- Mount Zion
- Ecce Homo
- The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
- Maintaining Cemeteries as an Act of Interreligious Friendship
- Yad Vashem – Honouring the Righteous
- Muslim Scholars
- Our Summer School 2020
I will bring them to My holy mount, and I will cause them to rejoice in My house of prayer, for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. (Isaiah 56:7)
This prophetic vision has been an inspiration for Elijah Interfaith’s dream of creating a Centre of HOPE – a House of Prayer and Education – in Jerusalem.
As a Jerusalem-based organization, Elijah views many of its educational activities also through the lens of Jerusalem and its significance for many religions. This has found expression also in our recent summer school program, devoted to Friendship Across Religions.
During the 2019 summer school, participants gained first-hand knowledge of some of the progress towards as well as the challenges in creating an atmosphere of friendship across religions in Jerusalem.
The first week of the summer school was spent at the Dormition learning center, Beit Yosef, on Mt Zion. Mt Zion is a site holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews. As such, it has great potential for both interreligious rivalry and conflict as well as mutual understanding and respect. The second week was hosted by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion at Ecce Homo, their site on Via Dolorosa. In addition, students visited other holy sites and sites that exemplify friendship across religion and had the opportunity of meeting with religious and communal leaders dedicated to making Jerusalem a more friendly and friendship-creating place.Following are samplings of teachings and experiences, drawn from last year’s summer school program.
1. Mount Zion
As a site holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, Mt Zion presents both opportunities and challenges for interreligious friendship.
Dr Doron Barr of the Schechter Institute has studied the site and allowed us to use his scholarship to understand how the religious significance of the various places has changed over time. The area called Mt Zion today is not the Mt Zion referred to in the Hebrew Bible, although the historian, Josephus, indicates that by the end of the Second Temple Period (1st Century CE), the site was one of at least two places bearing the name. Many Christian Churches existed on the site, which is connected with numerous events in the lives of Jesus and Mary, beginning during the lifetime of Jesus and continuing throughout the ages. The Christian presence on the site is the most tenacious; the strength of their religious attachment greater than that of their sister religions. However, between 1948 and 1967, Mt Zion was the closest that the Jewish population could get to their most sacred sites, inside the walls of the Old City, which were under Jordanian rule. The mount became a place of pilgrimage and was used by Israel for official religious and state ceremonies.
The Tomb of King David, which is of dubious historical validity but attributed as such by Christians, Muslims and Jews, took on additional significance for the Jewish population and became a much more important place of pilgrimage. At the same time, the Chamber of the Holocaust was established on the mount and a large Yeshiva (institute of Jewish learning) was opened there. All of this added to simmering tension between Christians, with their important religious claims, and Muslims who had owned most of the land on the mount for centuries and who venerate David’s tomb and the cemetery around it.
After the vandalism of tiles from the Ottoman period and several instances of harassment of Christian clergy, the Jerusalem Intercultural Centre began its Window on Mt Zion project. In their own words, “Mount Zion is a microcosm of Jerusalem – sacred, complex and multicultural. Alongside the shared Holy Site on Mount Zion there are cemeteries as well as religious and educational institutions… Mount Zion is a place of exceptional opportunity for inter-faith interaction as opposed to interreligious violence.”
Through dialogue and identifying common interests, the program is transforming Mt Zion into a model of interreligious friendship.
2. Ecce Homo
Ecce Homo is a place inside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, on the Via Dolorosa, which has been a sanctuary for people of all faiths and place of learning since the middle of the 19th Century. The present mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion, is to build bridges between Jews and Christians and, in the Holy Land, also Christians and Muslims. The Sisters have been partners with Elijah in hosting the Summer School since 2014. They exemplify the qualities of friendship in their own lives and teach their guests and students about the importance of respect, trust, humility and generosity, qualities identified in Elijah’s Declaration of Friendship as crucial to building friendships.
For more on the Sisters and their model of friendship, see
3. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The experience of summer school participants in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, arguably the most holy site in the Christian world (or for many Christians) was of intra-religious friendship and mutual respect. They were privileged to witness the change-over from the Armenians to the Greek Orthodox prayers, undertaken with solemnity and regard for one another. Later in the day, our panel of Christian leaders, representing the Roman Catholic, Armenian and Lutheran Churches discussed the complicated, and not always friendly, history of the site and the struggles they are still having to maintain this level of friendship, highlighting significant advances in friendship between Christian communities in Jerusalem.
4. Maintaining Cemeteries as an Act of Interreligious Friendship
Mt Zion has a number of cemeteries: Roman Catholic, Anglican and Muslim. The Muslim cemetery, used by the Dajani family, has recently been cleaned up and restored by a group of volunteers working with the Jerusalem Intercultural Centre (see above.) It was an activity of interreligious friendship. Summer School participants discussed the importance of caring for the burial grounds of those of other faiths after visiting the British War Cemetery in the Jerusalem suburb of Talpiot, where the remains of Sikh soldiers who fought with the British in World War I are honoured.
A discussion ensued about circumstances in which the opposite occurs – desecration of grave sites as one of the most heinous acts of vandalism and a sign of the absence of respect – the opposite of “friendship.” The trust that is felt when graves are tended and respected was contrasted with the hurt that is felt by relatives and community members and the sense of betrayal of the host community when they are not. Jerusalem has cemeteries consecrated for dozens of faiths and this is one way in which the city is a site of friendship.
It should be noted that the grave of Oscar Schindler, who rescued thousands of Jews from the Nazis, is on Mt Zion.
5. Yad Vashem – Honouring the Righteous
Every year, participants in the summer school visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s official site for Shoa (Holocaust) commemoration. The site contains a museum, an archive, memorials and an education centre.
The main walkway is the Garden of the Righteous, a grove of hundreds of trees, each in honour of someone who risked their life to rescue a Jew in the Nazi period. The Righteous came from various religions and countries. What they shared was their willingness to go beyond the normal demands of friendship to risk their very lives to save another. In many instances, it was friendship that provided the foundation for life-saving acts of courage and care.
6. Muslim Scholars
Muslim members of the Elijah Academy have shared their vision and hope for Jerusalem as a site of interreligious friendship
7. Our Summer School 2020
We are delighted to announce that the Elijah Interfaith Summer School and Interreligious Leadership Seminar 2020 will take place from August 2nd-13th, 2020 on the theme:
Understanding Sacred Space Jerusalem and Other Holy Cities
Week 1, August 2nd-7th: Understanding the Concept of Sacred Space in six different religious traditions.
Week 2, August 10th- 13th: The sanctity of Jerusalem across religions.