Writing a blog post for Jewcology is usually a fairly fluid process for me. Throughout the month I generally collect different articles and compile thoughts in a document that I then go back to when I am trying to figure out what theme I want to address in my blog. This month was different. It did not occur to me until last week that the blog I was going to post had a deadline of September 11th. Sitting in the passenger seat of my car, with the Hudson River to my right and my wife listening to NPR which is playing personal stories of families who lost loved ones on 9-11, I feel compelled to convey a story of hope that is also related to the environmental issues we are facing throughout the world.
Yesterday, I received an email from a friend of mine who runs a non-profit news site called DailySource. I had not communicated with him for over three years, but he wrote to share a new story that he thought I would find interesting. It is the story (posted below with a link) of interfaith work taking place in Israel focused on bringing faiths together to address the many environmental issues facing the region. The organization is called The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development (they have a profile and blog on Jewcology, and their website is http://www.interfaithsustain.com/?page_id=202). Their stated goal is to “promote the cooperation and training of religious leaders, teachers, and seminary students for environmental sustainability.”
The organization also has a program called the The Emerging Religious Leaders Sustainability Project which “brings together Muslim, Christian, and Jewish seminary students from Israel and the West Bank for a series of ten interactive seminars on human coexistence and environmental sustainability. The seminars… focus on how we live on the land (environmental sustainability) and how we live together (human sustainability). The seminars incorporate sources of profound wisdom and teaching concerning harmony and balance with nature that have arisen in several religions across space and time.”
I did not lose any friends or family as a result of the attacks that took place on 9-11 and so there is no way I can understand the pain and grief that those who did lose loved ones have faced every day since. I do think that environmental work can provide an avenue for healing some of the riffs that have been created between different faith communities as a result of both the attacks and events that followed. The story of interfaith work in Israel encourages me because some of the religious tension we have experienced in the United States over the past ten years has been an ongoing issue throughout the Middle East for centuries.
During a recent forum held by the Center, founder and executive director Rabbi Yonatan Naril stated that “he sees the multi-faith paradigm in Israel as an advantage rather than as grounds for more conflict. “People of many faiths draw inspiration from their respective traditions to live sustainably, and these efforts cross-pollinate each other and encourage coexistence on our shared planet and in this land.” Deputy Minister of the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Religious Affairs Haj Salah Zuheika, spoke about the roots of environmental awareness in the Koran, pointing out today’s special challenges in the region, declaring “the earth is like our home, and those who live in the same home should know how to live together.” Auxiliary Bishop to the Latin Patriarch Msgr. William Shomali, who presides over Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories, stated that “the main religions should study ecological issues together because we have a common destiny. We need to put all of our energies together to solve the environmental crisis, which is ethical, moral and spiritual.”
The 10th anniversary of 9-11 should be a day for grieving and reflection. However, I hope it will also be a day for looking forward into the future in an effort to search for ways to bring communities together, much like occurred in New York in the days and weeks following the attacks. I hope the message of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development will be heard, not only in Israel, but throughout the world.
Note: Although there is no schedule posted, The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development in collaboration with the Elijah Interfaith Institute, plans to undertake a North American tour in 2011-2012.