This past Sunday, I took a group of Christians and Jews to the nearby Muslim town of Abu Gosh to meet local women who told them an inspiring story about their achievements in their women’s empowerment program in the local community center during the last 5-6 years, where they work together with Hadassah hospital in issues of community health, including exercise, proper nutrition and genetic testing. The women from Abu Gosh were lively and encouraging and very proud of their progress in these areas in recent years. They described this health program as transformative for all of them!
We also met student and faculty from the local high school to learn about Arab Education in Israel. The students too were eloquent and inspiring, and shared with the participants their own personal views about education and growing up in the village. When asked by someone what they would say to the Israeli Prime Minister if they were to meet him, they responded by saying: equality and justice.
This unique group of 45 Christians and Jews from Philadelphia, were brought to Israel by their clergy for 10 days on a joint tour of Israel with their clergy. Members of Main Line Reform Temple, Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church and First Presbyterian Church of Germantown and their clergy, Rabbi David Straus, and Rev. Nancy Muth, Cindy Jarvis and Louisa Umphres embarked on a very special trip to Israel which gave them a chance to see Israel (and Bethlehem) through each others’ eyes.
In addition to visiting the Reform synagogue to which I belong in Jerusalem—-Kehillat Kol Haneshama—-where they received a briefing from me about the special nature of our Friday night worship–my wife Amy and I joined the group for Shabbat dinner. During the dinner, we learned how much they enjoyed and felt welcome at our Shabbat services.
Moreover, on Shabbat afternoon, we hosted the whole group at our home to meet leadership and participants in ICCI programs. It was a wonderful opportunity for the group to meet people who engage in dialogue and action projects on a grass-roots level in Israel. Unfortunately, they would not have read about our work in their local newspaper, or seen it on their local TV stations. Hopefully, some of these people will write about this experience on their Facebook page or on their own blogs!
It is not often that Christians and Jews come to Israel to travel together to openly learn about each other’s religions and cultures and to experience the complexity and creativity in a mutual fashion. Hats off to the religious leaders from Philadelphia who organized this unique study tour to Israel.
Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish
Director, ICCI and JCJCR