Initiated in 2002 in the Holy Land, the Abrahamic Reunion’s call for peace and interfaith dialogue has begun to spread all around the world.
It all started 14 years ago on a visit to Israel, co-founder Shahabuddin David Less says. “We met religious leaders with a sense that something must be done and we decided to come together with those highly-respected spiritual leaders”.
The group started small but soon started to grow. All 16 members managed to gather 400 people from all four main religious communities over dinner. Good-willed ministers, imams or rabbis who used to preach for peace in their own congregation were brought together for one of the first times, in an event that would eventually start something much bigger.
“The situation in the Holy Land is so complex that it is easy to take sides,” Mr Less says, “but it doesn’t seem to work. Our point is to create balance and that is why we stepped back from politics.” He insists the association is not political: “I was tired to go to peace celebrations where people don’t celebrate peace”.
Cheikh Ghassan Manasra, international executive director of the Abrahamic Reunion, shares the same ideal. “We got people to start to meet and to know one another. I believe people are thirsty to know about others”.
The project is sometimes met with some degree of hostility by members of each community, according to cheikh Manasra, but he says that is all the more reasons to keep pushing for change.
“Human beings need to create enemies and each side is told that the other is that enemy. That is why I tell them: ‘Come, meet your enemy.’”
Segregation seems to be what mainly comes in the way of peace. It might have officially ended but separation still remains in communities traumatized by a long-lasting conflict they probably won’t live long enough to see come to an end. “The process humanizes the conflict”, says co-founder Anna Less. People raised in fear and sometimes hatred towards the other side get the chance to share a moment together. “We try to turn their sadness into hope,” adds Mr Manasra.
The Abrahamic Reunion has created many projects in its 14-year-long existence and members keep on promoting new ways to reach for peace.
“We may go to a different place of worship every time to pray together and study one another’s scriptures,” says Mrs Less, “or we take people from Israel and Palestine to visit different places”.
The association’s field of actions is growing wider every year. It has been holding a big iftar annually for several years and it still organizes various meals throughout the year, although religious restrictions on specific food make them hard to put together. Its members also recently combined their forces with the head of a Christian school to help bring Muslim teachers to Jewish schools.
“We focus a lot on young generations,” Mr Less explains, “to show that no one is superior to another.” Cheikh Manasra adds: “We want to create a new alternative leadership that believe in change and peace”.
The situation is still grim, however, as violence and tensions seem to reach new peaks every day. Blind attacks might even hit those who advocate for peace and understanding.
It is precisely what happened to Rabbi Menachem Froman, an active member of the Abrahamic Reunion, whose son was stabbed by a Palestinian assailant while he was waiting for the bus in Jerusalem only three months before her pregnant daughter-in-law was injured in the West Bank.
In the face of violence yet always lies hope as Mrs Less recounts: “We were meeting at the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City when it happened and rabbi Froman’s wife was there. Her son had just been attacked but she gave a speech for peace”. That is that message of peace that the Abrahamic Reunion wants to convey on every occasion so that despair never takes ground for too long.
Co-founder Anna Less speaks of another occurrence when fanatic Jews burnt down a Catholic church and painted graffiti on its walls calling all Christian “idolaters”. “Members of our group came to the church in traditional garments to clean it up and pray. There was also a rabbi who had come to express his sorrow and regret”. She says that violence is still very real in the Holy Land but that such actions show that people can be united.
Some still express their concern that the seeds of hatred have been too firmly sown and that sheer optimism will not bring change but the Abrahamic Reunion is living proof that even the slightest efforts towards peace can bear fruit.
“I knew of a rabbi who threatened his congregation with excommunication if they dared blend with Arabs so I just called him and invited him to the mosque,” cheikh Manasra recalls. “The day after, he showed up and he then invited Muslims to his synagogue”.
“Religion has been used as a divisive force for a long time,” Mr Less adds, “but we want it to be a force for peace”. The Unesco acknowledged their contribution and nominated the association for the Unesco Peace Prize but their fight does not end there.
“Peace in the Holy Land is just a start”, cheikh Manasra says.
Members of the group are now visiting several countries in Europe, North-America and the Middle-East to promote multi-faith dialogue and spiritual peace-making in order to “keep hope alive” in a world that definitely needs it badly.
Donations can be made through the Abrahamic Reunion’s website: https://www.abrahamicreunion.org/
Abrahamic Reunion Declaration:
The Abrahamic Reunion, a group of spiritual leaders–Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druze– have been working together for 10 years promoting inter-religious harmony in the Holy Land.
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.
At this difficult time, we want to reaffirm to the public our heartfelt conviction, that (within) our religions are the pathways of love and peace.
We condemn the violence, hatred, racism, and suffering being inflicted upon our communities in the name of religion. We believe and we teach that the holy places of all the religions in the Holy Land must be respected, and not defaced in any way, for any reason.
We are the Children of Adam and Eve, the Children of Abraham. To our regret, recently we have forgotten that we are from the same family. Arabs and Jews… let us remember that we are one family.