I traveled to Israel for the first time in March of 2001 as part of the MidEast Citizen Diplomacy delegation made up of people from across the US and Canada led by Leah Green.
I searched for and found a way into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that not only showed me its many sides but taught me to prepare my heart to listen to the pain and anger and the truth of people on all sides of this continuing war of attrition. Leah taught a process called compassionate listening and shortly thereafter renamed her organization the Compassionate Listening Project.
Each of us was encouraged to return home and share the stories we heard with the media and interested audiences to help people understand the conflict in human terms. Sitting down with the families of victims on both sides as well as politicians, peace activists, religious leaders and journalists had opened a doorway into the process of understanding an other. Gene Knudsen Hoffman, the creator of the compassionate listening process said, "An enemy is a person whose story we have not heard."
I continued my activism on behalf of Middle East peace leading a Jewish-Muslim-Christian dialogue group and creating programs to present Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers to American audiences beginning with my synagogue: Kehilat HaNahar, The Little Shul By the River in New Hope, PA. I became involved as well in the Greater Bucks County Peace Circle, a group put together by the Reverend Alfred Krass to bring the faiths together and provide a positive response to the horror of 9/11.
Since my return from my 2001 pilgrimage to Israel I felt that a next step would be to build an interfaith group all from the same area, Philadelphia, to make a similar journey together and to agree to return and share all they heard with audiences throughout the Delaware Valley and beyond. With the help of Rev. Krass and my Rabbi, Sandy Roth, I put together the Delaware Valley Interfaith Delegation to Israel/Palestine and partnered with Leah Green who led our group through East and West Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, the Al Aroub Refugee Camp, the Settlement of Tekoa, Ramallah, a kibbutz above the Galilee and much more in March 2008.
Together this group of Muslim, Christian and Jewish clergy and lay leaders traveled in one day from a morning visit to Yad Vashem, to lunch in Bethlehem at Wi'am, The Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center where we met Salah Shouky a city councilman and representative of Hamas, to Hebron, where we sat with David Wilder, spokesperson for the Jewish Community of Hebron, then on to meet the Palestinian Governor of Hebron before we were whisked away for overnight stays with Palestinian families in Hebron.
Our journey was a life-changing mission of listening to stories from all sides all the way up to a two hour meeting with Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad. But on another level there was a second mission at least as important and life changing as the first that brought together people of different faiths to learn about and from each other. On the first day I awoke in the Old City at the Ecce Homo Convent Guesthouse at 4:30am to the sound of the muezzin making the muslim call to prayer and witnessing my roommate Imam Abdul Halim Hassan already on his knees in prayer.
I like many in our group got up and in my case walked in the company of a Quaker member of our delegation, Andre Salz, to the Wailing Wall to say my own prayers and begin the day. We have and continue to learn so very much from each other and to enrich our own lives, religious practice and joint efforts on behalf of promoting understanding and peace through our growing Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace: ICMEP.
In 2009 we brought Rabbi Menachem Froman and Sheikh Ghassan Manasra to Washington to meet with members of the Obama Administration and Congress and to speak at Temple University at a program co-sponsored by the Dialogue Institute on The Role of Faith in Middle East Peace. Both of the men, Rabbi Froman from the Settlement of Tekoa and Sheikh Manasra of Nazereth are members of the Jerusalem Peacemakers and have established a new organization Eretz Shalom Land of Peace, that is bringing together settlers and Palestinians in search of understanding and peace.
In 2010 we brought members of the Israel-Palestinian Creativity for Peace Camp to speak at a number of Philadelphia area venues including the Yardley United Methodist Church in a program moderated by a group of local teenagers we put together from a mosque, synagogue and Quaker meeting. We also held a large; approximately 140 person facilitated interfaith dialogue at the Newtown Presbyterian Church with Middle Eastern music by Atzilut and a sumptuous Middle Eastern dinner. The event brought together Christians, Muslims, Jews and people of other faiths to begin a dialogue that overcomes fear with fact and politics with people who realize they are neighbors and potential friends.
The Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace is in the process of applying for 501C3 tax exempt status and in 2011 has begun a series of facilitated Interfaith Conversations at houses of worship throughout the Delaware Valley. The most recent occurred on Sunday March 13th at Masjidul Tawqa in Trenton, the mosque led by Imam Abdul Malik-Ali who was a member of our March 2008 interfaith delegation. We sit in small groups at tables with people of different backgrounds and begin to unravel the core of each individual's faith through a series of questions. The first was,"what do you think people misunderstand most about your faith tradition?"
We come to know each other as human beings and as one person put it,"we are all children of God." It is a process of personal story telling and part of our effort to bring the faiths together on behalf of Middle East Peace.
Leah Green has taken compassionate listening from a process for understanding the Middle East to a vehicle to improve relations between people in conflict in families, in communities and even of different religions. We are engaged in utilizing the training to help bring people of different faiths together in a way that leads people to reach for and attain new levels of human relationships. We look forward and hope people will visit the websites listed and join us in the pursuit of interfaith understanding and Middle East peacemaking.
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