr. Peres remains optimistic, as always: “I believe we can make peace with the Palestinians… There are doubts but we have to overcome them… And religious leaders need to reach out to the souls of their people… we can all try to bring hope, stability and Peace.” To this I say, “Amen!”

Even Minister of Interior Eli Yishai, who spoke in Hebrew, was politically correct today. He said, “Jews are commanded to love peace and pursue it all over the world… we are also commanded to respect and love all human beings.”

After the speeches, I spoke to some Christians whom I know, and I was told that they liked the speeches but are waiting for them to be concretized by more action. In particular, I heard whispers that Minister Yishai should give his speech to some of the bureaucrats in his ministry who are famous–or infamous–for neither responding positively to requests of Christian institutions for visas for their volunteers nor to requests of some Christians from abroad to become citizens of Israel.

Nevertheless, it was an uplifting morning at the President’s residence. The current president of Israel–who is a symbol of the search for peace–sends the right messages to Christians at this time of year.


Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish

Director, ICCI

Playing Face-to-Face

by Brian Freedman, ICCI intern

In a mixed Jerusalem neighborhood a fortnight ago, frenzied Jewish and Arab teens chased and screamed at one another for an hour—all whilst flashing big smiles and cracking jokes.

The pandemonium arose from a spirited soccer match among the recently-graduated participants of Face to Face / Faith to Faith (F2F), a leadership and dialogue program that includes a 2-week summer peace camp in New York, which ICCI sponsors in cooperation with the Auburn Theological Seminary. Before and after the summer camp, the Jewish and Palestinian teens engaged in bi-monthly dialogue sessions that focused on breaking down stereotypes; they also performed community service and worked on developing their leadership skills.

The teens, accompanied by friends, arrived at the Musrara Community Center on the evening of Thursday, December 15th, for the penultimate event of the year-long dialogue program. Before the group facilitators drew the participants into more serious discussions, they gave the boys a soccer ball and the girls green space in which to skip, jump and dance. Linda, a Palestinian girl from the town of Shuafat in East Jerusalem, tried to mimic a improvised dance move that one of the ICCI facilitators was demonstrating to the girls. She discovered ICCI and the F2F program through a Palestinian friend of hers. Although her friends and society sometimes criticize her for meeting with Jews, she believes that dialogue groups are a vital medium through which to build trust between her Jewish neighbors. Her family supports her efforts, and her sister was a camper at the Seeds of Peace camp in Maine.

Linda and Hadar

Hadar, a Jewish girl who participated in the program in 2011 with Linda, also tried with varying success to follow the comical dance moves. She learned about ICCI and the summer peace camp through high school friends. After an ICCI staff person gave a presentation at her school, she decided to enroll in the program. She brought to the event a friend of hers from school, as all the participants were asked to bring friends to introduce them to the peace work in which they have been involved this past year.

At the close of the event, the participants discussed their feelings and thoughts about playing games with the “other side”, a rare and unusual occurrence in Israel. One participant said it was not strange to play soccer with the other side, adding that Jews have more in common with Palestinians than they might imagine. A Jewish student said that he relishes the opportunity to learn about Palestinian culture and religion.

An Encounter with ICCI Alumni

by Breanne White, ICCI intern

Thursday, December 1, I attended a meeting with a panel presentation of alumni from some of ICCI’s youth and young adult programs, which was given for rabbinical students at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. After a short explanation of the purposes of ICCI and what these groups work to accomplish through dialogue, the alumni discussed what they had learned from their participation in the various programs and how the dialogue process is still affecting their lives.
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Hannukah Greetings from the Ibrahim Family

Dear friends,

May you and yours enjoy the blessings of Hanukkah as you light candles to fulfill the obligation enacted by the Sages. May the blessings, miracles and wonders from your household spill over to all the other households in our Nation and in the world, so that the world at large can benefit from the ancient wisdom and traditions of the Jewish people.

In the broader spirit of Hanukkah, which means “dedication”, let us all dedicate ourselves, Jew as well as Gentile, to wishing for a miracle that brings about a better world — a world where we accept and love each other and where we rejoice in each others’ celebrations, as I plan to do on Wednesday evening at the lighting of the second candle at the Embassy of Israel in Washington.

Nina and SA Ibrahim

The Ibrahim family is an American Muslim family that promotes international and interreligious understanding through the Ibrahim Family Foundation, which sponsors the Ibrahim Leadership and Dialogue Project in the Middle East, administered by the Institute of International Education, and supports the work of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel. Mr. S.A. Ibrahim, the CEO of Radian Group, received ICCI’s “Building Bridges and Bonds” in June this year.

See also:

Peace Is Possible

Peace is Possible / السلام ممكن / השלום אפשרי

by ICCI alumnus Bushra Abdelrahman / بشرى عبد الرحمن / מאת בושרה עבדלרחמן

in Arabic, Hebrew and English

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Every stone has a story

by Paul Hutchinson

My first trip to Jerusalem and it seems that every stone has a story.

This is the place where ‘X’ happened?

This is where ‘Y ‘did this

This is a holy place

This is where the world began

This is where the world will end

Grand statements, with every stone given huge significance and scale.  Which means that it feels like the small things that make up life can get relegated, and everything poured into a serious melting pot.

And yet I met and laughed with many people, heard their stories and felt a kin-ship, told my tales and felt a connection.

I came to talk about my land, the north of Ireland, and to offer my experiences of conflict, dialogue and creative ways to build good relations.

I ate well (the salads were enormous)

I walked from the grave of Jesus to his birthplace

I waited in line at checkpoints

I met many people working hard to bring hope to a divided and broken place

We talked and talked and talked…Jerusalem likes to chatter…

And in one session I handed out a stone I had brought from Ireland, a stone held by friends and foes, different tribes. And I passed it round the room, asking each person to be still and reflect, and to touch the stone that had touched friend and foe. And the loud room was stilled. And something of the sacred unfolded.

And we all play our part in making new worlds

And we all play our part in ending old worlds

And mostly we make small contributions, but they all add, connect, nurture.

And I will never forget my first trip to Jerusalem, a place where every stone tells a story.

And the stone that was shared in Jerusalem is now being held in Ireland.

Paul Hutchinson is the Centre Director of Corrymeela, a Christian community committed to reconciliation. He visited Jerusalem recently and shared his experiences from Northern Ireland with locals during two special events hosted by ICCI. Read more about these events here.

Northern Irish Peace educator engages with peacebuilders in Jerusalem

By ICCI intern Brian Freedman

In one corner, two people playfully whack a red balloon back and forth. In the other corner, six people read aloud names of murdered men, women and children. Such were the images as they played out in a dream of Paul Hutchinson, a peace educator from Northern Ireland, who visited Israel last month. The theme of the dream: the challenge for people embroiled in conflict and tragedy to continue living and enjoying life.

Mr. Hutchinson was invited to Jerusalem by the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI) to share his experiences as a peace facilitator in the post-conflict era of the 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics, during which more than 3,500 people were killed. He began his week with ICCI on November 22nd at the YMCA in West Jerusalem, by hosting a discussion with local Jews and Palestinians. Halfway through the discussion, Mr. Hutchinson invited eight participants to re-enact his dream of the red balloon and the reading aloud of casualties. Continue reading