Melchior to discuss need for activism from religious leaders

When your home is the Holy Land, sharing sacred space becomes a day-to-day issue, and it often becomes a bloody one.

This is something Rabbi Michael Melchior and his associates at the Mosaica Center for Interreligious Cooperation hope to end.

“Religion is, at a growing rate, [the way in which] people define who they are and their identity, and very much in a way of bringing blessings to people and hope to people and healing to people,” Melchior said. “But sometimes [it] also defines who they are not and who they should be fighting against.”

Such a definition turns communal, sacred places into exclusive sites of worship, he said.

Melchior will deliver his lecture, “Religion and Sacred Spaces: Obstacles to Peace or Not?” at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy.

Mosaica is an organization founded by Melchior in 2002 with Elie Wiesel and Aviad HaCohen to promote conflict transformation through discourse and universal values. Though Mosaica operates on the Jewish ideals of justice, mutual respect and reconciliation, they seek to work within the multicultural reality of the Middle East.

“While I, in general, believe that the world is going toward a better world, before we get there, there’s some difficult times,” Melchior said. “This can be a very, very harsh world which we’re going through today, when thousands and thousands of people are killed and raped and are put into refuge, and the world is just watching and doing nothing.”

The goal of Mosaica is to gather religious leaders to speak out against this violence, Melchior said.

“The question is, can we turn this around? Can we, meaning religious people, say enough is enough?” he said. “Together with leaders from other religious traditions in the most difficult of circumstances, can we say we will not accept any more killings?”

One example of this kind of action came after a recent Jewish terrorist attack, Melchior said. While the attack drew widespread condemnation, a group of rabbis decided to go beyond condemnation to organize a meeting outside the emergency unit where victims were being treated.

“We had a conversation together — a very tough conversation — which included, of course, a total condemnation and a tough conversation about what led to a crime like this,” he said.

These kinds of encounters are necessary to build the kind of “better world” Melchior envisions.

“If there is to be a future, radical believers must pull together and show that there is a different way,” he said.