Christians from New York experience the complexities of Israel and Palestine with ICCI

by Andrew Luisi

Andrew Head Shot, StaffChrist Church, located in New York, is a congregation in the United Methodist denomination of Protestant Christianity that strives to experience God, connect with  others, and serve the world. Their mission is clear and forthright: they seek to love God before all things and their neighbors as themselves.
A group of congregants from the church came to Israel and Palestine for an intensive two-week study tour hosted by ICCI’s Center for Interreligious Encounter with Isreal, that analyzed relations between the monotheistic religions and viewed Christianity from a multicultural context.  On the last day of their program, they arrived at the ICCI for a lecture and discussion on “The Other Peace Process–Interreligious Dialogue, Education and Action in Israel-Palestine as a Form of Peace-building” by Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish, director of ICCI.
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We Don’t Have to Agree

by Nomi Teutsch

NomiTThis Sunday night I observed a room full with over 40 Jewish students from around the world who chose to use their evening to learn about how  participating in dialogue has shaped the lives of three alumni of ICCI’s Youth and Young Adult programs. The students were in the middle of a 4-month period of intensive learning about Israel, Zionism and the conflict at the “Institute for Youth Leaders From Abroad” and they were extremely interested in what our panelists had to say about their experiences.

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Learning To Respect One Another

by: Rachael Sauceda

On Tuesday April 9th, members of ICCI’s alumni community of young Palestinians and Jews for Peace Coexistence held a discussion with a group of about 20 American Jews from the Boston area, who were on a study tour with led by Rabbi Howard Berman, Executive Director of the Society for Classical Reform Judaism and rabbi of Central Reform Temple of Boston. This discussion gave the group, who were mainly from Boston and the surrounding area, a unique view as to what it is like for people living and growing up in a culturally diverse city like Jerusalem during a time of conflict. The young adult alumni, from various ICCI young adult dialogue programs, talked about their experiences, the obstacles they overcame, and how they learned to respect and listen to “the other.”

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A visit to an Arab Israeli high school

by Rachael Sauceda

On Sunday, February 17th, the ICCI organized a meeting between a group of Jewish High School students from White Plains New York, Jewish Israeli students from Haifa, and Arab Israeli Students from Abu Gosh, an Israeli Arab town, just west of Jerusalem. Traveling to Abu Gosh gave the Jewish students an opportunity to experience what an Arab Israeli High School is like and to sit down face to face to talk with one another. Sitting in the library at Abu Gosh, the students were asked to think about three questions:

(1) What do you learn about your own culture?

(2) What do you learn about Jewish culture?

(3) How many chances do you have normally to meet with Jews?

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Students from Chicago Learn about the Complexities of our Conflict

by Rachael Sauceda, ICCI intern

As an intern at the ICCI, I had an opportunity during the second week of January to explore the diverse cultures of Israel on an intellectual and spiritual level with a group of graduate students from Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS) who were in Israel on a seminar with ICCI’s Center for Interreligious Encounter with Israel.  The seminar was led by Professors Rachel Mikva and Susan Thisthlethwaite of CTS. I was very grateful that the group was more than welcoming and extremely friendly in allowing me to go on some of their study tours, giving me the opportunity to learn along with them.

I was able to join them on their second day of touring which took them through the Old City of Jerusalem and visited the major historical and religious sites.   Although, as a graduate student in Israel for the year, I go to the Old City often, it is always such a refreshing experience to see people visit for the first time and to relive those moments of awe and inspiration in such a sacred place.  The students were given the opportunity to visit the sites of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, including the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In addition, by visiting the different quarters in the Old City, they had the chance to see how the people from diverse communities live in such close proximity.

When I joined the group for their day in Bethlehem it was a major change from the narrative presented in Jerusalem. Continue reading

Present Memories: ICCI Israeli-Palestinian-German Group Visits Yad VaShem

by Abby Alfred, ICCI intern

Last week, ICCI hosted a group of young adults from Germany who joined us for an intensive 5-day dialogue program with a group of Jews, Christians, and Muslims from Israel, entitled “Present Memories“. The program included discussions, joint learning, tours, and action, organized by ICCI in collaboration with German organization Evangelisches Jugend.

On their third day together, the group members visited Yad Vashem. Visiting a Holocaust remembrance site was not a new experience for anyone — most of the Israelis and Palestinians had visited Yad Vashem several times before and the majority of Germans had visited Aushwitz and other concentration camps in Europe. But this was the first time these individuals explored this history together, German with Jew with Christian with Muslim.

The guide began this tour by presenting the two themes on which we should focus. He wanted us first to think about the dilemmas of the different groups involved at the time of the Holocaust, and next, how the construction of memory of the events shapes current day Israel.

As we entered the museum, we were first confronted with images of pre-Holocaust communities in Germany, where Jews were integrated in society and everything appeared normal and content. Our guide explained that, “in order to understand what happened, we have to understand what was destroyed.” We continued through the halls of the museum, watching the systematic dehumanization of the Jewish community in Germany through the use of children’s games, propaganda posters, ad campaigns, etc. One of the German group leaders later noted to me his shock at seeing a popular board game in which children “deported Jews”; he played a very similar game as a child, only he wasn’t deporting Jews, he was getting rid of bad guys.  He saw here how his cultural artifacts were manipulated to alter the world views of children just like him.

Our guide shared stories of individuals in various circumstances and challenged us to think about the choices they had in their respective situations. In one photo we looked at, did the soldier have to shoot the woman? Did the Kapo have to turn on other Jews to save himself? In presenting these different dilemmas, our guide noted the complexities of the Holocaust, the different roles people played, and the decisions they made, and warned of the dangers of societal manipulation and dehumanization of groups of people. As we neared the end of the museum, he presented to us the righteous among the nations. It is important for Yad Vashem to track down these people, he told us, because they remind us that–despite the dangers involved–there was another choice.

Leaving the museum, the group took some time to reflect on their thoughts and feelings having gone through the place together. One Israeli woman, referring to a trip the day before to a Palestinian village destroyed in 1967, reflected to her German peers: “I was wondering if you felt today the way I did yesterday.” A German young man confessed that as he walked through he felt “ashamed, but not guilty, of what [his] country did to these people”; that he cannot take on the guilt given this was generations before him, but he still feels the pain of what happened in his country. The group session ended with a Palestinian man’s thoughts that “we need to not just feel our pain, but everyone’s pain.”

Abby Alfred is interning with ICCI’s Communications and Development department and also helping at educational organization in East Jerusalem for the duration of her current stay in Israel. Abby is a graduate of Barnard College of Columbia University, NY, where she studied Psychology, and additionally holds a M.A. degree in Social Work from Boston College, MA. She has extensive background working in education and health settings, and has also served as a staff member on the Seeds of Peace International Camp for three years.

Philadelphian group visits Abu Ghosh and Jerusalem

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

Creating a Culture of Understanding

by Breanne White and Brian Freedman, ICCI interns

Recently, members of the Christian-Jewish Seminarian Program on Israel and Palestine visited Israel and the West Bank for a 10-day tour to learn about theological and political perspectives in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, organized by ICCI’s Center for Interreligious Encounter with Israel. The program, which is co-sponsored by the American Jewish Committee in New York and the Auburn Theological Seminary, was established in 2008 to bring together Rabbinic students and Christian seminarians in order to learn about each others’ communal, political, and theological perspectives on Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and the regional conflict.

The program included visits to religiously and politically significant sites in the Galilee, Nazareth, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Jaffa and included tours and lectures explaining different political, historical, and religious ideologies that affect Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

One of the activities included a tour of the Christian quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, a Sunday morning church service, and an introduction to the unique balance of theology and religious politics that allows so many holy sites to operate peacefully so close to each other. One thing that some visitors found particularly encouraging was the attitude of curiosity and respect displayed by the participants and the people they met. The congregation we met at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer was particularly welcoming, asking each visitor to stand up and introduce themselves after the church service and encouraging their members to meet the visitors.

A view of the Old City of Jerusalem, showing the close proximity of several churches, mosques, and other holy sites.

The description of the balance of power, politics, and worship at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was also fascinating. To think that for thousands of years a fragile territorial peace has mostly prevailed in a site considered holy by so many different Christian denominations is encouraging, although the clear demarcations of segregated space for the Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Armenians, and other denominations which share the holy space can be somewhat shocking and foreign at first!
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“It’s the personal narrative that really counts…”

by Breanne White, ICCI intern

Tuesday, January 17, a group of alumni from the Jerusalem Young Adult Forum met with members of the World Union for Progressive Judaism at Beit Shumel in Jerusalem. The visitors, who came from 11 different countries, were in Israel in order to strengthen relations between Jews in Israel and the Diaspora.

Four participants of previous years’ Jerusalem Young Adult Forum spoke about their experiences in the dialogue program. As in previous alumni events, those present talked about the difficulties of participating in such a program, but also how it changed their views and opinions about others. Particularly poignant about this meeting, however, were the questions asked by the visitors. After listening to the alumni discuss their experiences, two interesting questions were raised: first, “With all of your different experiences, backgrounds, and political and religious ideologies, how do you find common ground?” and second, “How do you tell your personal narrative to others?”

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An Impressive Discussion with Zoughbi Zoughbi of Bethlehem

I was privileged to listen to Zoughbi Zoughbi , the Founder and Director of WIAM, The Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center in Bethlehem, when he spoke to a group of students from the Hamline College program in conflict resolution which met in our ICCI Education Center last week. Zoughbi made a special effort to get a permit to come to Jerusalem to speak to this group, and we were honored to have him with us!

Despite the name of his center, Zoughbi Zoughbi emphasized that he works in CONFLICT TRANSFORMATION, rather than resolution, using non-violent philosophy and methods. We too in ICCI believe in transforming conflicts from ones of violence to a situation of peaceful coexistence.

He grew up as a Palestinian Christian in Bethlehem but studied abroad, receiving his M.A. in Peace Studies at Notre Dame University in the U.S.A., studying as a fellow at Brandeis University and at Eastern Mennonite University. Continue reading