I am currently leading a trip to Israel, not an unusual thing for a rabbi to do. This trip, however, is a little different. Of the 29 people in the group, only one other is Jewish. We are here as part of a graduate course called Abraham’s Children offered by the Catholic Theological Union, on whose faculty I serve. My co-leaders are a Roman Catholic priest, a Muslim imam and Catholic scholar of Islam. The participants include one Jew, two Muslims, two Protestants and 20 Catholics and come from four continents. The course serves as an introduction to Judaism, Christianity and Islam and to interfaith relations.
While we have been teaching this course for a number of years, this is the first time we are offering it as a travel course, and the interfaith relations aspect is very different within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than it is in a classroom in Chicago. This morning I gave lecture on the significance of Jerusalem in the Jewish tradition in a classroom overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem – a much more significant background than my typical white board.
As part of our opening session, I told the group that my primary goal is for them to be frustrated and confused at the end of the trip. Frustrated because, despite an ambitious and exhausting itinerary, they will become aware that during a brief visit they will only have scratched the surface of what there is to learn about the three traditions. Confused because they will have learned how the complex relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims are intensified by the political situation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This evening, under the auspices of the Interreligious Coordinating Council of Israel, we met with an Israeli Jew, a Palestinian Muslim and a nun, a representative of the Sisters of Sion. Each talked about their personal commitment to promoting interfaith understanding and peace. They were truly inspiring, yet sober about the challenges they face. The number of those in all three communities who see any value in interfaith relations is tiny. Despite the fact that Jews, Christians, and Muslims live in such close proximity to one another, the communities rarely interact. Ignorance, distrust and fear are exacerbated by differences in language, neighborhood and culture. The vast majority of Jews, Christians and Muslims in Israel live in different worlds and boundaries are rarely crossed.
Nonetheless, each of these individuals, speaking from their respective traditions, share the belief that the values common to the three traditions and expressed in each tradition’s sacred scripture holds the promise of a different reality than the current one.
Theodore Herzl famously wrote, “If you will it, it is no dream,” and his dream of a Jewish state came true. Jews, Christians and Muslim in Israel who dare to dream of a time of interreligious harmony and peace may one day see it come true as well.
Ken yehi ratzon, inshallah, may God’s will be done.
Image courtesy of Jerusalem Post.