Welcoming the Other Through Interreligious Dialogue, Education and Sustainable Action

I was very pleased to be part of panel discussion on "Welcoming the Other through Interreligious Dialogue , Education and Action" as part of the Peace Education Commission at the 9th World Assembly of the international organization known as Religions for Peace in Vienna, on November 20-22, 2013. I was grateful to have been asked to speak before religious leaders from all over the world on a topic which has been the essence of my professional life for the past 22 years since I founded the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel which also serves as the Israel chapter of Religions for Peace). In all the years that I have served as Director, we have been an active member of this organization, which is why we co-branded with it a few years ago. I like its name and mission -- it says very clearly who we are and what we are for. By itself, it is an educational statement.

Unfortunately, in my part of the world -- the Middle East -- this idea is not too well understood. Too often, extremist versions of some religions have supported ongoing war and violence, rather than standing for peace. In contrast, I believe that the values and teachings of the great religions of the world must be harnessed to help their leaders and followers become active practitioners of peacebuilding and reconciliation.

One of the most central ways that we can welcome the other each in our own country and region as well as internationally -is through interreligious dialogue, education and action. Since we have done this successfully in Israel for a long time, I shared with the religious leaders who gathered from all over the world some of the insights and best practices of our educational work. For the full text of my talk click here

Religions for Peace is a major international organization with chapters in 90 countries around the world. At the opening session of the World Assembly of Religions for Peace --which brought together more than 600 religious leaders representing Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Indigenous, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Shinto, and Zoroastrian communities -- religious leaders and leaders of international organizations spoke to the Assembly about what it means to "Welcome the Other." In his important address, Religions for Peace Secretary-General Dr. Vendley stated: "Welcoming the other is the antidote to the rising tide of hostility among social groups, including religious communities, that poses a great threat to Peace."

One of the highlights of the Assembly for me was the intensely personal and meaningful speech by Christina Lee Brown, a trustee of Religions for Peace and a Founder and Sponsor of the Festival of Faiths in Louisville, Kentucky on the topic of Protecting the Earth. This has been an issue that has been at the heart of the Festival of Faiths in Louisville, for the past several years, which I have attended multiple times, and this is why Christy Brown was able to speak so passionately on the subject.

In addition to bringing two gifts for all the religious leaders present -- a global tool kit, with wonderful articles and ideas, and a personal key and bookmark, which is a symbol of her prayer that "all religious leaders and followers will unlock their minds and hearts in new kinds of ways to discover that they are the true spiritual and interreligious guardians of health and the loving protectors of all life." Furthermore, she called upon the religious leaders of the world "to create and lead a global sustainability movement that will restore our world and all of its people to moral and physical wellness."

In my view, the call for a movement of religious leaders to lead a global sustainability movement is a dramatic statement, one which so many religious leaders and communities around the world can work together on creatively. It links the health of humanity with the health of our planet. These two issues are inextricably intertwined.

The World Assembly of Religions for Peace completed its final session in a celebration, as religious leaders took the stage to affirm the work and witness of Religions for Peace. The closing session of the Assembly reflected the Assembly's theme, "Welcoming the Other", and the ways in which the recommendations made by Assembly delegates on how to Welcome the Other, will guide future actions.

In particular, the Vienna Declaration stressed the notion of positive peace. Peace is not just the absence of violence and war. Rather, Positive Peace includes recognizing that Peace is central in most world religions and acting upon it is our mandate as human beings for the sake of the planet and for the sake of all humankind.

Members of my delegation of four religious leaders and two youth delegates from Religions for Peace Israel/ICCI were honored to be part of this unique World Assembly. It was a remarkable gathering of people committed to the major humanistic values of our world religious traditions. And, it was a great opportunity for networking among old and new friends and colleagues from around the world who share a common vision for common action to heal the world, what we Jews call tikkun olam.

We could all unite under the banner of Religions for Peace which says "Different Faiths -- Common Action." It is a message which I bring with me back to Israel with great urgency. As one of my Muslim colleagues said many years ago: Dialogue is not enough; action is also important!