It is evening in Jerusalem, the sun is setting and the cannon that announces the Iftar has just fired its shot near the Damascus Gate. Nearby, close to the New Gate, a certain excitement seems to interrupt the almost mechanical alternation of the rituals that mark time in this city. The bewildered gazes are those that are the most impressive. It is not only about the increasingly frequent clashes that have accompanied the whole of the month of April around here. On the contrary, there is a very different scene, full of unexpected hope. Here, a group of Jewish citizens, helped by some young friars from the Custody of the Holy Land, are ready to hand out to their Muslim fellow citizens water and food, at the end of a day of fasting. In Ramadan the Muslim faithful observe abstinence from food throughout the hours of daylight. Eyes full of surprise can be seen among the people who stop to receive a bottle of water, dates or a small snack. It is an unexpected gesture of courtesy when you need it most, from probably whom you probably least expect it.
This could be seen on Monday 25 April in Jerusalem, in a climate of surreal agreement and cordiality. It is an initiative that has been promoted since 2019, when the social tensions between the various ethnic groups in the Holy Land had reached very high levels of violence. At the time, friends of the Zion Synagogue and the Christians of the community of Hebrew-speaking Jews decided to express signs of closeness to the Arab citizens by Israelis. The idea was to organize every Thursday a distribution of dates and water at the end of the day’s fasting, which the Muslims observe throughout the month of Ramadan.
After two idle years due to the pandemic the situation does not appear to have changed, as the pages in the newspapers are still full of tragic news, which relate clashes and hostilities as part of the unsolved question between Palestine and Israel. These tensions are naturally reflected on the heterogeneous local citizens, summoned to coexist in a context full of religious cultural, economic and linguistic differences, which fundamentally do not favour a climate of distension between he various segments of society.
In this very difficult situation, however, there has been the impetus to replicate the initiative of three years ago. The easing of the anti-Covid measures were waited for before proposing once again this gesture of solidarity and friendship close to the end of Ramadan. It is an action that has an invaluable interreligious value, as it is an occasion of encounter and dialogue between human groups between whom there is often incommunicability. Themembers of the Kehilat Zion (community of the Zion Synagogue) and some friars from St Saviour’s, coordinated by fra Alberto Joan Pari, in charge of interreligious dialogue for the Custody, were present. In addition, some members of the Israeli Tag Meir Associationtook part with great enthusiasm and in particular its President, Mr. Gadi Gvaryahu who later wrote in a Facebook post: "I would never have thought that water and simple dates could take on such a deep meaning," showing that this experience of encounter and exchange did not leave any of the parties indifferent.
The impression is that initiatives such as this one truly speak to the hearts of the people who live here, much more than could be perceived from outside, through news that conveys messages that have nothing to do with the announcements of peace professed by the three major religions represented here. The simple gift of water and dates therefore took on a very important symbolic value, at a time when the greatest religious festivals of Christianity, Judaism and Islam converge in the calendar. It is of course a small gesture that does not have the pretention of solving the age-old problem that has this Land in its grip, or to overcome the lacerating divisions that conflict produced among the people in this city. However, it is a sign of brotherhood and distension, an attempt to humanize coexistence, to relate to the other with respect, transcending differences that otherwise cannot be overcome.
Filippo De Grazia