A Time for Recommitment

by Dr. Debbie Weissman, President of the International Council of Christians and Jews

On Thursday, Sept. 6th, 2012, Jerusalem joined 8 other cities in the world–as far afield as Chicago, Sigtuna (Sweden) and Wellington (New Zealand)–in hosting a regional conference on the 2009 Berlin document.  That document, issued by the International Council of Christians and Jews, and now available in an attractive booklet in Hebrew (various languages, including Hebrew, are also available on-line at www.iccj.org), is a ground-breaking statement. It is the first time that a group of Christians and Jews assembled together and did their own soul-searching, together and in each other’s presence. The booklet contains a narrative history of the relationship and its transformation as well as four calls to Christians and the Churches, four calls to Jews and the Jewish communities, and four calls for joint action.

The conference in Jerusalem was held at the beautiful Adenauer Conference Center at Mishkenot Sha’a’nanim. There were four partners in the project: the ICCJ, the Adenauer Foundation (our partners, as well, in Berlin in 2009), the ICCI—Inter-religious Coordinating Council in Israel, headed by Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish, and the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christians Relations, founded by the late Daniel Rossing, of blessed memory. The day was divided into 2 parts. From 14:00 to 18:00, there was a small (about 30 people) by-invitation seminar. All in Hebrew, no translation. The attendees included Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis, academics, educators. There were three presentations–yours truly, Rabbi Ehud Bandel, and Hana Bendcowsky (of the JCJCR). Ehud pointed out that the ICCJ may actually be the only international organization at present whose President and First Vice-President both live in Israel.

We also had a fair amount of lively discussion, facilitated by Sarah Bernstein and Ophir Yarden. We discovered some new people who I hope will become involved now, in local inter-religious dialogue. Kudos to Ehud for translating and editing the booklet, and bringing it to print.

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Present Memories: ICCI Israeli-Palestinian-German Group Visits Yad VaShem

by Abby Alfred, ICCI intern

Last week, ICCI hosted a group of young adults from Germany who joined us for an intensive 5-day dialogue program with a group of Jews, Christians, and Muslims from Israel, entitled “Present Memories“. The program included discussions, joint learning, tours, and action, organized by ICCI in collaboration with German organization Evangelisches Jugend.

On their third day together, the group members visited Yad Vashem. Visiting a Holocaust remembrance site was not a new experience for anyone — most of the Israelis and Palestinians had visited Yad Vashem several times before and the majority of Germans had visited Aushwitz and other concentration camps in Europe. But this was the first time these individuals explored this history together, German with Jew with Christian with Muslim.

The guide began this tour by presenting the two themes on which we should focus. He wanted us first to think about the dilemmas of the different groups involved at the time of the Holocaust, and next, how the construction of memory of the events shapes current day Israel.

As we entered the museum, we were first confronted with images of pre-Holocaust communities in Germany, where Jews were integrated in society and everything appeared normal and content. Our guide explained that, “in order to understand what happened, we have to understand what was destroyed.” We continued through the halls of the museum, watching the systematic dehumanization of the Jewish community in Germany through the use of children’s games, propaganda posters, ad campaigns, etc. One of the German group leaders later noted to me his shock at seeing a popular board game in which children “deported Jews”; he played a very similar game as a child, only he wasn’t deporting Jews, he was getting rid of bad guys.  He saw here how his cultural artifacts were manipulated to alter the world views of children just like him.

Our guide shared stories of individuals in various circumstances and challenged us to think about the choices they had in their respective situations. In one photo we looked at, did the soldier have to shoot the woman? Did the Kapo have to turn on other Jews to save himself? In presenting these different dilemmas, our guide noted the complexities of the Holocaust, the different roles people played, and the decisions they made, and warned of the dangers of societal manipulation and dehumanization of groups of people. As we neared the end of the museum, he presented to us the righteous among the nations. It is important for Yad Vashem to track down these people, he told us, because they remind us that–despite the dangers involved–there was another choice.

Leaving the museum, the group took some time to reflect on their thoughts and feelings having gone through the place together. One Israeli woman, referring to a trip the day before to a Palestinian village destroyed in 1967, reflected to her German peers: “I was wondering if you felt today the way I did yesterday.” A German young man confessed that as he walked through he felt “ashamed, but not guilty, of what [his] country did to these people”; that he cannot take on the guilt given this was generations before him, but he still feels the pain of what happened in his country. The group session ended with a Palestinian man’s thoughts that “we need to not just feel our pain, but everyone’s pain.”

Abby Alfred is interning with ICCI’s Communications and Development department and also helping at educational organization in East Jerusalem for the duration of her current stay in Israel. Abby is a graduate of Barnard College of Columbia University, NY, where she studied Psychology, and additionally holds a M.A. degree in Social Work from Boston College, MA. She has extensive background working in education and health settings, and has also served as a staff member on the Seeds of Peace International Camp for three years.

Denouncing Religious Violence at Latrun

Following the religious violence on Tuesday, at the Latrun Monastery, near Ramla, I issued the following press release on behalf of ICCI and JCJCR , which was mentioned on the news of Kol Yisrael (2nd station) and on Israeli Army Radio yesterday and the day before:

September 4, 2012, Jerusalem

On behalf of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI) and the Jerusalem Center for Jewish Christian Relations (JCJCR), we denounce the attack on the Latrun monastery. This is a hillul hashem, a desecration of the name of God.

As people who seek peaceful coexistence and mutual respect between Jews, Christians and Muslims in this land, we condemn such wanton acts of violence against people of other religions.

At the same time, we rededicate ourselves to educating for tolerance and mutual understanding which can increase the possibility of living together in peace and harmony in this land.

In addition, I visited the monastery yesterday with Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, co-chairperson of ICCI and Rabbi of Kol HaNeshama, and a delegation of Reform rabbis and congregants from all over Israel (see this link for video and photos) to express solidarity with the monks who live there and saw the desecration of their monastery with my own eyes. At this visit we recited verses from the traditional “confession” of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and prayed for peace. I felt that the monks were genuinely moved by our visit.

Rabbi Ron Kronish and Levi Weiman-Kelman in Latrun

In addition, representatives of ICCI joined the “Tag Meir” coalition (a Hebrew pun on “Tag Mehir”, “Price Tag”) demonstration with about 200 people from many different organizations to shed some positive light and hope on the situation. We are committed to keeping hope alive in our difficult situation in Israel.

Furthermore, tonight, ICCI and JCJCR will co-sponsor a public symposium with the ICCJ and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung entitled “Changes in Jewish-Christian Relations in the West: What Do They Mean for Jewish-Christian Relations in the Holy Land?” in which we will continue to raise of voice for peaceful coexistence with our Christian and Muslim neighbors in Israel, and we will recommit ourselves to educating for mutual understanding and reconciliation in our country and our region.

Religious-inspired hatred has become a plague in our society. ICCI is developing a new program to begin to heal hatred. More on this on another occasion.

Rabbi Ron Kronish
Director, ICCI and JCJCR