This is a time for self-reflection and introspection, a time to ponder one’s failings during the previous year and to enter into a spirit of penitence before Yom Kippur.
While I certainly cannot speak from within the Jewish community about the importance of the upcoming holydays as my friend and continuing colleague Dr. Debbie Weissman might, it does seem fitting during this holy time for all of us dedicated to interreligious rapprochement to also review the past year and to recommit ourselves to this important work.
This has certainly been a difficult year. Violence has erupted between different religious and ethnic populations in several regions, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths. The military and missile attacks between Gaza and Israel have not only victimized innocent Jewish, Christian, and Muslim civilians, they have also sparked bigoted outbursts and even physical assaults in several countries. Conflicts far away have served as a pretense or license to vent hatred toward people who have nothing to do with distant events. Fears and insecurities have intensified. Tensions and arguments have increased even within dialogue groups around the world.
There are also signs of hope and progress, such as reports in the global media of new and ambitious interreligious initiatives. The need for interreligious understanding is becoming increasingly apparent both to individuals and to governments. In many parts of the world, Jews and Christians have fostered close relations and are able to speak to one another even about painful subjects. Intentional efforts to welcome Muslims into circles of conversation are being undertaken. Even more hopefully, Christians and Jews are more and more able to share personal feelings about their experiences of the Holy One in their lives and traditions.
In no small measure, these are the results of the tireless efforts of local groups, national councils of Christians and Jews, and the ICCJ itself. But in a spirit self-reflection and criticism, we should ask ourselves such questions as: how can we overcome feelings of fear and suspicion toward others? How can we help each other in our commitment to interreligious friendship? How can we open our hearts and minds to really learn from the experiences of the religious other?
As the Jewish year of 5775 begins, may the Holy One bless all of our efforts and inspire us to deepen the blessed new relationship between Christians and Jews that has developed in recent decades. And may that relationship be a source of healing and reconciliation with all other religious communities in our world.
(Philip A. Cunningham; ICCJ President)