Articles from the September 1997 Unification News

IRFWP holds Jewish Conference in Israel

by Frank Kaufmann-NYC

From August 18 - 21, 1997 the Inter-Religious Federation for World Peace hosted a path-breaking conference entitled "Contemporary Reflections on Jewish Identity." Events surrounding the conference were dramatic and tempestuous. The fruits of the conference were abundant and promising for future growth and development. The academic quality was distinguished, and the human element was in many ways noble. We thank God for the excitement, the people, the scholarship, and the legitimate contribution arising from this conference.

The conference took place in Ariel, Israel, which for a number of participants was a point of controversy because the town is a major Jewish settlement on the West Bank. Currently Jewish people are divided in their opinions on settling the West Bank and other disputed areas which are discussed in the Oslo accord. Thus the very site itself added an edge and an intensity to the conversation.

Deliberations transpired over the course of three full days. As is the customary practice for IRFWP conferences, all participants prepared academic papers. The conference theme, "Contemporary Reflections on Jewish Identity," is as hot a topic as one can find in the whole world of religion. The contemporary Jewish landscape is rich in just about all elements which make for dynamic, religious reflection. The conversation tackled huge historical phenomena crowded into this century such as, The Shoah (the Holocaust), and the establishment of a Jewish State (Medinat Israel), as well as elegant and complex doctrinal issues such as Chosenness and lineage, sacred land (Eretz Israel), also MANY more issues Biblical, historical, and sociological come into play. The fundamental questions raised by this conference proved an intellectual and spiritual feast in its own right.

A total of 23 participants attended, from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel. The majority were from the U.S. The nature of Judaism in each of these three places differs profoundly from one environment to the next. This alone provided educational opportunity for the participants. To hear and learn first hand from colleagues at one's own level of scholarly and professional understanding the condition of Jewish people in these different national circumstances was valuable.

It is no secret that IRFWP conferences carry with them a unique, bittersweet quality because they bear simultaneously the sterling reputation for decades of quality conferences, together with the controversial quality of Reverend Moon's centrality to its operations. For this and other reasons, the IRFWP conferences seek a balance among the participants of "veterans," namely those who have attended our conferences and are familiar with Reverend Moon's munificence and the professional standards of his organizations, and new friends, namely those who often have to resolve issues and questions they have inherited from the years of bias and prejudice which have poisoned the media throughout the time of Reverend Moon's visionary ministry. The veterans often prove a great help in getting first timers through the inevitable and understandable jitters, until they see how blatant have been the lies about Reverend Moon. The advance of the IRFWP toward fulfilling its mission of seeking world peace through inter-religious harmony and cooperation thus expands in one way deeper (as the veterans mature in their commitments and experience), and wider (as new and fresh leaders become involved).

This time, however, the ratio was way out of balance. Just four participants had familiarity with IRFWP. This might not have been so noteworthy had there not emerged immediately prior to the conference an all out assault on the conference by professional religious bigots and fear-mongers, in tandem with unprincipled reporters and editors of The Jerusalem Post. For four days, The Jerusalem Post carried slander, libel, and falsehood, sometimes on its front page, waged with the sole purpose of closing the conference down. The fascinating aspect of this particular instance of persecuting a minority religion was that the New York based figure at the heart of the shameful attack apparently had no qualms about assailing and denigrating his own people. In this would-be attack on the good work of Unificationists, tens of Jewish leaders of towering international status, and even an entire, established institution of higher education in Israel was maligned.

Given this obscurantist attack on our work, if ever there was a need for "veterans" it was at THIS conference, and it was precisely in this conference in which they were in short supply! The "veterans" worked overtime. Sleepless nights.

After The Jerusalem Post pulled out all stops and sullied all ethical standards in the four day effort to destroy the conference, it then came time for opening day. All we (the conveners and the organizers) could do was sit, look at one another, and wonder in silence (who would say it aloud?) if anybody would show up. How great would be the casualties after a full blown, international media assault?

The day unfolded as if scripted by Frank Capra. The simple, human honor and dignity could only bring a tear to the eye. One by one, EACH AND EVERY invited participant showed up at our distant little hotel in the far reaches of the West Bank. "What the hell is going on Charlie!?" They would ask even before they plunked their luggage down. Twenty three men and women came to do what they said they would do. They came to tackle the preeminent question for Judaism today. They were among the best indeed to challenge this question, and they set down to do their work with grace, fervor, penetrating acumen, honor, and humor.

Purple hearts all around, but perhaps most especially to the co-conveners. The IRFWP, its presidents and advisors, is proud indeed to have sponsored and shared in one of the fine religious conversations in recent time. Preparation for publication of the scholarship in English and Hebrew is under way.

Much thanks is also due the Abe's (national messiahs for Israel), Thomas Cromwell (continental leader for the Middle East region), the Israeli brothers and sisters who so sacrificially served the conference, Reverend and Mrs. Moon for their trust, vision, and generosity, and God for His magic and thrilling ways.

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