The United Religions Initiative’s Middle East & North Africa division (URI MENA) held its 15th annual assembly from November 23-26, 2017. Rabbi Dr. Yakov Nagen, Siham Halaby, and Ibtisam Mahameed represented the Abrahamic Reunion at the assembly, held in Amman, Jordan. Representatives came from Israel, Egypt, Tunisia, the PA, Morocco, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Iraq. Rabbi Yakov Nagen, Co-Chairman of the Board for the AR NGO in Israel, wrote the following report:
“I was privileged to represent the Abrahamic Reunion at the annual event, with this years theme: “People against Violence” . When arriving I was hugged as a brother by leaders of the URI who had never met me but felt a deep connection because of our common vision. Indeed just as I always feel at AR events that we are a family, so too I felt this with the leaders of the various Cooperation Circles of the Middle East and North Africa region of the URI. In the session I presented: “The Other as Brother: Stories of Hope and Reconciliation in Hebron and Jerusalem”, I shared with the participants the techniques of the AR and told about our activities, in particular stories from the annual Iftar and the visits to educational institutions both Arab and Jewish. For me one of the most significant teachings I learnt was in the session of the NGO “Hope for the children of Palestine” in which they shared their slogan “connection before correction”, an idea that always took me so many words to say, I now can do in three words!
One very moving moment was when a young woman from Iraq asked to say in prayer in her native language. To my great surprise, her language is a form of Aramaic, the ancient language that Jews spoke 2000 years ago and in which the Talmud was written.
Another memorable session: The Jewish members of the conference did a Kabbalat Shabbat ceremony to which many of the other participants, Muslim and Christian – from Egypt, Tunisia, the PA, Morocco, Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq joined in. Elana Rozenman lit Shabbat candles and invited all to light, I sang the traditional songs, and the Kiddush was with grape juice instead of wine in order not to offend Muslim sensitivities that forbid alcohol. After the blessings on the Challah, I divided the eight Challot I brought to little pieces to be enough for all.
I am so much to grateful to have met each of the people I encountered at the conference, but most of all I feel gratitude to the organizers, most of them volunteers for taking care of all details. In addition, I appreciate the efforts they made to make Israelis and Jews at home at the conference that was primarily Arab. The ability to go beyond politics fulfilled for me the saying of Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic who once said, “Out there, beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” In a region with conflicts and diametrically opposed narratives about its rights and wrongs, we must find that field, and for me the URI conference created that field.
The connection to URI makes our organization one of 894 cooperation circles, with more than a million members. This scope gives hope that together we can really make the world a better place for all on a global scale.”
The Abrahamic Reunion has been a cooperation circle of the URI for over a decade, and was featured in their NBC Christmas Special last year.