One thing led to another... and tomorrow I begin a trip that is the culmination of more than a year’s experiences. Last January after having my friend Rabbi Lynn teach an adult christian education class on “A Taste of Judaism,” I learned of a study guide being issued by an interest group within the Presbyterian Church (USA). I researched the study guide and was unimpressed by how it simplified a complex political, religious, and cultural conflict in Israel. That caused me to engage in the Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking issues at the General Assembly of the PC(USA) last summer in Detroit and to meet some amazing people committed to peacemaking through Presbyterians for Middle East Peace and get to build stronger relationships with others in the Presbytery of Great Rivers here in Central Illinois.
One thing led to another… and shortly after returning home, I joined with a few others in launching an interfaith initiative within the regional presbytery. As is often the case with stuff like this, one thing led to another, and I was soon introduced to a remarkable program called Friends Forever that brought teenagers from Israel to the US for a 2 week program. The group consists of 5 Jewish and 5 Arab students, and I had the ability to interact with them, and watch them develop over a two week period. By the time it ended, I was on the local board of Friends Forever Bloomington Normal.
One thing led to another… and shortly after the students returned to their homes in Nazareth and Haifa, it struck me that there was a great opportunity for Illinois State University. Why not develop a peace studies study abroad class on the peace movement in Israel? Develop a trip where students would see the complexities and layers of one of the world’s great geo-political conflicts, but do so through the lens of investigating the diverse efforts aimed at peacemaking and reconciliation. I quickly found support for this from the university president, provost, my college dean, department chair, and the director of the peace studies program.
One thing led to another… and tomorrow I board a plane to Tel Aviv, and will spend two weeks exploring Israel, meeting with a diverse set of people and organizations, all focused on peace-making and reconciliation. I’ll spend time with the Friends Forever teens and witness first hand how the program operates in Israel; I’ll visit the Hand in Hand Center for Jewish-Arabic Education’s Max Rayne School in Jerusalem. I’ll meet with organizations such as the Shalom Hartman Institute, the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace at Givat Haviva, the Shimon Peres Center for Peace, and the University of Haifa’s Center for Peace Study Research. I’ll meet with people in a Druze village. I’ll visit the Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center, which provides medical care for people from across the world, without concern of ethnic background or religion. I’ll visit a similar clinic in Central Jerusalem, the Shevet Achim Prophet’s Street Project, focused on congenital heart defects in children. And I’ll meet with the mayors of Nazareth and Nazareth Iliit to discuss building a sister-city program with Bloomington-Normal.
I’ll spend three nights as a guest in an Arab village, and 3 nights in the home of a Jewish teacher. I’ll spend time in Nazareth, Haifa, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, Ramallah, and Hebron. I’ll meet with Jewish settlers on the West Bank and meet with Palestinians in occupied Palestine. Along the way I’ll tour the religious and historic sites, including Herod’s port at Caesaria, Nazareth, Galilee, The Golan Heights, Jerusalem’s Old City, the Western Wall, (including the Second Temple Tunnel Excavations), the Dome on the Rock, and the major sites of Christendom. I’ll visit Masada, the Dead Sea, the Baptismal site where it is believed John baptized Jesus in the Jordan river, the Caves of the Patriarchs, where it is believed that Abraham and Sarah are buried, and I will visit and pay my respects at Yad Vashem, the Israel Holocaust Museum and Memorial.
One thing led to another… and this planning trip, fact-finding mission, and journey to the center of the world’s three Abrahamic faiths begins tomorrow. Stay tuned, I’ll be blogging and posting photos here every day so you can join along on this journey.