As Hanukkah draws to an end in Israel and the Jewish Diaspora, we remember the miracle of the oil lamp lasting for 8 days every night as we light our Hanukkah candles. It’s a time of hope and thinking about the miraculous.
This reminds me of a conversation I was involved in several years ago at an interreligious conference in Palermo, Italy. It was the Annual Meeting of People and Religions, sponsored by the Community of Saint Egidio, a wonderful Catholic community engaged in prayer and social action in many parts of the world. I attended their annual meetings several times, and not only came away spiritually inspired but also more hopeful about humanity.
At this conference, there was a morning plenum on Religion and Peace which offered wonderful presentations by Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders from Israel and elsewhere. I thought that it was a challenging and uplifting symposium.
But over lunch I was engaged in a discussion with an American journalist and Prof. Sari Nusseibeh, who is President of Al Quds University in Jerusalem and a distinguished scholar of Islamic thought and culture. He is a well-known cultural figure in Jerusalem, who, among other things is known for his secular/cultural outlook on life, but he is not a “religious” person, at least not in the sense of religious observance.
At lunch, the journalist asked Professor Nusseibeh what he thought about the lectures by religious leaders in the morning. He surprised him by responding negatively and saying that he did not like their speeches and he went on to ask — what have they really done for peace in our region? The journalist, who was a bit taken aback, nevertheless persisted and asked, “So, what do YOU think is the solution for peace in the Middle East?” Prof. Nusseibeh thought for a moment, then gave a wink and a smile and said sardonically responded, “We need a miracle!”.
I always remember this episode on Hannukah. What did he mean by a miracle? Certainly not a supernatural event but rather something of extraordinary human dimensions that would radically surprise us.
When Sadat came to Jerusalem, this was a miracle. It was a great surprise. No one would have predicted it, even days or weeks before it happened. It led to the peace treaty with Egypt which has lasted more than 30 years!
When Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin, of blessed memory, shook hands with Yasir Arafat (head of the PLO) on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993, just over 19 years ago – and gave one of the most inspiring speeches of his life, sharing hopes and dreams for peace of the Jewish People in Israel and worldwide – this too was a miracle since it was totally unexpected, and this became the beginning of the Peace Process in our region.
So, I agree with Prof. Nusseibeh. It is time for a miracle! It is time for our leaders on both sides to seize the courage and creativity to make peace, for us and our grandchildren and for the future. Not just a “piece of paper,” i.e. a formal treaty between us and the Palestinian people, but a sustainable peace, which will include ways and means of learning to live together in peace, now and for the decades to come.
I suggest that you don’t read the daily news to look for this miracle. Rather, one must believe in the creative power of human beings to make miracles, as has been done in the past.
No one in Northern Ireland ever believed that their conflict would be resolved; nor in South Africa, or in Bosnia. But conflicts do get resolved, and not always in predicable ways.
So light a candle for peace this year, or even eight of them, and continue to believe in miracles.