Message of coexistence: ‘Jerusalem’ focuses squarely on city’s common thread

Message of coexistence: ‘Jerusalem’ focuses squarely on city’s common thread

The Carnegie Science Center’s Rangos Omnimax Theater was filled to its 300-person capacity Monday night for a screening of the film “Jerusalem,” which was followed by a panel of interfaith leaders discussing their perspectives on the city itself as well as ways to find common grounds between the three Abrahamic religions.

“Jerusalem,” a National Geographic film running just 45 minutes, follows three young women — one Jewish, one Christian and one Muslim — throughout their separate sections of the city, showcasing its treasures from the perspectives of the three different cultures.

The film was reviewed in The Chronicle’s March 13, 2014 issue, following its Pittsburgh premiere.

The panel discussion following the film featured Rabbi Amy Levin, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Shalom; Tim Crain, director of the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education at Seton Hill University; and Karen Hussaini, president of the Syed Farooq Hussaini Islamic Interfaith Network.

Moderated by Barry Nathan, a member of the steering committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Relations Council, the panel of interfaith leaders was asked to describe the importance of Jerusalem, personally as well as to their respective faiths.

“For me, Jerusalem is so important because all three monotheistic faiths revere Jerusalem, and it’s an opportunity for our faiths to come to know each other,” said Hussaini, after explaining the spiritual significance of the city to Islam. Jerusalem, she noted, is briefly mentioned in the Quran as the site to which the prophet Muhammed was transported from Mecca.

She said she sees the city as presenting a place where there is opportunity to build bridges between the faiths.

“We have been fighting and fighting for centuries,” she said. “Jerusalem is a place where all our histories are layered on each other.”

Crain said he found significance in the proximity of holy sites of each of the three religions in Jerusalem —the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulture and the Dome of the Rock.

“We all trace our ancestry back to the  same patriarch, often referred to as this interfaith superstar, Abraham,” he observed.

Members of the three faiths therefore should focus on their great commonalities, rather than their differences, he said.

Levin highlighted the longstanding significance of Jerusalem to Jews, noting that no matter where Jews reside in the world, “we can trace our roots back here.”

“We’ve had Jerusalem woven into our daily prayers for 2,000 years,” said Levin, who lived in Jerusalem for 20 years and received her rabbinic ordination there. “As soon as there was a diaspora, Jews turned to Jerusalem to pray and continue to do that to this day.”

The film, the panelists agreed, carried a message of coexistence.

“It showed the importance of the tolerance of our differences,” Crain posited. He recognized the history of a relationship between Jews and Christians that has been fraught with difficulties but noted that relationship has improved to a great degree in recent years, as is evidenced by the increased prevalence of the use of the term “Judeo-Christian.”

“I just hope that there will be more of a recognition of Islam,” he said. “They are three sister religions.”

While Levin found some wisdom in the film regarding coexistence, “it missed some of the reality on the ground,” she said, observing that people of the three different faiths are not as separate in Jerusalem as the movie implied.

“Yes, it’s true that Jews, Christians and Muslims do not know each other well [in Jerusalem],” she said. “But on another level, they are literally bumping elbows all the time.”

She reflected on her friendly interactions with Muslim women while their children were playing at the same playground before the first intifada.

“I do want to say that if we were to take the politics out of it, we would be able to be together much more easily,” she added.

The event was presented in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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