Religious Dialogue – an Israeli perspective

From l: Sandra Baillie, Deborah Weissman and Shoshana Appleton
From l: Sandra Baillie, Deborah Weissman and Shoshana Appleton

Sandra Baillie, secretary of the Belfast branch of the Council of Christians and Jews, reports on the visit to Northern Ireland of the International CCJ President, Debbie Weissman from Israel.

We were delighted to have Dr Deborah Weissman from Israel as our speaker at the Eighteenth AGM of CCJ, Belfast branch, at the synagogue on 18th February. Ronnie and Shoshana Appleton welcomed Debbie into their home and Shoshana and I enjoyed showing Debbie some of the tourist sites of Belfast. Debbie was very touched by the special kosher lunch at Stormont hosted by Robin Newton MLA. Debbie was very grateful that the staff went to a lot of effort to accommodate her. She said this was very rare outside Israel and was pleasantly surprised that we all had the same meal!

We then held our AGM that evening.Fifty three people attended and everyone enjoyed the dinner and the speaker’s address. Her title was Inter Religious Dialogue: an Israeli Perspective.

Debbie outlined the complexity of Israeli and Northern Ireland politics and the necessity to follow the example of the French philosopher Emanuel Levinas – ‘To search for God in the face of the other.’

The Oslo peace process of 1993 was interesting in terms of the swiftness of the signing of the agreement. Dr Weissmann suggested that maybe people needed time to work through their fears and insecurities? There are two separate concepts that need to be worked on, namely peacemaking and peace building. Peace making is what the diplomats and political leaders do but peace-building is supposed to happen at the grass roots level. The question was posed regarding the role of religion as part of the problem or part of the solution.

Religion especially in the media, in particular in the Middle East, conjures up images of extremism, of xenophobia and of violence maybe this is because this sells newspapers. Nevertheless religion can contribute to human wisdom as religions have asked basic questions for hundreds of years such as:- What does it mean to live a good life as a human being and what does it mean to live in community?

Religions provide a sense of identity and rootedness, and show models of behaviour. The town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon is an example of responsibility as 5,000 Christians saved 5,000 Jews there during the Holocaust because they had been persecuted as Huguenots by Catholics, just as Catholics were persecuted in the United States. There is the universal obligation to -‘Understand the soul of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’

For more information regarding CCJ please contact Dr Sandra Baillie at