Thursday is Interfaith Day

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Our plans for Thursday were disrupted by a news event: the Palestinian Minster of Settlements had died of a heart attack during a protest against...settlements. We were supposed to go to Ramallah and meet with some Palestinian leaders there, but because of security issues, we had to re-route and meet those that weren't busy with the funeral in East Jerusalem.

In the morning, after another beautiful breakfast, we travelled into Jerusalem to meet Rabbi David Rosen. He works as the American Jewish Committee's International Director of Interreligious Affairs, and is on a number of other committees to promote interfaith cooperation. Despite his title, he's actually not American; prior to his work in Israel he was the Chief Rabbi of Ireland! He took us to meet three Christian leaders: H.B. Patriarch Fouad Twal of the Latin Patriarch, The Right Rev. Bishop Munib Younan of the Lutheran Church, and Archbishop Aris Shirvanian of the Armenian Patriarchate.

     Jerusalem stone.

     Rabbi David Rosen speaking to the group.  

We were escorted past a giant Christmas tree into a large room, and once we were situated the leaders went around the circle shaking hands with everyone. One of them said "Hello, Marina" when he got to me, and for a second I thought he must be psychic before I realized I was wearing a nametag. Right. 

    Christian leadership.

We were served tiny pastries and juice as the Christian leaders presented their perspectives and grievances about the current situation as they see it in Israel. For me, this was one of the most eye-opening experiences of the trip. Did you know that the separation wall after the second intifada cut through parishes and separated families? Or that Christians don't get automatic citizenship for their spouses in Israel? Or that some churches have no rights in Jerusalem because they aren't old enough? I had no idea. The Christians were promoting peaceful compromise, and praying for the Israel-Palestine conflict to be resolved, since at the moment they feel very caught in the middle. 

I had honestly never thought about Christians in Israel, except that 'I guess they're there, too.' I never expected to be in the majority as a Jew, listening to the minority complaints of Christians. But their grievances are real, and I think that it's important that we respond to them. Israel is probably the only country that Jewish magnanimity can be exercised, so why not?

After our meeting, the Christians asked David Rosen to sing something in Hebrew, and then he invited us all to sing Oseh Shalom as a group. It sounds cheesy, but being together and singing after talking about the conflict was actually a really beautiful moment, and one of the highlights of the trip. 

Next, we boarded the bus and went to East Jerusalem, where we were meeting two Palestinian leaders at the American Colony Hotel. It's a famous boutique hotel where all of the important journalists stay, and apparently there's some kind of Rick's Cafe production á la Casablanca that goes on here? 

There's a lot of decorative tile like in the photo above, it's really intricate and cozy all at once. 

We heard first from Mohammad Joulany of Kids for Peace, and then from Katia Sakakini of Breaking the Impasse. Mr. Joulany runs a program where Israeli and Palestinian kids meet each other to learn leadership skills. He shared a story that when he went to NYU to speak about Palestine, they housed him with an Israeli speaker on the same topic. He asked the people in charge to change his housing, and he later discovered that the Israeli made the same request because he was afraid for his life. He's hoping to break through that kind of fearful attitude, and to make the "other" a real person for both sides. Ms. Sakakini's organization builds economic relationships between Israel and Palestine, in addition to bringing both groups together for environmental initiatives. She believes that focusing on mutually beneficial activities is the way to work towards peace. 

Both of the speakers were optimistic about the future. One of them said that we should "celebrate our differences and acknowledge our similarities." They asked that we understand that most Palestinians aren't represented by Hamas, and that they support a moderate government. Overall, I think most of the group felt like our meeting was a positive and hopeful experience!

After our trip to East Jerusalem, we had a brief lunch before going to see a view of the city from a high vantage point. Churches, settlements, East and West Jerusalem, were all within sight. There was also an adorable kitten.

    Lost in thought.

After this stop, we zipped away to Tel Aviv and the Shimon Peres Center for Peace outside of Jaffa. The building was beautiful, although the architect had the obvious aesthetic disadvantage of working with concrete. It's constructed of 200 shapes in 800 formations to show the weight of conflict and the diversity of perspectives. Glass fills the spaces in between the concrete shapes, which represents both hope and transparency. 

First we heard from Nadav Tamir, the Policy Advisor to Shimon Peres. He talked about Peres' vision of peace, that it must be both top-down and bottom-up. He also spoke about the power of positivity in the face of adversity, and the importance of seeing things from a long view. Adina Vogel related more specifically the Center's initiatives: they are working on multiple fronts, including medical, economic, and environmental, to forge cooperative ties between Israelis and Palestinians.

We took a short break before Dan Shapiro, the US Ambassador to Israel, arrived. He related the importance of our security arrangement with Israel, and the challenges in the region, including Iran and ISIS. He articulated the importance of creating a stronger economy in Palestine, which almost always leads to a more peaceful population. 

After a photo op, we were back on the bus, heading to the Dan Panorma Hotel, a place with with too much delicious food. We were meeting Aluf Benn, the Editor-in-Chief of Ha'aretz. He gave us an overview of the political situation as he sees it, particularly the recent collapse of the last coalition. The depth of his knowledge, and his ability to pull statistics from memory, was impressive to say the least. 

We drove an hour back to Jerusalem, and I guess that the day wasn't long enough for us young adults because we went out afterwards! Dan bought us a round of the best shots (or Israelis say "chasers) ever: Fig! Pronounced "feege." Thanks, Dan! While we were out, we saw a guy get in trouble with some police officers. They were yelling at him and he was yelling back. No one was handcuffed, tazed, or killed. Only in Israel! 

    Jeff, Josh, and Dan!

    Brandon and I, practicing our fish face for Instagram. Very nice!

I woke up the next morning and my sides were sore from laughing so hard, which is my favorite good-bad feeling. We had a long drive that day because we were going to Sderot. More in the next post!          

Marina Gafni

Marina Gafni is a 28-year-old speech pathology student. She lives with her husband in San Jose, CA.


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