Galilee Diary: Faith and Culture
And the Lord said, “If as one people with one language for all, this is how they have begun to act, then nothing that they may propose to do will be out of their reach. Let us, then, go down and confound their speech there, so that they shall not understand one another’s speech. -Genesis 11:6-7
My colleague and HUC classmate Rabbi Ron Kronish directs the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, and over the years I have participated in a number of ICCI programs, especially in the Galilee. Recently, ICCI cosponsored with the Interior Ministry an interfaith encounter in the Galilean village of Maghar. (A few governments ago, the Ministry of Religion was disbanded, only to be reconstituted in two separate bureaucracies: the Ministry of Religion, which deals only with [Orthodox] Judaism, and the religious communities division of the Interior Ministry, which deals with all other religions.) Maghar is a pretty mountain village, 50% Druze, 25% Christian, 25% Muslim. In 2005 there was violent rioting in the village, when the less educated and less modernized Druze youth took out their frustration on the economically dominant Christians. I remember the despair expressed at the time by the village priest, an impressive, eloquent leader, about the future of Christians in Maghar.
About 40 clergy, representing the four faiths, were invited. We met at a parking lot on the main street, and marched to the school in a procession, led by the local teen drum corps (the bass drums played by boys, most of the snares by girls). Youth drum corps are ubiquitous in Arab villages. I don't know why. I've been told it's a remnant of British rule; however, several years ago, vacationing in Turkey (never colonized by the British), we came across a teen drum corps rehearsal in a remote fishing village. At the school, we were divided into mixed panels and sent to tenth grade classrooms, to present, in Hebrew, each of our religion's views on peace, brotherhood, and religious toleration. My group ended up in the highest academic level class (23 girls, their religious affiliation unreadable from their appearance - long brown hair, white school sweatshirts, and jeans - and 3 boys); I was joined by a young Orthodox hospital chaplain, a Technion engineering graduate studying for the Catholic priesthood, a Druze sheikh, and the colorful, charismatic, long-winded imam of a neighboring Muslim village (black belt in karate). Of course, the instruction to conduct the session in Hebrew was ridiculous and was disregarded (except by the rabbis). The seminarian translated the proceedings sotto voce for the two rabbis. When he made his presentation, of course, there was no one to translate. However, I do recognize the Arabic word for love, which seemed to occur in almost every sentence he spoke, so I got the idea. While I had the feeling that our talks were pretty much all platitudes, the kids were interested and engaged, and there were several thoughtful statements and questions at the end. I realized that in a setting in which religious strife is real, seeing religious leaders modeling toleration and even friendship is not trivial.
These sessions were followed by a festive tree planting in the courtyard, and then an assembly for all the kids – a panel of clergy and students on the future of the community. I tried to sit by the door, but was dragged to the front row, to sit through a 90 minute program in Arabic (except for the 10 minutes that the rabbi on the panel spoke). A lesson in humility and helplessness, and in being a cultural minority (yet in the country where I am of the majority). By end of that session, mid-afternoon, all the Jerusalem rabbis had taken off for their two-and-a-half-hour drive home, leaving just two locals in the hall – Rabbi Yoav Ende of Kibbutz Hannaton and me. When we said good bye and thank you we were informed that we couldn't leave yet, as there was a luncheon, and they had special-ordered kosher food for us. At the restaurant there were long tables – and one separate table with disposable dishes for the food from the kosher caterer. So Yoav and I had a kosher lunch and chatted in Hebrew, feeling a little silly, while the rest of our fellow clergy could relax and converse in Arabic. I had the feeling that each of us was looking a little enviously at the food on the others’ table. And a good time was had by all.