Wisdom Newsletter | Praying Together

In this newsletter
1. Praying Together in Jerusalem
2. Praying Together in Cameroon
3. Praying Together in Tabgha
4. Sharing Wisdom


1. Praying Together in Jerusalem

170 Christians, Muslims and Jews came to participate in the “Praying Together for Constructive Conflict in Jerusalem” at Tantur Ecumenical Institute last Sunday, to launch the week of Constructive Conflict in the Holy Land. Elijah Interfaith is a founding partner in the Praying Together in Jerusalem movement, which hosted the event.

People arrived from as far afield as Nablus and Tel Aviv as well as all the suburbs and surrounding towns of Jerusalem. It was an ambitious event. We operated in four languages (Hebrew, Arabic, English and French). There were components of prayer and study. For many of the participants, it was their first interfaith and intercultural event and they were not quite sure what to expect. The excitement grew as the crowd built up.

Gradually, people made their way to the auditorium for the opening ceremony. Father Russ McDouggall, Rector of Tantur and one of the founders of Praying Together in Jerusalem (PTIJ), welcomed everyone and explained the importance of our gathering together. He was followed by Sheikh Ghassan Manasra of the Abrahamic Reunion, who blessed the gathering in Arabic, Hebrew and English. Speaking about the power of side-by-side prayer, he likened our lives to being in an aeroplane. We are all concerned as we take off and each of us prays that the journey will be safe. If G-d listens to the prayers of just one of us, all of us are saved.

Rabbi Daniel Roth and Nurit Bachrach from Dibbur Hadash (A New Way of Speaking) explained the context of the event. This was the first of over one hundred events to be held around the country in this week of Constructive Conflict. Although this was not the first year that the first week of the Jewish month of Adar has been dedicated to the principles of Dibbur Hadash, which is based on the respectful way in which sages of the Second Temple period, Hillel and Shamai, engaged in argument, it represented a breakthrough in the number of people involved.

For the first time, this year the emphasis was on interfaith constructive conflict. Religion, which is sometimes seen as the cause of conflict, can be the source of peace and increased understanding, provided that the conversations take place in the spirit of mutual respect and appreciation that difference can be enriching rather than threatening.

Peta Jones Pellach, of the Elijah Interfaith Institute and a co-founder of PTIJ, introduced representatives of the 13 organisations who were involved in the program, including Interfaith Encounter Association, Bar Ilan University’s Centre for Conflict Resolution and Rabbis for Human Rights. It was already time for Muslim afternoon prayers and there was some urgency to move into prayer mode. The chairs were stacked, the prayer carpet rolled out, and the crowd found their way to their respective groups.

Muslims prayed facing Mecca, mainly in silence. Two groups of Jews gathered, one facing Jerusalem and praying the regular Maariv (evening service) and one in a circle, singing a selection of Psalms and other readings dedicated to Peace. Christians recited readings and sang hymns, their beautiful tunes blending with the other voices. A small group chose to meditate rather than pray. There was space for them, too.

As the prayers finished, people made their way to rooms around the beautiful grounds of Tantur to join one of fifteen study circles, led by volunteer facilitators. Before they engaged with texts, participants took the opportunity to get to know one another a little better by sharing their personal experiences of unhealthy disagreement. Some groups operated in more than one language, which enabled Israelis and Palestinians to share their experiences and ideas with each other. The sounds of happy conversation, including laughter, emanated from many of the rooms.

All the facilitators had participated in a training session to familiarize themselves with the selection of texts, one Jewish, one Christian, one Muslim and one from the field of secular conflict resolution. In most cases, they worked in partnership with a co-facilitator from another faith. Under their guidance, participants found a learning partner, in order to employ the traditional Jewish methodology of chevruta, learning in pairs. It was an intense experience of seeing texts through the eyes of another. And it was all too brief.

Praying Together in Jerusalem concludes all its gatherings with a final circle which brings everyone together. In the courtyard, nearly two hundred people joined the circle, where Professor Mohamad Dajani, whose family have been the keepers of Nabi Daud-King David’s Tomb offered his blessings and support that we continue our monthly meetings at David’s Tomb. The formalities ended with two minutes’ silence, with each person reflecting on the power and beauty of the event in which they had participated.

It was already late and people were free to leave – but few did. Enjoying a light meal and the pleasant background music of an oud player, people stayed well into the night, talking with one another. It was beautiful to see the efforts being made for people to find interpreters, so that they could meet new people in a relaxed atmosphere. Event coordinator, Raanan Mallek of Tantur, and volunteer coordinator, Allyson Zacharoff from Pardes Institute, had worked hard to ensure that all the partners in this event saw their shared vision realized.

“Praying Together for Constructive Conflict in Jerusalem” achieved many things. A coalition of thirteen interfaith and peace organizations worked together, without any sort of rivalry. Participants made new friends and had profound conversations with people whom they would not have an opportunity to meet in their daily lives. Texts were shared that showed both common values and subtle differences between the approach of the three Abrahamic traditions to the question of respectful disagreement. There was increased awareness about the importance of disagreeing in a healthy way – not eliminating diversity of opinion but embracing it.

The event launched a nation-wide week of activities. We were proud to be involved.

PTIJ meets on the last Thursday of every month. Click here for details.


2. Praying together in Cameroon – 10th Anniversary of the December 21st Tragedy

Member of the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders, Dr. Adamou Ndam Njoya, plays a key role in peace-making in his country, Cameroon, where he is a religious leader, political activist and academic. He recently was central in an important event, where Christians and Muslims prayed side-by-side.

Every year on the 21st of December, Christians and Muslims who are engaged in the dialogue for peace in Cameroon, organize an ecumenical prayer. They are commemorating a tragic event by coming together in love.

On December 21st 2006, while the children of the VIVI Foundation (For the love and by the love of Children) were preparing their annual Christmas celebration, an attack occurred which left many of the children of this foundation traumatized. As a result of these attacks, one person was killed and many were wounded.

This year, for their annual commemoration, the theme was “To cultivate more than ever ideas of Peace, Love, and sharing: the lightening of God through the Holy Scriptures, Acts of Prophets and Messengers of God: Reflections for the culture of Duty to Memory to be permanently awake and aware while facing threats to security, barbarous extremism, radicalism, and destructors of human life.”

Dr Njoya reports, “There were discussions on the culture of peace of heart and mind, and the mobilization of each person to reach his full potential and to be the best version of themselves, as well as the culture, of the true, the good, the beautiful; this while in constant communion with God.

The prayers for peace by the Christian and Muslim believers, Divine Scores of love, rose up to receive the blessings, Grace, and lightening of God in life and in activities. After messages and exchanges by the representatives of each religious group, came prayers inspired by the holy scriptures: Bible-Torah, Evangiles-Quran.”

After the formal addresses, there was a vibrant conversation among all participants, which was then followed by final prayers and blessings.


3. Praying together in Tabgha – Interreligious Friendship Finds Expression

The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee, the church in northern Israel on the site where Christians believe Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes, was reopened to pilgrims recently, 20 months after an arson attack by Jewish extremists. Two rooms of the church were vandalized and badly damaged in June 2015.

(Tabgha photos by Louis Cunningham)

The re-building was financed in part by a crowd-funding campaign organized by the Elijah Interfaith Institute, under the leadership of Alon Goshen-Gottstein. As a sign of the friendship built by his response, Alon was invited to participate in the re-opening ceremony.

At the time of the vandalism, which included slogans taken (out of context) from Jewish prayers, Alon Goshen-Gottstein said, “The attack on Tabgha is [therefore] not simply one more attack. It marks a new level of attack on Christian institutions. For the first time, Jewish sources are quoted, making the attack explicitly religious. Tabgha marks the launch of religious Jewish terrorism.”

Sheikh Muwaffak Tarīf, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Archbishop of Cologne, Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein, Cardinal Rainer Woelki (photo by Mark Neiman/GPO)

After condemning unconditionally the perpetrators of the attack, Alon said, “There is great opportunity in the Tabgha incident. Because it constitutes a watershed point in so many ways, it provides an opportunity for a more thoughtful and engaged response to the challenge. If terrorist acts are now religious, we need to deal with them with religious and educational tools. If violence now appeals to idolatry, we have the opportunity of revisiting its meaning. If those who serve us in loving care are attacked, this invites us to consider individuals for who they are. If the problem has now grown to proportions that we can no longer ignore, perhaps we can confront the challenges in a more honest and open way. Tabgha is not only a challenge for law enforcement forces. It is a challenge for religious educators and leadership. If these are willing to recognize the challenge and confront it for what it is, something good may come out of the dark and horrific moment.”

This was the launch of the campaign to raise the rebuilding costs from Rabbis and other Jewish leaders, who took up the challenge to turn destruction into building. The initial fund-raising goals were quickly exceeded.

President Reuven Rivlin and his wife attended the interfaith meeting to mark the reopening along with Christian dignitaries, including Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Ambassador of Germany Dr. Clemens von Goetze, Sheikh Muafak Tarīf, and Elijah founder and director, Alon Goshen-Gottstein, as well as Jordan Valley Local Council leader Idan Greenbaum and donors from the Roman Catholic church.

“We stand up for religious freedom because, as a people, we know very well what it means to suffer religious persecution,” said Rivlin. “And we stand up for religious freedom because we are a democratic state – who believe in the rights for everyone to worship God according to their belief.”

The president thanked all those who worked to restore the church.

Alon had the honour of addressing the gathering.

Click here to see a Christian media report of the event


4. Sharing Wisdom

Sources on Constructive Conflict from the Praying Together in Jerusalem event.

Mishna 5:20 “Any dispute which is for the sake of Heaven will ultimately endure, and one which is not for the sake of Heaven will not ultimately endure. What is a dispute for the sake of Heaven? This is a debate between Hillel and Shammai. What is a dispute not for the sake of Heaven? This is the dispute of Korach and his assembly.”

Howard Kaminsky:”….if one is involved in a conflict and finds that his or her attitude and actions conform to the Hillel and Shammai paradigm—that one is doing such things as engaging in dialogue, being receptive to the other party’s opinion, maintaining benevolent feelings, and exhibiting goodwill towards the other—then one can be confident that one is promoting constructive conflict.”

Ephesians 4:1-13 King James Version (KJV)1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; 5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. 7 But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ… 11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.

Ken Sande: Since God has created us as unique individuals, human beings will often have different opinions, convictions, desires, perspectives, and priorities. ..Instead of avoiding all conflicts or demanding that others always agree with us, we should rejoice in the diversity of
God’s creation and learn to accept and work with people who simply see things differently than we do….

Quran 30:22. “And of His signs is … the diversity of your [mankind’s] languages and your colors. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge

Taha Alwani: They [the Companions of the Prophet].. would remain firmly within the bounds of what is allowed in striving to reach the truth. They would admit their errors without any bitterness or embarrassment while always having a tremendous respect for people or virtue, knowledge, and understanding. No one would overestimate himself or disparage the ability or the rights of his brother Muslim. The search for truth and for the correct judgment was the mutual endeavor, and they willingly accepted the truth from whichever quarter it came.