I am delighted to be back in Israel, this time with the Maryland Clergy Initiative, sponsored by the Institute of Christian and Jewish Studies and the Baltimore Jewish Council. Our group of 25 includes 15 Christian clergy, 7 rabbis, and 3 communal professionals. We are exploring issues in religious, social, and political life for Israelis and Palestinians, for Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
This has been a wonderfully intense visit. Though for me the sites are the same, seeing them through others’ eyes adds another layer to the joyous complexity that is Israel. Israeli society is complex by its nature. Israel’s people are varied, passionate, and dynamic. When here, I always sense a life-energy filled with purpose and spirit. It’s a very different culture than America’s.
Also different for me is visiting Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Galilee, and Nazareth with Christian clergy, hearing about the significance of these locations to them, and in return sharing my reactions to Jewish sacred sites and rituals.
In addition to touring, we’re very busy meeting with political, religious, academic, and military personalities from a variety of backgrounds. Thinking about their presentations and discussions in such a varied and intelligent group of colleagues is proving to be very important for all of us.
A recurring theme in our many meetings is the strain in relationships between majority and minority populations. In some locations, it’s about Israelis and Palestinians. In other settings, it’s about Muslims and/or Christians and/or Jews – or combinations of any and all of these identities. Adding to this, as different religious and ethnic communities have to define their dealings one to another, they also have to manage the divisions within each of their particular groups. When I’m home, I’ll have much more to reflect upon on this subject.
Here’s a greeting I’ve never received before. “Welcome to Palestine.” Our group passed through the Security Fence and checkpoint as we made our way from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. That experience raised all sorts of feelings and reactions. Especially when we were waiting in line with Palestinians to re-enter Jerusalem. I’m looking forward to our visit in Ramallah on Sunday, and to sharing my reactions to all of this with you too.
This past Thursday, we were given quite an overview and up close look at the Security Fence that Israel established to protect it’s citizens from terror attacks. An individual charged with designing and building the Security Fence, IDF Col. Danny Terza spoke with us in great detail as we poured over his maps and witnessed checkpoint procedures. I came away impressed with Col. Terza’s personal commitment both to Israeli security and Palestinian dignity. To be sure, this is a disconcerting and imperfect circumstance for everyone. Necessary adjustments to the burden this Security Fence imposes must continue to be made. Col. Terza told us that he hopes to be the first person to start dismantling the fence if ever that much anticipated day arrives. I hope he will be.
Finally, I write this just after Shabbat still feeling the beauty and calm of a precious day in this remarkable city of Jerusalem. Friday evening our Christian friends joined us for a joyful Kabbalat Shabbat service at a local synagogue before our dinner together. This morning, I enjoyed the prayer, melody, and study at a Jerusalem synagogue I have always wanted to visit.
Next Shabbat, back home with family and friends at Chizuk Amuno, I will be thankful for this past week in Israel and look forward to speaking with you about this experience. Shavuah Tov! As we say when Shabbat ends, I wish you a good week – and a very Happy Thanksgiving.