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.
In the evening, we had around 80-100 people in the big auditorium. This included quite a few Christians, and we had simultaneous translation. We had a conversation that I chaired, involving one of the leading rabbis (Orthodox) in Israel, Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, head of a Yeshiva in Petach Tikva, and Canon Housam Naoum, the Dean of the (Anglican) St. George Cathedral in Jerusalem (a member of the International Steering Committee of the ICCJ’s Abrahamic Forum). There was audience participation, as well, and I was very pleased that the discussion was on a high level and there were no “crank” questions. When the resident representative of the Adenauer Stiftung in Israel–Michael Mertes–spoke, he committed his organization to continuing support of our Document. Ron Kronish showed a short clip from the film, “I am Joseph, Your Brother”.
I think it was a good event, although it definitely showed us that we have lots and lots of work to do. Except for those of us who are deeply invested in inter-religious dialogue, most Israelis don’t see it as a high-priority topic. I think that the ability of Jews to cooperate with Christians and Muslims here in Israel and around the world may be a significant determining factor in the future of the State of Israel.