The Interfaith Encounter Association (IEA), an organization dedicated to promoting peace in the Middle East through interfaith dialogue and cross-cultural study, was this week awarded the IIE Victor J. Goldberg Prize for Peace.

The award, which includes a $10,000 prize, was presented in Jerusalem by Victor J. Goldberg, a retired IBM executive who is a longtime Trustee of the New York-based Institute of International Education (IIE) and who established and endowed the prize in 2005.

interfaith

Courtesy: IEA

Representing the IEA were Yehuda Stolov and Salah Aladdin.  Dr. Stolov, IEA’s executive director, founded the Interfaith Encounter Association in 2001 in the belief that no political arrangement can be sustained over time without peaceful relations on the grassroots level.

Salah Aladdin serves in a consulting capacity as the assistant director of the Interfaith Encounter Association, where he began working as an accountant. He was the founder and facilitator of IEA’s second group, the Jerusalem Youth Interfaith Encounter. Aladdin currently works at the Ministry of Finance in Jerusalem and is a leader of Al-Razi, a non-profit society which assists outstanding students to continue their academic education.

In its mission statement, IEA states: “We believe that, rather than being a cause of the problem, religion can and should be a source of the solution for conflicts that exist in the region and beyond.”

At the ceremony, Goldberg said, “This award recognizes innovation, and rewards those who are courageous and committed enough to work together to overcome the religious, cultural, ethnic, and political issues which divide the Middle East. We hope that the dedication shown by our prize winners will inspire others to join together across these divides to advance the cause of peace in the coming years.”

Interfaith at a personal level

My wife and I recently attended an IEA gathering in Jerusalem where we had a chance to meet Yehuda Stolov. Invited by David Brinn of the Jerusalem Post, we met with men from across the fence in Palestinian towns near Maale Adumim, outside Jerusalem. We were shocked to learn that these “neighbors” of ours, didn’t have the slightest clue what matza is.

The session gave us a chance to learn about the traditions of the Muslim holidays as well as teach them about the traditions of our holidays. Palestinian women also occasionally attend, and according to David Brinn, the previous session had more Palestinians than Israelis.

I have long believed that politicians on both sides of the conflict will never make the concessions necessary to achieve lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In my opinion, ordinary people must start talking to each other, learning about real life on the other side. Only through one-on-one dialogue can there be any chance for peace.

The fact that my Palestinian neighbors didn’t have a clue about matza showed me how little they knew about Israelis and our religion. I have a lot to learn as well. The gap between us is wide, but at least I had a chance to talk to the “other side” in a friendly conversation, avoiding politics and communicating as human beings.

The Interfaith Encounter Association is actively promoting religious and cultural existence and I am proud that I am not only a partner, in a small way, to their activities, but also that they have received international recognition. The award was truly well deserved.