We have just concluded the holiday of Sukkot, the seven days in which we celebrate the wandering in the desert in small booths, a time when we often think about the sukkah as a “sukkat shalom,” a booth of peace, harmony and well-being, for us and for all of God’s children.
In recent years — especially since the Second Intifada of the early 2000s — it has become a custom in many places in Israel to dedicate the holiday of Sukkot to the theme of peace. After all, in our liturgy, we ask God to spread his sukkah of peace over all Israel — and, in some contemporary prayerbooks, “over all inhabitants of the world.”
The idea of peace and social harmony should resonate beyond our individual “booths.” I will be bringing this idea with me when I come to the United States next month for a speaking tour with Kadi Iyad Zahalka, a Palestinian-Arab-Muslim citizen of Israel who is a respected religious judge. Our message will be one that is not usually heard outside of Israel — a message of moderation emphasizing that peaceful living is possible and that reaching a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine is not impossible.
I believe strongly that our conflict can come to an end, as other seemingly hopeless conflicts have ended in what seemed to be other intractable situations in the world, such as Northern Ireland, South Africa and Bosnia. We must keep this vision of peace alive, and not allow ourselves to be resigned to despair and depression because the peace process is taking so long in our region.
I support wholeheartedly U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s drive to end our conflict, and wish him — and us in the region — every success. His success is our success. We need peace for our long-term sustainable future.
But we also need to focus on “the other peace process,” which is different from the political one that has been stalled for many years. The “other peace process” is sometimes referred to as “the people-to-people track” or “the peace-building process” or “track- two diplomacy.”
This is different from peace-making, which one of my friends calls assembling “pieces of paper” — i.e., the crafting of peace treaties (usually by lawyers and diplomats, who then argue for the next several years, or decades, why the other side didn’t live up to the legal agreement that was made). The “other peace process” is the one that brings people from different religions and nationalities together to encounter each other systematically, substantively and sensitively in order to find ways to live in peaceful coexistence together.
Interreligious and intercultural dialogue is an essential ingredient for a lasting peace. My friend, Kadi Iyad Zahalka, who is a moderate Muslim, presents a modern interpretation of Islam, one that is largely unknown and unrecognized outside of Israel.
Together we are involved in a new method of dialogue. This involves four steps: 1) getting to know each other on a personal basis; 2) studying each other’s sacred texts; 3) discussing issues that are of mutual concern; and 4) taking action, separately and together in our communities and our society.
Politics can only produce the framework for peace. Politicians cannot, however, solve everything. There is a definite role for people who function in civic society — religious leaders, educators, psychologists and social workers — to help people learn to live in peace together.
Peaceful coexistence is our goal. Dialogue, education and action are the methods to achieve this.
Rabbi Ron Kronish is the founder and director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (www. icci.org.il). He blogs for the Huffington Post and for the Times of Israel, and lectures widely. He and Kadi Iyad Zahalka will be appearing at Gladwyne Presbyterian Church on Oct. 7, at 7:30 p.m., cosponsored by the church and two Main Line synagogues.