Yoel Oz
Co-Founder of the Abrahamic Movement

Abraham is a magic word

Peace will come only when the religious Jews and Arabs get together and realize how much they have in common

Perhaps you have had the occasion to attend a Shabbat meal at a Chabad house. For many, it is their first time being welcomed into someone’s home for a Jewish, religious event. There may be some trepidation. How will I be received? What will I experience there? What if I do or say the wrong thing?

These thoughts were on my mind the first time I attended an Iftaar meal several years ago at a Muslim center in the Washington, DC area. I walked in not knowing what to expect. Would I be looked at strange because of my knit kippah? What if someone brought up Israeli-Palestinian politics?

The Chabad parallel was on my mind because the invitation of a stranger into someone’s home is the most Abrahamic action one can take. In Bereshit/Genesis, Abraham famously welcomed three men who he believed were idolaters into his tent, who turned out to be angels, while he was still recovering from his circumcision at the age of 99. Abraham is the model of kindness (chessed) in Jewish thought, because of his love and defense of humanity, no matter what station of life they may be in. He even prayed for the wicked people of Sodom.

I made a wonderful friend that evening with a Muslim imam who is active in Muslim-Jewish interfaith dialogue. It was remarkable how much we had in common culturally and religiously. They were not offended by the fact that I would only eat fruits because they too had dietary restrictions. As the sun set, they broke their Ramadan fasts, just as we do when we complete a fast (granted that we wait for nightfall, but the parallel still stands). Their religious culture moves with the sun and the moon, just as ours does. Their break for prayer reminded me of when Jews break to pray Mincha and Arvit. Their study room also reminded me of a Jewish library and beit midrash, with religious works both written in Arabic and with some translations into English. I almost anticipated seeing a Muslim version of ArtScroll!

Last week I had the opportunity to attend another Iftaar meal, this time in Israel in an Arab village outside of Nazareth sponsored by the Abrahamic Reunion organization. It is amazing to me how just saying Avraham /Abraham/Ibrahim’s name brought people together. There were over two hundred people in attendance, many from the West Bank/Judea-Samaria. They provided kosher food for the Jewish participants.

We all understood the stakes involved in such gatherings. No one is ignorant of the tensions that exist between Arabs, Muslims and Jews in the Holy Land. But despite that — or perhaps because of that — we all came together to say that we all are either descendants or followers of Abraham, preaching the word of God and kindness into the world. It is the projection of the very best parts of our faiths to mankind.

There are some who believe that religion is an obstacle to peace in Israel/Palestine. I argue the opposite. It is only when the religious people on both sides get together and realize how much they have in common that peace will arise. And it will be a real peace, based on warmth and love.

I have argued elsewhere for a paradigm called “Abrahamic Federalism” as a way to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict. I am convinced that the confederation model is the right political framework for achieving peace. Not “One State” or “Two States” but a hybrid model that recognizes our different political identities, while also recognizing that we have a shared future together as neighbors. It is only a matter of time before others figure this out. But I also believe that we need to find a way to use Abraham as a unifying symbol as a thread to join us together.

My experience is that Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians “get” the symbolic significance of Abraham immediately. Religious Jews also see the significance and recognize that the fact that we are in this Land in the first place is because of the covenant God made with Abraham. They are just more skeptical because they are convinced (justly at times, in my opinion) that our neighbors want to kill us. That is a psychological hurdle to overcome.

It is secular Israelis, particularly those on the Left, who this symbol doesn’t speak to, or worse, that they find jarring because of anti-religious sentiments. To them I would say and remind, that for heaven’s sake (pun intended) this is the Holy Land. If it will bring peace, would you still reject it? There is no religious coercion involved. Even the name Israel has religious connotations and meaning. It might sound strange at first, but the more you think about it, the more the “Abrahamic Solution” makes sense. Alexandria is named for Alex the Great, Washington for George Washington. Why not Abraham for the land, that through him, God made famous?

The specific name of such a political entity, whether a confederation, federation, commonwealth or union, is less important that the notion that we need to be both “separate” and “together”. Each group wants to fulfill its own destiny in this shared land. Equality and civil rights are absolute givens. I believe the people involved in the Two States, One Homeland movement are on the right track in this regard. But I also believe that we somehow have to have Abraham as a unifying symbol. Symbols are powerful things, especially in the Middle East. The people at Abrahamic Reunion are right in this regard. I even believe that it would have a moderating impact on all of Islam as Abraham/Ibrahim brings out the most ecumenical parts of that religion. What we need is to bring the political beliefs of Two States, One Homeland together with the spiritual beliefs of Abrahamic Reunion. I believe it can be done with the right positive energy and with a spirit of good will.

We Jews recognize that though we are Abraham’s descendants through Isaac and Jacob, that he is also the “Father of many nations”. This is Orthodox belief, not some wishy-washy liberalism. We don’t expect the whole world to become Jewish. But our vision for mankind is that the rest of the world will come to recognize the One God of the universe and practice loving-kindness and live lives of Truth.

Abraham was the first to lead the way. Are we ready to be his followers?

About the Author
Yoel Oz is the co-founder of the Abrahamic Movement and the author of "Abrahamic Federation: A Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict." He served as an Orthodox rabbi and educator in the Washington, DC metro area for five years. He studied at Cornell and Yeshiva Universities and Yeshivat Hamivtar and Yeshivat Rabbenu Yitzchak Elchanan. He currently resides with his wife and daughter in a suburb of Tel Aviv.
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