A delegation of Indonesian Muslim clerics arrived in Israel Monday night (less than a day before Hanukkah) with the expressed intend of "getting to know the Jewish people a little bit better." The visit is part of an initiative launched by the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC).
The clerics visited the rocket-battered town of Sderot as well as the Western Wall in the Old City in Jerusalem and took part in a festive Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony with yeshiva students in Kiryat Shmona.
Clerics with Rabbi Drori (Photo: Avihu Shapira)
The unique program was launched by Rabbi Abe Cooper, the associate dean of the SWC. Cooper, a personal friend of Kiryat Shmona mayor and yeshiva leader Tzefania Drori, decided to introduce the clerics to yeshiva life. According to Cooper the clerics represent over 70 million followers.
The clerics spoke at length with Rabbi Drori, who urged them to "become advocates for a better future and camaraderie amongst different nations" but the festive mood proved to be contagious and the clerics ended up joining the rabbi's students in celebrating the holiday.
Dancing with yeshiva students (Photo: Avihu Shapira)
Cooper told Ynet that the current project was launched following a series of meetings he had initiated last year between Indonesia's former president and delegates of both Jewish and Muslim faith. Six months ago, Cooper also participated in a meeting between religious clerics and victims of terror from all faiths, which he said made him realize the importance of interfaith dialogue.
"I asked them (the Indonesians) to choose several representatives which the Wiesenthal Center would then fly to Israel for a week. They accepted my offer and here, the world is still standing.
"These are religious Muslim clerics, but they are not fanatics. The Muslim community is immense and has followers from all walks of life. Israelis assume that all Muslim clerics are Hamas activists, and that's
erroneous," said Cooper.
But dancing, merriment and visits to Sderot aside, Cooper is intensely aware of the tens of millions of Muslims back in Indonesia. "The Indonesian press has already reported on this meeting, and I so I suppose that the truly important thing will be the political reaction to this visit," he said.