Jews, Christians and Muslims in Odessa discussed how to unite the country
On March 19, an academic and practical conference “Religious Values as a catalyst for strengthening and spread of moral and ethical responsibility of man to the community. Experience of Abrahamic religions” was held in Odessa in Ushynskyy South National Pedagogical University.
Its was organized by the Center for Interfaith and Inter-religious Dialogue “Libertas” of Lviv.
Jews, Christians and Muslims gathered to discuss the basic principles of the Abrahamic religions in the dialogue mode. The motto of the conference was “Seek the truth and the truth will set you free.”
“We choose Odessa not by accident. There are so many adherents of different religions! The Southern Palmira is considered to be one of the most tolerant cities. Tolerance is now more important than ever for Ukraine, especially in such a crucial moment, as now,” said Director of the Centre for Interfaith and Inter-religious Dialogue “Libertas” Taras Dzyubanskyy.
Judaism: from tradition to humanity
Head of the Department of Philosophy and Sociology of the South Ukrainian National Pedagogical University Yevhen Borinshteyn is a native Odessite in the third generation. He says: already 30-40 years ago there was a so-called popular anti-Semitism, and Jewish ethnicity prevented any advancement on the social ladder.
“I clearly understood what university I could not enter, because at that time there was a 3% threshold for Jews. But when Ukraine became an independent country, there has been a different attitude towards us, there have been positive changes,” he said. “In general, tolerance is widespread in Odessa. Everybody knows our traditions and customs well.”
Despite the current century, the Jews are seeking to preserve their identity, emphasizes Yevhen Borinshteyn. According to him, the Jewish communities retain rigorism – strict adherence to behavior norms and traditions. The number of believers in the synagogues increases, which is no accident: the religion helps preserve a national identity.
Professor Berinshteyn also drew attention to the education system. Thus, in Odessa there is a possibility to teach one’s children by chain principle: kindergarten - school - university. However, more funds should be allocated for education,” he said.
Philosopher Hillel’s saying: “Love peace and spread it everywhere, love people and bring them closer to God’s law” reflects at best the idea of the Jewish concept of humanism. That is why the Jews of Odessa did not stay away from the tragic events in Eastern Ukraine.
According to Acting Rabbi of the orthodox community of Odessa Zeyev Waxman, many Jews that left the Donetsk and Luhansk moved to Odessa. Here they are provided assistance in the synagogues and communities, all possible assistance is also provided to students from Crimea, who return after the annexation of the peninsula.
Donations for Ukrainian soldiers are also being raised.
“Odessa is the city, where 132 nationalities coexist, where representatives of different religions doing their best for its development and prosperity. And such conferences are necessary, especially in a moment of crisis like now. Our country should unite together even more,” said Zeyev Waxman.
Christian way of public feat: from the image to the likeness of God
The light and faith as a practice of public service, improvement within the realities of today. This opinion was expressed by the visitor from Lviv, Head of the UCU Department of Theology and chief editor of “A Christian and World” Victor Zhukovskyy. Such meetings, where representatives of different faiths meet and discuss the situation peacefully, and conduct peaceful dialogue are essential for the preservation and enhancement of religious values and responsibility to society, he believes.
“After prayer we go out beyond the church walls and face bribery, theft, and war. It is a challenge to us as spiritual mentors. There is a stereotype that Christianity is pacifism. But the world is always a struggle of a humble man against violations of the law of God, against evil ,” Viktor Zhukovskyy believes.
Father Mykola Slobodyan arrived from Ternopil a year ago. Here he serves as Chancellor of Odessa Exarchate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. He says such conferences are a chance to get acquainted with people of different faiths, to know each other and talk.
“There are people who do not go anywhere at all and have no idea of religion. At schools and institutes we are taught religion studies, but neither Christian values, nor Islamic ones are analyzed in detail, often there is no idea that all people are god-like, but each religion calls God in its own way,” he said.
Islamic doctrine in a secular state
Honorable guest of the Academic Conference was Mufti of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Ukraine “Ummah” Said Ismagilov. He shared his vision of cooperation and dialogue in a country dominated by Christianity.
“We, the Muslims living in Crimea are 400 thousand, 250 thousand lived in Donbas. After the annexation we lost control of the communities. As you know, Islam in Ukraine originated from the Crimean peninsula, which was the spiritual cradle of Islam for Polish, Lithuanian, Belarusian Muslims. After last year’s events, we were deprived of a part of our historical foundations. However, this situation has shown: Ukrainian Muslims support their country. Of course, we need to consolidate and support. The world must turn to dialogue and cooperation between religions. Our leaders have done this,” he said.
As Sheikh Said notes, the Muslims face difficulties in Europe which is dominated by Christianity. In Europe, the secular values and the pressure on believers intensify. In Ukraine, no one exerts such pressure, this is the unique country that can show the world how to help Muslims adapt. Here the Muslims observe their rituals, observe the traditions and preserve religious identity.
“We are actively engaged in charity, and in particular we pay ‘zakiat’ - the religious annual tax, we make reasonable donations to Ukrainians, nothing prevents us get together and help those in need. Moreover, if you live in this country and are using the benefits of this country, you have to pay taxes, to go to the army if required. We are part of the country. And the main task of our outreach is to tell the truth and be fair!” Sheikh Said Ismagilov believes.
The Mufti of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine “Ummah” invited all those present to come to Kyiv and communicate within the framework of interfaith dialogue.
Changing future is in our hands
Founder and Director of the NGO European Institute of Social Communications Oleksandr Dobroer summarized the meeting outcomes: “The events of last year showed how the churches performed inappropriate roles in the social processes. Formerly the religions were considered in relations with the state, and today a new rangs of such relationships opened – religion and society. And the ability to build these relationships, using the religions’ potential for creation is extremely important. Each community has a long history behind it, including the history of conflicts, but we tried to shape our future – the creative and conflict-free one. In the hall, where there are Christians, Jews, Muslims, we think about how to unite the country and not divide, tradition is reopened. We again began discovering each other, though we have lived nearby, the voices of all communities sound in unison. We were given a fundamental gift of God – the gift of life. The past cannot be changed, but we can change the future.”
The meeting ended with a prayer-resolution, which was read by representatives of all faiths:
“The One and Good Almighty Lord! You are the source of wisdom, inspiration and all-embracing love. You bless the nations that humbly seek to do Your will. We cry unto you, Good God: grant us patience, fortitude, compassion, unity, understanding, peace in the hearts and peaceful sky. Oh Almighty and Omnipotent God, bless our only Ukraine for the good fate, bless Your people that humbly resort to You and are waiting for Your mercy! Help us open our hearts so that we can always hear Your voice and follow it.
Enlighten Your people who resort in earnest effort to Your boundless mercy! We fully admit that only by following Your commandments and guidelines, we can overcome addiction and eliminate hatred, anger, envy, and pride from our hearts.
The everlasting God, accept this prayer of Your faithful, who humbly wait upon your infinite mercy and holy will.
The Creator of the world and all things, bless sincere intention of people who gathered today in their diversity and are all striving together for understanding and confession of brotherly love! Do not leave us in our endeavors and multiply our efforts as the One and All-Mighty God. Amen.” ...