Second Annual Symposium on Interfaith Ethics and Tolerance - full report
Second Annual International Symposium on
Interfaith Ethics and Tolerance
Jerusalem - holy to Judaism, Christianity and Islam and likely the only city that attracts worldwide pilgrims from all three faiths. It is therefore fitting that the Second Annual Interfaith Ethics and Tolerance Symposium focused on Ethical and Environmental Aspects of Pilgrimage and the Meaning of Holy Sites for Different Faiths represented in Israel. The Symposium was held on October 19, 2010 at Mishkenot Sha'ananim, thanks to the generosity of Mr. Aleksander Gudzowaty, and was jointly organized by the Interfaith Encounter Association, Mishkenot Shaananim and the Jerusalem Foundation.
The Symposium began with a presentation of the Green Pilgrim Cities Network by Naomi Tsur, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Environment for the City of Jerusalem and former Director of the Jerusalem Region of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. At least 100 million people of numerous faiths make pilgrimages throughout the world and these pilgrimages should be respectful of others, of the land they are visiting, and of Mother Earth.
The Round Table discussions that followed touched on five areas: 1) Green ethics; 2) The ethics of splendor 3) The ethics of religious demands; 4) The ethics of commercialization and exploitation; and 5) the ethics of the treatment of the 'other'.
The first round table discussed different aspects of Green Pilgrimage - how we, the City of Jerusalem, can simultaneously take advantage of Jerusalem's unique status and increase the number of pilgrim tourists to the city. The goal is to boost the local economy while ensuring that pilgrimages do not leave a large carbon footprint, keeping Jerusalem environmentally sustainable.
Ethics of Splendor:
The second round table discussed the ethics of splendor and that the number of pilgrims worldwide has increased substantially over the past few years. As demand has risen, so have the costs of pilgrimage. If we are not careful, pilgrimage will become inaccessible, except to the wealthy.
Ethics of Religious Demands:
The third round table discussed the ethics of religious demands on the pilgrim. Two basic questions were addressed: should religion formulate its own demands vis-a-vis a religious sites or should visitors be granted freedom of choice when they visit holy sites? For instance, should all men who enter the plaza of the Wailing Wall be forced to cover their heads and should all women be forced to dress modestly, even if they are not Jewish? Should visitors be asked to conform to the customs of the religious site they are visiting?
The fourth round table discussed commercialization - the fine line between local businesses who wish to profit from pilgrims and the sacredness of the pilgrimages themselves. Does it reflect poorly on a country when local businesses profit from pilgrimages? How does commercialization adversely impact the poorer pilgrim?
Pilgrim as the Other:
The fifth round table discussed the pilgrim as the 'other', how they feel in various situations, how they feel when visiting a foreign country, and how to help them to feel less excluded.
In the afternoon the Symposium was open to the public and the Konrad Adenauer Conference Center was filled with more than 250 people who listened to a panel of religious leaders. It opened with remarks prepared by Mr. Aleksander Gudzowaty, delivered by his wife, Danuta. "It is difficult [in a setting like this] to avoid clichés. People...generate lots of words....[however] multiplied words are [often] not followed by effective content," said Mrs. Gudzowaty.
Why a panel of religious leaders, asked Mrs. Guzowaty? "In any corner of the world religious leaders have been chosen as God's servants," she said. "There is strength in the clergy [and religious leaders] and their moral power. They have a gift to speak the truth and an obligation to do so. They have spiritual contact with God and man." Yet many have forgotten that their true calling is as God's servants among the people. "I call upon [religious leaders] to rise up and to believe that the world is peaceful," said Mrs. Gudzowaty. "I hope that the conference today will propel intellectual religious circles to commence this dialogue."
Abraham Foxman, Director of the Anti-Defamation League of America, also addressed the crowd. He drew on the poetic justice in his partnership with Mr. Gudzowaty - for Foxman himself is a Polish Jew and Mr. Gudzowaty is a Polish Catholic, both heralding from a country with a painful past. Foxman recalled the Polish Christian woman, who harbored him during World War II to save him from persecution – it was, he said, the human, ethical thing to do, and no symposium was needed to make that point. Churches, synagogues, and mosques have great power to change the world, he said, yet we should never turn a blind eye to anti-Semitism, anti-Islam, anti-Christianity, wherever it appears. As human beings, "we are duty-bound...[to] declare intolerance for their intolerance." The terms 'mutual respect' and 'equality of consideration' are the premise for peaceful conflict resolution, concluded Foxman, and "it is our moral imperative never to be silent in the face of difficulty."
Mr. Maciej Kozlowski, deputy director of Middle East Department in the Polish Foreign Affairs Ministry and former Polish ambassador to Israel, noted
that intolerance is one of the most important issues facing mankind. One of the most potent forces in addressing such social issues and leading change is 'soft power,' represented by words and monuments. It was soft power, the words of Solidarity leaders and the symbolism of a special monument in the Gdansk port, that kept Solidarity alive throughout the 1980's and ultimately led to it gaining power after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Mr. Gudzowaty's Tolerance Monument is also a symbol of hope, which, coupled with words, have the potential of leading a revolution.
The Meaning of Holy Sites for Different Faiths:
A public panel discussion followed, which focused on the Meaning of the Holy Sites for Different Faiths. The panel included representatives of the Baha'I, Islam, Catholic, and Jewish faiths.
"We are very attached to places - the combination of a place with sacredness and holiness [can be] a potent mixture," said Dr. Albert Lincoln, Secretary-General of the Baha'i International Community. "It is not unusual for [different] places to have different layers of religious significance for different religions. This should be an opportunity for further understanding....everyone loses when conflict invades holy places."
The representatives of Islam and Catholicism both emphasized that their places of worship are houses of God. A mosque brings serenity and awe of God, said Sheikh Samir Asi, Imam of Al-Jazar Mosque in Acre.
"It is hard to overestimate the importance of holy sites," said Father Vincent Nagle, Representative of the Latin Patriarchate. Although the liturgies are the same everywhere, the holy sites reawaken the dynamics and dimension of history and discovery of Christianity. For him and many others, these historical holy places are where "you meet God. They make it matter that it happened." Rev. Jerszy Bryla, official representative of His Eminence Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz from Cracow, said while all places belong to God, holy places are special because they are chosen by God and people, and it is where man and God meet.
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, Head of Yeshivat Hesder Petach Tikva and Director of Ethics and Religion at the Jerusalem Ethics Center, noted that even though Judaism believes that God is everywhere, and there are pilgrimage sites yet God chose only one site as holy - the Temple.
A lively question and answer session ensued, including one audience member who asked the Sheikh about the violent rhetoric preached in Mosques. In response, the Sheikh noted, "we do not have to shout, we can ask [our followers] to be tolerant, we need to have a strong desire to want to live together, and we can do it, God willing."
Participants then made their way to the Closing Ceremony at the Tolerance Monument, at the Promenade at Armon Hanatziv. As the sun set over the Old City and the holy sites of the Kidron Valley, participants enjoyed a moving ceremony that included representatives of different faiths: from the Telmus a capella vocal quartet, to the Noam Threesome, a Jewish-Arab music ensemble, the Yerushalmim klezmer band and "Sounds of Peace", the Neveh Shalom Arab-Jewish School band.
"I was very impressed with the symposium this year," said one returning participant. "The discussions were serious, thought-provoking and timely. And the closing ceremony overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem at sunset was an incredibly moving experience."
Reported: Naomi Roff Kohn, The Jerusalem Foundation
The Interfaith Encounter Association
P.O.Box 3814 , Jerusalem 91037 , Israel
Ms. Evelyne Savir (Chair)
Dr. Shlomo Alon
Ms. Nadia Tutunji-Nuseibeh
Ms. Saheer Siam
Mr. Rizk Azam
Ms. Randa Zreik-Sabag
Dr. Yehuda Stolov, Executive Director
Mr. Salah Alladin, Assistant Director
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