The constancy of war, and the unavoidable fact that religious elements often are present, attest to a need for interfaith knowledge and awareness. An important question to ask in this interfaith context is “How much should interfaith partners keep the focus on shared beliefs and values, instead of discussing and debating their differences and contrasting world views?”
A place fraught with the need for all angles on peace is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But peace is not possible in a saccahrine environments, papering over differences. Israeli Rabbi Yehuda Sarna holds that we must be willing to engage “the things that make us different…in order to genuinely understand other people.” Following the kidnapping of Israeli teens from a West Bank settlement and a Palestinian teen from East Jerusalem, Sarna payed a visit to Naftali Fraenkel’s family, one of the Jewish victims. Here, he joined 350 Israelis to mourn and embrace the family of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the slain Palestinian.
Here in the US we find similar efforts. Recently, Rabbi Marc Schneir, head of The Hampton Synagogue on Long Island and leader of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, openly “addressed the tensions in the room full of Muslims, and the space between his views and theirs on Israel and Gaza.” Following, the event’s host, New York mosque leader Imam Shamsi Ali, expressed that he too blamed Hamas, but also blames Israel. While some may have called the exchange uncomfortable, Ali begged to differ by affirming, “we can’t be hijacked by our emotions. We can’t throw fire on fire.”
Ultimately, daily reports of violence in Gaza creates a challenge for interfaith friendships. However, as exemplified through Sarna’s selflessness, and the Schneir-Ali friendship, when Jewish and Muslim leaders are able to recognize the beauty in their differences, they create truly hopeful moments. We pray that the region’s peacemaking experts can adopt these principles to create peace for the sake of the innocents who suffer from these horrible conflicts.