All photos by Daryl Henderson
When people of diverse spiritual backgrounds open up to one another with respect, curiosity, and a sincere desire to discover common ground, partnerships and friendships can evolve in profound and unexpected ways…
At a time of great challenge in the world and in the Middle East, a diverse interfaith and intercultural group—Holy Land Living Water—journeyed to Jordan, Palestine, and Israel with the mission of the celebration of the world interfaith harmony week of the United Nations to enhance interfaith harmony, sharing interfaith events, collaborating in peace-building projects, and supporting programs to promote social well-being through ecological sustainability. Co-sponsored by UNITY EARTH, EcoPeace Middle East, and United Religions Initiative (URI), the delegation comprised ninety-two people from around the world, including Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’i, Sikh, indigenous and interfaith spiritual leaders, social entrepreneurs, academics, diplomats, musicians, ecologists, filmmakers, and peace activists. Rabbi David Rosen, Advisor on Interreligious Affairs to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, was a patron for the event. Our mission was to bring a spirit of harmony and peace to the ancient sites and modern communities we visited and to serve as a living demonstration of interfaith and intercultural congeniality and creative collaboration in the spirit of the common shared value of the Golden Rule “ Treat others the way you want to be treated”.
Holy Land Itinerary
Throughout the week we visited sites of deep spiritual significance to the three Abrahamic religions of the Holy Land, including: Mount Nebo, from whose heights Moses saw the Promised Land; Al Maghtas, site of Christ’s baptism; Abu Obeida Mosque, burial site of one of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions; the Mount of Temptation, where Christ resisted Satan; the Church of the Nativity; the Western Wall; the Dome of Rock; Jerusalem Archaeological Park; Ethiopian Orthodox Church; the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret); Megiddo, known as Armageddon; Beit Ha’gefen (the Arab-Jewish Center); and Bahá’í Centre and Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many of these stops included conversations and talks with local leaders and clerics.
Hereditary Sufi Leader Syed Salman Chishty greets hereditary Chief Phil Lane Jr.
Five Modes of Interfaith Exchange
Our journey centered on five primary modes of interfaith exchange:
1. Promoting Shared Values through Shared Ecology
2. Peace Building
3. Interfaith Ceremony
4. Formal and Informal Discussion
5. Intercultural Music and Celebration
1. Promoting Shared Values through Shared Ecology
A primary focus of Holy Land Living Water was the condition of the Lower Jordan River and the bodies of water it flows out of and into—the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) and the Dead Sea.
- Dead Sea Convergence: Water diversion and the dumping of waste have depleted the Jordan River and reduced it in places to a slurry of sewage. Recognizing that environmental success depends on the collaboration of faith leaders, EcoPeace forms partnerships with community leaders on both sides of the Jordan to clean up the river. Near Amman, Jordan, we attended the Dead Sea Convergence, a conference at which Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders—including Sheikh Abdul Aziz al Nuaimi, the “Green Sheikh” from United Arab Emirates—as well as members of EcoPeace, discussed projects to build peace through environmental cooperation among neighbors.
- Environmental Partnership in Tiberias: Over dinner in Tiberias, Israel, EcoPeace Israel director, Gidon Bromberg, and Mayor of Jordan Valley Regional Council, Eidan Breenbaum, discussed their projects to reduce pollution and improve water quality in the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee. UNITY EARTH presented an award to EcoPeace in recognition of their 25 years of pioneering and excellent work in the region.
- Presence of University of Connecticut professors: Four University of Connecticut faculty members working in journalism, social work, and Middle East Studies were members of the delegation. The university’s Office of Global Affairs supports intercultural communication and community engagement, hosts UConn Abrahamic Programs for Academic Collaboration in the region, and co-sponsored the Dead Sea Convergence.
UNITY EARTH Delegates gather on Mt Nebo, where Moses first saw the Promised Land
2. Sharing Interfaith Ceremony
At places of worship along the route, at historic sites, and in natural areas, the congeniality and the spiritual diversity of our group inspired offerings of prayer and ceremony, both planned and spontaneous.
- Mount Nebo: On the summit of the mountain from which Moses gazed at the land his people would enter without him, faith leaders of the three monotheistic religions made prayers for a new vision of the Promised Land, and Rev. Sylvia Sumter read the chilling words of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the night before he was assassinated: “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” Later, the group shared personal visions of a Promised Land where Jewish, Muslim, and Christian children can play together on the banks of a restored Jordan River.
- Al Maghtas: On the bank of the Jordan, where Christ was baptized by John the Baptist, Christian clerics offered a baptism ceremony to anyone who wished it, while three Buddhist monks from Thailand stood nearby chanting prayers.
- Al Obeidu Mosque: We were welcomed at the mosque with tea and snacks and then were able to enter to pray and pay respects at the tomb of Abu Obeida, a friend and companion of the Prophet Muhammad.
- The Western Wall: On a cold moonlit night, members of our group accompanied Rabbi Eliyahu Maclean to the Western Wall, where we joined Jewish worshippers in prayer.
- Healing Women~Healing Water ceremony: In Tiberias, several members of the group, both women and men, arose before dawn for an interfaith ceremony, Healing Women ~ Healing Water. Women representing Abrahamic and indigenous spiritual traditions poured waters, imbued with prayers, into a bowl that was then emptied into the Sea of Galilee.
Water Blessings held at the Baptism Site on the Jordan River
3. Peace Building
- May Peace Prevail on Earth Ceremony: On the opening night of our gathering, Fumi Johns Stewart, executive director of May Peace Prevail on Earth, led a ceremony in which participants circled a mandala of flags representing every nation on Earth and, naming each country in turn, prayed for peace in them all.
- Presentation of Peace Pole to the Governorate of Bethlehem: In Bethlehem, representatives of UNITY EARTH presented a Peace Pole to Luay Zaool, a leading official of the Governorate of Palestine. The Peace Pole that had previously stood in that sacred city had been riddled with bullets and was no longer standing.
- Peace Pole ceremony at Ethiopian Orthodox Church: At the Ethiopian Orthodox church—located at the Holy Sepulchre—the deputy Ambassador of the Ethiopian Embassy in Israel, Ambassador Mussie Hailu from URI and HRH Prince Ermias Sahle Selassie (grandson of His Majesty Haile Selassie, the late Emperor of Ethiopia) joined Fumi Johns Stewart to present a Peace Pole to leaders of that congregation in recognition of Ethiopia being the “Land of Origins” and a good example of interfaith harmony.
- Megiddo ceremony: After climbing to the rocky heights of Megiddo, familiarly known as Armageddon, where the final battle between good and evil is prophesied to occur, our group held a ceremony dedicated to peace. Indigenous leaders and women elders from several lands offered prayers, and every person in the circle called out one particular quality—such as hope, health, peace, and joy—that they wished to offer to the Holy Land. “We retold a very old story that has been in humanity’s cultural psyche for generations,” said Diné (Navajo) healer Pat McCabe.
LEFT: Indigenous-led ceremony for Peace at Megiddo RIGHT: Presenting a Peace Pole to the Governorate of Bethlehem
4. Formal and Informal Discussions
- Discussions on bus: On bus rides—which varied in length from thirty minutes to several hours—and over meals, people known each other for years and those who had just met in the Holy Land quickly segued from introductory questions about name and homeland to deep discussions of our spiritual backgrounds and how they informed, and were informed by, our experiences on the trip.
- Formal Discussion and Lunch at a Druze Community: We were graciously received by members of the Druze community in Isfiya, Israel, along with their Muslim, Jewish, and Christian friends and neighbors at a gathering convened by Ambassador Bahij Mansour, Mayor of Isfiya, and Rabbi David Rosen, Advisor on Interreligious Affairs to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. After welcoming speeches, we all enjoyed a family-style lunch, in which visitors and locals got to know one another. The members of this community offered a powerful example of how people of different faiths can live and work together.
- Visit to Beit Ha’gefen: At the Arab-Jewish Cultural Center in Haifa, we joined our hosts for a closing ceremony dedicated to celebrating interfaith friendship.
Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze leaders gather for interfaith event in Isfiya, Israel
5. Intercultural Music and Celebration
- U-Nite Concert: The culmination of our journey was a free concert, open to the public and featuring UNITY EARTH artists (Pato Banton and Antoinette Rootsdawtah, Rocky Dawuni , Kristin Hoffmann, Chi and Keuwa) and local musicians such as Caffé Jalal, the Jewish-Arab group formed by Gil Ron Shama. Dr. Einat Kalisch-Rotem, mayor of Haifa, attended the concert and was among those who addressed the diverse audience.
- Music enlivened and deepened many of our visits and ceremonies. At Al Maghtas, for example, Kristin Hoffmann of the United States sang the American gospel song “Down to the River to Pray” as members of the group joined clerics at the riverbank for a baptism ceremony.
The Inner Interfaith Exchange
A description of this remarkable journey would not be complete without an attempt to articulate the powerful way in which the experience affected each individual and the group as a whole. We did not punctuate visits to important places with chatter about mundane topics. Instead, the spiritual biographies of the members of the group, the grief and the possibility that places and people we encountered opened in us, and our joy in our shared purpose flowed non-stop, as the Jordan River flows through its beautiful, ancient valley.
Rising of the Divine Feminine ceremony at the walls of Jerusalem
—Report by Trebbe Johnson
Religious Leaders and Dignitaries Participating in the Trip
His Imperial Highness Prince Ermias Sahle Selassie, Ethiopia—President of the Crown Council of Ethiopia
Sheikh Abdul Aziz al Nuaimi, the “Green Sheikh”, United Arab Emirates—environmentalist and social change leader in the Arab world
Fr. Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadamm, The Vatican—Coordinator of the Sector on Ecology and Creation, Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development
Audrey Kitagawa, USA—Chair, Parliament of the World’s Religions
Rabbi Ellen Bernstein, USA—Author and founder of Shomrei Adamah, the first Jewish environmental organization in America
Ben Bowler, Australia—Founder and Executive Director of UNITY EARTH
Gidon Bromberg, Israel—Co-founder of EcoPeace Middle East and Israeli Director of EcoPeace
Haji Sayed Salman Chishty, India—26th Generation Gaddi-Nashin (Hereditary Custodians/Key Holders) of the Sufi line
Rocky Dawuni, Ghana—Musician and UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Environment
Dr. Phramaha Boonchuay Doojai, Thailand—Chairperson of the Asian Interfaith Network on AIDS and director of Chiang Mai Buddhist College
Rev. Jeff Genung—Co-founder and President of Contemplative Life
Rabbi Gabriel Hagai, Israel-France—Faculty member, Institut Catholique de Paris
Ambassador Mussie Hailu, Ethiopia—Director of United Religions Initiative Global Partnerships
Rev Cameron McAdam, Australia—Uniting Church Minister
Devi Mohan, Slovenia—Mohanji Foundation
Rev. Deborah Moldow, USA—Interfaith minister and founder of Garden of Light, retired Representative to the United Nations of the World Peace Prayer Society
Rabbi David Rosen, Israel—Advisor on Interreligious Affairs to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland
Fumi Johns Stewart, USA—Executive Director, May Peace Prevail on Earth International and The Peace Pole Project
Ambassador Anil Trigunayat, India—Distinguished Fellow at Vivekananda International Foundation and Member of the Indian Foreign Service with past service in Jordan, Libya, Sweden, and other countries
Monica Willard, USA—United Nations Representative for United Religions Initiative
Mindahi Crescencio Bastida Muñoz, Totomi-Toltec, Mexico—Director of the Original Caretakers Program, Union Theological Seminary Center for Earth Ethics and General Coordinator of the Otomi-Toltec Regional Council in Mexico
Pixie Burns, Ngarigu/Ngarakabul, Aboriginal, Australia
Rev. Angelica Cubides, Ecuador—Peace Representative for the World Peace Prayer Society
Jason Kelly, Mutthi Mutthi / Wamba Wamba, Aboriginal, Australia
Chief Phil Lane Jr, Chickasaw-Yankton Dakota, Founder of Four Worlds International Institute, North America
Pooki Lee, Native Hawaiian, North America
Dr. Martha Many Grey Horses, Kainai First Nation, Canada
Pat McCabe (Weyakpa Najin Win, Woman Stands Shining), Dineh (Navajo) Nation, North America
Karin Lindeman-Boere, Frisii People, Northern Europe, Co-Founder and CEO of Four Worlds Europe, initiator Sacred Circle of Indigenous Women of Europe, member of Women Council of Indigenous Frisii
Rocky Dawuni, Ghana—Musician and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Environment
Pato Banton and Antoinette Rootsdawtah, USA—Reggae music Grammy Award nominees and
URI Goodwill Ambassadors of the Golden Rule
Kristin Hoffman, USA—Ethereal Renaissance pop singer and composer
“Chi” Suwichan Phattanaphraiwan, Thailand—Karen indigenous singer and tenaku player, and Jenny Kuewa, singer
Adam Collett, Australia – Creative Director, UNITY EARTH
Irina Morrison, Australia – Communications and Operations Manager, UNITY EARTH and World Weavers
Phillipa Friedland, Israel – EcoPeace and UNITY EARTH Event Co-ordinator
Cary Sullivan, USA – Manager, AfroFunke’
Biswadeb Chakraborty, India – URI
Daryl Henderson, USA – Photographer
Rajiv Sankarlall, USA – Photographer
Jon and Sommer Ramer, USA – SINE, Compassion Games International
Phrakhrusuwanpotivoratam Imrat, Thailand – Buddhist Monk
Phrakhrusamu Vichien, Thailand – Buddhist Monk
Karin Lindeman-Boere, Netherlands – Four Worlds Europe
Avis Mulhall, Ireland – Creative Co-ordinator UNITY EARTH
Ben Reisman, Netherlands – Filmaker
Daniel Reisman, Netherlands – Filmaker
Jos Wesemann, Ethiopia – Wesemann Travel
Joni Carly, USA – JoniCarley Media
Trebbe Johnson, USA – Radical Joy for Hard Times
Kanu Kogod, USA – Bridges in Organizations, Inc.
Noel Marshall and Robert Warner, USA – LightPartners
Steven Kalishman, USA – Jordan Valley Sister Cities
Lavern Michelle (MiraMichelle) Jones, Germany – Sacred Female Rising Institute
Anne-Marie Voorhoeve, Netherlands – The Hague Centre for Global Convergence
Adrian Iacobus, Romania – The Hague Centre for Global Convergence
Diane Williams, USA – The Source Synergy Foundation
Rev Sylvia Sumter, USA – Unity of Washington, DC
Diana Douglas, Canada – Knowing Field Designs
Patitham Samniang, Thailand
Dr Gary Umeda, USA
Sudhir Mehta, USA
Olivia Hansen, USA
David Willard, USA
Roger and Wendy Hastrich, Australia
Mary Elizabeth Mason, Canada
Ulrich Schlichting, Germany
Analesa Berg, USA
Deborah Sandella and Richard Fullerton, USA
Jeevan Jones, Germany
Susan Jasiewicz, USA
Bill Carmean, USA
Amina Rab, USA
Emanuel Kuntzelman and Laura Rose, USA
Victoria Phillipa, Australia
Ben-Zion Weiss, Australia
Kelvin Onus, Australia
Gregory Jackson, USA – Four Worlds USA
Marcelle Schierbeek, Netherlands
Andrew Kaen, USA
Andrea Gebler, Germany
Daniel Jeremy Pressman, USA – University of Connecticut
Scott Wallace, USA – University of Connecticut
Kathryn Libal, USA – University of Connecticut
Heather Elliott-Famularo, USA -University of Connecticut
Clergy From Around the Planet Gathered to Pray for the Environment at Megiddo National Park
David Israel, JewishPress.com, February 7, 2020
Living Water Festival in Megiddo Brings Spiritual Leaders Together
i24 News, February 24, 2020
Holy Land Living Water
Mindahi Bastida, Center for Earth Ethics
Pilgrimage to the Promised Land
Trebbe Johnson, to be published in Parabola Magazine in Summer, 2020
— May Peace, Interfaith Harmony and Compassion Prevail on Earth —