I have been in Kiev since Sunday in order to participate in the 2nd annual Muslim Jewish Conference. The MJC brings together a diverse group of Muslims and Jews from around the world for 5 days of inter-faith dialog and activities. I first found about this event a couple of weeks ago during the ROI Conference where I ran into one of the participants, Ilja Sichrovsky. Ilja, a native of Austria, founded the MJC last year. He presented his project at ROI and when the opportunity came up to go to Kiev and experience the MJC firsthand, I took it.
I’m sure some of you might be rolling your eyes, imagining some kind of hippie-dippy kumbaya thing, set in the rollicking capital of Ukraine,, but that would be inaccurate. Don’t get me wrong – there’s been plenty of weirdness, mostly involving cultural gaps between our Ukrainian hosts and everyone else. Apparently chicken in dill sauce served to a frenetic and booming Euro-pop beat… for breakfast, is a normal thing in Ukraine. Don’t get me wrong, our Ukrainian staff has been responsive and friendly and they even inadvertently helped create group cohesion, so its all good.
So far the conference has been interesting. The group of about 70 participants is a diverse one. There are Israelis, Europeans, Pakistanis, Egyptians, Crimean Tatars, converts, you name it. Everyone has been pretty friendly and Ilja and his staff have done a great job creating a space that is comfortable and conducive to the task at hand. It’s actually been quite delightful. Mohamed, who prior to this conference, had never been out of Pakistan, upon hearing that I lived in Israel, showed me an inscription on his passport. It read “Valid for travel in all countries of the world, except for Israel.” We both laughed and I was thankful that at least it was acknowledgement of Israel’s status as a country. It was then noted that despite this outward stance, Pakistan and Israel’s extensive clandestine relations were an open secret.
Why Ukraine? I guess it just worked out that way. Someone asked how many Muslims lived in Kiev. When someone answered “30,000,” I thought to myself “Oh that’s just 5,000 less than the number of Jews murdered in one day at Babi Yar, which we drove past on the way to a party.
Of course the Muslim participants seem more educated and liberal than “man on the street” Muslims. Of course the majority of the Jewish participants tend to be fairly secular as well. A cynical person might think that this is an echo chamber, preaching to the choir and all that. And yet? We’re discussing those issues as we speak.
Last night Jews and Muslims rocked out to Klezmer music at a gala ceremony at the Rus Hotel. Come on… you gotta love that! Thanks to ROI 2007 Alum Dasha Privalko who popped by and helped me decipher the power dynamic of the Ukrainian Jewish Community (sponsors of MJC). Anyhow, stay tuned for more later!