ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland, was among a group of prominent world religious leaders who attended a global forum to fight online child abuse and exploitation in the digital world.

The recent forum brought together 450 guests including religious leaders, NGOs and heads of industry to discuss and develop comprehensive solutions for protecting youth from online child abuse, a global epidemic which requires urgent attention. The conference featured high-profile panel discussions about the risks faced by children in the digital world, as well as the implications of online harassment and sexual abuse on children. Special sessions tackled the role of policymakers and religious leaders in protecting children against digital violence.

Rabbi Schudrich noted the dangers and opportunities of the internet. “The topic of the conference is one of our great challenges going forward: how to maximize the good that is contained in the potential of the internet while limiting and trying to eliminate the dangers and risks of this same internet.”

He compared the issue with the Jewish religious ceremony of Havdalah, which is held at the end of Shabbat – the Jewish Sabbath – when a candle is lit ahead of the upcoming week.

Fire, Rabbi Schudrich told the conference, is both a highly creative and an immensely destructive force, and so the candle of Havdalah represents such a duality for the upcoming week. In a similar fashion, he argued, the internet also possesses these qualities of light and darkness, and faith communities not only have to recognize that in their interactions with the internet, but also must inform others regarding such dangers.

“I have never experienced such warm hospitality as I did in Abu Dhabi,” Rabbi Schudrich said. “A deep example of the Abrahamic tradition of ‘hachnasat orchim,’ – welcoming the guest. I was very moved to be the in UAE as a Rabbi who openly represented the Jewish faith and spoke openly of Israel. We are surrounded often by negative and destructive experiences.  This was uplifting and hopeful.”

The Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities seeks to unite religious leaders from around the world through a series of bi-annual forums and global workshops to foster dialogue and act to address important social challenges.

In his speech at the opening ceremony, His Highness Sheikh Saif said: “We are gathered here today under the umbrella of peace, coexistence and tolerance; an approach that was inspired by the ideology, legacy and directives of the late Sheikh Zayed and the teachings of Islam. This approach is also supported by the UAE’s wise leaders, along with nations and people from around the world, who join efforts to consolidate these morals and uphold the values of justice tolerance and love.”

The opening ceremony also featured a keynote by Fatima Al Kaabi, known as the country’s “youngest inventor” and the voice of children and childhood. Al Kaabi called upon religious communities, scholars and clergy to support and protect innocent and over trusting children from the dangers of the online world.

The Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities Forum is an expansion of the Child Dignity in the Digital World Congress which was held in October 2017 in the Vatican and resulted in the “Rome Declaration” endorsed by Pope Francis. During the congress, the UAE was identified for its reputation for tolerance, and was consulted with to host an international forum to highlight its commitment to developing interfaith dialogue. These efforts resulted in the formation of the Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities, and the chosen topic for the first event was the issue of child dignity online. The two-day assembly was hosted by the UAE on November 19-20 in recognition of the country’s leading role in promoting tolerance and interfaith dialogue.

The forum was held in partnership with several global entities and organizations including Unicef, The Child Dignity Alliance, Arigatou International, The Global Network of Religions for Children, End Violence Against Children, Religions for Peace International, WePROTECT Global Alliance, The Center for Child Protection of the Pontifical Gregorian University, Al Azhar University, World Vision International, Shanti Ashram and International Justice Mission.