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Seeking to understand my “other” family: Bridging the Great Divide: the Jewish- Muslim Encounter 2020

Published July 17, 2020 by Revd Canon Dr Delysia Timm

I was introduced to aspects of Jewish religion, culture and dance about twenty three years ago as a member of a Liturgical Dance group in the Anglican Church. I always found the various Messianic songs very deeply moving and performing the dance movements truly helped me to feel connected to God. We participated in local Feast of Tabernacles dance celebrations annually with a dream of dancing in the streets of Jerusalem someday soon. I stopped my personal involvement in Dance ministry about ten years ago as I was ordained a priest in the Anglican Communion. My love for, and understanding of, the Jewish religion and peoples had been ignited and was allowed to smoulder through all these years. Once again, the fire was lit when I had an opportunity to visit Israel as part of a Holy Land tour group in September 2019.

As much as the fire was ignited, I also was confronted with the reality of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the places we visited during the tour. I had questions about who is the “other”, about the BDS movement, the link to Apartheid as a South African brown (or so called ‘coloured’ person), the role of the faith and many more as I tried to understand what was happening. Fully understand? I am not sure. Who is the “Other”? Why do we engage in “othering”?

I had contact through engagement and participation in various family activities with colleagues who were Muslim at the university where I was a chemistry lecturer and staff professional developer in Educational Technologies before I was ordained as a priest. We would also engage in many lunch time conversations about faith and religious practices as they knew that I was on a journey towards ordination as a priest. I found the discussions very enlightening, sometimes disturbing and sometimes unbelievable. I was grateful though that I began to understand aspects of the Islamic faith.

A few years ago, post-apartheid, my family moved home into a new suburb which was previously for “whites” only. There were many different buildings serving Christian denominational worship in the suburb and no other faith groups’ places of worship evident. Although I have no Jewish relatives, a few members of my family are Muslim and family gatherings would include discussions of faith and religion as Christian and Muslim relatives came together. Soon, discussions included the latest debate and discussion in the community to establish a Mosque in the area, about 200m from our home.

As I reflect, I believe that I was still not then sufficiently equipped with an understanding to engage in these discussions in a constructive and meaningful manner.

Through the wonderful opportunity afforded me by the Woolf Institute to engage in a wide range of extremely relevant and interesting topics on the course Bridging the Great Divide: the Jewish- Muslim Encounter 2020, through an holistic approach, I believe that I am now in a better place to engage and understand the so called “othering” process and lives of Jewish and Muslim people at a deeper level, not just as a religious issue. The online course Bridging the Great Divide: the Jewish- Muslim Encounter 2020, in which I participated from January to April 2020, was highly interactive and informative with input from great scholars and fellow students from different faiths and countries across the world.

I did underestimate the time allocated as I became very engrossed with the readings from the extensive list and watching the video material for each topic ranging from the Qur’an and the Torah to issues on Economics and Trade, History, Gender and Culture. I always found that two hours per week was not sufficient to engage. As I prepared the two essays and book review, I realised that there was always so much to learn and know.

Now that I have been introduced to new websites and scholarly sources of information, not just social media reporting, I have greater insights and see a role towards building bridges that will better enable me to prepare for the next Diocesan Synod meeting. So my journey continues.

Revd Canon Dr Delysia Timm is Priest-in-Charge in the Diocese of Natal and an alumna of the Woolf Institute.

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