American Caravan for Peace

By Jessica M. Castillo

American Caravan for Peace

By Jessica M. Castillo
A cohort of five religious leaders from Miami, including a rabbi and imam from the University of Miami, attended the American Peace Caravan in Morocco in October to promote peace and understanding.

The Arabic word for ‘rabbi’ is the same word, in Hebrew, for a wise person, Rabbi Lyle Rothman learned while recently visiting the largest mosque in North Africa. He was in Fes, Morocco, for the Muslim community’s Jummah prayers, or Friday afternoon prayers, after participating in a three-day conference, the American Peace Caravan, held in the Moroccan city of Rabat in late October.

“In a time when many are fighting about their faith, at the end of the day, even the language of our religions, for example, the Arabic language and the Hebrew language, have so much in common,” said Rothman, campus rabbi and Jewish chaplain at the University of Miami Hillel. “If the languages can have so much in common, that means that the people can also have so much in common.”

Since 2016, the American Peace Caravan program has brought together religious leaders from across the United States as part of the Forum for Peace in Muslim Countries, started in 2014 in order to address rising and widespread discord in Muslim societies across the world. The Caravan brings together Jewish rabbis, Christian pastors and Muslim imams—each local group referred to as a triad—from across the United States for workshops and brainstorming sessions to gain a better understanding of one another, building bridges rather than fear.

“How do we work together and not look at each other as the ‘other,’ but as ‘brother’?” said Rothman. “We’re all doing this because we care about humanity and have a deep belief in God, because we want this world to reflect that deep belief and that sense of spirituality,” he added.

Traveling from Miami to Rabat, Rothman was joined by Pastor Rich Wilkerson, Pastor Danny Prada, Rabbi Lauren Berkun, and Imam Abdul Hamid Samra, an adjunct professor of electrical engineering at the UM College of Engineering, and an imam at a local mosque in Miami Gardens. The Miami cohort joined 55 other religious leaders from 20 different U.S. states with the goal of promoting peace through understanding.

“When you are exposed to different communities, especially from different cities and with different ways of connecting, that’s very powerful for me,” said Samra.

Organically growing a multifaith network means starting at the very foundation of human connection.

“We mapped out our lives and how we came to be who we are,” said Rothman. “We told our spiritual journeys and got to know each other at a human level,” he added, “because if we don’t get to know each other at a human level, we won’t be able to do any of this work together.”

The work involves a grassroots movement of translating the knowledge gained from the conference to each triad’s local community, imparting lessons of multifaith cooperation through activities such as breaking bread in each other’s homes, a local retreat, and bringing together at least 10 people from each the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith tradition to learn from one another through a community service project.

“We need to know each other first to understand each other and have respect for one another,” said Samra, who is originally from Damascus, Syria. “More importantly, we need to stand together, especially when there’s injustice or oppression of any group. That’s the type of community we need here in Miami. We need it.”

Jewish rabbis were brought to the multifaith conversation during the second Caravan conference held in Abu Dhabi in April 2017 as a way to bring together the Abrahamic religions—those that consider Abraham to be the first monotheist, and view the Book of Genesis as its core text.

The dialogue is multifaith rather than interfaith because the latter term implies a blending of faiths.

“This is not about a blending. This is about remaining true to your faith tradition, keeping its own unique things, but recognizing that we can all live in the world together and work towards peace,” said Rothman. “Interfaith has been done before. This is multifaith.”

Multifaith means appreciating and embracing individual differences, without imposition of one over the other, and understanding that harmony of these differences is necessary.

“We need to be very realistic and understand that we have to live together. There is no other way,” said Samra, who was dean of engineering at a private university in Syria from 2006 to 2012, but was forced to leave when civil war broke out in his country. “Everyone has his or her own faith, their own practice, their own way to worship. That should be respected.”

The next official gathering of the Caravan cohorts will be at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. in February 2018, where, at a national level, local faith communities can come together and engage in the idea of listening to hear, instead of listening to understand.

“When you listen to understand, you try to understand someone and try to change their views,” said Rothman. “But, the point is just to hear somebody out. Don’t respond, don’t try to change them. We’re all in this together, we all have different views; we need to listen to hear.”