It has taken me five years to join the team of the Muslim Jewish Conference. I was introduced to the FEARLESS Leader Ilja Sichrovsky five years ago. He is a full hearted, passionate, bull headed Austrian with a penchant for cigarettes and red bull. My dear friend Daniel Pincus had just returned from the second MJC in Kiev. It was decided that I must attend the next one. My acting career intervened, and only now have I been able to attend. I kept getting asked "How did you get involved with the MJC?" The response was easy . . . "How could I not get involved with the MJC."
That it met my expectations is an understatement. I will share three brief moments of hundreds that continue to resonate.
Ahmad is an Egyptian, who was involved in the Tahrir Square uprisings. We sat on the bus leaving the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as he recounted his experience of marching from the local mosque to the now infamous square on that thrilling January morning in Cairo. As the protesters walked he recounted the escalation of violence from the authorities . . tear gas . . . water hoses . . . rubber bullets . . . single shots and then open fire. I was transfixed by his storytelling until another attendee interrupted asking a non related question. I’m still waiting to hear how it ends.
Then there was Maryam, a Pakistani Social Impact Entrepreneur and the Vice Secretary General of MJC. She wowed us with a definitive FEARLESS SPEECH at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin. She emblazoned the hall saying “It is not the perpetrator of violence that is most dangerous, it is the silent bystander that does nothing.” She continued, “You are not obligated to complete - you are not permitted to abandon.” It was a clarion call for action. DO SOMETHING.
The most emblematic for me was a brief snapshot during the Interfaith Shabbat Service. The coordinators were inclusive of various expressions of Judaism, from Orthodox to Reform - Sephardic to Ashkenazi - Israeli to American. Panels were set up for the Orthodox participants who chose to worship with their own gender. There was only one Orthodox woman who chose to sit in the allotted section. As we approached the stage to light the shabbos candles, I noticed that sitting next to this woman was a muslim woman in hijab. She joined her so that she wouldn’t sit alone. A simple gesture - the gift of presence.
I am a better man for having participated in the Muslim Jewish Conference. My heart is full from the people I met and the humanity that I witnessed during those seven days in Berlin. I am enlivened and challenged by the conversations that erupted from the intersection of over 120 strangers from over 40 countries. As the conference was ending I found myself approaching absolute strangers and attempting to connect before it was all over. I became present to my individual historical narrative and the biases I bring to the global political shifts from my privileged American perspective.
I am grateful for Ilja who is a miracle worker - a man who has worked tirelessly to ensure that this event happens every year and honored he kept his promise to bring me five years ago. I am blessed for being able to share a week with one of my greatest friends in the world and a true inspiration to me, Dan Pincus. I am humbled to be in the company of so many fearless people committed to creating new spaces for interfaith cooperation, understanding, love and PEACE! I can't wait for the next one. Azucar!