A few days ago in Jerusalem, my organization, the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), now a department of Rabbis for Human Rights, hosted a panel discussion, book launch and reception in honor of a new book of essays, which I edited, entitled Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel: Voices for Interreligious Dialogue (Paulist Press, 2015). The event, which was co-sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation office in Jerusalem, took place at the Konrad Adenauer Conference Center in Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem.
At the event, I was able to say a few words about the book, which I spent nearly three years editing and preparing for publication. As I wrote in my introduction to the book, this is the first such collection of essays since the book coedited by my friends Yehezkel Landau and David Burrell in 1992 (23 years ago), which was also published by Paulist Press. Putting together this book has been a rewarding professional experience and a labor of love for me. In many ways, it summarizes much of what I have learned from and with colleagues and co-workers in the vineyards of interreligious education and activism over the past two decades or more.
I expressed my gratitude to all of the 21 authors of essays in the book—Jews, Christians and Muslims– for their thoughtful contributions. Some of the authors appear in print for the first time in this volume. They have all have been friends and colleagues on this journey of interreligious dialogue, education and action with me during the past quarter century.
All of the essays in this book open the eyes of the readers to the significant contributions of leading Jews, Christians and Muslims in Israel and Palestine who have been pioneers and innovators in interreligious dialogue in this region for many decades. Since none of them killed anyone, nor did any of them engage in any scandals, they are not very famous people, and they are not in the news very much. But, they have all made an profound impact in the interrelated fields of Education for Arab-Jewish Coexistence and Interreligious Dialogue in Israel and Palestine.
Three of the outstanding authors of essays in the book shared their insights poignantly with the audience. Rabbi Michael Melchior, the founder and chairperson of the Mosaica Center for Religious Conflict Transformation in the Middle East, talked about his work in developing “Religious Peace”, a project he has worked on for many years, often below the radar. In addition, Kadi Dr. Iyad Zahalka, the Muslim judge of the Shariya Court of the state of Israel in Jerusalem and author of a new book entitled Shariya in Modern Times, shared his views about the importance of interreligious dialogue, from the perspective of a modern religious Muslim leader. Also, Professor Maureena Fritz, the founder and now president of the Bat Kol Institute, talked about the Copernican revolution in the dialogue between Christians and Jews during the last fifty years, since the proclamation by the Vatican known as “Nostra Aetate” (“In Our Time”) in October 1965 during the Second Vatican Council. Following the fascinating panel discussion, several additional authors of essays in the book added important comments and anecdotes, including Rabbi Marc Rosenstein, Dr. Amnon Ramon, Sheikh Ghassan Manasra,and Issa Jaber.
I talked about my message and my method as Founding Director and now Senior Advisor of ICCI during the past 24 years, especially since I am “transitioning” or “retiring” at the end of this month. I explained to the audience of more than 120 people who gathered that a few years ago, we posted a slogan on our website that said: “Peace is our goal. Dialogue is our Method.” This was a good idea for branding. But, a few months later, when we were criticized for not bringing peace, we changed it to: “Peaceful Coexistence is our goal. Dialogue, Education and Action are our methods.” This sums it up.
In my work—and in my blog posts for The Times of Israel and The Huffington Post in recent years—I have tried to be a voice for reason, sanity and hope in an environment of irrationality, insanity and despair. Our main obstacles, I believe, are fear, despair and apathy. As I and others argue in this book, I believe that peace is not only possible but imperative, and that those of us who work in the field of peacebuilding through interreligious and intercultural dialogue need to work together consistently in planning and implementing programs that promote the possibilities and benefits of peaceful coexistence.