Yesterday, I attended a pray-in for peace in downtown Jerusalem. The police did not allow us to do this at the plaza near the Jaffa Gate, so we met at the entrance to the new Mamilla Mall, a few hundred meters away, where in good times, one can often see Palestinians and Jews walking along the main boulevard, shopping together, and even having coffee together in one of the many coffee shops there.
Yesterday, there were very few people on the main street of this outdoor mall, which is actually on the land of the former "no-man's land" (which is what this area was called from 1948-1967). It was "no-people's land" once again, as most people decided to stay home, due to the growing tension and violence in Jerusalem in recent weeks, and due to the sharp decrease in tourism.
With the rise of Jewish and Palestinian violence in recent weeks -- which the leaders on both sides have not found a way to reduce -- people are growing more and more afraid, and there is a terrible tendency to wallow in despair. It becomes cyclical. As long as there is no political progress on the peace process, war (as in the Gaza war this summer) and terrorism and counter-terrorism step in to fill the void, and then the leaders both repeat their mantra that "we do not have a partner for peace."
As a way to combat despair and rekindle a spark of hope, a few dozen people gathered to pray for peace -- and to give out flowers as a symbol of hope to passersby -- at the invitation of the Tag Meir Forum , a coalition of 48 organizations from all over Israel which counters darkness with light, racism with empathy, hatred with love . My organization, The Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, has been an active member in this forum for the past three years, and I serve on the Steering Committee.
The Tag Meir Forum -- which includes Jewish, interreligious and Arab-Jewish groups -- has become an important voice for moderation and peaceful coexistence in Israel in recent years, a voice that is not heard loudly or broadly enough in our society lately. The mainstream media -- especially the tabloids -- seem to not be able to stop themselves from encouraging hatred and racism. In contrast, we believe in using social media to counteract the harsh voices of extremism.
Accordingly, we offered a prayer for peace yesterday, which was read in several languages -- Hebrew, English, Arabic, German and even Yiddish!
May it by Your will, O God and God of our ancestors that You banish war and bloodshed from the world and bring a great and glorious peace into the world. "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation and they shall no longer practice war anymore." All inhabitants of this world shall come to know the truth, that we did not come into this world to engage in fighting and disputations, and not to engage in hatred and jealously; rather, we have come into the world to know You, forever.
After the reading of the prayer, people in the group distributed the prayer to passersby -- Palestinians as well as Jews -- as a gesture of reconciliation. Many people captured this moment on their cameras and have already posted the photos on their social media pages. (Some of these photos were already shared yesterday on the Huffington Post Religion page.)This can be an effective way to spread the message and to change the discourse.
Someone asked me: "Why did you pray for peace? What good will it do?" I believe that prayer has the power to catalyze us to act for peace. Prayer alone is not enough. Without action, we will not be able to effect change.
I was asked by the chairperson of Tag Meir, Gadi Gvaryahu, to say a few words to those assembled yesterday. I told them that it is our job to resist despair, to not give up, to continue to point out that the path of peace is still available, to encourage our leaders to pull back from the brink of the abyss, and to prevent more useless shedding of blood. As our teacher Hillel said many centuries ago: "If not now, when?".