A Review of: Ronald Kronish (ed.), Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel: Voices for Interreligious Dialogue (NY: Paulist Press, 2015)
In my work as a religious peace activist, I am often asked how I can possibly continue to hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Over the years, I have often returned to the answer that my colleague Rabbi Ron Kronish gives to this question. On the level of diplomatic efforts, things seem quite hopeless. However, hope -- and a vision for the future -- is to be found in the work of grassroots peacebuilders who labor every day on the ground in Israel and in Palestine to build more peaceful, just and democratic societies, and especially, to build a web of relationship between religious and political "others."
An infusion of hope is sorely needed now, and there is no better guide to understanding grassroots coexistence work in Israel than Rabbi Ron Kronish, the long-standing founding director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council of Israel, and the acknowledged dean of all things interfaith in Israel. In his new book, Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel: Voices for Interreligious Dialogue (NY: Paulist Press, 2015), Kronish has drawn together a broad range of reflections on inter-religious work in Israel from a fascinating array of practitioners and thinkers.
As expected, Kronish's long-awaited book provides a panoramic view of the extraordinary work of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders bringing people together across religious and political divides. But this penetrating set of essays does more than celebrate the extent of interfaith and intergroup activity. It offers theoretical reflections on the nature of interfaith dialogue and honest accounts of times when these dialogues have been most challenged. In its pages, readers of various perspectives will find their own familiar patterns of thought painfully and fruitfully broadened. This is the kind of learning that dialogue at its best can generate.
For me, two particularly enlightening essays were from Roman Catholic leaders. Jesuit priest David M. Neuhaus, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Hebrew-Speaking Catholics in Israel, reflects incisively on the power reversal inherent in the situation of Jews and Christians in Israel. In Israel today, Christians are a tiny minority and Jews are predominant (2% and 75% of the Israeli population respectively), a dramatic change from historic Jewish-Christian relations. Neuhaus reflects on the obvious but hugely significant fact that 80% of the Christians in Israel are Palestinian Arabs. This stark statistic sheds light on the tendency of some American Christians to see Israeli-Palestinian issues through Palestinian eyes. Palestinian Arabs in Israel, after all, are their co-religionists. American Jewish leaders, often at odds with American Protestants over their views of the region, have much to learn by pondering this reality.
Similarly, Jamal Khader, theology professor and Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Bethlehem University and a co-author of the Kairos Palestine document, writes painfully and forthrightly of the intertwining of Jewish-Christian relations with the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Khader, a man of deep dignity and faithfulness whom I have met at international interreligious conferences, writes compellingly about how different Jewish-Christian relations are in the reality of occupation than they were in anti-Semitic Christian Europe.
Among the most heartening essays is one by Rabbi Michael Melchior, who has served in Israeli governments, and conducts dialogues with a remarkable range of Christian and Muslim leaders, both Palestinians and from the broader Arab world. He persuasively makes the case that any future political peace will need to include "a religious peace," in which the power of religion and the influence of religious leaders are harnessed toward peace and reconciliation. So, too, scholar and peace activist Mohammad Dajani Daoudi, the founding director of Wasatia, a moderate Islamic movement in Palestine, writes encouragingly of his work to teach Muslims and non-Muslims alike a vision of Islam grounded in moderation, tolerance, and coexistence.
How can I continue to hope for peace? How can I do otherwise? As a Jew, I pray for peace constantly, multiple times in every prayer service, virtually every time I dip into a source of Jewish wisdom. Peace lies at the core of the Jewish vision of life. Peace, the Rabbis said, is one of the names of God.
At this season, Jews around the world recite Psalm 27 each day in anticipation of the High Holy Days. The psalm's closing line both commands and inspires us to continue to hope for peace by turning our hearts to the Source of Peace: "Hope in God. Have courage; let your heart be strong. Hope in God." (Psalms 27:14)