It is 6:30 am in Berlin. I am sitting on some logs around a fire outside, after dancing the night away; ending up at Chalet with two girls I had met inside the smoke-filled rooms. After brief introductions, we had discussed how we ended up in Berlin in the first place. I shared my experiences from the 5th Muslim Jewish Conference (MJC) which I had just attended in Vienna, and they were both impressed that I had travelled so far for such a cause.
“It’s really great that there is something like this out there, especially since the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has ruined so many lives,” she says.
Please stop. It’s 6:30am. I really don’t have the mental capacity to discuss this issue right now.
“So what’s your take on this… since you are a Jew?”
Great. I, an Australian, now represent the entire Jewish population on this earth to this person, and my feelings about Israel-Palestine conflict will clearly be tested and measured. The last thing I wanted to do was to talk about Middle Eastern politics, but of course the topic hovered over me like a dark cloud, waiting to pour only onto me.
In reply I explained to her that “Right now it’s a complex situation that cannot be simplified and has no clear answer. Maybe instead of discussing this, I’ll tell you about my experience in Vienna…”
I came into MJC believing that it’s important for people to understand that there are different perspectives about every issue – religious, social or political. MJC is not about trying to change someone’s mind, but to instead listen, accept that someone may think differently, absorb that information and recognise the diversity in opinions and experiences. I thought that within my committee – Religion and Power – we would talk about the conflict incessantly and I was dreading it. Instead, we talked about a myriad of other contexts and it was clear that it is not just Israel and Palestine that are unfortunately experiencing tragedy. I wanted to learn more about Islam and Judaism and how these religions are applicable to modern concepts of human security, and I felt like we had achieved that. MJC effectively armed me with the necessary knowledge to talk about Middle Eastern politics without succumbing to a corner waving my little white flag.
One of the many memorable discussions I had about Islam outside of the committee was about the concept of time. At first it was about the power of prayer and the meaning behind praying five times a day. The fact that prayer is a very personal act, and how there really is no excuse (unless in a dire situation) not to “check-in”. That in every moment you have, you keep in mind that angels will be watching over you and meticulously cataloguing your actions. Therefore, time is about being both in-tune and tuning out. To be in-tune with the world around you and to continue for good deeds to be written (or to execute Tikkum Olam in Judaism). And tune out of this hectic world and be in touch with the spiritual realm that continues to push you to strive to be the best person you can be through submission to God (or the Shema Yisrael prayer in Judaism). Time is precious, one should understand its importance and not waste it. Ironically, after this conversation we ended up in the lobby of the NH hotel in Vienna, chatting away and wasting time instead of being productive but there is only so much you can do at 10 pm after the intensity of the schedule.
And now, here I am at 6:30am, trying to figure out how to answer my room-mate without being rude and telling her that I’m not bothered to listen what she has to say. In the end, I listened. I listened, absorbed what she was telling me, gave her information (which she did not accept) and moved on.
It took me two days to get home from Berlin to Sydney, and I had a lot of time on my hands. I was texting back and forth a friend about how much I missed being able to spend time with him and everyone I had met, and in reality, questioned if I utilised my time at MJC to its fullest potential. I did not get to meet everyone, nor did I have all the deep and meaningful conversations I was planning on having but I came to the conclusion that my own limitations were the problem, and not time itself. I recognised that time is my friend and will continue to give me such opportunities until we meet again – hopefully in Berlin circa 2015, but hopefully not at 6:30 am.
Muslim Jewish Conference 2014