The Practice of Inter-Religious Encounters – Experiences from Israel

The Interfaith Encounter Association (IEA) is one of our partners in Israel. There are several methods being used by women and youth for Inter-Religious Encounters. 

IEA has begun the 38th interfaith group within the program for women’s empowerment for communal leadership. This group’s encounters are run in cooperation with Kolech and Open House. It is composed of 10 weekly encounters, with the expected results that after the structured program ends – the group will continue to meet regularly in order to continue building their togetherness and support each other in the implementation of what they learn.

Women's Encounter

The first encounter took place in May 6th, 2011 and 17 women participated - 9 Arab, 8 Jewish (one more gave birth and will join later). This was an encounter of consolidation and acquaintance. The emphasis was on getting to know each other personally as leading women. The process was filled with the desire to know each other, full participation in all exercises, and conveying a message of satisfaction.

The agenda included:

  1. First acquaintance between participants, in which they spoke about their name and its meaning
  2. Exercise of acquaintance, each participant connected with six others in the circle
  3. Presenting the program and the duties and tasks of the course (for next encounter: preparing a leadership dilemma)
  4. Movement exercise
  5. Group connecting – each encounter ends with a 15 minute summarizing conversation of the group, with questions, requests etc.

One of the participants said: "It was amazing, amazing, amazing… every one is some woman", every one brings impressive record and a lot of motivation.
The group was jointly facilitated by Vivian Rava and Tauba Jamitovsky.

Hebrew U. - Bethlehem U. Youth Interfaith Encounter

The group Hebrew U. - Bethlehem U. Youth Interfaith Encounter took place on March 18th, 2011 at the Austrian Hospice in Jerusalem. The topic chosen to discuss was religion and faith in one’s personal life. While drinking coffee in the garden, the group talked about their life and introduced new members of the group. We are thankful to Yael Gidanian for informing us about this encounter.

On Saturday night March 19th, 2011, after Shabbat, friends from the A/Nahnu Youth Interfaith Encounter group on Mt. Scopus and the Hebrew U.-Bethlehem U. Students group met in Ecome, a new and special place on the way from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. The place is amazing in its uniqueness – a compound of tents that was put together by alumni of the Arava Institute and Palestinians from Jericho, in order to be a place of joint life and site for coexistence workshops and meetings. People came from Jerusalem, Hebron and Ramallah and were altogether 18 members of both groups. The group was received with warm dinner and burning bonfire, were presented to the people of the place, and were presented IEA to them as well as heard the interesting story of the site.

Yata Youth Interfaith Encounter 

The Yata Youth Interfaith Encounter group took place on April 14th 2011 in Jerusalem. Following the group's request the theme of weddings was chosen for the topic of the encounter. First the Jews explained how a Jewish wedding looks like what are the meanings of its components – Kidushin, ring, the Seven Blessings etc. The group talked about the difference between weddings in the past, when there was a period of time between the engagement (in its sense according to the Jewish Religious Law) and the wedding and the current inclusion of both of them in the same day. The Muslims explained that they still have this time-gap between the two. The engagement is performed in front of a religious leader that runs it and makes the couple to be engaged. The wedding takes place a few months later, with a big feast and without a religious ceremony. In addition, the conversation touched on the status of women in marriage and the level of their free choice. The Muslims made it clear that there is no way to get married in a ceremony which is not religious, even for secular people. But they also explained that nowadays it is possible to meet a partner not through match-making. At this stage the conversation focused, following questions of the Muslims, on refuting different "facts" they knew about relations between Jewish couples – before and after marriage. The new discoveries caused a lot of happiness.

We can observe the following:

  • the basis of the encounter is dialogue and mutual understanding
  • the organisers have a long-term commitment to the process and a recognized track record and experience
  • the aims are stated from the beginning
  • the facilitators belong to both groups (Arab and Jewish in this case)
  • the meeting is set in accordance to the wishes of the group members
  • the topic may be chosen by the group members
  • groups start off having the same numbers of participants on each side
  • an element of common and constructive culture is brought in to support the encounter and offer a welcoming environment

We are thankful to all who sent us this information (Yehuda Stolov, Yael Gidanian, Galit Raz, Noy) and wish IEA to see the fruits of their work in the lives of the participants and the groups.