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Interfaith reflections from the Holy Land

The Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem.

This is my third trip to the Holy Land, and my first as part of an interfaith group. Which means that the holiness is appreciated and absorbed differently depending on which of the three Abrahamic faiths is receiving it. There are 32 of us, in almost equal numbers of Christians, Muslims and Jews -- everyone somehow connected to the Newark Interfaith Coalition for Hope and Peqce. The diversity of faith perspectives is a real gift, and we have been very intent on giving that diversity space and voice. The political realities of this part of the world inevitably intrude, which happened immediately on our arrival at the airport in Tel Aviv: two African American Muslim women in our group were pulled out of passport control, and detained for three hours.

I have long known that people are treated differently here, depending on faith and race, but we are seeing it front on. And we are talking about it. And praying through it. And spending time with local leaders who are passionately committed to building bridges across race and faith. Yesterday we spent time listening to a Sufi sheikh (Sufi is a mystical group within Sunni Islam and a sheikh is an Arabic honorific for teacher) whose work is to teach principles of reconciliation to Jewish and Muslim public school teachers. "The greatest truth," he told us, "is reconciliation."

Later in the day we went to Haifa and spent time with a Palestinian Israeli (whose brother lives in Maplewood) whose mission is to empower non-profit organizations that give platform and voice to marginalized groups. His community organizing talents were a wonder to behold.

We are learning -- about difference, about holiness that is deeper than difference; and about how important we are to each other.

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