Rabbis, Clerics and Imams Head to Israel in U.S. Interfaith Delegation

Shlomo Shamir
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Shlomo Shamir

A religious American delegation of rabbis, clerics and imams are due to arrive in Israel next week for a six-day trip that promotes dialogue and mutual understanding.

Six rabbis, eight clerics and two imams will participate in the delegation. Together, the clergy lead and represent tens of thousands of New Yorkers, and are considered to be admired and influential community members.

Prominent Imams and Rabbis join together to speak out against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, Nov. 17, 2011.Credit: Charles Wiesehahn

The delegation will spend six days in Israel, on a program that includes tours in villages and sites in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The delegation is the fruit of an initiative by Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, one of the largest and most senior synagogues in Manhattan and an establishment with a renowned history in the United States reform movement.

In a conversation with Haaretz, Rabbi Hirsch emphasized that this mission is unprecedented. While, obviously, rabbis, ministers and imams have traveled to Israel, and there have even been interfaith groups that have traveled together to Israel, to the best of our collective recollection, there has never been a group of such senior religious leaders who have come together for an intensive days-long mission to Israel and the Palestinian territories, he said.

We seek to model how religious leaders and religious cultures should interact with each other. We believe in a dialogue of religious civilizations rather than a clash of such civilizations. It is the clash that receives so much attention today, said Rabbi Hirsch.

The rabbi said, We believe that most adherents of our three great faiths agree with us; and that, therefore, we are giving voice to their deepest beliefs, values and aspirations.

Rabbi Hirsch said the program started after he gave a sermon one Sabbath day in synagogue, which he dedicated to religious tolerance and mutual cooperation. His words must have made an impression, for a group of community members challenged him to create an effective program that would express these values, and together they funded the entire program.

religious tolerance and mutual cooperation often. Three wonderful philanthropic families in our congregation, who are supporters of Israel and donate to many causes there, agreed so strongly that our world needs to see examples of interfaith cooperation,

The Israeli consulate in New York was recruited to assist in the organization of tours and meeting for the delegation in Israel. While President Shimon Peres has already accepted the delegations request to meet with him, Hirsch has not yet received a reply from the Prime Ministers Office and Israeli ministers with whom the delegation would like to meet. The delegation also requested to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad.