A JEWISH student walked for eight hours from the Yeshiva Centre in Bondi to the Lakemba Mosque on Sunday to deliver a message of peace and reconciliation.
Yitzi Tuvel told The AJN he felt “a deep sense of relief and joy” after he completed the walk, and presented Lakemba Mosque imam Sheikh Yahya Safi with water and a blessing at the mosque.
For the final leg of the journey, beginning at the aptly named Peace Park in Ashbury, he was joined by Together For Humanity’s Rabbi Zalman Kastel and a group of Muslim walkers, including Palestinian Australian Ayman Abu Farha.
Tuvel said arriving at the mosque “was really wonderful”.
“I felt a deep and instant kinship, both with the sheikh and with those he had invited,” he said.
“I was there with the rabbi and a few of my friends, and the conversation with the sheikh and the Muslim community leaders that he had invited was very free and friendly, it felt very natural.”
Tuvel said that in undertaking the walk, he wanted to set an example. “The example I wanted to give was that we have an opportunity here. We can’t change how Muslims act towards Jews, [but] we can change how Jews act towards Muslims,” he said.
He added that he intends to keep in touch with the sheikh and with Muslim Lakemba MP Jihad Dib, who was also at the mosque to welcome him.
“I hope to continue working with them to bridge this chasm that exists between our people,” he said, adding that he would like to “meet on friendly and equal terms with anyone who will meet with me”.
Rabbi Kastel called Tuvel’s initiative inspiring. “There was a lot of goodwill; it was very, very warmly received. A lot of laughter and gratitude and appreciation and respect,” he said.
“We need to engage with people that we see as different or even threatening when we can. That’s the message. We can’t just sit under a rock.
“All the credit to Yitzi for doing this, and also there were some other members of the Jewish community, young people who walked along with Yitzi for a lot of the journey.”
Abu Farha told The AJN that walking with Tuvel was “such an experience”.
“In the couple of hours that we walked, it felt like it stopped half-a-century of bloodshed,” he said.
“All the problems of the world and between us were solved, just over a meal and walk. We had such a laugh [and] so much fun, I felt like decades of war, all the pain was just eased.
“I’d do it a million times with a million Jews.”
Dib said that when he heard about the walk, he thought it was only fitting that he greet Tuvel and his entourage at the mosque.
“I wanted to personally thank them for the steps they took in promoting harmony,” he said. “It says so much about us a nation that to greet the walkers at the mosque, were a sheikh, a rabbi and a priest. Our nation’s fabric is interwoven through our multicultural and multi-faith elements; it makes us a better country for it.”
Yehuda Aharon, a friend of Tuvel who joined him for most of the walk, said the human element of the day “was great, just to show that we’re just a bunch of guys … we just kind of got along, we had a great time and we created friendships that I think could last for a long time”.