Letter from the President

Shalom from Jerusalem. I never expected that my last month in office as President of the ICCJ would be like this. I want to thank all of the people who have sent good wishes and expressed their concern about the fighting in Israel and in Gaza.

I really appreciate it. There is so much to say, but I will just tell you that Wednesday evening, Aug. 6th, the day after the 72-hour ceasefire went into effect, the Focolare organized an inter-religious prayer meeting here in Jerusalem. About 70 Christians, Muslims and Jews met at Notre Dame — we prayed together, sang together, lit candles for peace, and shared a moment of silence in memory of the victims. One of the key participants was Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish, director of the Inter-religious Coordinating Council in Israel, one of the member organizations of the ICCJ. 

At the ceremony, I met my friend Issa Jabber, the Mayor of Abu Ghosh, who invited me to an event he is organizing for next Friday — a Sukkat Shalom, an inter-religious Tabernacle of Peace. In addition to the enormous loss of human life, I think that another casualty has been the delicate fabric of Arab-Jewish coexistence within Israel, and therefore, I am planning to go this event, to show my solidarity with the good folks of Abu Ghosh.

Two further casualties of this conflict seem to be nuance and empathy. As far as they are concerned, I am proud of the ICCJ Berlin Document and 2013 statement on the conflict, “As long as you believe in a living God, you must have hope.” I think that we got it right. I just want to add that for me personally, one of the highlights of the past month or so has been the Shabbatot. I have always loved Shabbat, but they seem to have taken on greater meaning than ever. To explain this, I want to mention my late friend and colleague, Abdesalaam Najjar, who died suddenly in March 2012, at the age of 59. He was one of the founding members of Wahat el-Salam / Neveh Shalom, (Oasis of Peace,) a village jointly established by Jewish and Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel.  A devout Muslim, Najjar was, as his first name suggests, a true servant of the Lord and a man of peace.

In November, 2011, the ICCI organized a meeting in Jerusalem with the US Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro. Attending the meeting were interfaith activists from the Greater Jerusalem area, representing the three monotheistic traditions. After describing some of the difficulties we face in our work, we were asked by the Ambassador, “How do you maintain hope within this situation of conflict?” Abdesalaam replied, “We are living the future that we are trying to create.”

One of my spiritual heroes is the Protestant theologian Harvey Cox. In the late 1960’s, he wrote in his book, Feast of Fools:
"Christian hope suggests that man is destined for a City. It is not just any city, however. If we take the Gospel images as well as the symbols of the book of Revelation into consideration, it is not only a City where injustice is abolished and there is no more crying. It is a city in which a delightful wedding feast is in progress, where the laughter rings out, the dance has just begun, and the best wine is still to be served."

The Jew who hopes for redemption experiences the Shabbat, on a weekly basis, as a foretaste of the world-to-come.  The appealing description in Harvey Cox’s statement above can actually happen every Friday night in a traditional Jewish home: feasting, singing, laughter, wine, and so on.  Without the taste of Shabbat, it would have been difficult for Jews to sustain our hopes and our identity throughout two millennia of Diaspora life.  Abdesalaam’s lived experience in the mixed community he helped to create sustained his hope for a peaceful future in our region.

That is how I feel about inter-religious dialogue.  Sometimes, when people ask me, what it’s good for, what it achieves, and the like, I think that it isn’t just a means to end; inter-religious dialogue is an end in itself. It’s a foretaste of a better world.

I look forward to seeing you many of you soon, in Buenos Aires--Debbie