The interview with Rev. Russ McDougall and Dr. Miriam Feldman-Kaye took place on Feb. 8th before the Feb. 19th Praying Together for Constructive Conflict in Jerusalem gathering. Rev. Russell McDougall, CSC (Fr. Russ) was ordained a priest of the Holy Cross in 1991. He has been rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute since 2014. I also interviewed Dr. Miriam Feldman-Kaye of the Three Faiths Forum.
The show began with Fr. Russ reflecting on the time that has passed since our first show with him two years ago. I suggested that we look at what progress has taken place in interfaith activism since that time.
Fr. Russ wanted to clarify that he does not consider himself an activist in the plain sense of the word. He is a Catholic priest and priests in the Christian tradition are supposed to be mediators and reconcilers. “We are challenged and invited to reconcile people to G-d and hopefully to draw people closer to one another. And that has been the heart of my work at Tantur which is an academic theological institute that tries to bring people with very different theological convictions together to understand one another and hopefully to build closer bonds of friendship and communion.”
Fr. Russ explained that Tantur’s mission is principally among Christians but interfaith dialogue has been part of the mission from the very beginning. Were he to consider himself an activist, it would be in the sense of his friend, Dr. Debbie Weissman, the past president of the International Council of Christians and Jews. Debbie Weissman recently wrote in her Memoires of a Hopeful Pessimist (2017) that she is an activist through dialogue.
Instead of progress, Fr. Russ sees a number of different developments. He spoke of this year’s successful Christian Unity Week where for nine evenings, Christians of all different traditions gathered for their evening prayer. There were Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans, Syriac Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox. The experience of going on pilgrimage from Church to Church each evening and standing before G-d together was a very moving experience for all.
The experience of facing G-d together and standing before G-d in prayer is what has been at the heart of Praying Together in Jerusalem. Praying Together in Jerusalem is an interfaith initiative that invites Jews, Christians and Muslims to come together to pray their evening prayer alongside one another. This has been happening on the last Thursday of every month for the past year and a half.
There have been a lot of challenges especially in finding a place where all three faith communities feel comfortable coming to. It was a shock to Fr. Russ to realize how few are the places in and around the Old City where everyone can feel comfortable praying alongside one another. That being said, the places that we have found allowed for relationship building between all the different types of people. One place where all three religions do feel comfortable is at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute. There have been five large interreligious gatherings since 2014 which has allowed for over hundreds of different types of people from all over the Holy Land to come together for an in depth experience of fellowship and communion while studying texts, praying and eating alongside one another.
Dr. Miriam Feldman Kaye looked at the symbol of the rainbow in Jewish texts and how it can be applicable for interreligious work. Her organization, the Three Faiths Forum has a successful project working with diverse staff in Israeli hospitals. One of the deep messages she shared with us on the show was a teaching by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel. He said that there is an injunction to rise up and think higher for each person has great strength within. If you deny that you have these wings, they in turn will deny you so you must seek them out.
The interfaith encounter on Sunday, Feb. 19th was called Praying Together for Constructive Conflict in Jerusalem. At this encounter, we explored the values of ‘constructive conflict’, ‘adeb el ikhtilaf’ (ethics of disagreement) and ‘machloket leShem Shamayim’ (disagreement for the sake of Heaven) as described in the different Abrahamic Traditions. This special event was part of the Dibur Hadash: Week of Constructive Conflict that took place throughout the country and the world between February 19th to the 25th. The event was sponsored by Dibur Hadash, the Elijah Interfaith Institute, the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, the Abrahamic Reunion and was supported by the following organizations: Microphones for Peace, Rabbis for Human Rights Interfaith Department, Three Faiths Forum, Kids4Peace, Pardes Center for Judaism & Conflict Resolution, Interfaith Encounter Association and Mosaica.