“Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue “

By Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish

as published in the Huffington Post on 21/7/13safe_image

“One of the most central tenets of Judaism is to pursue justice . We are reminded of this over and over again in the Bible, especially in the book of Deuteronomy, which we Jews began reading in our synagogues in Israel and around the world in recent weeks, and in the prophetic readings from Isaiah, which we read as supplementary to our Torah text for the next seven weeks, and on the morning of Yom Kippur. Indeed, ours is a religion which emphasizes social justice, both in our foundational texts and in our liturgy.

It is for this reason that I was honored to participate in a unique seminar on “Justice and Society” with 25 judges, law professors, lawyers and educators, at the world-renowned Aspen Institute in scenic Aspen, Colorado this past week. It was an amazing experience, one of the intellectual and spiritual highlights of my adult life.

At the closing evening of the seminar, one of the participants referred to our group as a “beloved community.” Indeed, we bonded as a group — not only through our carefully and thoughtfully facilitated discussions, but also in our coffee breaks, our meals, our hiking together, and our strolls around the awe-inspiring grounds of the Aspen Meadows campus in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. This was an extraordinary group of caring and committed intellectuals and practitioners who genuinely and actively listened deeply to each other, but also spoke personally, professionally and passionately about fundamental issues involved with creating a just society which were clearly of central importance to all of us.

What is justice? Is the law always just? Is the law always moral? What happens when our morality dictates to our conscience to be civilly disobedient to an unjust law, as in the famous examples of Rev. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, or Mahatma Gandhi — some of the great reigious leaders of the twentieth century, who were motivated by deeply held religious views of justice, based on their sacred texts and moral world-view.

And, what about economic justice? About the cruel inequalities between rich and poor in so many Western liberal democracies? Why should the top one percent of American or Israeli society live in such affluence and abundance when there are so many disenfranchised poor people in these societies? What should be done to tax the rich more fairly so that distributive justice becomes a reality and not just a philosophical idea?”


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F2F Alumni Participated in TEDxYouth Holon – Part III

by Miki Joelson

TEDx youth

In the first two parts (see Part I, and Part II), I wrote about the exciting TEDxYouth event held in Holon on April 25, 2013, dedicated to youth social involvement and creativity, where Face to Face alumni attended.

Following Idan Levi’s and Shaked Eisenmann’s experiences while being involved with social change actions, I would like to bring you now Apkar Nalbandian’s and Lavi Eisenmann’s experiences. Apkar wrote of his vision, after participating in Face to Face, to create opportunities for Israelis and Palestinians to meet and talk, in order to get out of the cycle of judgment and racism:

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“Resisting Racism and Keeping the Light of Hope Alive”

By Rabbi Ron Kronish

“Earlier this week, I was invited to attend a meeting of the Committee on Education of the Knesset (parliament) by leaders of a coalition which I am part of

Dr. Ron Kronish

Dr. Ron Kronish

called Tag Meir, Hebrew for “Light Tag,” or perhaps better translated as “A Sign of Light.” The group combats hate crimes that have become endemic in certain quarters in Israel during the last year and a half. We began at Hanukkah to react to each violent act of Jewish ultra-nationalists who desecrate churches and mosques and attack innocent peace activists, who go under the name Tag Mechir, Hebrew for “Price Tag.” Our idea was to light a beacon of peace and reconciliation to show the sane face of the moderate mainstream of Judaism in Israel.

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Learning To Respect One Another

by: Rachael Sauceda

On Tuesday April 9th, members of ICCI’s alumni community of young Palestinians and Jews for Peace Coexistence held a discussion with a group of about 20 American Jews from the Boston area, who were on a study tour with led by Rabbi Howard Berman, Executive Director of the Society for Classical Reform Judaism and rabbi of Central Reform Temple of Boston. This discussion gave the group, who were mainly from Boston and the surrounding area, a unique view as to what it is like for people living and growing up in a culturally diverse city like Jerusalem during a time of conflict. The young adult alumni, from various ICCI young adult dialogue programs, talked about their experiences, the obstacles they overcame, and how they learned to respect and listen to “the other.”

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Tolerance Campaign Workshop With F2F Graduates!

While working on the campaign I had the opportunity to work with friends from different backgrounds and cultures for the same shared goal. True, I had already known all the members of this team, but this was an opportunity to see them work on one clear goal, and it showed us new sides of one another! (Atar Cahana, F2F 2012 Alumnus)

While working on the campaign I had the opportunity to work with friends from different backgrounds and cultures for the same shared goal. True, I had already known all the members of this team, but this was an opportunity to see them work on one clear goal, and it showed us new sides of one another! (Atar Cahana, F2F 2012 Alumnus)

By: Shaked Einsenmann, F2F Graduate

Between January and March 2013, I and other F2F alumni participated in a tolerance campaign project held by Mediterranean Youth Technology Club (MYTecC) in cooperation with the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI).

It was very nice to work together in a mixed group. We had fun creating something that revolved around what we learned in F2F. We were excited when we got to present our story to a large audience and felt great pride when we saw how much people appreciated our work!

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בוגרי ‘פנים אל פנים’ בסדנת קמפיין לסובלנות

במהלך העבודה על הקמפיין יצא לי לעבוד עם חברים מרקעים שונים ומתרבויות שונות על מטרה משותפת - חוצת מגזרים, אמנם את כל חברי הצוות הכרתי לפני כן אבל יצא לי לראות אותם עובדים על מטרה אחת ברורה, והדבר חשף בפנינו צדדים חדשים אחד של השני! (עטר כהנא, בוגר F2F 2012)

במהלך העבודה על הקמפיין יצא לי לעבוד עם חברים מרקעים שונים ומתרבויות שונות על מטרה משותפת – חוצת מגזרים, אמנם את כל חברי הצוות הכרתי לפני כן אבל יצא לי לראות אותם עובדים על מטרה אחת ברורה, והדבר חשף בפנינו צדדים חדשים אחד של השני! (עטר כהנא, בוגר F2F 2012)

מאת: שקד אייזנמן, בוגר תכנית “פנים מול פנים/אמונה אל אמונה”

בינואר – מרץ 2013 לקחנו על עצמנו להשתתף בפרוייקט תכנון קמפיין לסובלנות מטעם תכנית מייטק Mediterranean Youth Technology Club (MYTecC) בשיתוף עם המועצה הבין-דתית המתאמת (ICCI).

היה נחמד מאוד לעבוד יחד בקבוצה המעורבת. נהנינו ליצור משהו שעסק במה שלמדנו ב-F2F.

התרגשנו כשזכינו להציג את הסיפור שלנו מול קהל רב ושמחנו מאוד ואף התמלאנו גאווה כשראינו את ההערכה הרבה של שאר האנשים על עבודתנו!

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Kadi Mohammad Zibdeh Speaks at ICCI

Kadi Mohammad Zibdeh, the Kadi of Jaffa, and still the part-time kadi of Jerusalem,  gave a fascinating talk in our first series on meetings with non-Jewish religiouso leaders in Israel at the ICCI EDUCATION CENTER on Emek Refaim 43a, Jerusalem, as part of ICCI’s new “Encounters with Local Religious Leaders” series. As a person who grew up in Jaffa, he has been involved with the Muslim community in Jaffa for decades, not only as a teacher in the schools there and later a principal of one of the schools, but also as a civic leader involved in many NPOs (amutot) in the area for the betterment of Jaffa’s Arab citizens.

In 2001, he and 2 other men were appointed as new kadis (Muslim judges in family courts) in Israel. His appointment–and that of his colleagues–began a radical change whereby now all kadis in Israel have at least a university degree and most of them also have law degrees. Kadi Zibdeh is finishing a masters in law this year. This has led to a new generation of kadis in Israel who have earned the respect of their communities as well as of the judicial system in Israel.

Kadi Zibdeh explained carefully and succinctly how shariyah law works in Muslim family courts in Israel, in cooperation with the general laws of Israel. In the question period, he answered many questions very clearly, especially with regard to the rights of women in Muslim courts in Israel, which he explained as being very comprehensive and very considerate of the woman. It was quite clear that he has become an expert not only in Muslim family law but in Israeli family law as well.

The Jewish audience who came to hear Kadi Zibdeh was extremely grateful for his clear and concise answers to all questions, and for his humble yet authoritative personality.  It was  a rare opportunity indeed for Jews in Jerusalem to meet one of Israel’s outstanding Muslim leaders, a person who has rightfully earned the respect of his community and of the Jewish community as well.

I have had the personal privilege of knowing Kadi Zibdeh since 2003 when he participated for 5 years in our KEDEM (Voices for Religious Reconciliation) project, and became one of the leaders of this program. In addition, he and I traveled together to Canada and the U.S.A two years ago, where he did an excellent job of explaining to foreign audiences the nuances of living as Muslim–in the position of kadi (Judge)– in the state of Israel.  He is unquestionably one of the finest representatives of his community in Israel.

Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish
March 18, 2012

The experiences in the Face-to-Face/Faith-to-Faith Israeli-Palestinian group

Interview by Thilo Schöne

Alex Kusner and Maisa Zoabi coordinate and facilitate the Face-to-Face/Faith-to-Faith group of ICCI since January 2010. Alex is a 27-year old Jewish Israeli who holds a B.A. in social work from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is the graduate of several facilitator training workshops as well as a pre-military training program for social leadership. Maisa is a 25-year old Muslim Palestinian Israeli who holds a B.A. in Education and Chemistry as well as a Teacher’s Certificate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She has been guiding and tutoring youth for several years.

Each year for the past 7 years, ICCI recruits a group of 12-14 Jewish, Christian and Muslim youth to participate in a year-long dialogue and leadership program called Face to Face / Faith to Faith. The program includes attending a two-week summer intensive experience in the U.S., as part of a full, comprehensive year of dialogue and action projects in Jerusalem. This program is done in partnership with the Auburn Theological Seminary of New York and local groups in Northern Ireland, South Africa, and the U.S.A.

After the return of the teenagers from the summer intensive in July, I talked to Alex and Maisa about their experiences in the program.

After asking about her impressions, it was important for Alex to highlight the huge difference in the behavior of the Israeli and Palestinian participants in this program after the summer intensive experience. Most of them had for the first time in their life the chance to talk to the “other” all day long for two full weeks. They felt understood and were more able to identify the core of the issues.

According to Alex, the teenagers were much more forthright in engaging difficult topics and discussing them openly and honestly. The exchange with the youth from other conflict regions in the world—especially South Africa and Northern Ireland—gave them hope that there could be a peace agreement in their region as well.

She observed that the teenagers saw how coexistence is working, especially in Northern Ireland. In comparison to all the other regions, they got the feeling that their story is one story in many conflictual stories of the world. Most of them became better listeners than before. They noticed in one activity in which they were supposed to draw a time line of the conflict that their narratives do not match at all. It seems that this was a turning point, since it was the first time that their internal disagreements actually came to the surface.

Alex emphasized: “I, as a Jewish-Israeli, noticed how limited the audience of the Palestinians is, and because the chance that their voice is going to be heard is small, all of their thoughts, words and actions change in such a situation. As soon as our Palestinian teenagers felt that their opinions are respected and have the same quality for us as the Jewish opinions, they changed their attitude and opened themselves for real dialogue.”

Maisa has been facilitating such a group for the first time this year, but she participated already in dialogue seminars for several years. She expected from the program that people will learn more about the other side and especially how to listen, even though it may sometimes be painful.

She saw these goals as achieved: “There is this one Palestinian boy who felt that he had constantly to be the voice of the Palestinian people. He attacked the Jewish participants when they said something. In the camp he started to listen and to accept different narratives. I would never have believed that this change could actually occur in such a short time but it did happen and it made me happy.”

Maisa added that a key to understanding the behavior of some of the Palestinian Israelis is their position as a minority in Israel. This influences their way of thinking, since they tend to generally see themselves in the position of an underdog. It is really hard for Palestinian youth to open themselves up, to talk and to acknowledge the suffering of the other, because they fear if they leave their identity as a minority no one will care about their suffering anymore. That is why it is so important to create an atmosphere of trust and respect. Maisa observed: “I, as a Palestinian Israeli, also learned many things in the program. Not only did I learn to be patient, but I also heard many things about the suffering of the Palestinians in Jerusalem. I am from the north of Israel and we live together there. The Jews were my neighbors, not my enemy. It was a shock for me to encounter the real problems 14-year olds have to deal with in Jerusalem.”

In summary, both Alex and Maisa are happy that they have the opportunity to be facilitators in the summer intensive and in the Face to Face program throughout the year, and both want to go on with this program. They see a change in the teenagers’ behavior, which gives them hope that more changes will be possible during the second half of this program in the coming 4-5 months.

Hiba Aliyan of Face to Face

Jason Kaufman, a high school student from Westchester, NY, has been volunteering in the ICCI office for the past few weeks, meeting with and interviewing individuals involved in various aspects of ICCI’s work.  Here is his next interview, with Hiba Aliyan, an alumna of  Face to Face  currently working as a translator for the program.

I interviewed Hiba Aliyan, who has been involved with the ICCI since she was 15. She is now the program coordinator of ICCI’s youth programs (Face to Face) and is the interpreter for the current Face to Face group and camp in New York. She studies English and Spanish at the Hebrew University. She returned to Face to Face in 2006 as a leader in training, and then started working at the ICCI as an interpreter (between Arabic and Hebrew).

Hiba explained that her work at the Face to Face camp “never gets old,” as every year there is more or less the same conflict with entirely new students. She explained how it was interesting to see how each year’s students deal with the problems. Face to Face brings together students from Israel, South Africa, Northern Ireland, and the US. The aim of Face to Face is to bring students from regions with ethnic conflict. When I asked her how her work with Face to Face has changed her, she explained that it changed her the most as a child. She grew up in a primarily Jewish neighborhood but never had a Jewish friend. She said that she would talk to Jewish people on the street, but nothing serious. She explained how she went from knowing nothing to suddenly knowing a lot; from talking quickly on the street to sleeping in cabins together at camp. She found the initial impact to be the strongest.

Hiba referenced one anecdote that stands out in her memory. Before leaving on her first trip to the US when she was 15, she had become closest with the Jewish students on the trip. When she and her friends reached security in Ben Gurion airport, she had a much harder time getting through than her friends. Hiba revealed that she felt that she wanted to cry and was confused at what was happening. She was confused at why she, like her friends, possessed Israeli citizenship but was not allowed to cross with them.

Zuza Radzik

Jason Kaufman, a high school student from Westchester, NY, has been volunteering in the ICCI office for the past few weeks, meeting with and interviewing individuals involved in various aspects of ICCI’s work.  Here is his next interview, with Zuza Radzik, ICCI’s Polish student intern, who helped develop a special course about the relations between Jews and Poles.

Three years ago, Zuza Radzik, a Catholic student from Warsaw, Poland, was studying at the University of Notre Dame, and had no real intention or desire to come to Israel. Because of her interest in Christian/Jewish relations in Europe, her professor encouraged her to come to Israel.  Now, Zuza has lived here for three years and speaks Hebrew!

When ICCI started a Polish/Israeli conference two years ago, Zuza, impressed with the work that she seen, immediately wanted to get involved. She loved that the conference opened up the field of Jewish/Christian relations in Poland and Israel. Zuza helped expand the conferences, and then helped plan, in cooperation with the Polish Institute of Tel Aviv, a year long course about Poland at ICCI: “Encountering Poland: Relations between Jews and Poles – Religious, Historical, and Social Dimensions.” The program is meant mostly for guides of high school groups to be ready to take groups to Poland and understand Jewish life there. Zuza hopes the course will continue after she leaves this fall, as this has been the first year the program has been carried out.

Zuza spoke about a newfound interest in Jewish culture in Poland. Students are beginning to want to study Yiddish, and now few students finish the University of Warsaw without taking some courses on Judaism. Zuza explained how students learn about Judaism and begin to relate it to themselves. Students are suddenly discovering that their small hometowns have Jewish histories. Zuza explained that this trend is bringing an interest in Christian/Jewish relations; however, the Jewish population in Poland is so small today that it is mostly theoretical.

Zuza’s favorite part about working at the ICCI has been meeting the people who work there. Zuza came to Israel knowing no one, and immediately found a circle of people at ICCI similar to the circle of friends she previously had, all with an interest in global issues. When Zuza returns to Poland at the end of the summer, she plans to continue pursuing a PhD in Christian/Jewish relations at the University of Warsaw. She will write her thesis about how the thoughts surrounding the Christians’ accusation of Jews for the death of Christ have changed from antiquity to the present.