Urging religious dialogue as a means to achieve peace, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau, the chief rabbi of Israel, addressed a crowd of 500 at the West Coast convention of the Orthodox Union Dec. 20.
Held at the Peltz Theater of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the inaugural event began five days of programs designed to help Jews cope and understand their place as Jewish Americans in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Other convention events included a talk by radio commentator Dennis Prager on Islamic-Jewish hatred and an address by Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center on the global view of the war on terrorism.
Lau, who came to Los Angeles as a special guest of the convention, has held the position of chief rabbi for nine years. At a press conference at the Wiesenthal Center the next day, Rabbi Marvin Heir said Lau "is unique in the sense that he has reached out to the Muslim community and the Christian community and can speak firsthand about the elusive peace that refuses to come to Israel but is not Israel's fault."
Lau then took the podium and spoke about his attempts to meet with Arab religious leaders and he noted his frustration that his many attempts at dialogue with Arab religious leaders, such as Sheik Yassin of Hamas, had been rebuffed.
Lau said that peace would not occur through government negotiations but rather through education, religion and the media. He urged Los Angeles Jews to visit Israel as a show of support, and he also said that if peace could not be achieved within Israel, perhaps it could be achieved by Jewish and Muslim leaders of major cities in the Diaspora forming committees for dialogue and understanding.
"In my opinion, religion can be -- must be -- a bridge for understanding and peace, and not a gap," he said. -- Gaby Wenig, Contributing Writer