Have you heard of the Jerusalem Hug?
A multifaith iftar?
Or the Abrahamic Reunion?
I thought not. These were all new to me until last month when my community of Bozeman, Montana, hosted four people from the Holy Land for an evening. They were a delegation of four who could be described as Israelis, Palestinians, Bedouins, a Jew, 2 Muslims, a Christian, a peace promoter, an imam, an evangelical minister, a community activist, 3 men and 1 woman. Yes, that’s a lot of diversity in four people. They were in the U.S. for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and made a side trip to Montana just before the event, thanks to my friend Rabbi Ed Stafman.
The Abrahamic Reunion is a group of spiritual leaders—Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druze—who have been working together to promote interreligious harmony in the Holy Land for 10+ years. They describe themselves this way: “We are women and men of the faiths of this land – our land – who meet together, walk together, eat together, and pray side by side in mutual respect. We demonstrate by our personal example that we can live together in peace and cooperation.” (www.abrahamicreunion.org) They are peacemakers in a land known for its conflicts, and their shared conviction is that religion is a force which can bring people together to make peace. They don’t just believe it, they do it.
Rodef Shalom (“Peace Pursuer”) Eliyahu McLean of Jerusalem told us, “We have forgotten that we are all one family, but we are brothers who are destined and blessed to share the same land.” Sanaa Albaz of Tel Sheva said, “There’s plenty of room in the Holy Land for all of our people to live together.” Her husband, Imam Khalil Albaz, told of the impact a visit to Auschwitz had on him. And the Reverend Daniel Aqleh of Bethlehem reminded us that peace and justice are two sides of one coin.
Each one had an interesting personal story. Eliyahu’s American voice gave it away that his growing up years were spent in California, while his sidelocks made it apparent that he is an Orthodox Jew. Sanaa and Khalil are Israeli citizens who are Bedouin Muslims, and live in a Bedouin community in the Negev, next to Beersheba. They called themselves “the indigenous people” of their land—prompting their translator, Eliyahu, to claim the description for himself as well. Daniel is a Palestinian Christian who studied Christian ministry in Missouri and leads the music ministry in his church in Bethlehem, where 30% of the population is Christian. All four are deeply committed to the Abrahamic Reunion, despite some criticism from their ethnic communities.
Fifteen Abrahamic Reunion leaders were in the U.S. for the Parliament. They packed the ballroom each time they presented their story. And they shared their purpose. “We came here to renew your hope, and our hope.”
And so they explained the multifaith iftar, an evening meal which breaks the Ramadan fast, which they celebrate as a multi-religious community event. Kosher and halal food are both on the menu.
They told us about the Jerusalem Hug, an annual gathering at which people of many faiths surround the Old City, hand in hand, showing their love for Jerusalem in prayer and song and visible unity.
They showed slides of their interfaith solidarity visit to the monastery and Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. In June of this year, part of the monastery was burned in a hate crime. In August, the Abrahamic Reunion organized a prayer service at the church. A Benedictine priest welcomed them; a rabbi shared his hope that acts of kindness and deeds of compassion would multiply like loaves and fishes; a sheikh spoke of how uniting Abraham’s family was the best response to religiously motivated violence; and a Druze leader pledged that her community would help with reconstruction. They prayed for healing and unity; and then a rabbi blew his shofar, a moment one participant described as “a clarion call for peace among ourselves and our religions.” (http://www.abrahamicreunion.org/tabgha-aug2015/)
Surely all this family togetherness makes Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah smile.
Photo credit: Abrahamic Reunion, used by permission