My journey to Israel began on December 18th, much earlier than most of the other participants on this trip. I was embarking on a 10 day trek around the country sponsored by an organization called Taglit-Birthright, which gives Jewish young adults the opportunity to go to Israel for almost no cost. The experience was a tremendous one. I met an amazing group of my Jewish peers, most of whom attend American University with me, and I got to further connect to my Judaism and to the homeland of my people. On Birthright, I looked at Israel almost exclusively through a Jewish lens. For example, our visit to the Old City of Jerusalem consisted of a visit to only the Jewish quarter. On this trip with The David Project, I got to experience the unique flavor of all four quarters of the city. This different perspective showed me how diverse Israel is and how it's diversity plays out in the various conflicts the country faces.
On day 7, I got to do something that I've never experienced before: visit a mosque. Kababir, a mosque for the Ahmadiyya sect of of Islam, is beautifully situated on the side of Mount Carmel in Haifa, which is Israel's third largest city. The Ahmadis found peace in Haifa - much better than the strife they faced in their former country of Pakistan, where they were religiously persecuted. The Ahmadis preach an Islam that is not bound by Sharia law or complex interpretations of certain rules. Their practice focuses on the tenets of peace, love, and rationalism.
When I really thought about my time at the mosque, I realized that Judaism, Islam, and Christianity practically preach the same things. The goal is to live a life of righteousness, to serve God in a positive way, and to be a good person. The root of conflict comes from the different interpretations of holy texts. For example, some Jews think that the Torah says that they must settle the entire land of Israel while some Muslims think that the practice of Jihad should be taken to an extreme level. All three religions share the same God; they just have different stories and prophets that explain various phenomena. If this is true, what is stopping the people of these faiths from cohabiting peacefully together? I think Haifa is a great example of how people of different religions can live together in peace, and that gives me a sliver of hope that religious cooperation can be a thing of the future.
Zach Blaifeder is a sophomore studying Political Science and International Relations at American University. At AU, he is the Vice President of Outreach for AU Students for Israel, and is also involved in Eco-Sense (AU's environmental club) and Fossil Free AU, a group of students that is trying to get the university to divest from fossil fuels. He's originally from Wayne, NJ and is very proud of his New Jersey heritage. Zach likes the New York Mets, urban exploration, and Chinese food.