[Episcopal News Service] This piece was published as an op-ed in the Star-Ledger on December 12, 2012.
The world’s attention recently has been drawn to violence in Syria, Gaza, Iraq — and supportive, and increasingly threatening, language from Iran and Israel. In October, an interfaith group of 35 Christians, Muslims and Jews from Newark and surrounding communities journeyed to Israel and the Palestinian territories to explore together the roots of our respective faiths and learn about creative responses to violence.
Our mission emerged from a multifaith relationship forged over the past four years with the Newark Interfaith Coalition for Hope and Peace, which works to build partnerships among groups that seek to raise hope and reduce violence.
So we journeyed to Israel and the Palestinian territories, which hold sacred places for all three Abrahamic faiths and historically has been a place of tragedy and violence. We were on a pilgrimage and we met with some extraordinary people, whose witness to hope and peace largely goes unnoticed, but who nevertheless have an important impact on the lives of the people who live in the region.
We went to a graduation ceremony for volunteer emergency medical technicians, whose pride is in their skill, rapid response and working together as Jews, Muslims and Christians.
We met with a Jewish father and a Muslim wife who are part of a national network of Jews and Muslims who have had a family member murdered by someone from a different faith. They each told their tragic story and recounted how support and faith led them through bitterness to a deep commitment to reconciliation.
We met with a Palestinian refugee who journeyed to Auschwitz and now leads other Palestinian leaders to do the same, so that they can attempt to understand the complicated narrative of their neighbors on the other side of the Security Wall.
We met with an initiative for social change working with diverse groups that learn to understand and cooperate with each other to address their common and unique needs.
The politicians seem dug in, but in a world where everyone says there is no moderate voice with whom to talk, we found the opposite: a growing and fierce national network committed to reconciliation. We absorbed this commitment and brought it home.
We learned from our many hosts — and from each other. We openly acknowledged our differences, and, at the same time, discovered — in a wonderful way — that our differences drew us together. Indeed, our differences connected us more fervently to our respective religious roots, with faith that the seeds they come from contain an abundance of fruits.
We acknowledged the many religious and political tensions that threaten to strangle the life blood in this region.
They are real and too often misrepresent universal values that constitute human excellence and the essence of revelation.
But hope lives on! As a result of seeing firsthand the courage of so many in Israel and the Palestinian territories who dare to build bridges of reconciliation across rivers of mistrust, our commitment to hope and peace has deepened. We found this hope in each other — and we find similar courage, commitment and hope in Newark.
It often goes unnoticed, but it’s there and has an enormous impact.
Many people in Newark work to build bridges of peace across chasms of violence, and our trip to the Middle East has quickened our desire to support them. There are many challenges, yet Newark, as in that region, has an abundance of God’s blessed resources to build the bridges required for all to reach a shared destiny of peace and productivity.
While many feel impending darkness, we come to tell you that we found light in the midst of the clouds.
In this season of hope, we point to the hope we found in the cauldron of the Middle East, and that we find in the remarkable projects and people that build hope in Newark.
— Mark M. Beckwith is the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark; Matthew D. Gewirtz is the rabbi of Temple B’Nai Jeshurun in Short Hills; W. Deen Shareef is the imam of Masjid Waarith ud Deen/Waris CRDC in Irvington. They represent the executive team of the Newark Interfaith Coalition for Hope and Peace.