One of our most striking meetings so far was with a person who on the face of it, seemed to be very different from us – Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Why?
He is a politically influential spiritual leader, the figurehead for a major religious political party. It's easy to talk to people you agree with, and everyone feels good afterward. But it doesn't reflect the reality and complexity, the real pain and emotion of this region. We believe in the value of hearing voices that differ; we are committed to understanding each side of the disagreements inside Israel – and between Israel and the world.
We know how deeply influential Rabbi Ovadia has been for many of the Israeli people. We know of his powerful impact on Israeli politics, his religious wisdom and spiritual authority. But we wondered whether the positions he represents would clash with ours; whether he would view us with hostility or resent our mission.
We made this meeting a priority in order to think about reconciling the different voices inside Israel.
What we heard, learned, and felt at this meeting, moved us deeply. First, the Rabbi received us and blessed us, commending our mission of peace. At that moment, we knew that we had common ground both in terms of peace and in terms of accepting the other.
We found more shared aspects. Rabbi Ovadia too, is an Elder with weight and authority among so many of his people. Like us, he believes in educating young people for peace, Israelis and Palestinians. We all can and did agree that children bred on hatred are destined to hate in the future as well, and this cycle must be stopped.
Notably, he invoked God's support for the fact that our mission is not about self-interest. We want this point to be heard by leaders, elites and politicians and regular people.
Each of us has looked to our religious traditions to provide us with inspiration for peace. Rabbi Ovadia, too referred to the Jewish traditions of peace, and the call for peace that accompanies so many prayers.
But beyond the words, we felt the "bayit cham" – the warm home he provided with his welcome. It made us feel we could talk, no matter what our differences; it made us want to listen – really listen. Now we want to continue talking and continue listening. And we wish for all people of this region to know how much we can all gain, by listening to those who are different from us.