The Words of the Kamar Family
Acre, Israel -- The Jerusalem interfaith forum gathered in the beautiful ancient port city of Acre, in which Arabs and Jews live together, on June 16, 2014. For the second time, the Jerusalem interfaith forum was hosted at El-Jazar Mosque, the largest mosque in Israel outside of Jerusalem where we were warmly welcomed by Sheik Samir Aasi, the Imam of the Mosque.
The 21 forum guests and members, composed of Muslims, Druze, Christians and Jews who are religious leaders, school principals, teachers, lecturers, educational and organizational consultants, and peace activists in their profession, gathered to discuss initiatives and possible cooperation in the field of education.
The meeting was opened by welcoming remarks by Sheik Ali Birani, president of the forum; Mrs. Miri Kamar, secretary general of UPF-Israel; and Dr. Nurit Hirschfeld, director of the forum.
In sharing his continuous efforts to create friendship and harmony among people, Sheik Aasi, who is also a school teacher and educator, opened the session with his mission statement: "I believe that there is no hatred in religion. It is human beings who are creating the animosity, and it is our role to educate people to love and respect one another. As a religious person, I believe that human life and human dignity is the holy of all holies." He asked the participants for their ideas for long-term activity.
Mr. Husam Elias, general secretary of the International Christian Committee of Israel, spoke about the educational inter-religious program his organization offers to 40 Muslims and Christians teachers who learn about 'the other' by studying each other's scriptures and learning about the holy places.
Mrs. Naomi Tsur, former deputy mayor of Jerusalem and president of Green Pilgrim Jerusalem, explained her vision behind Green Pilgrimage: building upon the attractive holy tourist locations around the world to initiate cooperation between different religions in the common interest of environmental protection. Tsur believes that through the several environmentally friendly routes which pilgrims can follow, natural cooperation among the different religions will be created and thus benefit the environment.
Rabbi Edgar Nof expressed his gratitude for being invited to the mosque and invited Aasi to give a sermon at his synagogue, saying that he would gladly come to speak to Aasi's community. Nof also invited Aasi to join him and visit sick people in hospitals: "I believe it would be very meaningful for the sick, especially due to the fact that some of them speak Arabic only, and thus cannot understand me."
Appointed by the Ministry of Interior as the person responsible for the Christian denominations in the northern part of Israel and a mathematics teacher, Fr. Dmitry Mussa expressed his opinion that education in moral values in schools is very limited. He wishes that religious leaders could teach universal values of respect and dignity in schools.
Mr. Wafid Mansur, the principal of a Muslim school in Acre, spoke about several inter-religious projects his school initiated, such as bi-national encounters between Arab and Jewish pupils and bringing together teachers from Jewish and Arab schools; he also stressed the need for courage and integrity to be practiced on behalf of both sides. In his speech, Mansur referred to the kidnapping of three Jewish teenagers: "As a Muslim educator, I feel pain and sorrow for the three children. I am a father. They are like my children. And I need to be able to say it boldly not only here but also among my students and teachers." Mr. Mansur spoke with grief about the social change he wishes for but has not yet occurred, even after many years of activity. Mansur asked the forum to be supportive of future initiatives.
Mrs. Heda Amir, who is an organizational consultant to Muslim schools in East Jerusalem, offered to devise pertinent educational programs to submit to the Ministry of Education. One of her ideas is to allocate a fixed percentage of the teaching staff in each school to teachers from other religions. Amir believes that this is a good and meaningful way to endorse natural understanding and cooperation among people: "If a Jewish student has a good Christian teacher, he will forever cherish the good teacher who inspired him and will harbor good memories and respect to his teacher; thus, he will naturally reject prejudice against Christians in the future," explained Amir.
Prof. Yoram Hirschfeld came up with a school project in which Jewish students write a paper about the history and roots of their families as well as the history and roots of an Arab student and vice versa.
Mr. Yaron Hirschfeld suggested developing an accredited interfaith cooperation course for either teachers or students.
Mrs. Sari Aran suggested the idea of having "twin cities" between an Arab city and a Jewish city. Another suggestion of hers was to initiate bi-national home hospitality, wherein a Jewish family will host an Arab child, and an Arab family will host a Jewish child as a way to learn about each other's families and cultures.
Mrs. Rut Reizel said that alongside the positive parts in each culture and its scriptures there are "dark parts" which educate hatred and arrogance. "It is important to gather those verses and declare that we no longer see them as part of our legacy or that we are sorry that they have been part of our history and culture."
Rabbi Edgar Nof concluded the discussion by expressing his gratitude: "The uniqueness of UPF is its being an umbrella under which many organizations and communities can work for peace. Thanks to UPF we become part of a bigger international body, with other rabbis, sheiks and priests from all around the world who support the same values of friendships and cooperation among religions; this way our influence goes beyond this local meeting, thus creating a real change."
Sheik Ali Birani – President, Jerusalem Interfaith Forum
Sheik Samir Aasi -- Imam, Al-Jazar Mosque
Fr. Dmitry Mussa -- Responsible for the Christian Denominations in the Northern Part of Israel, Ministry of Interior
Fr. Samer Zahnun -- Maronite church, Acre
Rabbi Edgar Nof -- Natan-Ya Reform Community
Mrs. Neomi Tsur – President, Green Pilgrim Jerusalem
Mr. Husam Elias -- General Secretary, the International Christian Committee of Israel
Mr. Wafid Mansur – Principal, Ort School, Acre
Mrs. Heda Amir -- Organizational Consultant, Ministry of Education
Mrs. Rut Reizel – Poet and Educator
Mrs. Sari Aran – Former Director, SAP Company
Mr. Yaron Hirschfeld – Director, "Neighbors" Association (for Jewish and Arab villages in North Israel)
Prof. Yoram Hirschfeld – Tel-Aviv University
Mrs. Osnat Lazar -- NLP teacher
Mrs. Daniela Or -- Literary translator
Mrs. Miri Kamar – Secretary General, UPF-Israel
Mrs. Adi Sasaki – Director, Jerusalem Peace and Security Forum
Dr. Nurit Hirschfeld – Director, Jerusalem Interfaith Forum