I was recently asked to be a discussant on a panel on the topic of “The Challenge of Maintaining Interreligious Dialogue in the Current Era” at a conference at the Western Galilee College in Acco (Acre). It was my first visit to this college, which I was told has 40% Arab students and 60% Jewish ones, reflecting the demography in the area.
On the panel–which was moderated by Dr. Albert Lincoln, Secretary-General of the Bahai International Community, were 4 colleagues, with whom I have worked for many years. Two of them–Rabbi Shmuel Reiner, one of the Heads of Yeshivat Maaleh Gilboa, and Fr. Nadeem Shakour, Head of the Greek-Catholic Community in Meilya–participated for 5 years in our KEDEM (“Kol Dati Mefayes”–“Voices for Religious Reconciliation”) program, which ran from 2003-2008 and included many hundreds of hours of serious and systematic dialogue over these years, both abroad and in Israel. When they were asked by the moderator to name a successful program that they had participated in, they both pointed to KEDEM. Rabbi Reiner said that the program was extremely interesting, that it contained serious study, and that it was possible to talk about difficult subjects in an atmosphere of genuine trust. Fr. Shakour said that he misses the KEDEM dialogue group because it was a great opportunity for him to really get to know rabbis on a personal basis, and he felt that great mutual respect and admiration was developed among all members in the group.
The other 2 members of the panel are members of our current Galilee Religious Leaders Forum, which has been meeting for the past 4 years in the Galilee, in cooperation with the Division of Religious Communities of the Ministry of Interior. Kadi Hamzi Hamzi said that feels a great warmth among the religious leaders in the Galilee–8 rabbis, 8 Christians, 8 Druze and 8 Muslims–who have been encountering each other and learning from each other in meaningful ways. Despite all the differences among them, he said, they are finding that they have much in common! His Druze colleague, Imam Jamil Hatib, agreed with him completely.
It was heartwarming to travel all the way to Acco to hear such significant comments from religious leaders who find so much satisfaction in ICCI programs! I appreciated their candor and their sensitive and substantive remarks, as did all of the people in the audience.
The conference was sponsored by The Western Galilee College, the Graduate Program in Conflict Management and Negotiation, the Project for the Study of Religion, Culture and Peace of the Interdisciplinary Department in Social Sciences of Bar-Ilan University, in cooperation with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Israel.