Us and Them — Muslim Jewish Conference

It’s almost been two months time since I came back from Muslim Jewish Conference (MJC) in Berlin. I’ve been trying to process the Utopia that I experienced for seven days. As I’m trying to write this article; looking thru the amazing view of Istanbul while passing from Asia to Europe with a ferry, every word I type feels like a betrayal to my feelings. I’m pretty sure, whatever amazing words I chose to express what I’ve gone thru; It won’t be enough for the emotions I felt.

Muslim Jewish Conference… It sounds so clear what it is; Doesn’t it …

Before going to this conference I felt like such a snob… “I’m a Jewish man, born and raised in a Muslim country. I’ll go there and share my experience.”

I arrived to the beautiful city of Berlin and headed directly to the hotel that was going to host us for the week. There were other early birds like me and we decided to go for a lunch. The first shock of the week happened right at that Indian restaurant when a Palestinian Arabic woman I’ve just meet said the following words.

“Jack; you are such an Arab”…. I did not know how to process this at that very moment. As I was trying to put meaning to that sentence I started to analyze what “Arab” meant for me. I informed her that I didn’t know how to respond to that and so we laughed and changed the subject.

The Conference was mostly divided among three groups of people. Muslims, Jews and Others. We started by writing down the prejudices of other people towards our own beliefs. As I was listening to Muslim groups’ prejudice lists, I realized that I actually had some of that prejudices in me. (Epiphany #1)

After dinner I was approached by a staff member of the Conference. She told me that she checked my application form and she was wondering if I could tell my story. (It might be me who has approached but a minor detail really…) I shared my story of 15.11.2003 – 2 Synagogue Bombings of Istanbul and I concluded with a phrase I’ll mention later on.

My story was followed by the story of Mohammed Al-Samawi who attended the MJC a few years back and managed to save himself from Yemen’s Civil war while he was almost caught a few times by Al-Qaeda with the help of the people he meet in MJC. I’ll not spoil the story but the memoir is soon to be published. I recommend it.

Starting from the second day we were separated in committees that focused in “Conflict Transformation”, “Power, Religion and Human Rights”, “Us and Them – Encountering Marginalization”, “Arts and Culture”, “Project Committee” and “Historical Narratives and Identity”.

I was in “Us and Them” Committee and our committee was made up of “Jews” and “Muslims” and a very few “others”. At first, my perception of “Us” was Jews and “Them” was Muslims. As we started to share our own stories; I realized that while I had my own problems facing antisemitism in Turkey; a Pakistani Muslim woman was facing her own problems with trying to exist as a “woman”. While a secular grown half Turkish, half German girl was having her own family problems who had hard time accepting her religious beliefs, another Jew from Holland was called a Zionist and being assaulted in public transportation. At that very point while sitting at the committee trying to absorb all the stories I realized the truth. The more we shared our stories, the more we all became “Us” and the concept of “Them” changed into what I can only describe as “People with no love or empathy”. (Epiphany #2)

There was discordance, disagreement and even resentment, but never hate. No one forgot each other, because the base of respect is Eliana Adbo

When we started to interact with one another; the more we shared the hours and days, the more we got connected. For 4-5 days our committee felt like a very successful therapy session.

Us and Them Committee in Sachsenhousen Concentration Camp

The crescendo of the conference was the commemoration ceremony in the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp just a few kilometers outside of Berlin. As Muslim and Jewish people prayed in Arabic and Hebrew together, I was in a situation which was explained as:

-“Jack Gozcu, a mountain of a man with piercings and tattoos all over his imposing physique, is a Turkish Jew who recently went through the harrowing ordeal of witnessing the failed Turkish coup firsthand. “If you told me at the start of this conference that I would be crying like a baby at a concentration camp, and the first people who would reach out to me, console me and hold me to make me feel better would be Muslims, I would tell that you are out of your mind. And yet, that is exactly what happened today.” – by Zeeshan Salahuddin

The Conference finalized with Jummah and Shabbat prayers and a very emotional performance by the “Arts and Culture” Committee. I couldn’t hold back my tears as people started to sing “Hallelujah” from Leonard Cohen in perfect harmony. I really lost it when a Syrian woman started mentioning the cities being bombed and people running away not knowing whats waiting for them.

MJC 2016 – Berlin

To conclude; During MJC 2016,

  • I was called an “Arab” which later on I realized that it was a compliment.
  • I cried more than I thought I would.
  • I re-embraced the importance of networking.
  • I rekindled my love for Balkan people.
  • I realized that living in Turkey as a Jew simply was not enough and a new perspective and a new approach on how to deal with “Them” was the most necessary tool I got from this conference
  • I have made a new family for myself who shares the same beliefs of love on humanity.

MJC 2016 – Berlin
What to do when you feel like a butterfly, hurling a drop of water into a forest fire ? Simple – Create an army of butterflies.” by Ilja Sichrovsky

During my speech on the first night I concluded with this sentence: “We do not have the luxury to not to get along, because when we can’t get along the results are devastating.”

“Us” became a group of people that shares similar values and expectations, no matter what their background, faith or nationality is.

The MJC brought this “Us” together.

The future will allow us to work with “Them”. by Eliana Abdo

About the Author
Jack E. Civre was born as a Jew in Turkey Istanbul in 1985. He studied Engineering. During his University years he started being involved in Public Diplomacy.
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