Last November several of us from the ICCJ met in Jerusalem’s Old City, with 3 excursions out to other parts of the city. It was a workshop that was co-sponsored by the Evangelical Church of the Rhineland (EKiR), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), the Evangelical Church of Westfalen (EKvW), the Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD), and the International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ). The first 2 of these partners have been involved with this project going back to 2013, when it was initiated with the then-Lutheran Bishop of the region, Dr. Munib Younan. Our initial theme was the liberating aspects of the Exodus story and their implications for our particular context, as Israelis and Palestinian Christians. We were joined as well by some Christians and Jews from abroad.
We met in 2014, 2015 and 2016, sometimes in the Old City and at least once in Tantur, in the southern part of Jerusalem, overlooking Bethlehem. Each time some of the dialogue veterans returned, and others were replaced by some new participants. The group met again in 2017, as a preconference feature of the ICCJ meeting in Bonn, but I personally was unable to be there, due to a family commitment. We did not meet in 2018-2020, for several reasons (including in 2020, the pandemic.)
So, it was especially welcome to receive an invitation to return in 2021. In retrospect, it appears that the timing of the workshop was indeed a window of opportunity between different waves of the virus. ICCJ General-Secretary Anette Adelmann was on the planning and organizing team.
Our President, Liliane Apotheker, our second vice-president, Rabbi Shmuel Szteinhendler, ICCJ Executive Board member Ophir Yarden and I joined.
Another member of the ICCJ “Family,” Rabbi Dr. Ulrike Offenberg of our Theology Committee, was there as part of the German delegation.
There were Israeli Jews, Palestinian Christians, some Germans based in Israel, Germans who came especially for the event, and a few people from other backgrounds, including some Catholics.
All together, at any given moment, we were 25-30 or more participants. The main language was English, but you could hear German, Arabic, Hebrew and even some French. The topic of the workshop was “Borders and Boundaries.”
We began with a round of autobiographical presentations. Many of the Germans stressed the importance for their lives of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. We continued with text study of Biblical passages involving borders and their crossing. Borders included not only the physical, but also the psychological and social. Some of the Palestinians, understandably frustrated with their reality on the ground, had hoped that interreligious dialogue of this kind might be effective politically, but as none of the co-sponsors is a political organization, this turned out for them not to be a realistic expectation.
We met in the Martin Luther School which is part of a complex in the Christian Quarter, which includes the Church of the Redeemer. The excursions were on Sunday evening, when we met in a Jewish and Kosher restaurant outside the Jaffa Gate; the last evening, when we met in a Palestinian restaurant in East Jerusalem; and Tuesday afternoon, when some of us visited the Augusta Victoria Hospital and Church on the Mt. of Olives, while other colleagues, especially the first-timers in Jerusalem, had a walk along the ramparts of the Old City walls.
On the concluding evening, many of us attended the Church of the Redeemer for a special service in honor of the Day of Prayer and Repentance which is marked by German Lutherans and other Protestants. The German pastor of the Church is Gabriele Zander, who chairs one of our Israeli member organizations, the Israel Interfaith Association. She put together a special service, stressing the theme of borders and boundaries, mentioning the ICCJ and being sensitive to the presence of some Jewish worshippers.
I believe that for all those who participated, this was a special experience. I know that among many of the locals, there is interest in continuing during the year, and for everybody, a fervent wish that we can meet again soon, in a post-pandemic world.