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E.A.P. Nof: Address to World Summit 2014

Address to World Summit 2014, Seoul, Korea, August 9-13, 2014

Anyang ha shimnika, shalom, peace, salam aleikum!

Peace is the final blessing of the central Jewish central prayer. We ask our God to "Bless us as one in your light, since in your light you gave us a teaching of life, to love doing good deeds, justice, blessing, mercy, life and peace."

I have come to South Korea from far away, the land of Israel, in order to learn from you new and creative ways to bring peace to my society and my country. In this spirit of learning together, I want to share with you my proposal for a committed Israeli model organized by the UPF to bring more understanding and better coexistence into our world. Interfaith prayers in Israel are sporadic, few and mostly of religious leaders without congregants. UPF could be the international umbrella of a more popular and powerful model that will ultimately change Israeli society.

The Biblical sources for this model of interfaith prayers for peace are the teachings of redemption of the prophets Isaiah and Micah.

Here is a reading from the prophet Micah: “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation,nor will they train for war any more.Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken.All the nations may walk in the name of their gods, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.”

The power of peace

While I was a young teenager in high school, 8,961 Argentine citizens were abducted and tortured by the military government, among them my cousin Ernesto Szerzewicz, of blessed memory, who after four years of torture was killed and thrown to the ocean from a helicopter in order to make the evidence “disappear.”

In an oppressed Argentina, we were witness to the great power of real peace. Every Sunday, beginning on April 30, 1977, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo would stand up in front of the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace, with pictures of their abducted children. The military junta tried to marginalize and trivialize their work by calling them "las locas" - the crazy women. How much strength and courage these brave mothers had! After six years of unfailing protest, democracy was finally reestablished in Argentina. The power of peace and love of these mothers overcame the rule of the generals.

We all know that through the leadership and vision of Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1848), India became independent from the British Empire. Employing nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.

As the Prophet Zechariah says: "This is the word of the LORD Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, said the LORD of hosts."

The importance of interfaith prayers for peace in Israel

I want to share with you one of our many reports to several thousands of friends in the world:

 "At times, many of us feel frustrated that we cannot do much to shape current events.  Sometimes we despair and feel helpless, worrying that hostilities in the region will never cease.  Through the media, we are exposed to violent demonstrations and an escalation in animosity among citizens of different religions.

"That is why, dozens of religious leaders, with the help of UPF Israel, have decided to act now, here in Israel, by having interfaith prayers for peace.

"So far, hundreds of people have joined to pray for peace together.  Bridges for Hope has become the vanguard of interfaith prayers for peace in the State of Israel. 

"We began on July 16, 2014 in Kafr Kana, a city which is 90% Muslim and 10% Christian. Then a few days later UPF hosted an interfaith prayer for peace in Haifa, along with the Focolare Catholic Movement. 

"On July 30 we organized and participated in another two interfaith prayers for peace. The first one was in Daliat El Carmel, near Haifa.  The mayor of this Druze city, Mr. Rafik Halabi, honored us with his presence.  Also in attendance were priests, sheiks, educators and peace activists. Our host was the well-respected Sheikh Ali Birani, President of the Jerusalem Interfaith Forum, who offered us his home for the prayer.

Imam sheik Samir Aasi shared with us how in the morning he told his congregants that he would not lead prayers at mosque, since he was needed for this more important prayer to bring peace.

We all ate together under the grape vine, as in the biblical prophecy:  "They shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it" (Micah 4:4).

"After three hours of interfaith prayer, we traveled to the city of Nazareth to another interfaith prayer for peace inside the Nazareth Chapel of Unity of the Centre International Marie de Nazareth, hosted by the Chemin Neuf [New Path] community.

Noriko, a nun originally from Japan, taught us a beautiful song in Japanese, and told us a story about the birds for peace made Sadako Sasaki of Hiroshima. 

"I believe that most Israelis, whatever their religion, want to live in peaceful coexistence.  The story of our peaceful prayers and genuine desire to live together is rarely told, perhaps because images of war are more attractive for the media. 

Dreaming of a better world

Dear friends, try to imagine a different world. A world where in every city, every week there will be an interfaith prayer for peace. This is not intended to replace religious services in a chapel, mosque, church or synagogue, but in addition to it.

Try to imagine a world where every religious leader will pray, in addition to his or her own congregants, with believers of other faiths. Try to imagine as I do, that every week in Israel in every city, there will be an interfaith prayer for peace We have hope for better times, for a time of forgiveness and unity, even among enemies

Solidarity, compassion, understanding and love

Bridges for Hope, my NGO for bringing hearts together, decided this summer to support Arab Israeli children from underprivileged families, by sending them to summer camp.

Two days before coming to be with you in Seoul I brought toys and school supplies to my friend, Sheikh Sameer Assi, of the El Jazaar Mosque in Akko, so that he may deliver them to the children of Gaza. On Wednesday, I prayed for peace with Imam Sharif at the Ahmadiyya mosque in Haifa. I know that peace is possible. Most of us in Israel live in coexistence, dialogue, understanding and cooperation. Even during days of war.

I know in my heart that interfaith prayers for peace can contribute a great deal towards change in Israeli society, the Middle East and the entire world. I urge you, dear friends of the UPF, delegates and distinguished members to help us. It takes a great deal of courage and bravery to pray for peace in days of war. We, religious leaders, congregants and believers of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Druze, are in the front line in the battle for peace. Our weapons are prayers and songs of peace.

I want to conclude by blessing you with the oldest Jewish blessing, the priestly benediction for peace:

May the LORD bless you and guard you –

יְבָרֶכְךָ יהוה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ

("Yebhārēkh-khā Adhōnāy weyishmerēkhā ...)

May the LORD make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you -

יָאֵר יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ

("Yāēr Adhōnāy pānāw ēlekhā wiḥunnékkā ...)

May the LORD lift up His face unto you and give you peace –

יִשָּׂא יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם

("Yissā Adhōnāy pānāw ēlekhā wiyāsēm lekhā shālōm.")

For more information about the World Summit, click here.