An Alternative View of "The Situation" From Jerusalem

The news from Jerusalem during the last six weeks has been mostly negative. Stabbings and shootings of stabbers, riots and police violently controlling riots have dominated the news.

Is there an alternative view of "The Situation"?

A coalition of Jewish, Christian and interreligious organizations -- including the Sisters of Sion, The Focolare Movement, and my organization, the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (which also serves as the local chapter in Israel for Religions for Peace) , and which is now a department of Rabbis for Human Rights -- believes strongly that there is another reality in Jerusalem, which rarely makes the news. Accordingly, we planned and implemented an inspiring event which we called Jerusalem Expo 2015 which took place with 500 people in attendance, at the Notre Dame Center in the heart of Jerusalem last Thursday night, November 12th (n the beautiful auditorium built for the historic visit of Pope John Paul II in the year 2000).

What was the purpose of this event?

According to one of the people most involved in the planning of this evening, Sister Maureen Cusick, of the Sisters of Sion in Jerusalem:

We wanted to show some good news from this land by showcasing many of the fantastic initiatives and programs of educational, medical, cultural and interreligious groups which are working on a daily basis across the divides of faiths and cultures.

Another organizer of the event, Sonia Zelazo, of the Focolare Movement / in Jerusalem, added:

On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the document "Nostra Aetate" ("In our Time", promulgated by the Catholic Church in 1965, which opened the Church to the idea of dialogue with believers in other religions), we wanted to prove to the world that there is different news from this land, what we could call the 'good news'.....many people left this event feeling more hopeful and more positive, and convinced that fraternal relations can be a way to peaceful coexistence, even in these very difficult times.

The program for this event included speakers from a variety of interreligious and peace groups in Jerusalem, such as Microphones for Peace (a joint project of Center of Jerusalem Radio and ICCI,), Kids for Peace, Hearts for Peace (which provides heart surgery for Palestinian children at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem), the Parents Circle, and the Jewish-Arab Galilee Circus (a project of the Galilee Foundation for Value Education), and more. It also included an inspiring musical message from Israeli Jewish singer David Broza (via satellite), a wonderful performance from the Arab-Jewish choir of the Jerusalem International YMCA, and an inspiring Oud performance by Yair Dalal of songs for peace in Hebrew and Arabic. Unfortunately, there was no presence from Palestine. A choir and a singer from Palestine did not attend because they received threats, and other people from Palestine were afraid to come into Jerusalem.

Another organizer of the event, David Goodman, who coordinates Microphones for Peace, added that it was important to raise the voice of fellowship and mutual understanding in Jerusalem, despite the events of recent weeks

The message that I wanted to convey through this event is that despite what is shown all the time in the mainstream news media, there is another reality on the ground which does not make the news very much. In fact, the reality of many people--Jews, Christians and Muslims in Jerusalem who are working towards a better future is not less real than what the regular media chooses to show.

There are, in fact, many interreligious and intercultural initiatives taking place every day throughout Israel , which don't make the news very much. As I've said many times, since we don't kill any one, and we don't engage in scandals, we are not in "the news" very much. But efforts to continue the dialogue that began fifty years ago in the Vatican occur all the time, often below the radar.

The goal of these efforts is not to solve the macro peace process, but to create conditions for peaceful coexistence in Jerusalem and in our region. In so doing, we try to mitigate and minimize hatred and violence, and promote mutual understanding and a shared future for all of God's children in this city and this land.

Jewish Tradition often talks about "the Heavenly Jerusalem", the one we dream of, the one that is part of our messianic visions for peace, as opposed to "The Earthly Jerusalem", the one of everyday life, of mundane and routine activities. This evening--in commemoration of 50 years of interreligious dialogue since Vatican II--was a taste of "heavenly Jerusalem".

Indeed, one of the most inspiring moments of the evening was the reading of Psalm 122, and a musical and dance interpretation by local artists. In case you don't remember what Psalm 122 says, it goes like this:

1. I rejoiced when they said to me: "Let us go to the House of the LORD."
2. Our feet have been standing in your gates, O Jerusalem;
3. Jerusalem, built like a city that is fully united together;
4. That there the tribes made pilgrimage, the tribes of the LORD--an ordinance upon Israel--to praise the name of the LORD.
5. Indeed, there were set the thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David.
6. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may those who love you find tranquility.
7. May there be peace in your ramparts, tranquility in your towers.
8. For the sake of my brothers and my friends, I petition, "peace be in you";
9. For the sake of the House of the LORD our God, I request: "Be it well with you."
(Translation by Rabbi Benjamin Segal, the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem http://psalms.schechter.edu/2012/06/psalm-122-united-jerusalem-text-hebrew.html)

We can all -- Jews, Christians and Muslims -- pray for the peace of Jerusalem. But prayer is not enough. We must also act for peace.