By Brian Gillis, ICCI intern
ICCI is pleased to welcome Chicago Theological Seminary to Israel for their program from January 17-30 and did so through an initial discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian situation led by ICCI Director Rabbi Ron Kronish.
“This dialogue will lead to action,” explained Dr. Kronish as he introduced the major themes of the CTS trip, which includes perspectives on the peace process, interfaith cooperation and understanding as it relates pressing issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
After a long day arriving to Jerusalem and a spectacular visit to the Mount of Olives, the students of Chicago Theological Seminary were immediately engaged into a discussion which will begin a guided process of exploration and discovery that enhances an understanding of “dual narratives,” as Rabbi Kronish put it, on the pressing issues facing Israel, and its political and religious atmosphere, today.
Rabbi Kronish’s discussion covered a multitude of topics including the viability of a two state solution and its alternatives, the influence of western powers on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the religious aspects of the conflict. A highlight for the students participating in the discussion was Rabbi Kronish’s balanced representation of a variety of diverse perspectives.
Francisco Herrera, a Master of Divinity candidate at CTS, was very excited about this element of the discussion: “Just the fact that we are talking to someone on the ground, with no propaganda, who is willing to explain the perspectives of both sides is so helpful.”
Questions enlivened the conversation afterwards, including one from student Trina Price about the role of America in the conflict, to which Rabbi Kronish responded by focusing on two major fronts, help with the political peace process and help with funding NGOs that are working to bring about peace and stability on the ground. “My biggest focus here is reflected in the question I asked,” explained Ms. Price, “it is the nature of what America, what I really, can do. We just got here today and after this discussion I am already feeling inspired to ask myself about how I can help.”
Other students were also enthusiastic to begin their process of exploration. “This is a part of the world we all have to be interested in,” explained CTS student Jim Kolkmeier, “and what we heard in this discussion clears up a lot of misconceptions and lack of understanding that is present in the U.S.” Jami Scott, also a student at CTS, explained that she appreciates how the trip is organized as a whole: “it is good to see the speaker’s comments come together so nicely with our readings. I feel I will gain an understanding of what the problem is and what the real options are for solutions from this experience.”
The experience of this trip for Chicago Theological Seminary will truly be packed with many perspectives and opportunities for understanding. The trip is scheduled to include trips to Palestinian Bethlehem, Yad Vashem, the sites of Jesus’ ministry in the Galilee, the Jewish holy cities of Tiberius and Safed, the Muslim Dome of the Rock, and many other cities and towns throughout all of Israel and the West Bank. The group will also be visiting Jewish, Christian, Muslim and even Druze sites as well as partaking in religious traditions from many faiths represented in the religious menagerie of Israel.
This balance of multiple perspectives will also be seen in the many different and diverse speakers of the program, as explained by Rabbi Kronish. The program will bring together discussions from Zionist and Palestinian nationalist perspectives, Muslim and Jewish perspectives, and political perspectives from the far right, moderate and far left, often all side by side.
Student Francisco Herrera summarized it well: “I have wanted to come to Israel for a very long time, but I couldn’t find the right way to do it. To hear both perspectives through this program and really understand what is happening on the ground right now… this is why I came.”
ICCI is happy to welcome Chicago Theological Seminary to Israel.
Brian Gillis is a volunteer intern at ICCI in Jerusalem during his winter break from interfaith studies at Columbia University’s Union Theological Seminary. He has held leadership positions in regional interfaith organizations in the U.S., and was the Religious Dialogue Chair of the Interfaith Council at Harvard University, where he studied the intersection of religion and politics as an undergraduate.