Commission for Ecumenism & Interfaith Dialogue

That We May Know One Another


Sr (Dr) Marianne Dacy, noted author in Jewish-Christian History, reports on the 2010 International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ) Conference in Istanbul, Turkey (20-23 June).

2010 ICCJ Conference
This year's International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ) Conference was one of the most informative and enjoyable ICCJ conferences I have ever attended.

There were about 100 participants from several countries, including Poland, Canada, Australia, The Netherlands, South America, France, Slovakia, South Africa and Turkey itself. For many, it was their first experience of the shining, multi cultured coastal city of Istanbul with its many minarets piercing the skyline, ancient ruins, street gardens and bustling, colourful bazaars.

The title of the conference - ’That we may know one another’ - comes from a verse in the Koran, this being the first time the ICCJ meeting has been held in a predominantly Muslim country.

A Muslim participant summed up his experience by saying that he was taking home personal knowledge, for it is this component that helps us remember we have known each other. He believed a trilateral conversation was better than a dual one as Jews, Christians and Muslims are inextricably united in their origins  and shared common values.

One person had remarked that organisationally, Islam and Judaism were close in having no hierarchichal structure and their version of monotheism was closer than the Trinitarian theology of Christianity, and they shared  food laws. Christianity and Judaism were closer in  their liturgy and biblical  values.

A young participant thanked the ICCJ for creating a safe space where expressed  opinions could be aired without fear of reprisal. She said she wished to challenge those members of our community, who do not wish to meet the 'other' and wished to remain within the confines of their own safe world. We have need not only of interreligious dialogue but also of intrareligious dialogue to bring people who resist change into the relationship of openness. At the same time we need to create a home for ourselves within the confines of the structure in which we live, and come up with new models to attract people.

On this basis, the ICCJ has resolved to create stronger links with the Young leadership Committee. Next year their meeting will be at the same time as the ICCJ Conference in Cracow. It is being held in Dublin this year in early July.

Reviving the Abrahamic forum of dialogue

Susannah Heschel, quoting her father said ‘What I receive I must transform.’ Her speech will appear on the ICCJ website as will all the other keynote speeches of the conference.

Having said these things, the ICCJ is not about to become the International Council of  Jews, Christians and Muslims. However, it is imperative that we should develop more dialogue with Islam. The three religions are linked and influence each other.

We need to encounter each other on a human level in order to know one another and understand our different and enriching perspectives. It was stressed also that we need  to retrieve our sense of community. The call of faith is to interconnectiveness. However, the ICCJ focus will remain on the relations between Jews and Christians. It was expressed that we need to revive the Abrahamic forum of dialogue with Islam that was started some years ago and now needs re-envigorating.

In workshops, we learnt about the religious and political situation in Turkey - how it has applied to join the European Union and how religion is strictly controlled by the State and the situation of Orthodox Christians in Turkey. One evening we attended a Sephardi synagogue service and a concert by nine cantors and dinner in a covered courtyard.

Another time, we visited the famous Topakai Museum, the home of fabulous treasured of  sultans, and the Catholic Cathedral where the bishop spoke and we listened to some organ music and soloist who performed the music of Palestrina and other famous melodies. The singer was a Muslim lady from Ankara. Another evening we experienced traditional Turkish dancing and mime on board a dinner cruise on the Bosphoros.

The 100 people who attended, exchanged and learnt about the richness of the culture of the ’other’ in the exotic, Istanbul setting went from the conference enriched and   enlightened. It was refreshing to be in this environment. We could have breakfast outside by the sea, and experience the wonderful Turkish fruit – enormous cherries and figs, wonderful tasting tomatoes, cucumbers, bread, eggs and cheese, and Turkish coffee, as well as discover a warm hearted people, proud of their ancient culture and handicrafts.

Marianne Dacy is a Sister of Sion and secretary of the Australian Council of Christians and Jews. She also runs the Archive of Australian Judaica at the University of Sydney. She is editor of Pathways to Understanding, coeditor of Feasts and Fasts: A Festschrift in Honour of Alan David Crown, and author of Feasts and Fasts: The Jewish Roots of Christian Feasts. Sr (Dr) Marianne Dacy’s next book,The Separation of Early Christianity from Judaism, will be available from Thursday 8 July.

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