Among my responsibilities as JCRC Associate Director, I have the enviable job of accompanying Christian clergy on Israel Study Tours, experiences that never fail to be both fascinating and intense. I’d like to share a few reflections from this year’s trip.
(Also visit The Jewish Journal for an account of the trip in the 8/28/15 issue.)
The group we assembled were diverse in every respect; theologically, ethnically and socio-economically. We were Catholic, United Church of Christ (UCC), Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, Episcopal and Pentecostal, urban and suburban, Latino and Haitian. Some had large churches, some smaller ones and a few functioned in academic settings. Most had never been to Israel before; a few had been on previous trips that left them unsatisfied. All came with open hearts and minds, eager to connect with each other as faith leaders and engage with every aspect of the land so holy to all of our traditions.
Throughout the trip, these faith leaders were inspired by the people they met and the unimaginable courage they displayed, not only in facing overwhelming and continuous challenge, but in persevering in their efforts to bring about a more hopeful future. One example was the 25 year old IDF soldier, commander of a unit that guards the Lebanese border. He was totally candid when asked whether his troop of young men ever wished for some action during their long and tedious hours of guarding a quiet border. “Yes we do,” he acknowledged, “but when there IS action, we’re all totally terrified.”
We experienced the violence and volatility of the region in a new and disturbingly immediate way when we arrived in Jerusalem just moments prior to the start of the annual Pride Parade. Our guide explained that unlike Tel Aviv, where Pride is a large outdoor party, in Jerusalem, it is a political statement. His practice each year was to participate as an expression of solidarity. Nine members of our group joined him. We enjoyed the exuberant and celebratory gathering in Independence Park, as a large crowd prepared to march together in an affirmation of love and equal rights.
The joy quickly turned to anguish as an ultra-Orthodox man stabbed six participants, one of whom, Shira Banki, z”l later died from her wounds. Several of us were in close proximity to the attack and ensuing chaos, and all of us were shaken. We remained on the scene as police and ambulances arrived and left – and then watched in disbelief as the crowd resumed marching, completing the parade route. We knew that we had just observed an essential reality of the Israeli experience – that regardless of the suffering and trauma endured, people persist and life goes on. The subsequent atrocity committed against a Palestinian family, presumably by Jewish terrorists, claiming the lives of a toddler and his father was a further reminder of the continuing and urgent challenges to be addressed. Both of these events will be commemorated at a Memorial and Solidarity gathering JCRC is co-sponsoring with CJP and Keshet, hosted by Temple Israel of Boston, on Wednesday, September 9 from 6:00 – 7:00 pm. Our community will gather to mourn and express our grief and outrage. One of our trip participants, an eyewitness to the Pride attack, will offer brief remarks.
Despite the intensity of the week, the feedback from our participants confirms that this experience was exceptionally valuable to them. When we asked them about the lessons they learned, their responses echoed these themes — appreciation of the extraordinary complexity facing the region; admiration for the courage and resilience of the people we met; appreciation for the profound impact not only of past but present traumas for both Israelis and Palestinians and the glimmers of hope they felt upon encountering grassroots efforts to pursue peace and co-existence.
I hope to see many of you on September 9th as we gather together as a community to reaffirm those cherished values.