Jerusalem International School of Reconciliation 2016

September

The Jerusalem International School for Reconciliation has again been held this summer. Around fifty people of different backgrounds and from a variety of countries came to the city for lectures and discussions about the realities of interfaith dialogue in the Holy Land.

Students at this year’s Jerusalem International School of Reconciliation

They came from America, Canada, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, England, the Netherlands, Sweden, Japan, Singapore and Australia. Many are pastors, some are students of theology, some are studying or working on interfaith relations – and others are just ordinary people keen to deepen their knowledge of the issues facing this region today.

The school is again being held at Christ Church – in the Old City just inside the Jaffa Gate. Christ Church was founded in the 1840s and is the oldest Protestant church in the Middle East. The church, guest house and facilities provide a congenial framework for learning, discussion and fellowship. We are really grateful to the Rector, the Rev David Pileggi for all his support.

The Rev David Pileggi at Christ Church, Jaffa Gate

After opening discussions, the group had a most interesting day at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs looking at the current challenges facing the country and in particular the important role of relations with other faiths within the region and beyond. With the land’s dense and complex history, particularly in Jerusalem itself, archaeology and historical research can be very sensitive, as can Israel’s relations with organisations such as UNESCO.

Students at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs 

The group also visited Bethlehem to see the Governor of Bethlehem, the mayor of Bethlehem and the Minister of Tourism in the Palestinian Authority. There was a lively discussion of the difficulties facing communities in the West Bank – in particular maintaining access by foreign visitors to places like Bethlehem where pilgrimage is of great significance and where tourism is also therefore a key economic sector. Nurturing inter-community relations can have an important role to play.

This year’s programme again included a visit to Hebron to see first hand how the Tomb of Abraham has been adapted to accommodate both a mosque and a synagogue and to allow both Jewish and Muslim visitors to approach the cenotaphs of Abraham and Sarah.¬†The group was also invited to meet with Archbishop Mor Severios Malke Mourad of the Syrian Orthodox Church. They then went to see the real Upper Room of St Mark’s Church, which was very moving.

The Cave of the Patriarchs, which houses the Tomb of Abraham
The real Upper Room at St Mark’s Church

The school has included specific presentations from each of the three Abrahamic faiths: Pastor Naim Khoury from the Baptist Church Bethlehem, Professor Avraham Tsvi from Jerusalem and Sheikh Hatem al-Bakri, Imam of the Abraham Mosque in Hebron. The group also visited Mount Gerizim to learn about the traditions and beliefs of the still flourishing Samaritan community.

Rabbi Michael Melchior

This year, the school also invited speakers from NGOs active in interfaith relations and in humanitarian work within local and international communities. Kids4Peace has been particularly effective in working with school-age children in the different communities in Israel, while the international work of IsraAID touches communities of many persuasions in the region and beyond.

The school again concluded with a discussion led by Dr Petra Heldt of the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity in Israel (ETRFI) which concentrates on interfaith understanding between Jews and Christians.

This report was written by Christopher Segar who sits on FRRME’s Board of Trustees

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