Blog #9: Continuing to Reach Out With Hope

Tomorrow is the last day here in the Holy Land for Ghassan and me. Anna left yesterday as she had some presentations to make back in The States. We are trying to lay the foundations for the next iteration of the Abrahamic Reunion here in Israel and Palestine and around the world.

Here, the cooperation and communication among all groups of people is incredibly necessary as it is really lacking. Every community, religious and cultural, is separated from the other. Many don’t realize this was not always the case. In the Middle East Christians, Muslims, Jews and Druze used to live in the same villages and cities quite harmoniously. The hospitality that is still so much a part of the Middle Eastern culture had people joyously celebrating the holidays and feasts of the other. So many of the older people that are native here remember a time when this was so.

Was everything idyllic without problems? Of course not but the level of enmity we see today was not present. When the other was your neighbor, your friend, your helper in time of need it was difficult to project on them the negativity so common today. Instead of asking what happened our question must be what can be done going forward?

As always, blame is not the answer. Pointing fingers at the other and proving it is all their fault just creates more excuses for violence and separation. Many groups here used to be “peace” groups but some have given up, some became too bogged down in bureaucracy, and some are just political. By trying to use religion as a way we are making some progress. We are not limited to any one religion or one way of practicing any faith. We are searching for the heart connection, the miracle of collective faith as a means of opening doors and minds.

We in the AR are looking for those people who carry the light of hope rather than blame, who can facilitate real heartfelt encounters and remind people of our commonality rather than our differences. These people do exist and are moved to tears by meeting others who are sharing the same way. Sisters and brothers who, whatever be their outer faith, are willing to not just teach the acceptance of the other but to reach out in hope.

We had a lovely meeting with Abuna (Father) Nael of Nazareth, an ardent believer and supporter of the work we do. He is an Anglican priest who was born here and whose family lives here. He shared his ideas about bringing in the young people before they hear the negativity and pain. He already runs camps and meetings, cultural events and meals, to raise the consciousness of the young and remind the millennials of what is hoped for from their generation. His perfect idiomatic English is representative of his wisdom in the needs of the diverse cultures here. We are lucky he is with us.

And finally we met with Khalil Albaz and Sana Albaz, founding members of the Abrahamic Reunion and he is the Imam for the Bedouin community of Tel Sheva and widely respected in the large Israeli Bedouin community. Sana, with her classic Arab Bedouin profile, is an educator of young children and an ardent believer in religious harmony and peace in Israel that is so necessary. She is a powerful speaker and we all respect and appreciate her clear, critical thinking. There are well over 225,000 Bedouins in the Negev alone and they are well represented by Khalil in both religious and community matters. For me, the passion of these two for the work we are doing is a source of inspiration for us all. They are fierce in their dedication to peace. Khalil and Sana will be with Anna and Ghassan in Germany in November and I hope you get to meet them.

I have been here three weeks and it feels like a much longer stay. I know we must press on as we are beginning to see the fruits of fifteen years of planting seeds. We need help, both financial and volunteer work. We pay our coordinators in Israel and Palestine a ridiculously low salary and all other money goes directly to our work here. We are trying to grow globally and create groups of religious harmony in many countries. For those who have helped, deep gratitude. If you haven’t please give what you can. We are not an esoteric group and just speaking about us to your friends and family is another way to help.

Prayer and profound hope in the face of a very difficult situation are also wonderful ways to help.

Finally a word of thanks to all of our steadfast group of believers here and around the world. Love to our two stalwarts, Eliyahu  McLean and Abed al Salaam Manasra.

With love and blessings from the Holy Land,

David Less