Sixteen senior religious leaders from New York are traveling to Israel next week to promote peace and mutual understanding. The groundbreaking program hopes to provide a model of positive interfaith relations based on tolerance.
Six rabbis, eight clerics and two imams will embark on the six-day tour of villages and holy sites in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue initiated the trip after a member of his congregation challenged him to create a program that would practically implement the values he preached in his sermons.
"There is an urgent need to counter the impression that our three great faiths are at war with each other," said Hirsch in a statement. "We believe in a better way: the way of dialogue and mutual respect. We hope that our visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories will emphasize our common aspiration for, and commitment to, a more peaceful world. We are eager to meet and encourage Israelis and Palestinians who are working daily to realize this aspiration."
Hirsch confessed to Haaretz that to the best of his knowledge, “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.”
Hirsch continued, “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.”
Israeli President Shimon Peres has already accepted the delegation’s request for a meeting, but the Prime Minister’s Office and other key ministers have not yet responded. The group has also requested to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayad.