Religious leaders in Israel's 3rd largest city meet for multi-faith coexistence

(Photo courtesy of Haifa University)Religious leaders meet for coexistence workshops in Haifa, Israel in April 2024.

Leaders of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze faiths in Haifa, recently called for coexistence in the northern Israeli city amid the tensions sparked by the war in Gaza.

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In a written statement, the 16 leaders, in Israel's third biggest city established a committee pledging to proactively promote dialogue and good neighborliness in the city, Yulia Karra reported for Israel21 on April 7.

"During this difficult and tense period, we saw great importance in coming together to learn about each other's religion and maintain a respectful fabric of life in our city," the leaders wrote.

Originally a place for in-depth interfaith conversations, the project has evolved into a series of workshops.

"The personal security of all of us depends on cooperation, our ability to minimize points of friction and inspire respectful discourse. We are all invested in the prosperity of our beloved Haifa and its residents, which stems out of a deep commitment to the State of Israel."

Of Israel's 9 million people, 73.5 percent are Jewish, 18.1 percent are Muslims , while Christians account for 1.9 percent, and Druze 1.6 percent, according to the CIA Factbook.

The multi-faith committee was established with the cooperation from Haifa University's Incubator for the Study of Religions, the country's Interior Ministry. and the non-governmental organization Search for Common Ground.

Dr. Uriel Simonsohn heads the Incubator for the Study of Religions and said the leaders picked to establish the committee were chosen by their actions, rather than words.

"The first condition was that each and every one of them had a community behind them," said Simonsohn.

"Their actions were supposed to immediately impact others....We weren't going to be satisfied with emotional statements that would not have affected anyone in the end."

The multi-faith initiative was started a month after the October 7 attacks.

At the start, the religious leaders met for in-depth conversions, which later progressed into workshops organized by Haifa University.

"The meetings were very important because they generated commitment and loyalty," said Rabbi Shmuel Sasson, one of the leaders involved in the project.

"With cautious optimism, we hope to continue curbing the forces that oppose our existence as a society, and as a Jewish and democratic state."

Sunday March 7 marked six months since the October 7 Hamas attacks which killed about 1,200 people,. Isreal's resulting cammpaign in Gaza has left more  than 33,000 dead and triggered a desperate humanitarian crisis, CNN reports.

The 16 religious leaders are:

Avigal Peleg, the head of Haifa's religious school for girls Ulpana Amit Avigal Peleg.

Eli Blum, rabbi of Rambam congregation at Neve Shanan Eli Blum.

Rabbi Shmuel Sasson, the head of Haifa's Garin Torani movement.

Rabbi Naama Dafni Kellen, the rabbi of Or Hadash congregation.

Rabbi Ben-Zion Gagula, the director of the Chabad House in Haifa's German Colony neighborhood.

Father Demetrius Samra, a priest of the Greek Orthodox Church in Haifa.

Father William Abu Shkara, the head of the Archbishop's bureau in Haifa.

Hiam Tannous, a Christian Forum activist.

Christin Khazen, a member of the Catholic Church in Haifa.

Sheikh Jaber Mansour, a Druze imam in Isfiya.

Sheikh Tawfik Halabi, an imam and member of the Druze religious committee in Daliyat al-Karmel.

Rashad Abu al-Hijaa, the imam of al-Jarina Mosque in Haifa.

Muhammad Ijbaria, a muezzin (the one who calls for prayer) at Haj Abdallah Mosque in Halisa.

Doa Aaodeh, the head of the women's council in Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

Amir Muhammad Sharif Odeh, the head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Israel and PA.

Rabi'a Bsis, a Druze social and political activist.

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