A taste of peace

I spent the last few days at a large interfaith conference in Vienna which was publicly commissioned by KAICIID, an organization which promotes inter-religious dialogue. The conference was held through an initiative and under the auspices of the King of Saudi Arabia, in partnership with the governments of Austria, Spain with the Vatican as an active, permanent observer. With a view of crosses, keffiyehs, yarmulkes, saris, kimonos and an array other kinds of clothing and headgear, that we would usually only find in our costume closet, intermingling, smiling, exchanging opinions and business cards, a mixture of accents, a lot of mutual validation, understanding and warm greetings of peace, were exchanged in these few days. The Conference Center in Vienna was opened a year ago, and the present conference was a summary of four regional conferences on the subject of “the relationship to the other” and “inter-religious responsibility”, with emphasis on educational and religious messages. While it is true that the power of conferences in trying to solve the world’s problems is limited, there is a significant message borne of the conference which is important to me to voice in Israel. It is not trivial that an Israeli delegation was invited to a conference sponsored by the Saudis, and that I, an Israeli rabbi am interviewed on Saudi and Arab channels. I was given the stage to explain my Zionist vision for both a religious and political peace; meetings and interesting conversations eye level with ministers and imams from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Beirut and from all over the Arab world. All of these meetings including the message of our collective religious responsibility could not have taken place even a few years ago. I certainly do not think that all of our problems were solved at this conference, we are trying to do the more profound work on religious peace through strenuous daily work, building a deep and genuine process with a solid foundation. Along with this, there is a crucial public message as was expressed for all to hear and see at this conference, in front of private and public cameras and television – the content of which defines a long anticipated step in the right direction for building a different future together. Therefore, while everybody seems to be preoccupied with the Eyal Golan turmoil, I suggest taking a moment to pause and think about the meaning of the interreligious statement that was raised in Vienna.

About the Author
Rabbi Michael Melchior is a leading advocate for social justice in Israel, education for all, Jewish-Arab reconciliation and co-existence, protection of the environment, and Israel-Diaspora relations. Through his work, Rabbi Melchior seeks to strengthen Israeli civil society so it may catalyze significant social change in the State of Israel. He was a member of Knesset for the Meimad Party. Rabbi Melchior continues to hold the title of Chief Rabbi of Norway.
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