ProMosaik e.V. interviews Yehuda Stolov of Interfaith Encounter Association

by Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik e.V. – Our interview with Yehuda Stolov of the Interfaith Encounter Association. ProMosaik e.V. is convinced that interreligious dialogue and empathy can promote peace all over the world, and at the moment in particular in the Middle East. Even if the conflict in the Middle East is not a religious one, interreligious empathy can help. The mission of the Interfaith Encounter Association is the following: The Interfaith Encounter Association is dedicated to promoting peace in
the Middle East through interfaith dialogue and cross-cultural study. We
believe that, rather than being a cause of the problem, religion can
and should be a source of the solution for conflicts that exist in the
region and beyond. I would like to thank Yehuda for his time, and also for the nice photos he sent us.

Milena Rampoldi: ProMosaik e.V. is convinced that interreligious empathy can promote a culture
of understanding, peace, and respect of human rights? What do you think about
Yehuda Stolov: This
statement goes to core of IEA’s mission. We strongly believe that peace in the
Holy Land can be built in a sustainable way only through the development of
inter-personal and inter-communal relations based on deep mutual understanding
and respect and characterized by friendship and mutual care, which are also
manifested in respecting each other’s rights. While in other contexts peace and
human rights might be enforced through the power of the state, in the very
small Holy Land, where communities are in high proximity, this is not a
realistic option. Indeed the building of peaceful inter-communal relations is
long (ten to twenty years if carried out intensively) but not only that it is
the only way but it also will then provide the benefit of harmonious joint
living together.
MR: What are
the most important objectives of your initiative?
YS: The Interfaith Encounter Association
(IEA) developed a very effective model, as proved in several qualitative and
quantitative researches. Active interfaith dialogue is used to help people
overcome their prejudices and fears, replacing them with genuine understanding
of the ‘other’ that supports the building of mutual respect, friendship and
This is done not as one time meeting
but usually in the framework of an ongoing group of interfaith encounter, that
provides a safe space for intimate encounter for people of neighboring
communities, develops into a model of the desired inter-communal relations that
combine friendship and respect for diversity, and act as a mechanism to
transform the wider communities.
With this effective methodology our
objective now is to engage tens and hundreds of thousands of people in
effective encounter groups with their neighbors. We also aim to provide wide
array of types of groups (we already have – groups for everybody, for young
adults, for women, for healthcare professionals, for educators, for religious
leaders etc.) – so that every person will have a group that is both close to
their home and close to their heart, enabling them to both easily join and to
With time, in every area in which
the group managed to touch enough people, we expect to see apparent improvement
in inter-communal relations also on the macro level.
MR: We think
that Islam and Judaism are so near as so other religions in the world. How can
we help people to recognize this? Which strategies do you implement to reach
YS: Religions and cultures often have
many similarities between them, which is obviously the case for Judaism and
Islam, and they also have their differences. We enable, encourage and empower
people to actively engage in joint study of the similarities and differences,
on a given theme, between Jewish, Muslim and Christian teachings in an open,
deep and respectful way. The process guides participants to discover the
similarities and celebrate them as well as to point out the differences as
interesting and enriching, not as a source of threat. Through this experience,
participants train themselves to build friendships with people they disagree
MR: Which
are the most important obstacles in the interreligious dialogue with
YS: In dialogue
between Jews and Christians theological differences (such as the trinity and
the dual nature of Jesus) are more apparent than in dialogue between Jews with
Muslims. Still, the same approach of highlighting what is common and friendly
disagreeing on what is different – allows for fruitful conversations that build
MR: How can
our work as interreligious dialogue and peacemakers promote peace in the Middle
YS: The conflict
in the Holy Land may have begun as competition on control of the land and its
resources, but the reason for it to continue so long lies elsewhere. The land
and its resources are definitely enough for all the land’s inhabitants but they
failed so far to find a way to share them. This is due to the deep mutual
suspicion, fear and mistrust that lead to the feeling, in both sides, that the
conflict is inevitable “because of them”. As we could see during the
Oslo process, positive steps of “the other side” were perceived as
tactical while negative steps were perceived as revealing the true intensions.
With time – this approach led to the collapse of the Oslo process and to the
second Intifada.
In order to
uproot this approach, we need to engage large numbers of Israelis and
Palestinians in conversations that build relations, inter-personal and
inter-communal relations. During the conversation process mutual understanding,
respect, trust and friendship are constructed, first between individuals and
then between communities. Once these exist, positive steps will be considered
as manifestations of the real intentions and negative steps will be understood
as mistakes of exceptional individuals. When inter-communal relations will be
generally characterized by friendship and mutual care, political models can be
not only agreed upon but also sustained over time.
MR: For me,
Judaism has a deep ethical conception which is universal and not tribal as many
people think. How can we explain this to the Jewish groups who discriminate
Non-Jews in the name of Judaism?
YS: I agree. The
Jewish nation was chosen to be the avant-garde that sets the example, teaches,
encourages and empowers humanity on the building of a whole society that is
geared towards the implementation of values such as ethics, worship of God,
justice and harmony. I strongly believe that most people who stress Jewish
dominance over non-Jews do so due to lack of sufficient study of the Torah
teachings, while some of them do so due to influence of the political conflict.