World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Deborah Weissman

14 February 2006

Dr Deborah Weissman is a Jewish educator and executive committee member of the Inter-religious Coordinating Council in Israel

Shalom from Jerusalem.

It is indeed an honor for me to be greeting this most impressive assemblage, as a Jew and as an Israeli. I have the privilege of serving on the Executive of the Inter-religious Coordinating Council in Israel, which is also the Israeli chapter of the World Conference of Religions for Peace.

I have attended many other WCC functions over the past 18 years, but this is the largest, most diverse and exciting.

What a thrill and a privilege to be living in a time when people of many different traditions can work together as partners in the quest for peace, justice, human rights, an end to racism and oppression. I am grateful to the WCC for having given me this opportunity to be part of your deliberations. Very soon, I will have to leave the conference for a day, in order to be able to celebrate the Sabbath, the Shabbat, with the local Jewish community. Coincidentally, tomorrow's weekly Torah Portion is "Yitro," or "Jethro," from the Book of Exodus, chapters 18 through 20. Jethro, Moses' father-in-law and intimate advisor, was a Midianite priest. This kind of ancient interfaith cooperation was foreshadowed earlier in Exodus by the life-saving deeds of the midwives and Pharaoh's daughter.

Unfortunately, because I will not be here tomorrow, I will not be able to participate in the very important session on "Overcoming Violence." This is a crucial challenge for all of us but particularly for my region of the world, the troubled and volatile Middle East. The common wisdom is that religion is a factor that fans the flames of hatred and violence. But for many of us, religion can also be a positive factor, promoting peaceful dialogue. As we have seen in the WCC's interfaith initiative called "Thinking Together," under the leadership of Hans Ucko, our religious cultures may indeed contain potentially problematic texts and traditions, but they also contain tools for alternate interpretations of those texts, as well as spiritual and cultural resources for developing a more positive approach to the Other. For example, we in the Inter-religious Coordinating Council in Israel have, for the past three years, sponsored a dialogue among rabbis, imams and priests called Kedem, a Hebrew acronym for "Voices of Religious Reconciliation." Those voices sometimes seem to be drowned out by the extremists in all of our communities, but they do exist and must be supported and strengthened.

You have, in the theme chosen for your assembly, called upon God, in His grace, to transform the world. I would like to conclude with a Jewish contribution to this discussion. When human beings discover cures for diseases, develop medicine, science, technology, preserve our environment, we are partners with God in Creation. When we study and interpret sacred texts, write new commentaries, apply the insights of those texts to changing situations, we are partners with God in Revelation. And when we engage in Tikkun Olam, literally "mending" or "fixing" or perhaps transforming the world, through our striving for peace, justice, human life and dignity, we are partners with God in Redemption. For Jews, the opportunity for contemplating these challenges, resolving to undertake them and anticipating what a transformed world might be like, is the Sabbath. I will leave you with the traditional Jewish greeting of Sabbath peace, "Shabbat Shalom."