Jerusalem Conference

La “Jerusalem Conference” est organisee chaque annee depuis cinq ans. Elle brasse un nombre interessant de personnalites a tous les niveaux de la societe israelienne. Sa tendance initiale est “Chardal = חרד”ל ” qui veut dire ultra-orthodoxe religieux et national tout en signifiant “moutarde” enhebreu. C’est un lieu de reflexion tout-a-fait passionnant.

The fifth Jerusalem Conference took place on February 19-20, 2008 in East Jerusalem, at the Regency Hotel, the former Hyatt, where the rightist Israeli minister of tourism, Rehavam Ze’evi, was killed on October 17, 2001. He was a strong defender of the existence of a large State of Israel, a member of the Palmach since 1942, claiming that Israel should include Jordan since some of the Tribes were located in that territory (Gad Menashe, Reuven). He had suggested, as the founder of the Moledet (Homeland) party, that the Palestinian inhabitants living in Eretz Israel should be transferred to different Arab countries in the region.

The Jerusalem Conference – כנס ירושלים assembles, since 2004, a rather large panel of different actors inside of the Israeli society. It is mainly sponsored by American groups with permanent links to the Likud (Benyamin Natanyahu) and Moledet (Benyamin Alon) but also other political personalities (Nathan Shcharansky). In the previous years, the Rav Meir Lau ensured a real ethical and spiritual reflection about the existence and the moral development of the State of Israel. The Jerusalem Conference is also closely related to the groups that, without any spirit of concession, refer to safeguarding and protecting the Jewish and Israeli identity, the Ultra-Orthodox movement of Jewish renewal as it appears in Efrat/Gush Etzion and in Shomron (Samaria), backing the settlements. The event is always covered by Arutz Sheva and Sheva and appeals to various partners: the Jerusalem Post, journalists of HaAretz. The movement “One Jerusalem – ירושלים אחת “, represented this year by N. Charansky is joined by the American benefactors Irving and Cherna Moskowitz who buy land and properties in order to build and develop Israel, especially in Jerusalem and the vicinity.

I was present at the three past years. It started because – whatever personal opinion – I try to read and understand all the mainstream books, newspapers that exist in the Israeli society, firstly in Hebrew and in other tongues, mainly in English that has a huge impact at the present. French and Russian are present in the Arutz 7 network, but Russian is absent from the Jerusalem Post group. In the past years, the conference was extending over three full days. This year, it had only two days, which was a bit compact because of the first morning snow covering Jerusalem. Nonetheless, the program was broadcast through Arutz 7 on the internet. When two sessions were programmed at the same hour in different rooms, they were each pretty much attended. Some young people from Odessa (Ukraine) had been invited this year, but they did not intervene as special guests.

Such a conference is by nature backed and attended by supporters of some sort of Orthodox Judaism. Since last year, the two Chief Rabbis of Israel, Shlomo Moshe Amar and Yona Metzger, give their blessings to a venue where people are as diversified as any “normal” Israel small group of citizens or inhabitants. Curiously, but what to do? – in this 150th anniversary of the birth of Eliezer Ben Yehudah, the reviver of the Modern Hebrew tongue, English has largely prevailed in the sessions. Indeed, Robert Rechnitz, Los Angeles businessman and Organizer of the Jerusalem Conference spoke more Hebrew than before and showed a real love for Yiddish. Still the venue was very Anglo-Saxon and American. To my knowledge, no lecturer specifically described this phenomenon and the importance of the revival that has been taking place in the past 150 years. When N. Charansky spoke in a very distinct English, he got into that movement that seemed to link Israel to the Western culture and weltanschauung, which maybe not that evident as Israel encompasses all cultures by its universality.

Strategical, tactical, military commentators and specialists are always of great interest because of their high expertise. This year, Iran and missiles, fighting terrorism were the themes developed by Israeli and mostly American high ranking military professors. The Jerusalem Center for Political Affairs and the Herzliyah Interdisciplinary Center were represented by their actual think tank leaders, Manfred Gerstenfeld and Shabtai Shavit, a former Director General of Mossad Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations and currently the Chairman of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism.

This gave more impact to a general overview of the conference that had started with Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, calling for a spirit of union and co-listening among all the parties of the blossoming Israeli entity in search. She has spent a lot of years working at the Mossad, thus the security and supreme defence of the country.

Shabtai Shavit showed some plain surprise of the world’s reluctance to fight terrorism and even find a suitable definition to “terror”, in particular with regards to Israel’s existence. This is the point. And this “nekuda” cannot pass or be removed right out of the blue moon or because of insightful expertise.

40 years of “One Jerusalem building process” and 60 years of the State of Israel. Indeed the Ottoman Empire broke down into small new countries, often remodeled by the French and the British. Israel belongs to the generation of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Modern Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Caucasian and Persian plateau toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Near and Middle-East area has been shaken again since World War II and the emergence of some nations that try to get their independence since the collapse of communism in Soviet Union.

True, Israel has gained international prestige and competence in many fields. Sadly enough some Israeli Arabs have reached similar knowhow and can only show in “guest countries”. But this cannot be a part of the Jerusalem Conference. “The One Jerusalem” is not only a matter of vague or strong secular Zionism. Over three decades, I have seen how this “Mikdash/מקדש” – Temple imprint in the fundamentals of the Jewish daily praying service of God has matured to a challenging question: Rav Yaakov Ariel and the Institute of the Temple will exercise more and more pressure as concerns this Temple mount divine service.

This is a very interesting feature that can be traced back throughout the previous Jerusalem Conferences. It is indeeed a “place of sharing, listening, arguing, thinking” At least, any speaker is basically welcome: a specialist of women prayers, women requiring the opening of some stores or malls on shabbat! The fans can applaud their classical political leaders. At the heart of a common identity, there is Jerusalem. It is so evident that the prayer is said three times a day: “Rebuild soon and speedily the dwelling of Your Presence in Jerusalem, Mishkan Kvodecha – משכן כבודך “. It is so clear that it may be parroted out without realizing all the related consequences. Most of all, it may be accepted and required by some Israelis. Others would firstly ask for peace, quietness and justice toward each individual and group. They may not focus on the spiritual combat that tracks back to Jacob and explains some rights of the Jews on this earth.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni showed a reall will to assemble what is often mirrored as a framework composed of split faces of Israelis’ life path in modern times. The minister is indeed constantly confronted to “willing and conscious rejection of Israel’s reality” at different international levels.

Now, I am not a politician and would not connect faith with political claims or requirements. Faith transcends “the government of a polis – city – tzibur – ציבור “. True, Jewish socializing – in particular the life of pious Jews – requires some fencing settings, not in order to exclude, but to know who is who and how Jews can pray with Jews. Subsequently, it was strongly affected by the centuries-long persecutions. It happened long before Christianity and Islam. In the end, the prospect is that all the nations will be saved. In Zechariah 8:23: “In those days ten men from nations of every tongue will take hold of every Jew by a corner of his cloak and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you”.

Then, it is really amazing that this Jerusalem Conference is totally ignored by the local Churches. And even educated Jews will depict the Church with cliches. This is not surprising. There can be some Evangelicals, a few Messianic scattered along the conference. The atmosphere is very American, far too much “Anglo”. Israel has very competent former Romanians, Soviets. Y. Edelstein and N. Charansky do not “exhibit” this strong former soviet impact of thousands of Israelis actors that influence all the levels of Israeli society. Very high cultural, high tech, educational, theater, music, computer, business that may still be a bit at pain to cope to the full with very pious life. No Ethiopians, few South Americans.

Good enough. The 13 official Churches recognized as the main local Christian denominations systematically back the Arab side. Let’s say that during the venue, Christians and Gazans were facing a terrible situation of total isolation. Then, it is possible to state that the Christian faithful and hierarchies are not familiar with the Jewish world and definitely not close to “the Jerusalem Conference” options. They hardly can match and seemingly only target to get their properties. It would not be too difficult for the Churches to ask the Hamas to stop qassaming / snipering Sderot. Shabtai Shavit was very pragmatic with regards to this problem: there were days and years when Kiryat Shmoneh was submitted to constant bombing. There are “invariants” in the development of the country and its shaping.

I am the only Christian priest and wear my priestly cassock. I always ask for the blessing to be present at the Conference, provided that I do not participate or give any interview. The first year was even very touching, true! a group of women – wives of the organizers – asked me if it was not too uncomfortable. They were astounded that I was interested in the event. I answered that I felt definitely at home and that Israeli society also include the local Christians who would certainly be very baffled by such a conference. It would allow individuals to share and slowly connect. I mean the relationship between religious denominations cannot be reduced to property prospects and deals, visas, old pensioners and medical care assistance (Bituach leumi and Kupat Holim) and a sort of arrogance that regularly shows on both sides.

There is another reason that overshadows all kinds of reluctances and political deals or disagreements. Precisely during this two days of snow, the Good Friday prayer for the Jews in the Catholic Church (Old Tridentine rite and post-Second Vatican council) showed that the relationships between the Christians, in particular the Roman Catholic Church were tough. It requires much much more than 40 years and a Second Vatican Council in which there were no agreement with the Oriental Churches as concerns the Jews (Nostra Aetate). It ended without the final consent of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, nor of the numerous Protestant Churches.

The “Good Friday” issue was raised because the Catholic Church openly reintroduced the Tridentine rite. This is the problem of the Catholic Church. It affects the Jews as – again – non-Jews would pretend to ask God to convert the Jews on Good Friday (* of course they do as the official prayer clearly shows: “Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men”). This is an “einsame Zwiesprache – lonely dialogue” which obliges to take into account the real expectations of each faith. They cannot match at the moment and there are too many tongue slips… Patience and wisdom does not mean ignorance and arrogance or any judgmental atitude. We have to be aware of that and true encounters hardly can go too far in the Middle-East at the present.

It will take centuries before we all will be able to come to positively consider the spiritual faith of each scattered body. The parallel between Jerusalem and the possibility to rebuild the Temple is a simple evidence – a deja-vu of the Jewish history. The problem is that, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the collapse of post-World War II and communist era, the Christians and the local Churches are still stunned by the “seizing” of the Holy Places by the Jews.

When I got this year the draft of the “Jerusalem Conference” program, I could think that, eventually, the organizers would have some speakers – just a few ones that could outline the process of dis/reconnection that does exist between Israel and the Churches at various levels. Churches are never mentioned as such and Islam is merely some Iranian “non-Arab threat”.

Still, Jerusalem has also Gypsies and some Beduin inhabitants. Both Jews and Christians should not be afraid of each other. On the contrary, it becomes urgent to explain the traditions with exactitude and to avoid biasing with living communities. It is one of the most interesting Jerusalem annual events because it obliges to consider the debates with sharpness and insightful understanding. It is always much more challenging to be questioned by others which do not share “our points of view”. The Jewish-Christian debate is full of friendly and useless systematic agreements and parrot-fashion.


It will be very difficult to enlarge the program. It is though a innate quality of such a brainstorming conference to develop its skills and resources

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