This past June, my husband Howard and I went to Israel and the Palestinian territories to answer that question. In Haifa, we spent a morning at the Beit Hagefen Cultural Center and saw how they use art, music and drama to bring Christians, Muslims and Jews of all ages together. We spent three days at Haifa University meeting professors, administrators and students. We learned about their educational programs on coexistence and saw first-hand how Arab and Jewish students work learn together, and work together on community projects.
In Tel Aviv, we spent the morning with One Voice, an organizations that works with young leaders both Palestinian and Israeli who support a two state solution. In the afternoon we met with Robi Demelin founder of Parents Circle – Family Forum a group of over 500 Israeli and Palestinian families that have lost family members to violence. Robi shared with us her new film, One day After Peace. The documentary shares her compelling journey of living through two conflicts, in South Africa and then in Israel where she suffered the loss of her son to Palestinian gunfire. Robiâ€™s thought provoking journey travels from a place of deep personal pain to a belief that a better future is possible.
In our five days in Jerusalem and in the West bank we spent two days with the group called Wounded Crossing Borders; Palestinians and Israelis wounded in past wars who want to build a new future for both people. We met with Sharon Rosen, long time friend and Suheir Rasul, co directors of Search for Common Ground Israel. Two extraordinary women, a Jew and a Palestinian who lead multiple projects that promote co-existence and peace between Israel and the Palestinian Territories. We had dinner with Dr. Rabbi Ron Kronish, another long time friend. Rabbi Ron is the director of Inter religious Coordinating Council of Israel (ICCI), Israelâ€™s best-known and most-respected inter religious organization. It comprises more than 60 Christian, Muslim, and Jewish institutions and organizations. ICCIâ€™s mission is to harness the teachings and values of the three monotheistic religions into sources of reconciliation and peaceful coexistence, based on the understanding that religions should not be part of the problem, but rather part of the solution. Over dessert Rabbi Ron said he was coming to the States in October. I immediately invited him to Detroit and said â€œIt would be wonderful if you could bring an Arab Muslim associate with you.â€ Rabbi Ron quickly replied yes, â€œmy friend Iyad Zahalka the Qadi (Judge) of the Sharia Court of Jerusalemâ€. I knew it would be a challenge to bring Christians, Jews and Muslims together, especially to hear about Israel, but I so wanted our community to hear hopeful news, not just news about rockets, bombings, killings, and hate spewing, but to hear first hand the amazing and diversified work that Rabbi Ron has accomplished in Israel between Christians, Muslims and Jews, and to have our community know Israel has a Sharia Court and for the Qadi to explain Sharia.
We started planning back in July for their trip that took place October 24th and 25th. Sherri Schiff from the Jewish community, Victor Begg from the Muslim community and Al Timms from the Presbytery worked tirelessly to find venues and sponsors. Our unprecedented group of sponsors were the American Jewish Committee (AJC-Detroit), Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Wayne State University, Church and Society Committee of First United Methodist Church of Birmingham, First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham, InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit (IFLC),Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC),Michigan Muslim Community Council (MMCC) Northminister Presbyterian Church of Troy, Pathways To Peace Foundation, Race Relations & Diversity Task Force of the Community House, the Social Justice and Peacemaking Ministry Team of the Presbytery of Detroit, and WISDOM ( Womenâ€™s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit) The Rabbi and Qadi presented at the Birmingham Community House, Wayne State University, and at First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham. They had an open dialogue with the audiences – no 3 by 5 cards. They shared their identities, and personal stories.
The Rabbi born in New York City, raised in Miami, educated at Brandeis, Hebrew Union College and Harvard followed his heart and moved to Jerusalem to fully live his Jewish identity. I saw eyes open wide when the Qadi shared his identity as a Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and citizen of Israel. Challenging questions were asked and were thoughtfully answered. A young Muslim women asked the Rabbi to share his definition of Zionism, because when she heard him say he is a Zionist, she felt threatened. To her Zionist are brutal occupiers. A Jewish women asked the Qadi why his definition of Sharia law is not what she has heard, and why doesnâ€™t she hear Muslims speak out against acts of terror committed in the name of Islam. As concerns and issues were addressed, you could feel the tension leave the room. In less than two hours of open conversations on issues that are seldom talked about minds and hearts were opened to new possibilities.
Participants saw peace builders, a Qadi and Rabbi as genuine friends rejecting both Anti Semitism and Islamophobia, and they saw they could be part of the process. The audiences experienced the power of meeting the other, learning each others story, and in a safe space asking question that were on their minds. The two days were a great step forward on the journey to engage more people in meaningful dialogue. Yes, I truly believe peace is still possible.