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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    My Interfaith Journey to Israel

    Over the break, I made my second interfaith trip to Israel, this time with an interfaith group called Heroes are Made Through Service and Action (HAMSA), founded by Kelly Vest of the Suffolk Y and Nazli Chaudhry of the Islamic Center of Long Island. A group of 10 college students, Muslims and Jews, visited Jerusalem to engage in workshops with five Muslims and five Jews from Israel. The objective was to better understand the conflict and its effect on the Muslims and Jews of Israel, but also to enable the two peoples to befriend one another.

    The subject of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is commonly regarded a danger zone. However, adhering to such rules would allow the continuation of misunderstanding and mistrust between two peoples, since policy-making can’t legislate communication and friendship. To many skeptics, such interfaith efforts sound overly idealistic. Most mean it as an insult, but I take it as a compliment. Such “idealism” which may not have a direct impact on international relations, had a profound impact on the lives of those who shared in this experience, and has the power to change the attitude of a society.

    In an interfaith workshop in Jerusalem, as a larger group, we discussed the discrimination we face in our respective societies. A Jewish man in his late 20s told us about how his relative was abducted by HAMAS and how since then, he is haunted by the sound of Muslim prayers. However, the Muslim friends he had made throughout the trip cried for him and his suffering as he shared his devastating loss.

    Meanwhile, another Muslim girl shared with us how she is often treated as a second-class citizen, and viewed as an outsider in her country because she covers her head and people automatically assume she is a terrorist. These stories are real, yet they capture just a fraction of what these people have to live with on a daily basis. However, the friendship they built, and the mutual understanding they developed of each others’ suffering is vital to the alleviation of their own pain.

    It is important to understand that acknowledging the suffering of our supposed “enemy” doesn’t lessen our own. More importantly, simply talking to one another brings down so many walls of myths and stereotypes. One Jewish man on the trip was embarrassed to say that he had though that most Muslims were extremists prior to the dialogue, but also took delight in being proved wrong.

    It is often said that the number of people willing to engage in such dialogue is too small to make a difference, or that getting a bunch of liberal people together, to revel in seemingly liberal ideas is ineffective. I don’t know the numbers, and I can’t confirm the political leanings of those of us involved in dialogue, but the cause is human life, one that all people of all ends of the political spectrum should have value for.

    If we continue to count losses and dig into history, we will never be able to coexist with the other. Even worse, if we continue to neglect learning about and knowing one another, we will keep killing each other until no one is left.

    Amos Oz, the Israeli novelist, articulates perfectly, the mantra of our group, when he said, “If a huge fire is burning, you can run for your life and let those who cannot run burn. You can wag your finger at the blaze and demand inquiry and resignations. Or you can fill a bucket, a glass, at least a teaspoon of water, and pour it on the flames. The fire is huge, the teaspoon is very small, but every man and woman has a teaspoon. I would like to establish ‘the Order of the Teaspoon.’ Each of us, who share this hope, will wear a tiny teaspoon on their lapel, so that we know. Let us not only remember the best and hope for the best, but do our best.”

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