WASHINGTON WATCH MAX FINBERG
Praying for the Peace/Feast of Jerusalem You’ve heard the story about the rabbi, the imam, and the priest? Well, throw in a retired cardinal, a congressman, a princess, and you have some amazing stories that—somehow—barely made the news. The following is an account of three historic gatherings that are truly inspiring in their quest for peace, reconciliation, and the sharing of our prosperity with the least among us. In November 2007, the leaders of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land met for the first time in Washington, DC. The council is made up of the chief rabbis of Israel, the chief Sharia judges of Palestine, the patriarchs of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, and the Lutheran and Anglican bishops of Jerusalem and Palestine. Fourteen of the top religious leaders from the land that all three Abrahamic faiths call holy came here to seek common ground. Hosted by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a retired priest, and Ambassador Tony Hall, a retired politician, they met with members of Congress and their American theological counterparts. They came to build mutual understanding and agreed to a six-point program of how they can support peace in the region, including an historic agreement regarding the Holy Sites of Jerusalem. They recognize that their role is to support peace, if the politicians can ever agree to one. In one touching example of the mutual understanding that is possible, one chief rabbi and one head sheik visited the Holocaust Museum together and concluded their visit in prayer. A few weeks later,Cardinal McCarrick continued the efforts of mutual under-
standing by leading a response to a fatw¯a condemning terrorism. This religious edict was issued by the Fiqh Council of North America (think Catholic,Protestant, and evangelical authorities rolled into one). It quotes the Qur’an, which “considers the unjust killing of a single person equivalent to the killing of all humanity,” and condemns suicide bombings as “barbaric acts of criminals, not ‘martyrs.’” This is a clarion response to the people who ask about moderate Muslim voices willing to condemn terrorism. This initiative, “Uniting to Protect,” featured a response by Christians and Jews and is encouraging grassroots action around interfaith reconciliation. It was launched at the National Press Club but failed to garner many headlines, despite its historic significance. McCarrick concluded,“We can all work together in helping the poor.The Torah, the Bible, and the Qur’an all speak about helping those in need.” Mere days later, in Jordan, Princess Basma bint Talal hosted a regional forum to promote national alliances against hunger in the Near East. She is the sister of the late King Hussein, the peacemaker. She is the head of the Jordanian Alliance Against Hunger and runs one of Jordan’s oldest development organizations. Princess Basma is truly an impressive leader who cares about the poorest in the kingdom, especially women. She gathered together representatives from government, non-governmental organizations, the UN, and the private sector—from Morocco to Iraq, from Syria to Yemen. In a region not known for its robust civil society, she stressed that it is only by working together across sectors that the Middle East (or any other region) will meet the first Millennium Development Goal of cutting hunger in half by 2015. The US Alliance to End Hunger brought together a truly interfaith delegation of a Jewish businessman, a Methodist minister, a Presbyterian laywoman of the year, a Palestinian woman, and a relief professional for an evangeliPRISM 2008
cal organization, among others. Jordan itself has made a great deal of progress on hunger. Over the years, US taxpayer money has financed the UN World Food Program’s food-for-work programs.These programs led to the planting of most of Jordan’s olive trees that now generate food and income for hundreds of thousands of Jordanians. But the country still has a long way to go in feeding its entire population, especially given the 1.5 million Palestinian refugees and approximately 750,000 Iraqi refugees who live there. Jordan wants to follow the lead of its neighbor Israel in starting a food bank. The Israeli Forum on Food Security, working with MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and other American Jews, has launched Leket: Israel’s National Food Bank. Leket is Hebrew for gleaning and reminds us of the command to gather leftover food to feed the widow, orphan, and immigrant. Efforts like these deserve to be promoted and encouraged. The Interfaith Cooperation Initiative for Israel and Palestine chaired by McCarrick and Hall was created and funded by Congress. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), working together with Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), directed taxpayer money to be invested in this worthy cause. We need more of our collective resources (currently less than one penny of every tax dollar) to go towards the sharing of prosperity. Specifically, if the US were to provide more and better development assistance, we could use “smart power” to create a more just world. So as we pray to ensure daily bread for everyone and no trespassing against others, let us also lift our voices on behalf of the voiceless. Senators and representatives who sit on the appropriations committees will be making decisions about how to spend our money, and they should know what we think. ★ M. Finberg is director of AllianceToEndHunger.org.