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"Compassion is the beginning of being; without it everything is chaos. Everything has come into existence through compassion and it continues to exist in harmony..."

Tour of Turkey uses biblical sites for interfaith dialogue
by John J. Shaughnessy
4 June 2005, The Indianapolis Star

The question came before dinner, surprising Emily Soloff with its simple sincerity.

The question came from Kazem Eldesh, one of the tour guides who was leading Soloff and about 20 other Americans on an interfaith journey through Turkey last year.

"Do Jews pray before they eat meals?" asked Eldes, a Muslim.

"I said, 'Yes, we do,' " recalls Soloff, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the American Jewish Committee, a human-relations organization that works to advance democracy and pluralism.

"He said, 'Well, tell me what that prayer is.' He sat in a posture for prayer while I said the blessing over bread. It was a touching moment to me. The whole trip was of tremendous value to the work I'm doing in interfaith. It really deepened all our relationships."

In late June and early July, Eldes plans to lead two interfaith journeys to Turkey, this time with groups from the Indianapolis area.

Sponsored by an organization called the Holy Dove Foundation, Eldes hopes the Biblical Treasures of Turkey tour will create closer connections among people of different religious backgrounds.

"As a Muslim and a Turkish person, I feel responsible for my society," says Eldes, who lives in Fishers with his wife and five children. "Throughout my life, I lived in a Muslim society. I didn't have much interaction with Christians and Jews. My ultimate goal is for us to know one another."

That goal is shared by the Rev. Kent Millard, the senior pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. He plans to be part of the July trip to Turkey.

"Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders need to model working together so society will see religion as a unifying force, not a dividing force in the world," Millard says.

Soloff saw that effort being made during last year's tour to Turkey.

"Our hosts went to great pains to point out that this was the crossroads of the Abrahamic faiths -- to show the common roots that Judaism, Christianity and Islam have through Father Abraham," she says.

Soloff said that Turkey also offered an insightful look at the religious and political challenges facing many countries worldwide.

"Turkey is a country that is struggling to balance secularism and modernism with the deep feelings of faith that people have," she says. "If Turkey can figure it out, that could be a good thing for the Middle East and the rest of the world."

Eldes hopes the journeys will provide another foundation for creating respect and dialogue.

"All through the centuries, Muslims have confined themselves within their own society," says Eldes, who works for an educational management company. "In this century, we have to interact with other people."

Eldes says that's the focus of the Holy Dove Foundation. He also says Holy Dove is an offshoot of the Niagara Foundation, the Chicago-based, Muslim-based organization that promotes interfaith education, dialogue and cultural activities. The Niagara Foundation sponsored last year's Turkey trip from Chicago.

"Diversity should be accepted," Eldes says. "Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Christians have to live together while keeping our own values. Our values shouldn't be a source of conflict."

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