Building bridges for a better tomorrow

The infrastructure for harmony and peace – the bridge – already exists, however we fear taking the first step.

November 2, 2014 22:31
2 minute read.
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Massive Palestinian flag hanging from Brooklyn Bridge, August 20, 2014 . (photo credit: REUTERS)

There is almost something surreal about this situation. I, an ordained rabbi, am at the head of a delegation of Jews and non-Jews from South America who came to the Vatican under the banner of an Israeli university, and we are standing in front of Pope Francis. The timing of our visit, just two days after the Torah portion of Noah was read, adds to the surrealistic experience. The dove, the international symbol of peace, makes her grand appearance in this portion, proudly bringing the olive branch back to the Ark indicating that the waters had subsided – that God is at peace with his creations.

Peace and harmony were born way before religions were. Hillel the elder said: “Be as the disciples of Aaron – those who not only love peace, they chase after it; they love their fellow beings.”

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A cease-fire is often confused with peace. But true peace goes way beyond putting down one’s arms.

Real peace means dialogue and harmony, it means a co-existence that is based on tolerance and understanding, on respect and admiration.

The concepts of harmony and unity are shared by our respective religions. Unfortunately however, we are living in a world that is filled with hostility and animosity. We sadly are living in times of turmoil and discord. War is rampant in the Middle East, violence and racial acts of terrorism are on the rise worldwide. Rather than coming closer to the prophet Isaiah’s words: “nation shall not lift the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore,” we seem to be moving further away.

There is a very popular Hebrew song whose words are attributed to Rabbi Nachman of Breslav: “The entire world is a narrow bridge, but the important thing is not to fear.” Traditionally this passage teaches us optimism and strengthens our belief in God. Allow me please to suggest an additional explanation to these words.

The infrastructure for harmony and peace – the bridge – already exists, however we fear taking the first step. We fear taking initiatives that we are not used to, even if ultimately they are for our benefit.

But the time to cross that proverbial bridge is now. Our very presence here signals a new beginning; a vista of opportunity. We are ever so aware of the need for dialogue and harmony, peace and coexistence. Our university, Bar-Ilan, has proudly been bringing worlds together for 60 years. As a microcosm of Israeli society, our doors have always been open to students of all races and religions. We have had ongoing dialogue programs aimed at fostering understanding and acceptance. In fact, this coming academic year, our Faculty of Jewish Studies will be hosting an international conference devoted to researching the history of Jewish and Christian relations. We are not fearful of dialogue, rather we welcome it. The university would be honored if his eminence would grace us with his presence at this conference. It is our sincere hope that together we can attain and achieve what God has asked from us: “My children, what do I seek from you? I seek no more than that you love one another and honor one another” (Tana D’vei Eliyahu).

Excerpted from remarks delivered by Bar-Ilan University president Rabbi Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz, who led a delegation to visit Pope Francis at the Vatican earlier last week. In response the pontiff called for the strengthening of relations between Jews and Christians around the world.

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