Jewish Community Relations Councilof San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, Sonoma, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties

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Blog from Israel - Part 1

June 26, 2019
Posted by: Sarah Fields, Public Affairs and Civic Engagement Manager, Peninsula

I'm in Israel right now with the clergy and members of the University AME Zion Church and Congregation Kol Emeth. Pastor Kaloma Smith and Rabbi David Booth participated on our Christian-Jewish leadership study group and trip almost two years ago and developed such a strong bond that when they returned, they decided to connect their congregations on a similar journey. This is truly a unique group of people and experience.

Thursday, our first full day in Jerusalem, began with morning learning at the Shalom Hartman Institute. Hartman, as it is known, was the center of learning for our clergy trip. Pastor Smith and Rabbi Booth felt that text study was an important and meaningful activity for the group. Interestingly, though the initial few days of the trip brought us through ancient history, our text study brought us into modernity.

We were fortunate to learn with two great teachers – Drori Yehoshua and Michal Hartman. Drori focused on his unique personal and family history. As a Jew of Kurdish descent, he grew up with particular customs, which made him feel outside of the norm in Israel in significant ways. He argues that Jews who came to Israel, the majority of whom left countries where the dominant religion was either Christianity or Islam, tended to absorb a Christian or Muslim approach or interpretation. There is a tension in Israel today around this history and the divided influence in understanding and practicing Judaism that has resulted. It was a challanging concept for both the Jews and the Christians on the trip to grapple with. 

Michal also raised questions of tension as to what the Jewish state looks like and who is Jewish, through the attempt to balance what it means to be Jewish AND Democratic. We studied this both through Talmudic text and by looking at the founding document of the state of Israel, its Declaration of Independence and the basic laws of the country. The balance of our time was focused on what is democracy in this understanding and what or who is Jewish? These questions seem simple, but proved to be really difficult if not impossible to totally resolve.

Throughout the trip, Rabbi Booth has kept returning our attention to the idea that nothing here is ever just this or just that. Meaning, nothing is ‘just as it seems or appears.’ The route of the Jerusalem light rail is not just public transit, the corner store being open on shabbat is not just open, and so on. This concept and reminders of it are useful for everyone on the trip, because Israel, and especially Jerusalem, is a place about which people have so many aspirations and expectations that actually being here can be overwhelming. Encouraging the acceptance of complexity has helped ground the group.

Sometimes the work of community relations is tough and complex in this same way – forcing us to work together despite challenging or even opposing views in order to resolve even more serious difficulties facing our communities. However, much of the interfaith work that we do as an organization and as individual staff people within JCRC is incredibly powerful and rewarding. So far this trip has been a living reminder of that reward.

Next up we will be visiting Christian sites, including the Mount of Olives, Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Church of the Nativity.