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Pursuing Peace

Pursuing Peace

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I have often felt rather lonely in my work in peace-building through interreligious dialogue in Israel. Last week I was privileged to be part of a larger group of Jews and Palestinians who have not given up and are still seeking peace in Israel in new and creative ways.

It happened, of all places, at Bar Ilan University, the university of Religious Zionism in Israel, just outside of Tel Aviv. As part of an international conference on “Bridging Theory and Practice of Creative Conflict Engagement”, I participated in a special workshop for 30 theoreticians and practitioners (I am in the latter category) as part of a new track on “Religion and Conflict Resolution” that Bar Ilan has just established, which is part of their interdisciplinary program on Conflict Management and Negotiation.

The workshop was planned and implemented by Rabbi Dr. Daniel Roth and Dr. Alick Isaacs, who both teach at Bar Ilan and are also activists in the field of conflict resolution and peace. They brought together a group of Jewish and Palestinian peace-builders, who remain deeply committed to the difficult tasks of peacebuilding in our ongoing unresolved, not-likely-to-be-resolved–soon conflict.

For example, I had a chance to meet Ali Abu Awad, a Muslim Palestinian peace activist who believes and practices non-violence and is involved in intensive dialogue with Jews in the area of Gush Etzion in the West Bank, and his partner in dialogue, Shaul Judelman, who through his work in a new Jewish-Palestinian organization called Roots/Judor/Shorashim (committed to the principle of love of all humanity which he learns from the first Rabbi Kook, the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community in Palestine during the British Mandate.)

I also talked to the young leaders of Kids for Peace, and their new American-based international director, an Anglican priest, who was here for the conference. Kids for Peace– an organization that has been working with Palestinian and Israeli youth for many years– is growing by leaps and bounds, despite the deteriorating political and security atmosphere in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Their energetic and enthusiastic young leaders told me that just the day before, over 400 graduates and members of families of their graduates, gathered for their annual event!

In addition, I listened to a fascinating presentation by Rabbi Dr. Daniel Roth, one of the founders of this new track on Religion and Conflict Resolution, about his doctoral dissertation on the Biblical personality of Aaron (my favorite Biblical leader), and how rabbinic commentaries have turned him into the model of the Rodeph Shalom, the Jewish Pursuer of Peace. Roth explained that Aaron’s method was not just dialogue, but also included “going to listen to other people’s pain and trying to soothe it.” He also shared a wide range of programs that he is implementing through the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution that he directs in Jerusalem.

In addition, I participated in a small group discussion, led by one of the coordinators of the program, Dr. Alick Isaacs, who had participated in a weekend seminar several years ago organized by my organization, the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (now a department of Rabbis for Human Rights) . In addition to teaching at Bar Ilan and other universities in Israel, Isaacs is a peace activist through an organization called Siach Shalom, Talking Peace, which is doing pioneering “back-channel” dialogue work between Palestinian and Jewish religious leaders in new and creative ways

In our discussion, Isaacs asked each person to reflect on a text that guides him or her in his work in peacebuilding. Different people offered interesting and inspiring texts. As the discussion progressed, I thought more about Aaron the Peacemaker, and wondered why his influence as a model for peacemaking is not felt more among so-called “religious” Jews in Israel and throughout the world.

When I was asked to point to a text that has guided me in my work, I was mindful of the text that my family and I chose to put on the headstone of the grave of my father, Rabbi Leon Kronish, of blessed memory (he was the Founding Senior Rabbi of Temple Beth Sholom [Hebrew for “House of Peace”] in Miami Beach, Florida):

Rabbi, Teacher, Leader, Friend. Pursuer of Peace. He loved Peace and pursued it. He loved people, and brought them closer to Torah.

All of a sudden, it became clear to me in this discussion, how much this text, based on the famous text in The Ethics of the Fathers, had become a foundational text for me in my life and in my professional work in interreligious peace-building.

In Psalm 43, verse 15 we find the famous version Bakesh Shalom v’Radfeihu, “Seek peace and pursue it”. According to the Midrash: “Seek peace, and pursue it” means that you should seek it in your own place, and pursue it even to another place as well. (Leviticus Rabbah 9:9) Seeking peace is not enough; one has to be an activist in pursuing it all the time.

I came away from the workshop with a positive vibe, especially since I was reminded that there are many people and organizations that are still pursuing peace in this country and in Palestine. They are all under-funded and under-appreciated. But they are there doing the day-to-day work of peacebuilding “in the trenches” and they refuse to give up. Thank God.

Reprinted from The Times of Israel Blog, originally appearing January 18, 2015

Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish is the director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI) and a noted educator, author, lecturer and speaker. He regularly blogs for The Times of Israel.

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