Lines of Communication: Jews and the Vatican

Inbal Freund-Novick is an organizational consultant and co-founder of The Unmasked Comics Project, a social change comics venture with comics artist Chari Pere. After spending a year as a visiting fellow at JPPPI (The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute), she currently serves in the World Jewish Diplomatic Corps of the World Jewish Congress.

inbal freund-novickFreund-Novick is a participant in Discovering Common Values: The Catholic-Jewish Leadership Conference, hosted by the Vatican and held at the Pope’s summer palace of Castel Gandolfo. She leaves Israel Saturday night, and all next week, she’ll be blogging about it here. This is her introduction.

Let me tell you what I like most about conferences: The Corridor.

I love the corridor. Everything else that goes on at a conference is important. It all has to be organized properly so that people can present the content they’ve prepared. But mostly, in conferences, being a participant is like watching a theater production that was already prepared beforehand. Or, as I was told once by Professor Yehezkel Dror, “You learn the most from reading.†This means that conferences are out there for something else: standing in the corridor, getting to know others.

A few months ago I was invited to an interfaith dialogue conference in Kazan, a city in the republic of Tatarstan, Russia, run by the Council of Europe. It was called for the stated purpose of getting to know each other and to create an action plan, which would aim to “develop proposals and identify concrete actions for promoting and sustaining intercultural and inter-religious dialogue with and by young people.â€

Following that conference, I started leading an interfaith dialogue task force. As a result, I was invited to the conference in Castel Gandolfo, the summer palace of the Pope, which begins this Sunday.

The conference in Castel Gandolfo is an attempt to create a discourse between the younger leadership of Jews and Catholics. The Catholics who will be our hosts come from the Focolare movement, a more egalitarian sect of Catholics (or, as explained to us by Rabbi David Rosen, the neo-Chasidic movement in Catholicism).

Our delegation comes from all over the Jewish world. I will be one of 28 Jewish representatives.

Group theories discuss the way people with the same interests gather in the same groups. I guess this is what happens in such conferences- we meet others with whom we share the possibility of creating a more productive discourse than what currently exists, or with whom we are interested in being in touch.

So I try and meet the people who are gathered to watch the show – in the corridor.

In Kazan, I met Sami. A French businessman, head of an Islamic youth organization, an impressive leader. Sami and I got to talking a little bit only as the conference was wrapping up. You see, conferences have their own rhythm. At first you try to get a feel for the people. Then you slowly get to know them via joint participation in the conference. Toward the end, when the conference organizers are ready to start relaxing, there is a sense of closure–you have to talk with the people with whom you share an interest, or you risk missing out on the opportunity to communicate with them altogether. You need to make the necessary communications to ensure you can keep in touch with those with whom you created something or with whom you see potential to do something or, simply, with those you just liked–these are the best.

I spoke with Sami on the last day. A few things were said about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and I decided to tell him a little bit of my family story. He was warm and attentive, and this made me want to explore more ways of understanding his world.

A few weeks after I came back, Operation Cast Lead began. A day after I came back from Ashkelon to play with Israeli children in bomb shelters, Sami sends me a “hi†on Facebook chat. His status says: “Sami says that, finally, Olmert’s objective is to murder 0.10 % of the population of Gaza.â€

I know he’s a nice guy, so I replied, and we started talking about the operation. I sent him a YouTube video showing how missiles are fired at Israel from schools and hospitals–for me, the usual stuff–and I found out that I made him think.

That’s all. Not convinced, not becoming a pro- Israeli, but at least, on the surface, he made me realize something was happening to his viewpoint. It was changing.

This was, I guess, what we were talking about. This was “dialoging.”

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