The Holy Land: From Conflict to Harmony

Michael Kenton describes his experiences during a trip to Israel organised by the Abrahamic Reunion.

In February this year I received an email regarding a planned group trip to Israel; the timing was perfect as my wife and I were planning to visit Israel at that time.

What made the trip totally unmissible was that its stated aim was to:

‘Meditate and pray for peace and spiritual support of the Abrahamic Reunion, visiting and enjoying some of the holy ancient places and holy people found in Israel.’ The organiser was Shahabuddin David Less, who led an amazing tour of India in which I took part over 30 years ago.

On May 29th we teamed up with our fellow peacemakers from the USA, Canada and Europe for our 11-day tour.

The Abrahamic Reunion was established in 2004 to bring harmony and peace between the people of the religions of Abraham by uplifting human consciousness in the Holy Land. They are a team of spiritual peacemakers, women and men, dedicated to opening hearts to the love and wisdom of all spiritual traditions of the Holy Land. They do not dwell on old grievances and they avoid blame.

This approach reminds me of the Buddhist way of being in the present; it ‘frees us from the conditioning of the past and apprehension of the future.’1 I took with me a book by Eckhart Tolle that has a similar message.2

On the tour we met and dined with Jews, Muslims, Christians and members of the Druze and Bedouin communities in various parts of the country including the West Bank. Members of the Abrahamic Reunion regularly share food together and join in with each other’s family events. Over the last few years they have convened a day-long gathering in different parts of Israel hosting as many as 300 people per event.

During a two-day conference at Tantur Ecumenical Institute3 I initially wondered whether the methods of the Abrahamic Reunion could actually make any difference. However, an Orthodox Jew explained that the Abrahamic Reunion is attempting to cure the cause of the disharmony, whereas the politicians are merely trying to cure the symptoms, an analogy I found very powerful.

To quote Eliyahu McLean, Israeli co-ordinator of the Abrahamic Reunion:

‘We are breaking down the walls of fear in our minds and between our people, this is what will tear down the physical cement barriers…’.

This is the message of the mystics from all the religions, to quote a Sufi mystic:

‘Man must first create peace in himself if he desires to see peace in the world; for lacking peace within, no effort of his can bring any result.’4

Often the stories we heard were contrary to what the media broadcasts. For example, when we visited Ibrahim Abu al Hawa, from the Mount of Olives,5 he told us of his experience during the Six Day War. When Israel captured the area in which he lives, the soldiers knocked on the door of his house. He expected that all his family would be killed; quaking with fear, he opened the door, to find that the soldiers had come to give his family bread.

Israelis and tourists are told of how, in 1929, Muslims who had lived with Jews for generations in the West Bank discovered that armed Palestinians from outside the area were coming to kill the Jews. The story only mentions the 85 Jews who were killed but in fact 250 were saved from almost certain death by their Muslim neighbours, who risked their lives by hiding them in their own houses.

People we met of all religious persuasions said: ‘If the politicians would leave us alone we would be happy to live in peace.’

On the final day of our tour Shahabuddin led a Universal Worship Service, a service to attune to and invoke the prophets of the world religions.6 The great teachers gave, in essence, the same message of love, peace and harmony. The Abrahamic Reunion is living that message.

To quote Margaret Mead: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’7

Reprinted from Caduceus magazine issue 92


1. Norton F, Smith C. An Emerald Earth. Two Seas Join Press, NY, USA, 2008.

2. Tolle E. The Power of Now – A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Hodder and Stoughton Ltd, London, 2001.

3. . Tantur Ecumenical Institute, PO Box 11381, Jerusalem 9111301, Israel.

4. Khan HI. The Complete Sayings. Omega Publications, 2nd edn, NY, USA, 1990.

5. See http://peaceforibrahim. org .

6. worship/ .

7. axioms.htm .

Michael Vakil Kenton has been Hon Treasurer and Trustee of the Sufi Order UK for many years and a supporter and contributor to Caduceus from its inception. He is co-founder of Sacred Music Radio, an online interfaith radio station 

The Zohar, Interreligious Text Study at Cambridge University with Rabbi Mordechai Zeller and Sheikh Ghassan Manasra

During their visit in November 2017, some of our founder members travelled to Cambridge to meet with Abrahamic Reunion Peacemaker Rabbi Mordechai Zeller, who is currently the Jewish Chaplain at Cambridge University.  It is interfaith week in England, and Mordechai has invited the Abrahamic Reunion, and the Cambridge University Islamic Society (Isoc) to his weekly Zohar study group.

The word Zohar means “splendour” or “radiance” and it is considered to be the core text of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah, which offers a mystical interpretation of the Bible.

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Camden School Presentation

In October 2016 we visited Camden School for girls and used our Powerpoint presentation to show practical ways in which harmony is being promoted in Israel and the West Bank. Four hundred sixth formers attended, both girls and boys.

Camden for School for Girls, London

Breaking down the walls of fear

How refreshing to read Rabbi Mark Goldsmith’s article in Jewish News [29 October] headlined: ‘Now Israel and the Palestinians must value peace above victory’.

Considering the recent violence in Israel, it’s so easy to give way to despair of peace ever being achieved in Israel.

However, it is heartening to hear of individuals in Israel who find ways to build bridges. One such initiative is run by an organization called Abrahamic Reunion, which is creating harmony between Jews, Muslims, Christians and members of the Druze and Bedouin communities in Israel be working at a grassroots level.

In June we participated in a tour, extended from Jerusalem, including the West Bank, to Tzfat and Tel Aviv. We met and dined with peacemakers of all denominations.  Members of Abrahamic Reunion regularly share food together and join each other’s family events.

Our tour included a two-day conference at Tantur Ecumenical Institute with Priests, rabbis, sheiks and imams as well as female spiritual leaders. It really opened our eyes to the possibilities. For example, we met Muslins who are working for peace, something we previously believed to be contradiction in terms. The conference was led my Shahabuddin David Less, Eliyahu McLean and Sheik Ghassan Manasra, who were trained in the interfaith peace-making process by the late Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.

To quote Eliyahu McLean: “We are breaking down the wall of fear in our minds and between our people; this is what will tear down the physical cement barriers.”

As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks recently said so inspiringly on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day: “What we need now is a new and broader Nostra Aetate, bringing together all the great faiths in a covenant of mutual respect and responsibility. We need leaders from every religion publicly to declare that much of what’s being done today in the name of faith is in fact a desecration of faith and a violation of its most sacred principles. It took the Holocaust to bring about Nostra Aetate. Let’s not wait for another crime against humanity and God bring us to our senses.

Michael and Amanda Kenton

And they shall beat their swords into plough shares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.
Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3

David and Anna’s interview with Clare Balding

The first blog recounts aspects of David and Anna’s interview with Clare Balding at BBC 2, where Clare hosts a live weekly Sunday morning program from 7 – 9 AM that focuses on various faith issues, called Good Morning Sunday.

In the interview we begin by describing our work in the Holy Land; we talk about building bridges and connections, we describe our Iftar dinners, the text study groups, and our interfaith prayer gatherings in Jerusalem. We also talk about our upcoming fundraisers and programs. It feels like word about the AR’s work is really getting out to the UK, work that can offer so much to this country.

David tells the following story:

Many years ago I was privileged to be mentored by a very great teacher who believed in the principle of harmony and love as the very essence of religion. He taught me to always look at life through the lens of two words: “what if?”

In my five decades of work, with religious leaders from many of our world’s faiths, I have often asked this question regarding the differences and variations of beliefs in religions.

What if we could honour the basic tenets, customs and traditions of any religion and yet pierce the veils of separation and find the living core common to all.

For the first time in our known history we are developing a global civilization. By knowing the basic practices and beliefs of the other we can become inwardly global.

Dialogue and understanding emerge naturally, when respect and knowledge are seminal.

Our group, the Abrahamic Reunion, has brought thousands of the inheritors of Abraham’s vision together to experience in houses of worship, in eating together, in sharing prayers together, an opportunity to rekindle our deeply rooted generations old memory of the family of Abraham.

What if we really lived that memory?

He concludes by reading Rumi’s poem

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.” Rumi

Interfaith Iftar Dinner hosted by H.E. Cardinal Nichols with London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Chief Rabbi of the UK Ephraim Mirvis

London Interfaith Iftar with London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Sheik Ghassan Manasra of the Abrahamic Reunion at the Catholic Archbishop’s House in London.

This was one of the rare early summer evenings in London that seem to last forever.  I could not think of a better way to spend it than to go with Sheik Ghassan Manasra to an event that was in its own way as brilliant as the evening.  We had been invited as special guests to an interfaith Iftar event hosted by His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols at the Catholic Archbishop’s House. The evening was sponsored by the Naz Legacy Foundation and attended by London Mayor, Sadiq Khan and Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis.

We arrived just in time for the introduction of Sadiq Khan, whose remarks were funny, topical and inspiring.  They were particularly aimed at the 100 young people (aged 18-30 years old, the average age was 23!), representing all 32 boroughs of London, from all faiths and none.  After the remarks, the young people broke up into groups to discuss ‘how they best thought they could bring faith and non-faith communities together in London for the betterment of all our communities.’  This was a great chance for us to mingle and listen to the many yet harmonious voices of young Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Bahias, Buddhists, Sikhs, and those of no particular faith.

Sheik Ghassan gently introduced the Abrahamic Reunion to everyone he met, and the reception was always enthusiastic.  I also went from table to table to listen and talk about the AR.  My favourite reaction was from a young woman who said:

“What a wonderful idea.  Too often religion is blamed for conflict, and here is an example of true religion bringing peace.”

The setting was beautiful, the throne room of the Edwardian residence of the Catholic Archdiocese. Being in that setting reminded me of my Catholic upbringing.  I remembered the excitement of the first interfaith events, which in Wisconsin were between the Catholics and the Lutherans.  Listening to the young people of so many different faiths explore ways to bring people together was a great lesson in how far we’ve come and how bright the future looks.

Michael Macy. Abrahamic Reunion England

“If we live in our oneness-heart, we will feel the essence of all religions which is the love of God. Forgiveness, compassion, tolerance, brotherhood and the feeling of oneness are the signs of a true religion.”

– Sri Chinmoy

Peace Tour to the UK

Blogs through the lens of Dr. Anna Less, Co-Founder and International Executive Director of the Abrahamic Reunion, May 14th – June 6th 2017

Memorial in Manchester for the victims of the Manchester Bombing

This is the third speaking tour to the UK that The Abrahamic Reunion’s International Executive Directors, Dr. Anna Less and Ghassan Manasra, have done on behalf of the Abrahamic Reunion.  Anna’s husband David Less, another founding member and Chairman of the Board, accompanied them on part of this tour to hold a fundraiser in London for the Abrahamic Reunion, before leaving for Germany, where he met with the Abrahamic Reunion’s German board. While in London, Anna, Ghassan and David worked with the AR UK team, founded by the AR UK board members Amanda and Michael Kenton.

Blog London 5/22/17 After the Manchester Bombing

It is May 22 and the horrifying news comes in from Manchester.

There has been a suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert attended by mostly young teenage girls and their families.

Police release pictures from a security camera of Salman Abedi the 22 year old suicide bomber sauntering into the concert in his £150 Nike trainers and trendy jacket on the night of the attack. A short time later Abedi killed 22 people and injured 119 when he detonated a bomb after the concert.

Isil calls on followers to rise up in ‘war’ on infidels in the West and eight men are in custody “on suspicion of offences contrary to the Terrorism Act”

A few days have passed and the terror threat has been downgraded to severe and police say the investigation is ‘making good progress’ as they appeal for more information from the public.

We stay in Shepherd’s Bush,  a diverse, but predominately Muslim neighbourhood. It has many Muslim restaurants, Arabic writing on the shop signs, and a Mosque within walking distance of our apartment. It is common to see women in full niqab and men in kaftans shopping in the markets.

We talk to the Muslims we meet in our neighbourhood, and in the shops and in the restaurants and in the trains. We talk to our Muslim Uber drivers, our Muslim landlord, we talk to the Muslims foundation leaders we meet. We talk to Muslims from Somalia, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey, Uganda, and Ethiopia.

They have different theories, “Perhaps he wanted to kill himself, but he did not want to die alone”,  “Perhaps someone planned it who is against Muslims” “People are under so much stress they are just crazy”

It is clear the Muslims we talk to are as baffled as we are, and even more frightened. Some of them are so afraid they do not even want to talk about it. They also do not regard themselves as safe.

We ask the ones who have teenagers what the mosques are doing to protect them and to teach them.

Ghassan admits that he was worried about going to the mosque for Jummah prayers after the attack. He doesn’t know what to expect. His history of attacks from radicals makes these events come even closer.

Is the mosque safe? Will the public attack the mosque? Could someone bomb the mosque? Will there be radicals in the mosque? Ramadan is coming the next day.

He decides not to go to our local neighbourhood mosque, but instead goes to the large Central Mosque.

The police are there. The London police carry guns now. Amanda reminds me that until recently the London police didn’t even carry guns.

When we meet up with Ghassan in a coffee shop later, we sit and talk over coffee and lemonade, and he is palpably relieved after going to the mosque. He said that when he first entered the mosque a number of the congregants were dressed as strict orthodox Salafis, which generally indicates they uphold a very fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, but after the prayers, when the Imam spoke, Ghassan came to understand that the Imam was advocating a very moderate perspective.  The Imam told the congregation that they are members of the UK society and need to protect their home and their fellow countrymen and come forward if they knew anything.  He explained that the people who are most damaged by these types of acts are the Muslim community itself and he prepared them to enter the sacred month of Ramadan, which is a time of deep inner reflection for all Muslims.

After we talk we prepare to enter the train for our next meeting. It is rush hour and I realize I feel nervous about getting on the train, there is no security or metal scanners, features that I have come to expect in public places in much of the world, and as we squeeze on board our bodies are pressed against our fellow passengers.  My heart begins to pound as I anxiously scan people with backpacks and look into the faces of young men, as the train carrying thousands of passengers zooms beneath metropolitan London, I wonder why choose a venue with young teenage girls as a target. Why?  I close my eyes and pray for those children and their families and I remember words of the Sura al Fatiha and send it out as a prayer to all.


In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds;
Most Gracious, Most Merciful;
Master of the Day of Judgment.
Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek.
Show us the straight way,
The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray.

Saffie Rose Roussos, eight years old, was the youngest of 22 people killed in the Manchester bomb attack

AR 2017 UK Peace Tour Blog #4: Multi-faith Contemplations of the Elements with Rabbi Mordechai Zeller (pt.1)

London 23/6/17 with Rabbi Zeller

AR 2017 UK Peace Tour Blog #4: Multi-faith Contemplations of the Elements with Rabbi Mordechai Zeller (pt.1)

London 6/23/17 with Rabbi Zeller

Rabbi Zeller, Shahabuddin, Ghassan and I talk about what Jewish tradition regards as the Four Holy Cities in the Holy Land.

I had heard that Jerusalem was regarded by the Kabbalists as the city associated with the fire element, and the city of Safed (Tz’fat) was associated with the air element, and that Hebron was associated with the Earth Element, but I did not know what city was associated with the water element, so I asked Rabbi Zeller.

He shared that it was Tiberius.

We shared that in India there is a belief that associates certain cities with certain elements, and the chakras, and we wondered if this same microcosmic macrocosmic model exists within Judaism.

We spent the rest of the day talking about these four cities, the elements they represent, and why these four cities represent these particular elements.

We filmed our dialogue and that film will be available on the Abrahamic Reunion website soon. The next blogs will contain the highlights from our discussion.

Jerusalem and the Fire Element, with Rabbi Zeller, Dr. Anna Less, David Less, and Sheikh Ghassan Manasra

Rabbi Zeller explained that Jerusalem has been the holiest city in Judaism and the spiritual center of the Jewish people since the 10th century BC when that site was chosen by King David to be the location of the Holy Temple. However, interestingly, King David was forbidden from building the temple himself because according to the Bible God said,

‘You are not to build a house for my Name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood.’

Rabbi Zeller explains that it was King David’s son, King Solomon who built the first temple. And we collectively speculate that perhaps Jerusalem was associated with the fire element because of the fire element because of the fire sacrifices that were made at the temple.

We have a further discussion about the characteristics of the Fire element and Rabbi Zeller shares that the fire element has a unique quality that allows it to be shared without diminishing itself.

He demonstrates with cup of water and shows us how if we try to share a cup of water, we are only left with a few drops in our cup, but he goes on to say  “if we try to share the light from a candle, we can light another candle without ever diminishing our own light.”  He thinks this has great metaphysical significance and quotes the prophet Isaiah in Hebrew, and then translates, Jerusalem is supposed, “be a light to all nations.” We all share a moment of “enlightenment” as he describes how the Jews tried to express this metaphysical concept in the structure of the ancient temple in Jerusalem and explained that rather than allowing light to come in through the windows, the ancient temple had special windows designed so that the light would shine out from within the temple.

Ghassan recites the following verse from the Quran.

Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.
The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp,
The lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly [white] star, Lit from the oil of a blessed olive tree,
Neither of the east nor of the west,
Whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire.
Light upon light.
Allah guides to His light whom He wills.
And Allah presents examples for the people,
and Allah is Knowing of all things.

We each described what we knew about the characteristics of the fire element and Shahabudidn and I shared that we had visited temples in India where the same fire had been kept burning for thousands of years.

UK Speaking Tour, November 2017

Sheikh Ghassan Manasra and Rev. Dr Anna Less travel to London and the UK for a late-autumn speaking tour which also includes National Interfaith Week in the UK. They are joined by Sheikh Ghassan’s daughter and AR young adult leader Zeynab Manasra, Rabbi Mordechai Zeller (trustee to AR UK and Rabbi in residence at Cambridge University),  and Michael & Amanda Kenton, co-founders of AR UK.

Dinner With Rabbi Wittenberg and Members of the Jewish Community in London

November 10, 2017

Rabbi Wittenberg visiting a Syrian refugee camp in Greece

Rabbi Jonathon Wittenberg is Masorti Judaism’s senior rabbi in the UK. He is also the Rabbi of the New North London Synagogue, which has approximately 2400 members. Besides being a leading writer and thinker on Judaism, he is also a board member of the Elijah Interfaith Institute, an organisation that partners with the Abrahamic Reunion and Tantur Institute, to co-sponsor “Praying Together In Jerusalem”, a monthly event whose participants believe in the power of side-by-side prayer to bring friendship, respect and, ultimately, peace between people of all faiths. These gatherings have been held at various venues within, and outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem since 2015. They are currently held on the last Thursday of every month, at sunset, at the Jaffa Gate.

Rabbi Wittenberg and his congregation together with a few other congregations have collectively taken on the responsibility of supporting a community of Syrian Refugees in their North London district of Finchley, and it was at his home, last spring that the Abrahamic Reunion was invited to co-host an interfaith Iftar for those refugees, and the congregations that support them. To this day we have still maintained a close relationship with the Syrian families we met there.

The depth of Jonathon Wittenberg’s commitment to these refugee families and to interfaith can best be described in his own blog, which begins like this:

Refugees from Nazi Germany, new to London, twice bombed out in 1940, my mother and her family were taken in by a devout Christian couple, the Micklems. These good people welcomed them into their home in Boxmoor, where they stayed until the end of the war.

When they were leaving, my mother said to Mrs Micklem:
How can I ever thank you enough?
She answered:
One day you’ll help others who are refugees as you once were. That’s how you’ll thank us.

(To read more:

This time we have been invited to Rabbi Wittenberg’s home to help him commemorate, together with members of his large congregation, the event described in Genesis of when Isaac and Ishmael come together to bury their father, Abraham.

Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron, son of Zohar the Hittite, in the field Abraham had bought from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah.
Genesis 25:8-10

The story is profound in its simplicity: Isaac and Ishmael, half-brothers who earlier did not get along, come together in peace to bury their father. It’s an amazing story of forgiveness that I think still says a lot to us today.

We meet many influential members of the Jewish community in Rabbi Wittenberg’s home. Most of them hail from all over the world, and have fascinating backgrounds.

One older woman, Judith, explains that her family came from Aleppo, Syria but she was born and raised in Jerusalem and although she is Jewish, her first language was Arabic, “because at that time almost all of the Jews in my generation who lived in Jerusalem spoke Arabic as their first language.”

I was also surprised to learn that Judith’s brothers and sisters had Arabic names rather than Jewish names. “It didn’t used to be like it is now,” she says, “in those days we all lived together, we spoke Arabic, we were neighbours, and we were friends.”

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Abrahamic Reunion Presents at Grendon Therapeutic Prison in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England

In April 2016, Anna Less and Ghassan Manasra came to England and spoke at a Quaker meeting. One of the attending Quaker ministers there, Yvonne Dixon was so moved by their talk that she subsequently arranged for David Less, Ghassan and Anna to speak at Grendon Prison where she is a chaplain.

Grendon Prison is the United Kingdom‘s only therapeutic prison community for the treatment of serious sex offenders and violent criminals.

Below are some excerpts from an article about typical inmates at Grendon Prison that we read to prepare ourselves for our experience there. The article is about “Adam” and “Eddie (not their real names).”

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“Feedback” HMP Grendon Magazine – Summer Issue 2017