War will not rend interfaith project

Note: I have permission to post this from the copyright holder, Temple Israel of Omaha Nebraska.

BY RABBI ARYEH AZRIEL, WENDY GOLDBERG, NASER Z. ALSHARIF AND THE REV. CANON TIM ANDERSON
The writers, all of Omaha, are board members of the Tri-Faith Initiative. Azriel and Goldberg are senior rabbi and program director, respectively, of Temple Israel. Alsharif is secretary of the American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture. Anderson is canon for development of the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska.

Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

In 2006, a group of Omaha leaders made a bold decision to form a partnership with the goal of co-locating to an interfaith campus. Temple Israel, the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska and the American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture signed a mutual agreement of understanding to create the Tri-Faith Initiative of Omaha. We remain committed to this goal. Our dialogue actually began nine years ago. From its inception, we knew the day would arrive that would require us to gather at a table in the midst of war in the Middle East. How would we continue building our friendships of mutual understanding?

It took place at a meeting involving the emotional sharing of personal narratives of three leaders of the Tri-Faith Initiative — an Israeli-born Reform Jewish American rabbi; an American Muslim professor born in Palestine; and a native Nebraskan Episcopal priest. The tearful conversation was the kind of honest exchange that is necessary to reach peace.

The initiative, one said, “gives us all strength to have each other and to each respect our individual relationships with God. To understand and to know each other will move us forward.”

Another added: “The pain is so great. What is really at stake in our Holy Land? We are suffering. Who is scoring political points? Is this about geopolit ical struggle? What is the value of every human life? All people are victims. The violence must stop. The violence will not bring safety.

“This ongoing war has decimated my entire family. I no longer have a family. Just tears. There is no monopoly on pain. We all have people being killed. Will we strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being? Our response is, ‘We will, with God’s help.’ ” Our stories are woven together with threads of pain and love for our people and the land. We shared stories of loss of friends and family. We acknowledged our mutual regard for human life, especially those who have died as a result of the ongoing struggle.

We heard each other’s memories of war — pain and fear, dreams for the Holy Land. We cried. We hugged. Our years of conversation and education had clear rewards as we witnessed and felt the pain of the others.

The participants said, “We stand together in condemnation of the violence, pain and suffering. We hope for peace and coexistence in the Holy Land. We understand that politics alone will not end this conflict.”

The Holy Land is more than borders and settlements. The tragedies reach beyond Gaza; our message must be a global one. In Omaha, we are privileged by our influence and freedoms. Yet we feel guilty; our selfishness and greed have desensitized us. Are we assuming our responsibilities?

Today we, the leadership of the Tri-Faith Initiative, call upon ourselves to honestly reawaken our consciences, including progressive change to build relationships, to honor a nd respect the other. We raise our voices to work toward peace.

Recognizing the challenges ahead requires hope, faith and a commitment to work hard, together, to solve the many problems of our generation. TriFaith gives us hope — hope for the future in the midst of despair.

Despite the strong feelings roused around our table by the crisis in Gaza, the initiative continues to move forward and remains committed to its first public event, “Dinner in Abraham’s Tent: Conversations on Peace,” featuring the national leaders of each of our movements: Rabbi Peter Knobel, Dr. Ingrid Mattson and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the U.S. Episcopal Church.

The event, set for Friday, March 27, at the Qwest Center, will feature a worship service followed by a dinner and a conversation among the faith leaders on the theme of “Shalom, Salaam, Peace.” In the words of Rabbi Jonathan Magonet, “May our courage match our convictions and our integrity match our hope.”

How can we still attempt the Tri-Faith Initiative when there is a war going on in the Middle East?

How can we not?

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