The Words of the Ben-Zvi Family

Global Peace Festival Celebrates the Holiday of Holidays in Haifa

Hod Ben Zvi
December 20, 2008

Haifa, Israel - On December 20, 2008, the Global Peace Festival was celebrated in Haifa, Israel, as part of that city’s annual December celebrations. The diverse crowd was composed of Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze from Haifa and all around the country.

Though it was in mid-winter, a perfect day welcomed families and individuals to the picturesque Wadi Nisnas where multiple festival activities took place. The crowds began to fill up the streets as early as 10:00 in the morning. Walking through the narrow streets, one saw numerous stalls offering colorful tables filled with a large variety of products to attract the crowds.

Our Global Peace Festival program was conducted as a joint venture with Haifa’s municipal company, Ethos, that produces the yearly Hag Hachagim event, the holiday of holidays. This is a month-long series of events every December honoring and respecting the four Abrahamic faiths.

The program began at 10:30 am and lasted until 4:00 pm, with more than 24 groups and individuals (200 artists in total) performing on two stages simultaneously. There were rock bands and choirs, martial arts demonstrations and dance groups, vocal singers and ethnic musicians, and much more. Altogether, police estimated that some 40,000 people participated in the day-long events in midtown Haifa.

Everybody seemed to be having great fun. Massoud, one of the neighborhood residents, said, “We haven’t seen such a celebration in years.” On one stage surrounded by historic buildings, a special Native American ceremony took place led by Dr. Shuki Ben Ami, who was the events’ master of ceremonies.

Twelve people were invited to the stage and paired with representatives of enemy nationalities, religions, or races. Each pair was then handed an authentic arrow and asked o break the arrow signaling the end of hostilities. To the sound of a Native American slowly beating her drum and singing a haunting melody, each pair broke their arrows and raised the pieces high above their heads before placing them in the urn at the center of the stage and embracing each other. When all had finished, the master of ceremonies set fire to the broken arrows as the music continued. The crowd cheered and Yona Yahav, the Mayor of Haifa, who participated in the activity, embraced several of the pairs.

Mayor Yahav welcomed everybody and invited the international participants to return in the coming years, and then jokingly said he would tax them after the fourth year! The celebration continued with more performances. The audience filled every available space, including the road overlooking the area as well as windows and balconies of nearby buildings.

After the mayor spoke, Dr. Thomas Walsh, Secretary General of the Universal Peace Federation, led the Middle East Peace Initiative representatives of more than 13 nations onto the stage. He gave an address on behalf of the GPF Founder Dr. Hyun Jin Moon, highlighting the role of the family as “the school of love,” the place where we develop the skills of healthy relationships within society at large. The crowd actively participated, raising their hands in agreement to the motto proclaiming; “One family under God.”

A dazzling array of performances continued, and even though dusk was approaching the crowds refused to leave the festival. All stood together as the final song, “Seeds of Love,” was performed by Naty Rosenfield with the whole crowd joining in.

All performances were offered voluntarily, and we had more willing performers than time allowed. The disappointed artists who were not able to perform were comforted with assurances of invitations for a future program.

Prior to the main festival, several events and projects took place. We held an exciting service project in a Druze village on Mount Carmel in which the local Boy Scouts along with GPF volunteer instructors transformed an old school wall into a beautiful mural. In Haifa, another group of young leaders from the Reali School joined Youth Federation for World Peace volunteers in a painting project at an old peoples’ home. The elderly residents were so moved that they didn’t let the young people leave without inviting them to share a meal together.

In the Beit Hagefen Theater a special awards ceremony was conducted on December 18, and 43 NGO leaders received a GPF special service award for excellence in community service and preservation of the environment. Haifa’s City Councilor Dr. Moshe Becker commented that for him it was the greatest pleasure to be among people who make their life goal to serve others. Dr. Eliezer Glaubach, the master of ceremonies, read out loud each NGO’s mission statement while Dr. Walsh, together with Dr. Sang Jin Lee, the Regional Chair of UPF-Middle East, and Dr. Masatoshi Abe, chair of UPF-Israel, handed out the awards.

Also on December 18 two conferences were held in parallel at the Dan Panorama Hotel overlooking the beautiful Haifa Bay. The International Youth Leadership Conference gathered some 30 participants, Israelis and Palestinians among other nationalities. Mr. Omar Halasa and Mr. Alex Gabb chaired the dynamic forum exploring the theme, “Youth Leaders Spearheading the Culture of Peace.” The second session was devoted to “The Role of Service in Promoting Peace” and was chaired by the International Chair of Service for Peace, Dr. Charles Phillips.

In the neighboring hall some 80 religious leaders were gathered representing Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze among other faiths. The participants were greeted by Sheik Ali Birani, the President of the Inter-religious Federation for World Peace chapter in Israel as well as by Dr. Shuki Ben Ami the well-known writer and theologian. Ms. Nurit Hirschfeld, the program organizer, guided two sessions. The first, chaired by Dr. Frank Kaufmann, dealt with the vision of “One Family under God,” and the second session, led by Mr. Taj Hamad, explored the meaning of “True Leadership.” Round-table discussions followed each presentation, and summaries of their deliberations were offered to the entire plenum. Swami Parameshananda commented “When we look at each others' religion we see differences; when we look up to God we realize that we are all His children.”

A week-long program took place under the banner of the Middle East Peace Initiative on the theme of “Religious Leaders Forging a Path for Peace.” Throughout the week, the international delegates visited religious and historical sites in Jerusalem, Nazareth, and the Sea of Galilee; in addition, they participated in dialogs, orientation sessions, and symposiums. Two important symposiums were held: one in Palestine and one in Israel. In Ramallah, the delegation met with Sheik Taysir Tamimi, head of the Sharia courts, as well as two government ministers and six parliamentarians. In Jerusalem, the delegation was hosted in the Knesset by Hon. Ran Cohen MK as well as by the deputy speaker of the house, Hon. Yitzhak Ziv. The intense fact-finding tours led up to the enjoyable main events of the Global Peace Festival. Tour leader Mr. Jeremy Jordan commented; “it is amazing that in such a short time a group of total strangers from different nations and religions can become such a close family!”

The entire set of programs was organized by a small group of volunteers and especially by a group of youngsters between the ages of 15 and 23 without much prior experience. However, their great enthusiasm and high spirits enabled the entire festival to become a huge success! The fact that such young people took ownership of the festival is the living proof that the message of Dr. Hyun Jin Moon of “living for the sake of others” has become an integral part of their lives. 

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