We broke bread together with a prayer thanking our Creator for bringing forth bread from the earth. Over a meal sensitive to Jewish, Muslim and Hindu dietary needs, as well as the health concerns of those who were low salt and sugar, Fairfax Station became the unlikely home of Middle East peace and dialogue, as my husband, Gary, and I welcomed our Israeli guests, Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish and the Kadi of Jerusalem, Dr. Iyad Zahalka, to our home for dinner prior to their speaking at our synagogue.
At the table were representatives of our local Hindu temple, our Methodist and Lutheran community, and an imam from our local Muslim community. If peace could be made over a vegetarian meal, it could have been made last night, as the conversation was both meaningful and cordial, a foreshadowing of the important dialogue which followed at the temple later in the evening.
Rabbi Kronish and Kadi Zahalka have come to the United States as representatives of ICCI, The Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, a Jerusalem-based organization, founded and directed by Rabbi Kronish, promoting peace building through dialogue.
Rabbi Kronish began by defining the difference between “peacemaking” and “peace building.” In his sacred work, the peacemaking between nations is left to the politicians who are tasked with putting peace on paper. The rabbi and the kadi are engaged in “peace building,” a process of engaging, educating and enriching the quality of dialogue between ordinary and willing Jews, Christians and Muslims, and many of their clergy.
In peace building, trust comes from learning and sharing what individuals have in common, from studying each other’s texts, and from the dialogue that results when media and large group stereotypes are put aside and the personal story is made the priority. Just like the dinner prior to the program, good people of all faiths open their hearts, homes, and lives free from fear and prejudice to hear the perspectives of the other with an open mind and for the sole purpose of making co-existence possible in a region too often known only for its conflicts.
We had people from four different faiths present at our program. Our congregation’s social hall was filled with people who wanted to explore what the media rarely reports — the positive measures taken every day to build bridges in a region where building interpersonal bridges offers the greatest hope to a true and lasting peace. The gathering at our synagogue was captivated by Kadi Zahalka’s personal sharing of his faith’s Shariah law, his tradition’s values of justice and humanity, his wisdom and his humor. He spoke of the fact that he is an Israeli, and that his work as a kadi is to offer Arabic-speaking Israeli citizens a safe haven for adjudicating their lives in Muslim courts governed under the highest and most knowledgeable standards of Islamic law. We were impressed with his credentials and his advocacy for the rights of women under his sacred law. He shared how he was educated in Israeli Arab schools and at her finest universities. Before us we saw a brilliant Israeli, father of four, who shared an Islam that is peaceful and hopeful.
Rabbi Kronish, an American-born Reform rabbi, made aliyah decades ago. He has dedicated his life to promoting peace building. He was clear that long after a peace agreement is signed, the work of peace building among people will begin in some places and must continue in others. ICCI as an organization gathers individuals for long-term meaningful dialogue, for mutual travel to places like post-conflict Ireland, and for educational activities involving adults and youth, so that the often conflicting social narratives of distrust, pain and prejudice can be shared in hopes of securing a dialogue predicated on respect, humanity and the integrity of each participant.
In our little town of Fairfax Station, we embraced the rabbi and the kadi, and their message of peaceful coexistence in a democratic Israel that is as complex as it is communal, and oft times dysfunctional. The image of these two men will stay with us as we embrace our greater faith community in mutual understanding and respect. Our prayer book states, “that our house may be a house of prayer for all peoples.” That night, our house at B’nai Shalom was truly a house of peace building for all peoples, a glimmer of light shining brightly, filled with hope and possibility. True to our congregation’s name, B’nai Shalom, both men were “children of peace,” dedicating their lives to peaceful coexistence for Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Israel, one human being at a time.
Rabbi Amy R. Perlin, D.D., is senior rabbi at Temple B’nai Shalom in Fairfax Station.