Tucsonans held small interfaith gatherings to pray for peace in the Middle East on July 14 and Aug. 4.
On Aug. 4, the evening of Tisha b’Av, 13 people from Jewish, Islamic, Christian, Baha’i, and Buddhist faiths gathered in my living room for an event Abby Okrent helped me organize. We tore cloth in the ancient Jewish expression of grief after reading the names of people who had been killed in Gaza, both Palestinian and Israeli. As part of the ritual, we decorated the strips of cloth as a reminder of our intentions to take actions to build peace within ourselves and in the world.
Tisha b’Av commemorates the destruction of both Holy Temples and concludes a three-week period of mourning that begins on the 17th of Tammuz, a fast day commemorating the breach of the walls of Jerusalem. Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem who were grieving the deaths of kidnapped and murdered teenagers decided to transform it into a joint day of prayer and fasting for peace, as Muslims were fasting for Ramadan. Gatherings were held throughout the world.
Ten of us met on the evening of July 14 at the UA Little Chapel of All Nations. We expressed gratitude for years of interfaith work. Rabbi Thomas Louchheim recalled reaching out to the imam of the Islamic Center on campus following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and how Jews encircled the center and escorted Muslim women. Carol Kestler noted that bringing together an interfaith group on short notice was only possible due to the connections developed through PeaceWalk Tucson, which held its 10th walk between Jewish and Muslim organizations this past spring.
As the organizer of the event, I led a meditation and offered the first prayer. Drawing upon a practice taught by Rabbi Stephanie Aaron of envisioning a person healthy and happy, I described visualizing peaceful coexistence, being back in Israel harvesting oranges with both Israelis and Palestinians. Rabbinic Pastor Sandra Wortzel shared two poems, including Mary Oliver’s “Wage Peace,” which echoed our earlier meditation of breathing in that which we find distressing and breathing out peace and love. Duygu Ayada read the Du’a Jawshan Kabir, a prayer for protection from the Muslim tradition. Kestler shared a modification of the traditional Amidah prayer, to pray for peace ve-al kol yoshveh tevel (for all peoples). Georgia Conroy shared a Baha’i prayer.
We closed by reflecting on a teaching by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, who died on July 3, that the messianic age is ushered in by developing what he called “Moshiach consciousness.” Moshiach (messiah) literally means “anointed with oil,” and he called upon each person to be the oil that reduces friction between people. Tradition teaches that the Messiah will be born on Tisha b’Av; out of grief and destruction, hope and redemption arise. On Tisha b’Av we revisited Schachter-Shalomi’s teaching and prayed that God ya’aseh shalom aleynu, make peace upon us.
Deborah Mayaan is an energy work and flower essence practitioner as well as a writer and artist. www.deborahmayaan.com