Letter from the President

Although sometimes the most meaningful inter-religious dialogue takes place on the grass-roots level, those of us who travel a lot do gain an interesting international perspective.

In April, for example, I attended an inter-religious conference in Kiev.  Almost throughout the entire conference, there was a small (several dozen people) but vocal demonstration outside our venue, protesting the Patriarch’s participation in a dialogue with Jews.

But I don’t think it’s just a simple case of antisemitism or anti-Judaism. I have recently returned from attending the World Council of Churches Assembly in Busan, South Korea.  I was there in a dual capacity—as President of the ICCJ and as a member of a four-person observer group of Jews from Israel and the US. In addition to seeing veteran ICCJ’ers from Australia, Belgium, the Czech Republic and the UK, I met many new people from throughout the world.  In some ways, it was a wonderful experience.

Still, both before and during the conference, there were large demonstrations (up to thousands of protestors) against the Assembly. But they didn’t mention Jews. They were opposed to the WCC engaging in ecumenical dialogue within the Christian family and in inter-religious dialogue with Buddhists.  Thus I realized that the protest against what we do goes beyond antisemitism; there are people who oppose any kind of positive relationship with others, outside their own particular group. Some of the delegates even suggested that the protest outside the hall made what was going on inside feel all the more important. Another recent example is from the Kristallnacht commemoration in the Cathedral in Buenos Aires, Argentina, that was disrupted by some Christian fundamentalists.

Inter-religious dialogue in general and between Jews and Christians in particular is not just—as the Americans say—“motherhood and apple pie.” It is sometimes a courageous and controversial act of defiance.  Regarding the Assembly in Busan, one of the highlights was definitely the greeting given by Rabbi David Sandmel on behalf of IJCIC, the International Jewish Committee on Inter-religious Consultations. He received an overwhelmingly enthusiastic ovation. The impression and memory of that ovation helped serve for me as a counter-weight to some of the more difficult aspects of the week, when, for example, serious “Israel-bashing” took place in a few of the workshops.  As we in the ICCJ have stated in both the Berlin Document and our more recent statement on Israel/Palestine, we are striving for a more balanced perspective. In that light, I want to recommend a new book by Dr. Clare Amos, Programme Executive for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the WCC.  The book is called Peace-ing Together Jerusalem. It can be obtained through the WCC and is a wonderful resource for a balanced discussion about Jerusalem and its significance for Jews, Christians and Muslims.

This year, there is no connection on the calendar between Chanukah and Christmas. There is a connection between Chanukah and the date of American Thanksgiving, as is written in Psalm 92: “It is good to give thanks unto the Lord.” Maybe this is better, as Christmas is one of the two or three major days of the Christian year, while Chanukah is a relatively minor Jewish feast. I do wish our Jewish members a happy Chanukah, all those in the Northern Hemisphere, a lot of light in the darkest time of the year, and everyone,  health, happiness and peace.

Picture: Jewish, Christian and Muslim women enjoy a relaxing moment together in Busan. From left: Tess Young, Lambeth Palace, London; Dr. Yasmine Motawy, American University in Cairo; Dr. Debbie Weissman, ICCJ, Jerusalem; Amirit Rosen, graduate student and inter-religious activist, Jerusalem;  Peta Pellach, Educational Director, Elijah Interfaith Institute, Jerusalem; Reverend Bonnie Evans-Hills, Leicester; Dr. Sanaa Aly Makhlouf, AUC.