by Nomi Teutsch, Shatil Fellow at ICCI
In 2005, the village of Mghar in the north of Israel was overtaken with violent conflict between the Christian and Druze populations. Last week, I got to witness just how far this Galilee town has come since then, as I took part in a large-scale and inspiring inter-religious celebration there.
Over 40 religious leaders of the Christian, Druze, Muslim and Jewish faiths came together at the Mghar High School in a joint initiative by ICCI and the Division of Religious Affairs within The Ministry of the Interior. The leaders modeled for students that having a strong religious identity need not prevent them from forming respectful connections with those who are different.
The day got off to a good start with socializing among the diverse clergy members, and a parade in which students welcomed the religious leaders with drums and flags:
The most meaningful part of the program took place in the classrooms, where groups of leaders from the different faiths spoke together to students on the topic of “I believe that we can live together… and in order to do that we must…”. Each faith leader shared his own perspective on the topic through the lens of his religious tradition, and took questions from the students.
The students responded to the clergy with passion, clarity and insight. A student in my classroom asked a particularly provocative question following the faith leaders’ teachings. She asked: “If the content of each religion is so positive, and you leaders can get along so well here today, why is the religious conflict in this region and around the world so disastrous?” This led to a vibrant and deep conversation about where evil comes from, and what religion can and can’t do to counter conflict and divisiveness. I was impressed with the students’ engagement with the topic, and with the faith leaders’ openness to one another as well as to the students.
The day concluded with a closing assembly and the collective planting of a “tolerance tree,” which will serve as a constant reminder to the school community of the importance of honoring and respecting the other. I was touched and energized by the students’ enthusiasm, and hope that when they see this tree in years to come they feel the same eagerness to make change that they did that morning.
Nomi Teutsch coordinates women’s programming at ICCI. She is currently serving as a Social Justice Fellow of the New Israel Fund/Shatil. In that role she also works as an educator at the Jerusalem Rape Crisis Center. Previously she served as a Faiths Act Fellow of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, where she organized interfaith activism in New York City through UNITED SIKHS. She has a B.A. in philosophy from Wesleyan University.