Representatives of 10 dialogue groups from the United States, Canada, and Israel participated in a conference to promote religious and cultural understanding April 19-21 at Monmouth University.
Photo courtesy Monmouth University
May 12, 2009
Promoting understanding among Jews, Muslims, and Christians was the goal of three intense days of dialogue at Monmouth University last month.
Representative of 10 dialogue groups from the United States, Canada, and Israel met at the West Long Branch campus April 19-21, networking and sharing best practices drawn from their own work in Arab-Jewish, Jewish-Palestinian, and Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue.
“Good dialogue is an exchange of ideas and experiences and means learning to understand one’s opinions in order to truly listen to one another. All are enriched by a commitment to peaceful coexistence,” said Saliba Sarsar, conference coordinator and professor of political science and associate vice president for academic program initiatives at the university.
The event was hosted by the Monmouth Dialogue Project of West Long Branch, a group of Arab- and Jewish-Americans and funded by Monmouth University and the Peace Development Fund of Amherst, Mass.
The conference was not open to the public, but participants described the mood as hopeful.
“We learned that there are more youth and adults than we imagined who are refusing to be enemies and insisting on engaging, while their very new quality of ongoing communication is leading to unprecedented compassion and creativity among Palestinians and Jews here and overseas,” said Libby Traubman, cofounder of the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group of San Mateo, Calif.
“This gathering reminded me that Jews and Palestinians have partners everywhere, if only we’d step outside our front doors toward one another with this new quality of listening,” added group cofounder Len Traubman. “Those days together were truly the life of the Sh’ma, learning together to hear and want the best for ourselves and others equally.”
‘Peace begins at home’
During the conference, participants viewed a segment of Refusing To Be Enemies: The Zeitouna Story, a film about the Zeitouna Arab-Jewish Women’s Dialogue in Ann Arbor, Mich. The documentary’s director and producer, Laurie White, a member of the dialogue, said the film showed how 12 Arab and Jewish women banded together to create a sisterhood. Their experience, she said, illustrates how personal transformation may pave the way to sociopolitical transformation and peace.
“As a few lines from Refusing To Be Enemies go, ‘When we share ourselves with one another, we create a source of light quite like the sun,’” she said. “‘All of history has shown that, in truth, we’re not alone. We just need to remember we’re all one.’”
Sarsar spoke of the “paradox” of such dialogue.
“There is conflict in real life, while we try to remain hopeful within our respective groups,” he acknowledged. “But dialogue and deep reflection lead to respect of differences and give dignity to those differences. It is an inclusive, rather than an exclusive process.”
The dialogue offered hope in the face of discouraging trends, said attendee Stevi Lischin of Atlantic Highlands, a member of the Monmouth Dialogue Project.
“It’s difficult to advocate for hope and peace when the facts on the ground can lead us to despair,” she told NJ Jewish News. “But dialoguing is not a hobby; it’s a way of life. It’s not casual conversation or debate, but rather the quality of deep listening with the intent to learn. It takes discipline to leave room for reflection and introspection and to wake up each day with an open mind. But peace begins at home and inside ourselves.”
In addition to the Monmouth Dialogue Project, Zeitouna Arab-Jewish Women’s Dialogue, and the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group, the conference groups included the Jewish-Muslim Dialogue Group in Los Angeles, Central Maryland Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue, Palestinian-Jewish Dialogue in Houston, the Dialogue Project in Brooklyn, the Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue of Toronto, Reuniting the Children of Abraham in Michigan, and the Interfaith Encounter Association in Jerusalem.