By Peta Jones Pellach
Rabbi Dr Alon Goshen-Gottstein, who likes to be called simply ‘Alon’, is a dreamer. He is not a day-dreamer, who allows his imagination to distract him from completing the tasks at hand. He may be a little like the Biblical figure, Joseph, who received prophecy through dreams and had to bear the skepticism of many around him until seeing them realised. He is not unlike Martin Luther King, who had a dream of a better society and was spurred into action by that vision. Alon has his own dreams and, blessed with the support of many others, he is gradually seeing them fulfilled.
Already, Alon has created the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders, which the Dalai Lama described as ‘the most intimate, as well as deepest,’ group working in the domain of interfaith relations. He has created the Elijah Interfaith Academy, which gathers together scholars representing six religious traditions to jointly explore a variety of theological topics, discovering commonalities and resonances across religions while respecting and being enriched by the differences. Through the various educational activities of Elijah, he has reached hundreds of people throughout the world and taught them the importance of dialogue and given them the sensitivity and the skills to engage with others respectfully.
Alon describes the Elijah Interfaith Institute, which he founded in 1997, as ‘a vision, a calling, a way of being’. He describes himself as a ‘spiritually engaged academic, who was, and continues to be, transformed through deep contact, spiritual and intellectual, with equally minded representatives of other faith traditions’. He acknowledges that Elijah could only exist because the vision has expanded beyond himself. It has become a collective vision.
I began working with Alon in 2010. Although I had extensive experience in interfaith activity, I had never encountered anyone as passionate and determined as he is. Alon does not see success in simply bringing people together. He wants people to be transformed by their encounter. He wants us to share the wisdom of our traditions and together add to the wisdom of the world. While Elijah distinguishes itself by the intellectual rigour it brings to dialogue, the personal connection Alon has developed with religious leaders and scholars from all traditions is inspiring. Recognising the importance of interreligious friendship, the 2012 meeting of the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders was devoted to that theme. (As one of the scholars noted, practice often runs ahead of scholarship). Interreligious friendship cannot be taken for granted but Elijah has the experience and now the scholarship to overcome the hurdles. Each of the members of the Board reflected on the deep and abiding affection they had gained for their friends from other religions as a result of the Elijah connection. The affection they all have for Alon is palpable.
And now, Alon has set his sights on fulfilling another dream – building a Center of HOPE in Jerusalem. HOPE is an acronym for ‘House of Prayer and Education’. This Center will be the first site in the holy city of Jerusalem that will truly belong to all people of faith, no matter what religious tradition they follow. There will be separate prayer rooms to suit the needs of those who have particular prayer obligations and there will be places for joint meditation and study. Underlying this vision is the recognition that there is no other city in the world that draws as much attention to itself, from a religious and interreligious perspective, as Jerusalem. Jerusalem captures the imagination of the world. It is the epitome of a ‘holy’ city and site of pilgrimage but the daily realities do not currently match the ideal.
At the moment, there is not a single institution in all of Jerusalem in which its religions share and come together. There is no interreligious center that is frequented by members of the three religions who hold the city holy and there is absolutely no sense of the possibility of sharing a site or a place of worship, as a means of seeking to express and deepen the quest for peace and harmony between Jerusalem's religions. HOPE answers these needs.
Alon Goshen-Gottstein’s dream to create HOPE is already more than a dream. A site has been identified and architectural plans have been drawn up. He is now determined to be instrumental in fulfilling words of the Prophet Isaiah, ‘I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer, for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples’. The Prophet had the vision but knew that it would not be fulfilled in his lifetime. Alon Goshen-Gottstein, if he is true to his past record, may be the one to turn the dream into reality and I will be proud to be his deputy in this bold venture.
To learn more about Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein and the Elijah Interfaith Institute’s work, click here.
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This article appears in:
2014 Catalyst, Issue 1: Activating Your Vision for 2014