‘Covering Religion’: Columbia Journalism Students Visit ICCI

A group of Columbia School of Journalism Graduate students toured Israel and the region as part of Prof. Ari Goldman’s ‘Covering religion’ class.  The tour, which was co-led by Prof. Goldman and ICCI’s director of Interreligious Encounters Abroad, Ophir Yarden, exposed the participants to the complexities of religion and interreligious encounters in the Holy Land.   They chronicled their experiences on their class website.  Here are some highlights:

Sanaz Meshkinpour, a native of Iran concentrating in Broadcast Journalism, writes about the group’s experience at an interfaith gathering in Kibbutz Hanaton in the Galilee:

[At Kibbutz Hanaton] we rabbis, imams, priests and ministers gathered for lunch, study and reflection as they do every few months.  We were invited to join the interfaith gathering and our guide, Ophir Yarden, made a point of dividing us among the tables so that we could talk to the participants over lunch. He made sure there was a Hebrew speaker at every table to help translate the conversation. Carolyn Phenicie sat at a table with a rabbi and two priests from the Eastern Catholic Church–a sect where non-monastic clergy can marry. While many of us are still struggling to learn the differences between each sect, Phenicie said, “It was really interesting to see that these leaders had basic questions too.”

Rabbi Ron Kronish, one of the organizers of the lunch [and director of ICCI], explained that things are very different in the Galilee than in hotspots like Jerusalem. “I feel the Galilee is the lab of what Israel would be like if we get it right,” he said.  It is a story that is rarely told but one that we got to see first-hand. After the lunch, the clergy gathered in the synagogue of the kibbutz to study religious texts together.

The students also met with Jewish and Palestinian alumni of ICCI’s Face to Face and JIYAF programs at T’Mol Shilshom Bookshop Café in downtown Jerusalem.  Omar Kasrawi, a dual-masters candidate at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism and School of International and Public Affairs, reports:

[We] ate dinner in the company of eight young adults who participated in two interreligious dialogue programs between Palestinian and Jewish students. Yonatan Gorenberg and Samah Qunbar, an Israeli and Palestinian participant respectively, spent the evening discussing the frustrations of both sides and what needs to be done to try and change things.

Yonatan spoke of how he brought tenth grade Israeli students to the West Bank village of Abu Dees to show them how the dividing wall built by the Israelis splits the town in two. Samah expressed her frustration about living in society where she doesn’t get treated equally because she doesn’t carry an Israeli passport.

“The dinner was the most informative session we had so far,” said Carolyn. “I found the students’ candor about the tenseness of the situation between Palestinians and Israelis refreshing,” she added.

For more information about the trip or to read the students’ daily dispatches, visit the class’s website, “Covering Religion.”  If you are interested in learning more about ICCI’s Center for Interreligious Encounter Abroad, email Ophir Yarden.

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