Knesset member and Silver Spring native Rabbi Dov Lipman spoke about diversity and pluralism in Israel to a group of around 20 Christian clergy last week, citing the shared religious ventures and organizations he knew in America as part of the basis of his work as a politician to encourage a more tolerant and diverse society in his adopted country.
“Coming from the U.S., I saw different religions working together as very natural,” Rabbi Lipman said.
He expressed amazement at compliments he had received on his bravery as a politician to speak out in favor of interreligious cooperation when to him it seemed so obviously a good idea.
“It wasn’t courageous; I just saw it as the way I grew up,” he said
Rabbi Lipman, who studied at Ner Israel Rabbinical College, spoke to the clergy as part of a week-long trip around the Washington D.C., area as the first scholar in residence for the Jewish Community Relation Council’s Israel Action Center.
Although he gave public talks for the Jewish community and spoke to politicians and media as part of his tour, he and the JCRC made it a point to hold this special meeting with Christian clergy, who often interact and work with the Jewish community locally but who had concerns or did not necessarily know a great deal about Israel in terms of religious minorities.
“It’s a chance for them to understand how complex the situation is there,” said Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, director of social justice and interfaith initiatives at the JCRC.
Rabbi Steinlauf helped organize the event, which included a broad spectrum of denominations and political leanings but, she said, all of them had been enthusiastic about the opportunity to attend.
“We knew the Christian community has concerns about peace in the Middle East,” she said.
Although he did not shy away from talking about the shortcomings of current Israeli policy and acknowledged that there exists real problems, Rabbi Lipman said he was optimistic about what Israeli society could be in the bigger picture.
“Israel is not simply a safe haven for Jews to run to, but really a chance to be a light to the world,” he said.
Rabbi Lipman spent some time talking about the difficulties of moving the peace process forward when the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s original charter declared their intent of destroying Israel. Still, he noted it appears the party has moved beyond that and has accepted Israel, which makes him hopeful.
“It is possible to make peace,” he said. After finishing his talk, Rabbi Lipman opened the floor to questions from the crowd of clergy, joking that after enduring a political campaign in Israel, no question, no matter how touchy or personal, could bother him.
One issue that the assembled Christian clergy especially seemed concerned about was access to the holy sites around Israel for Christians. Rabbi Lipman acknowledged the seriousness of site access but made it clear that official Israeli policy is that all people have full access to their holy sites. He also pointed out the inclusion of that topic in negotiations with the Palestinians over areas such as Hebron, so that Jews too would be able to visit areas of religious importance.
“It’s critical they remain open,” he said.
Breaking down the barriers and building trust among different communities is vital to Israel’s goals of peace, Rabbi Lipman said. He talked about the importance of activities such as the Maccabiah Games, which bring people together and focus on similarities. He said this is especially important for the next generation.
“The moment you expose them to it, it becomes natural,” he said, concluding that, far off though it may seem, the idea of a peaceful Middle East has to be believed before it can ever be real.
“You have to dream,” Rabbi Lipman said.