Ron Kronish

Some good news from Israel: a new program in interreligious dialogue

View of Haifa, courtesy of Wikicommons images
View of Haifa, courtesy of Wikicommons images

This has been a difficult year in Israel, with the war in the north and the south, and all the concomitant problems associated with it. As my readers know, I have been writing about this for the last eight months.

But not all is war and trauma in Israel. On the contrary, much daily life goes on. And one sometimes comes across exciting new initiatives, as I did a few weeks ago, when I visited Haifa University on the top of Mount Carmel in Israel’s most northern major city.

I was invited by Prof. Ran Kuttner, who teaches in a very important MA program for international students on Peace and Conflict Management, to speak to his students about my experiences and insights from 30 years of working in the field of interreligious dialogue and peacebuilding in Israel and Palestine. Also, attending my lecture was Prof. Uriel Simonsohn, the head of the Haifa Laboratory of Religious Studies, a program which is only four years old.

Founded in 2020, this new “laboratory” is serving as an interdisciplinary academic hub for research, education, and dialogue on matters relating to interreligious dynamics. I heard about this program a few months ago, after it released a very important statement by a new coalition of religious leaders in the city of Haifa about their commitment to being active partners in promoting good neighborliness, mutual respect, and tolerance. After hearing about this, I was very interested in learning more about it. So, when I knew that I was going to be at Haifa University, I asked Prof. Kuttner to arrange for me to meet Prof. Uriel Simonsohn.

I was very impressed with Simonsohn’s deep commitment to this new “laboratory” and his enthusiasm for the programs that it has already initiated, especially this new forum for religious leaders from Haifa. In fact, he told me that he was going to a meeting later that same day at the office of the mayor of Haifa, Yona Yahav, with these religious leaders to discuss cooperation with the municipality on its current and future directions. A day later, I received a summary of this meeting and some photos.

I found it interesting to discover that this new “laboratory” was working with the Department for Religious Communities of the Ministry of the Interior on this Haifa Leadership Program. Many years ago, I worked with this same department in organizing meaningful leadership programs for religious leaders from all over the Galilee for several years, including outreach programs in schools. I was gratified to learn that this department is still functioning and that it is engaging with the University of Haifa in this important new leadership program.

According to its website, the Haifa Laboratory of Religious Studies has the following main objectives:

*Promoting inter-religious dialogue and collaboration to foster peace and coexistence.

*Countering extremism by encouraging religious communities to work together on common values and promote shared societies as a counter-narrative to extremism.

*Strengthening interfaith and intercultural relations as societies become more diverse.

*Empowering religious communities as potential catalysts for mobilizing social change on these critical issues.

*Rendering the unique context of Haifa as a model for other multicultural cities dealing with similar issues.


This is a serious and significant undertaking for a university in Israel. Haifa University is the first university in Israel to do this in a systematic way, combining the strengths of academia with civil society. Haifa is indeed a very special city in Israel from the multireligious and multicultural point of view. The city comprises many Jewish communities (Orthodox, Reform and Conservative), a range of Christian communities (Latin Catholic, Greek Catholic Melchite, Maronite, Anglican Armenian and Russian Orthodox), as well as representatives of the Bahai World Center, and a Druze community.

As of now, this innovative “laboratory” is already running several significant programs, including the Haifa Religious Leaders group (mentioned above), an annual international conference, an MA program for 10 Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Jewish emerging religious leaders, a summer school program on Interfaith Education, and a program called “Intertwined Worlds” for researchers. In addition, the staff of this new laboratory are planning to expand their programs and their resources in the years ahead, with a commitment to not only serving the city of Haifa, but also to being a beacon of hope in this region, demonstrating that members of religious communities can learn to live together in harmony and cooperation, even in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the region.

In my own work, I have stressed for many years the importance of the action component in interreligious dialogue. Learning and dialogue are not sufficient. Without leading to action, which will lead to real change in society, it is not good enough.  This is a program that is combining research, learning, dialogue and action, which are all vital components for interreligious relations in Israel.

I wish this new initiative at Haifa University much success. From my perspective, it is an important development in Israeli society, linking academia to the real world.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr Ron Kronish is the Founding Director the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), which he directed for 25 years. Now retired, he is an independent educator, author, lecturer, writer, speaker, blogger and consultant. He is the editor of 5 books, including Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel--Voices for Interreligious Dialogue (Paulist Press, 2015). His new book, The Other Peace Process: Interreligious Dialogue, a View from Jerusalem, was published by Hamilton Books, an imprint of Rowman and LIttelfield, in September 2017. He recently (September 2022) published a new book about peacebuilders in Israel and Palestine entitled Profiles in Peace: Voices of Peacebuilders in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, which is available on Amazon Books, Barnes and Noble and the Book Depository websites,
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