By Andrew Luisi
Personally welcoming the other is a difficult task in and of itself; however, Miki Joelson believes it to be essential in order to foster relationships and create strong bonds among Jews and Palestinians. Miki worked for two years as a facilitator with the “Face to Face”/”Faith-to-Faith” —a partnership of Auburn Theological Seminary in New York and ICCI—and she now is an active participant in ICCI’s Alumni Community of Jewish and Palestinian Youth and Young Adults for Peaceful Coexistence. As someone who has coordinated programs and events to inspire interfreligious collaboration and awareness, she has recently represented ICCI at the 9th World Assembly of Religions for Peace in Vienna, Austria in November 2013, where she spoke about her work with ICCI in promoting inclusivity and striving for coexistence between Palestinians and Jews.
A crucial part in welcoming the other is to accept that there are differences among each person . This is why Miki has taught that a main principle in interfreligious and intercultural dialogue is through facilitating in a “learning environment” and to never hold onto preexisting notions of the other; often when one learns about the other, greater insight into oneself is revealed. Miki stated, “It is not as if you have to agree with your partners in dialogue on everything, but through dialogue, you create personal and genuine relationships.” She strongly feels that these relationships will be nurtured and sustained through ongoing participation in new dialogue and action projects.
In a dialogue setting, many people who have yet to meet the other have a tendency to make broad generalizations. When there are statements such as “all the Palestinians think this…” or “all the Israelis think that…” instead of “I, as a Palestinian,” or “I, as an Israeli,” these generalizations are nurtured even more, but always to a fault. Miki expressed her view that when people hold steadfast to these generalizations there is no room to grow and learn from the other. “Once you meet the other and walk on their soil and see through their eyes, these so-called “truth-claims” no longer hold any value.”
Interreligious and intercultural dialogue and action are very close to Miki’s heart; she sees it as her personal responsibility, as an Israeli Jew, to open the eyes of others who are blinded by their narrow beliefs. “My world has become richer and my eyes are opened to beliefs other than my own because of my involvement in dialogue,” she shared with a smile.
Miki sees it as her duty to serve to aid in the creation and maintenance of a substantive and sensitive young adult community of Palestinians and Jews, a community that is interested in both social and educational change and allowing the other to have their own identities in coexistence. In so doing, her actions speak louder than her words since she is becoming a leader in breaking down walls that divide, and creating the bridges to overcome gaps in understanding.