Journey to the South – Eliyahu McLean

By Eliyahu McLean
Israel Director

On February 4th, 70 people joined the Abrahamic Reunion South journey to meet religious, peace and ecology leaders in communities in the Negev and Gaza border region. Joining us were Jews, Christians and Muslims, rabbis and sheikhs, men and women, including Palestinians from East Jerusalem, Nablus, Jericho, Bethlehem and Hebron, Israelis from Jerusalem, and the Negev, and students from an international conflict resolution course at Tel Aviv University. The event was in honor of World Interfaith Harmony Week, and in observance of ‘TuBishvat’, the Jewish ‘New Year of the Trees’ holiday.

Rabbi Yakov Nagen and Sheikh Muhammad Usta, overlooking the Gaza border

The day began with a welcome by Sheikh Tared Atouna, the Imam of the Bedouin city of Hura, to his town, meeting us in the community center. Sheikh Atouna shared with us many interesting facts about Hura. The town, on 1967 border near Hebron, is one of the “planned” Bedouin cities in southern Israel with a population of 30,000, and part of the Negev’s Bedouin population of 300,000. The Sheikh exclaimed, “Everyone has it wrong, Hura is NOT IN THE SOUTH of the country, but in fact is the true geographic CENTER!” From Hura it’s exactly 250 kilometers south to city of Eilat and 250 kilometers north to Rosh Haniqra. Also, according to Muslim tradition, the ancient “Joseph’s Well” on the edge of their cemetery is the same pit that Joseph was thrown into by his brothers. The Muslims then prayed their mid day prayers. We ended our time in Hura with a visit to the impressive central mosque, and time at the viewpoint overlooking Beer Sheva and the whole region.

Inside the central mosque of Hura

We then traveled to Netivot, where AR director Eliyahu McLean pointed out his home, and massive building that is transforming the thriving periphery town of Netivot. We then gathered for a shared meal outside the Tomb of the Baba Sali, the Moroccan Jewish ‘tzadik’, saint, one of the most visited Jewish holy places in Israel. Inside the tomb of the Baba Sali, Eliyahu shared stories of the life and family lineage of the famed Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatseira, who was revered by both Muslims and Jews during his lifetime in Morocco, and whose grandfather’s, the ‘Abir Yaakov’, gravesite in Egypt is still revered today by Muslim Egyptians. The Jews among us joined the mid day ‘mincha’ prayer. An older Moroccan Jewish woman spoke to the Muslim women with us from Nablus and East Jerusalem in Arabic, saying, “In Morocco we Jews and Muslims used to live by side as friends and good neighbors, let’s return to that!”

Sharing lunch outside the Tomb of the Baba Sali

Then at the border lookout of the Israel-Gaza border in the village of Nativ Ha’asra, we were welcomed by Roni Kedar. Roni is active in the Israeli NGO “Another Voice,” organizing dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza. At the lookout we could see a few hundred meters away the northern Gaza border wall, and into northern Gaza towns, including a Hamas military training center. Roni shared the hardship of living with fear of mortars falling, and of tunnels being dug underneath them. Joining our delegation were the wife and daughter of the late Sheikh Bukhari, Hala Bukhari grew up in Gaza, and her other daughter lives there now, as we looked further at the skyline where she lives in Gaza City. We learned of the siege and struggle for daily survival of the citizens of Gaza.

Looking out on the Gaza border

Our West Bank coordinators, Muhammad Jammous from Jericho and Evangelical Christian Daniel Aqleh from Bethlehem initiated a circle to pray for peace, and justice between our peoples. Sheikhs Muhammad Usta and Jamal al Din from East Jerusalem, and Rabbi Yaakov Nagen from Otniel led us in Islamic and Jewish prayers for peace. With the news headlines blaring that day was “95% chance of war between Israel and Hamas”, we exclaimed our intention that the opposite, peace, should break out.

Forming a prayer circle at the Gaza border

Finally we arrived at the Gaza border town of Kfar Maimon, for a tour of the unique ‘Ora’s Orchard’. Host Reuven Rosenblatt spoke about their farm where they grow over 80 fruit species, including some that flower only at night, and others just once a year. Reuven shared also his remarkable story of escape with his family from a Nazi death camp in Poland. He showed us one of the gold coins his mother used to bribe prison guards with to postpone being sent to the gas chambers, and shared how a wealthy dentist bribed guards to allow him to hire Reuven’s father as his assistant, from where they planned the family’s escape to freedom. In Israel Reuven met his wife Ora, who lost all her family on a journey by foot to Israel from Yemen.

Reuven shares stories with the group in Ora’s Garden

Eliyahu led a ‘Tu Bishvat”, Jewish New Year of the Trees ceremony, with rounds of blessings of different kinds fruits, with a transition from white to red grape juice. We streamed our event live to an interfaith gathering in the USA. The evening ended with a feast and prayer for peace between Gaza and Israel. Our host, Reuven, said, “Like in our garden where many diverse plant species live in harmony creating a Garden of Eden, so too can our diverse religious communities live in the Holy Land in harmony. Like all of us here together today, we create our own Paradise”.

Muslims, Christians, and Jews celebrate TuBishvat together, sharing different fruits and grape juice

Rodef Shalom Eliyahu McLean is the Israel Director and a co-founder of the Abrahamic Reunion. He was ordained as a “Rodef Shalom” (Pursuer of Peace) by Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. He runs twice weekly “dual-narrative” tours to Hebron from the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem.



February’s Praying Together in Jerusalem

On Thursday, February 22nd, about 40 people came together for the monthly Praying Together in Jerusalem event. Earlier in the day, Palestinian Coordinator Mohamad Jamous organized a trip in the Old City of Jerusalem with about 20 Palestinians. They joined Praying Together in Jerusalem at the end of their day. The gathering was translated into Arabic so that everyone could participate fully.

This month, the group was also joined by the director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute, Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein. The Elijah Interfaith Institute is one of the co-founding organizations of Praying Together in Jerusalem.

Before the evening prayers, Peta Jones Pellach taught everyone about the “Week of Constructive Conflict,” which celebrates the 9th of Adar on the Jewish calendar. This day remembers when a disagreement 2000 years ago became destructive, and reminds Jews of what can happen when they do not focus on constructive conflict. The goal of the Week of Constructive Conflict is to promote constructive, rather than destructive, conversations about differences. You can learn more about the project here.

Then Jews, Christians, and Muslims got into groups for evening prayers. The Jews prayed towards the heart of Jerusalem, the Christians formed a prayer circle, and the Muslims faced Mecca. Everyone prayed according to their traditions, the different voices and languages blending together in harmony.

After prayers, everyone joined together as one group again. The gathering was on the day of Moses’ passing, according to Jewish tradition. Rabbi Alon led everyone in song using the Hebrew words “Moshe Rabeinu,” or “Moses, our teacher.”


Dealing with Death: West Palm Beach Dinner and Panel

On Monday, February 26th, 55 people came together for dinner and discussion on the topic “How do our scriptures, rituals, and faith deal with death?” The event was hosted by Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in West Palm Beach and organized by Beatty Page Cramer, the church’s Interfaith Coordinator, the Abrahamic Reunion, and Lake Worth Interfaith Network.

The evening began with a blessing of the meal by Rev. David Wilt of Holy Trinity, a dinner of soup and salad provided by the church. After supper, as people were eating dessert, Rev. Chris Miller introduced the Abrahamic Reunion and showed a video about the organization’s work and the upcoming events of Healing the Heart of the Holy Land, April 16 – 23rd, the Abrahamic Reunion’s biggest undertaking to date.

Rev. David Wilt of Holy Trinity then introduced himself as moderator of that evening’s panel, although he joked that everyone was friendly and he didn’t anticipate having to do much moderating. The panelists were Maya Malay of the Lake Worth Buddhist Congregation, David Less of the Abrahamic Reunion, Rabbi Cookie Olshein of Temple Israel of West Palm Beach, and Imam Mohamed Ismail of the Muslim Community of Palm Beach County.

First to speak was Maya Malay. She spoke about the ways that Buddhists think about and prepare for death. An important aspect of this is meditation. Through meditation, one can come to know one’s self as consciousness, not a body. She explains, “We recognize ourselves as being something beyond the body, and in that recognition, in that identification, we can travel without hesitation.” Through meditation, one learns that it’s “alright to let go of the body,” making it easier to accept death when the time comes.

Next, David Less spoke from a Sufi perspective. He said that, “Death is a different version of life.” He spoke about how we leave the body behind but we take our mind when we die. The mind that we have in life is the mind we take with us when we die. But he explained that “we don’t have the ability to change as much there, unless we practice here.”


Third, Rabbi Cookie Olshein offered a Jewish perspective. She gave both the majority and minority opinions on death in Judaism. The majority opinion is that “since we are created in God’s image, we are to act godly.” Upon death, “the soul returns to God. God breathes the soul into our bodies [at birth] and the soul returns back [at death].” The minority opinion says that “if we didn’t complete our tasks while here on earth, God will send us back, and we get a second chance, until we get it right.”

Fourth, Imam Mohamed Ismail shared his point of view as a Muslim. He began by pointing out the common ground everyone shares. “At the end, there is this great equalizer: it’s death.” Every person, good or bad, will die. Everyone agrees that it will happen. “What happens after, whether you feel you come back, that you can debate, have your ideology, your belief. But there’s no denying that you will die.”

He went on to explain that according to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the Hadith, or oral tradition, “All your deeds come to an end except three.” The first is the deeds that you have passed forward. The second is “any type of charity that is perpetuated.” This means that for as long as people are benefiting from charity you did in life, you will be rewarded. The third is the knowledge you have given someone that they are still benefitting from. If you teach someone how to do something good, you will be rewarded for as long as he continues to do what you taught him.

When he finished, Rabbi Cookie Olshein added that the Imam’s words reminded her of something similar in Judaism. She often tells people that there are three ways for Jews to honor a loved one’s memory. First, a person can do acts of loving kindness in that person’s honor. Second, they give charity in their honor. Third, they can learn and teach in that person’s memory. In those three ways, the loved one’s memory is kept alive. In Islam, those same deeds are the way that someone continues to do good after death.

Lastly, Rev. David Wilt, the moderator, had the opportunity to speak about a Christian perspective on death. He shared that during his time at Holy Trinity, he has done over 314 funerals. He said people mostly ask the same question: “How is my loved one doing?” He pointed out that “we all, whatever religion it is, whatever faith it is, have that hope, in our case, that hope of the resurrection.”

After all of the panelists finished speaking, people had the opportunity to ask questions. Questions ranged from views on heaven and hell to opinions on the purpose of life. When the event was over, people were slow to leave and spent time talking and getting to know each other further, not wanting such a beautiful evening to end so soon.

The event was held in conjunction with the Muslim Association of West Palm Beach, Temple Israel of West Palm Beach, Lake Worth Interfaith Network, the Lake Worth Buddhist Congregation and of course, the wonderful host, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

Journey to the South – Daniel Aqleh

By Daniel Aqleh
Palestinian Coordinator in Bethlehem

It is always wonderful to know more about the land of Palestine, and it is important to integrate with the multi-religious and Palestinian-Israeli gatherings that open the doors for the building of bridges between the people who are living in the land.

Hura City

With the Abrahamic Reunion, we have hosted a journey to the southern Palestine/Israel, where we first visited the city of Hura.  We were welcomed there by the Imam and learned about the city that was important to all. One of the things we learned was that in 1948 the population of the city was 120,000 people, but because of Al-Nakbah only 12,000 people remained in the city while the others left and became refugees.  According to the Imam, those 12,000 have become 300,000, due to the birth rate.

I thought we were in the south when we visited Hura, but I was astonished that we were in the middle of the country, 250km north is Ras Al Naqoura, Lebanon, and 250km south is the city of Eilat.

The Abrahamic Reunion team hosted by Hura’s Imam

After a wonderful visit, we went to Netivot where we visited the Tomb of the Baba Sali, and had lunch where we met some students who are studying Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution at Tel Aviv University.  It was a great time to meet internationals as well as locals from different cities in the country.

After a good time in Netivot, we visited the Gaza-Israel border wall at Netiv Ha’asara, where we were welcomed by a lady by the name of Roni. She explained how close we were to Gaza. In fact, we could see the wall that separates them from Gaza, it was 500 meters away from us, and also 500 meters from the other side starts the camps on the edge of Gaza City. We were 2.5km away from Gaza City, and because of the siege that the people in Gaza have faced for a long time, we held a prayer for protection and for God to come with his mercy and justice to the land.

Daniel Aqleh and Roni Keidar, a peace activist, at the Gaza border

The last stop was in Kfar Maimon where we had a tour of “Ora’s Orchard” an eco-farm. I was so surprised by the wonder of nature. We walked in a forest and I felt the peacefulness of nature and heard the sounds of birds. It was really wonderful to be away from all people and conflict at that moment and hear from the owner there about their story and ending the journey with a prayer for peace.

At the Eco-farm in Kfar Maimon

Thanks for everyone who has helped in any way, shape, or form to make this a successful journey and the ability to work together as Palestinians and Israelis with the multi-faith dialog and prayer for peace and justice in Palestine and Israel.

TuBishvat ceremony and prayer for peace at Ora’s Garden

Rev. Daniel Aqleh is the Abrahamic Reunion’s Palestinian Coordinator in Bethlehem. He leads worship and preaches at the Salt and Light Agape Ministries (SALAM), an independent church providing humanitarian support to the community. SALAM runs the House of Peace guest house in Bethlehem.

January’s Praying Together in Jerusalem

About 40 people came together for January’s Praying Together in Jerusalem event on Thursday, January 25th. The group met at Jaffa Gate, then moved indoors to pray. People had the opportunity to get to know each other as a whole group, before praying according to their traditions. The event ended with a united prayer for peace.

Gathering at Jaffa Gate

People getting to know each other

The Christian prayer circle

The Jewish prayer group

The group comes together to pray for peace in Jerusalem and the world