Jewish and Christian leaders start talking again at New York meeting

(Photo:. REUTERS / Jonathan Ernst)Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) smiles as he sits down to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington March 3, 2014.

The heads of Jewish groups and Christian denominations have met in New York to discuss ways to strengthen and maintain relationships even in the face of disagreements.

Roundtables between Jewish and Christian denominations, notably mainline Protestant churches, were suspended in 2012 over differences regarding U.S. aid for Israel.

In October 2012 Christian leaders from the U.S. National Council of Churches, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and other denominations had sent to a letter to the U.S. Congress, asking that U.S. aid to Israel be re-evaluated in light alleged human rights violations.

In recent years some Christian denominations have grown increasingly critical of the expansion of Israeli settlements into Palestinian areas on the West Bank. Criticism has also been levelled at the massive wall and security barrier separating Israel and the West Bank.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs said the meeting, which it described as "unprecedented," took place in New York City on March 26.

The gathering to discuss relationships and how we treat each other was the first to bring together these groups since a letter was sent on October 5, 2012 by Christian groups calling on Congress to investigate Israel's use of U.S. military aid.

At the  meeting, participants made a commitment to developing an effective and ongoing national dialogue of Christian and Jewish leaders.

The Jewish and Christian leaders commited to working together on U.S. and international issues of common concern.

"We will aspire to genuine and ongoing dialogue related to Israeli-Palestinian issues, seeking to identify and discuss, in respect and humility, areas of real or potential disagreement and of real and potential cooperation," they said in a joint statement after the meeting on Thursday.

"As people of faith we enter the holy season of Easter and Passover to celebrate the gift of our renewed relationship and look to the future to enhance our closeness and our commitment to serve the common good."

This group of top leaders, who met as a group for the first time today, committed to meeting at least each year and to reconstitute the traditional Jewish-Christian roundtables that were suspended in October 2012.

The Jewish leaders in attendance were:

Rabbi Steve Gutow, President and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, co-convener [along with Reverend Mark Hanson—see below]

Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League

David Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union of Reform Judaism

Daniel S. Mariaschin, Executive Vice President of B'nai B'rith International

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Assembly

Rabbi Steven C. Wernick, Chief executive officer of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

The Christian leaders were:

Rev. Mark Hanson, presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America from 2001-2013, co-convener

The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America

The Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)

Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, Ecumenical office, Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church

Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada

James E. Winkler, General Secretary/President of the National Council of Churches

The meeting was co-designed and co-facilitated by Rev. Dr. Tom Duke and Rabbi Melissa Weintraub.

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