Interfaith dialogue in Israel helps to find common ground


A delegation of South Florida rabbis, Catholic priests and laity recently came together in Israel as part of an international gathering in what may have been the largest and most diverse interfaith meeting in 50 years. The event included 120 rabbis, seven cardinals, 25 bishops, 50 priests, and 75 lay church leaders.

The convocation, held at the Domus Galilaeae on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, stated as its goal “constructive dialogue.” Areas of discussion included the mission of the Catholic Church and of Judaism in today’s world, the challenges of anti-Semitism and anti-Christianity, the threat of radical religious fundamentalism, and the role of family in transmission of values. Participants observed both the 70th anniversary of the end of the Shoah (Holocaust) and the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council document Nostra Aetate — the declaration of Pope Paul VI in 1965 that repudiated any indiscriminate charge of culpability of the Jewish people in the death of Jesus, one of the bases of the historical Christians’ persecution of the Jews, ratifying the eternity of the Covenant between God and the Jewish People and condemning all forms of anti-Semitism as a sin against God.

The conference was organized by the Neo-Catechumenal Way, a growing movement within the Catholic Church aimed at the deepening of faith that is reemphasizing the importance of traditional family life, centrality of biblical ethics and morality and the importance of creating faith-based communities that support one another.

One of the highlights of the convocation was the symphonic homage to the victims of the Shoah, titled The Suffering of the Innocents, composed by Kiko Arguello, initiator of the Neo-Catechumenal Way, and performed by The Neo-Catechumenal Way Symphony. The highlight of the symphony is an interactive movement in which the audience is called upon to no longer be silent in the face of hatred and suffering, and in unison to join the choir to chant the Shema, the fundamental statement of faith for Jews. For many Jewish participants this moment was transformative. To sing together was a powerful signal that Catholic-Jewish relations have made tremendous progress over the past 50 years.

In a similar moment of unity, on the evening of the minor Jewish festival of Lag Ba’Omer, in which Jews celebrate with singing and dancing around a bonfire, the participants lit our own bonfire and sang about a Jerusalem of peace. In a world that is marked by violence fueled by religious extremism, these are stories of faith and healing.

Rabbi Alan Litwak, from Temple Sinai of North Dade and the president of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami, said, “Over our four days together, with love for the other and respecting each other’s identities, barriers and prejudices fell and new understandings were formed. So often, our society focuses on differences as walls that divide us. It was refreshing to examine our differences as potential places to learn from each other. At the same time, we celebrated our similarities and looked for places of common ground. The summit provided a model for us as to how to move forward in authentic relationship with religious leaders of good faith throughout the world.”

Vigorous and respectful dialogue does not always ensure agreement. Our communities differ strongly in our beliefs about the recent decision by the Vatican to recognize Palestinian statehood, even as the Vatican has made clear that the time has come to forge a peace that rests on the acknowledgment by all of the right of two states to exist and to live in peace and security within internationally recognized borders. However, as religious leaders, we are determined to work together to ensure Israelis and Palestinians are able to live in peaceful coexistence with each other and their neighbors. As we demonstrated in Israel, the best way to achieve this peace is for all sides to come together and talk face to face. We look forward to working together to strengthen ourselves, our faiths, and our community.

Rabbi Frederick L. Klein is executive director of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami. Rabbi Alan Litwak is president of the Rabbinical Association. This is a joint statement from South Florida rabbis, priests and laypeople who attended the interfaith convocation.