On November 9, we witnessed a historic first when many Arabs and Israeli Jews sent love and forgiveness to each other during our Middle Eastern Peace Intention Experiment. But now many are wondering whether all that good will is about to be blown up after US President Donald Trump’s announcement to make Jerusalem the de facto capital of Israel by moving the embassy there. Violence is already erupting in Jerusalem as the Palestinians react with a sense of betrayal and fury.
I’m not going to be focusing on what’s the right or fair or politic thing to do here. In fact, I’m not going to focus on politics, and here’s why.
I’m not sure that a political solution is the fastest way to peace.
As we demonstrated with our Peace Intention Experiment, the fastest and most effective way forward may not be through government or even economic initiatives. It is through what we carried out on November 9, which was, essentially, a giant exercise in multicultural prayer.
Mohandas Gandhi, who believed that all religions “were as dear as one’s close relatives,” advocated the power of different faiths praying together.
‘Religion,’ he wrote, ‘does not mean sectarianism. It means a belief in ordered a moral government of the universe. . . .This religion transcends Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, etc. . . . It harmonizes them and gives them reality.’
A two-year national study published in 2014 by researchers at the American Sociological Association discovered that community groups across America that embrace multi-faith members, such as Christians, Jews, and Muslims, find praying together a “bridging cultural practice.”
“We aren’t talking about superficial team-building exercises,” remarked University of Connecticut professor of sociology Ruth Braunstein, who studied the phenomenon. “These are practices that are central to groups’ cultures and emerge over time as participants reflect on the qualities that unite everyone in the group and develop shared rituals that are meaningful to everyone.”
On May 3, 2015, NewGround, an interfaith organization that focuses on strengthening the bonds between Muslims and Jews, organized an event they called Two Faiths One Prayer, to gather Muslims and Jews in common prayer.
They started with some 20 people of the two faiths praying together on a Los Angeles beach, gathering up more and more of the faithful from both religions throughout the day as they traveled together on public transportation and moved to five other locations.
The group was a hundred strong by the time they’d reached a rooftop in downtown LA for their evening dinner, with Muslims reciting their nighttime Isha, and Jews reciting liturgical poetry, or piyyutim, at Los Angeles City Hall.
“It was kind of like an aha moment,” said participant Maryam Saleemi. “We’re praying to the same God, why aren’t we doing this all the time together?”
Our November 9 experiment was even more than a ‘bridging practice.’ The reason why it brought the different sides together so effectively was something far more fundamental: the rebound power of collective praying, its ability to heal the personal wounds of the healers themselves, its potent reminder of our common humanity.
While I continue to intend for peace, compassion, love and fairness in Jerusalem, I invite you to meet me in a space beyond politics, beyond Donald Trump’s actions, to the place where we were on November 9 – the space that binds us all together.
May all of us continue to pray together without ceasing.