Today we met with Dr. Yehuda Stolov, who is the Executive Director of the Interfaith Encounter Association (IEA) and has been active in the interfaith field for over 16 years. He brings a deep dedication to the fulfillment of the vision established over forty years ago.
Here’s his TED talk on the topic.
We met with Dr. Stolov in his office and had a delightful conversation with this most dedicated peace activist.
Dr Stolov founded Interfaith Encounter Association in 2001, nine months after the beginning of the Second Intifada. He observed that the major, significant events in Israel/Palestine, such as the Intifada, began as “bottom up,” rather than “top down” initiatives. If disturbances such as these started with “the people,” then, perhaps, peace would begin there, as well. According to Dr. Stovov, what happens among the people is much more important than what happens at governmental levels.
Dr. Stovol asked, rhetorically: What needs to be different in order for peace to succeed? Change needs to begin with dispositions. “Attitudes are bad,” he opined, and they are bad NOT because we know each other so well, but because we DON’T know each other at all! Our prejudiced/stereotypes are usually not based on bad experiences, but on no experience at all. Dr. Stoval offered: If interactions are real and authentic, the stereotypes will go away.
Dr. Stovol notes a difference between being “theoretically open-minded” verses being really open-minded. This understanding led him to begin among students at first, where individuals are more often open to trying new things, giving them opportunities for authentic encounters that led to meaningful interactions.
The goal of these encounter is to “discover the meaning of the other.”
He calls these meetings encounters, where true interaction can occur, rather than simple exchanges. His groups meet once-a-month and have, as a focus, three stages.
- First, a simple encounter, meet/greet.
- Provide meaningful exchanges through monthly meetings
- Prolonged and sustained attitudes change and change
Dr. Stovol has established 86 groups, and adds 8 – 10 new groups each year; one-half of these groups persist. Approximately 1000 participate on a regular basis. Today, most of the individuals are in their 20’s to early thirties, although he has individuals as old as 80! this process has worked with children, even those who cannot talk with each other – with kids, he just lets them play!!
The encounter usually center around a them. There is a short presentation by both sides of a group represented, mostly Jews and Muslims. One presentation from each community. The conversation around presentation. One unwritten rule: Don’t talk politics! When politics do come up, talk about it self-referentially.
We were scheduled to actually experience an encounter, but with President Trump’s visit to Jerusalem today, the Palestinian member of the encounter felt they needed to cancel – RATS!!! We’ll try and fit an encounter in later in our trip.
With so much attention given to the governmental/political dimension to the conflict, our time with Dr. Stovol reminds us that the “conflict” is not so much between two nations but between two peoples – nations only existing in the abstract as collections of peoples. Innovative, clever political solutions between nations will mean nothing unless there is peace and understanding between the people who comprise these nations!
On the tourist front, some of us visited the Mount of Olives,
The Garden of Gethsemane,
and the Via Dolorosa (the fourteen `stages of the cross)
Tomorrow we travel to Bethlehem!