It’s hard to put the many experiences of an entire week into words. This week felt like a month but also went by quickly. As part of the core team for the YLC Conference in Cologne, I was invited to participate in the JCM Conference in Vallendar. It was the 44th conference where Jews, Christians and Muslims from all over the world met to discuss, to pray, to eat and to celebrate together.
The first three days started with a meditation, each one prepared by people of one of the three religions. Afterwards there was a lecture held by long-time participants of JCM. This way, we got to know one Jewish, one Christian and one Muslim perspective on the topic “Migration – a New Normal”. There were discussions in small groups and in the plenary. We realized that even within each religion you can have many different points of view. The conference team managed to create a respectful atmosphere to discuss and debate about difficult, mostly political issues.
In the middle of the week we went to Worms for one day, where we visited the Cathedral and the Jewish cemetery, the oldest one preserved in Europe. We used the remaining three days for prayers and services. Together we celebrated the Dhikr, the Salat-al-Juma, Kiddush, Oneg Shabbat and Havdalah and we came together for Shabbat services as well as a Christian one.
A sense of continuity through the week was established by keeping everyone in the same discussion and project groups, which met almost every day. In the discussion groups, we talked about different topics and we had time and space for our own questions, thoughts, and ideas. Everyone chose one out of four project groups for the whole week. I was part of the multicultural and interfaith choir. Conducted wonderfully by a professional musician, we really felt music’s power. We sang all different sorts of songs: quiet and contemplative songs, but also songs that made us move and dance. It was a marvelous experience – actually my highlight of the week.
During the Shabbat service the person leading told us that she takes the four corners of her prayer shawl, the Tallit, in her hands while praying. It symbolizes everyone she knows and loves from all over the world and she includes them in her prayers. After this conference, she’ll have more people to include in her future prayers.
Even though I don’t have a Tallit this idea works for me as well, of course in a different way. During the week, I met many very different people. Among them were people who have had to experience discrimination in their lives and who must face that in the future as well. I take these encounters with me on my journey. From now on I’ll see their faces in front of me when I hear prejudice and discrimination against the group of people they belong to. I will reject these phrases more powerfully, I will speak against generalization and I will share my experiences and encounters to encourage other people to not speak about the “foreigner” but with them. Like Martin Buber said: “All real life is encounter.”
Mirjam Blumenschein is a member of the branch "Forum Junger Erwachsener" (FJE) of ICCJ's German member organization, the "Deutscher Koordinierungsrat für christlich-jüdische Zusammenarbeit" and FJE's liaison to the DKR executive board. She is also a core team member of ICCJ's branch, the "Young Leadership Council" (YLC).
Together with five further core team members from the USA, UK, Ireland, and Germany, she currently organizes the this year's YLC-conference that will take place directly before the ICCJ annual conference (2.-5.7. in Bonn) in Cologne from 29.6. to 2.7.
The YLC will soon publish on ICCJ's website further information about the YLC gathering and an option to apply for participation.