Islands of Hope
December 7, 2017
Posted by: Matthew Readdick, Middle East Project Educator and Program Manager
As a new JCRC staff member, I was thrilled when given the opportunity to join JCRC and the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Jewish-Christian Leadership trip to Israel in October. The trip was a fantastic experience for all of us, and many new relationships developed that will serve to strengthen our interfaith work here in the Bay.
Our participants were diverse: Jews, Christians, Catholics, Protestants, Rabbis and Priests; people of all colors and sexual orientations; JCRC staff, Shalom Hartman staff and a fabulous Israeli guide. We were a formidable group hungry for knowledge and ready to soak up as many perspectives as we could.
Our participants had been meeting for months prior to the trip, studying Talmud and scripture together, in order to experience Jerusalem with new eyes. Many of us had been to the Holy Land before, some of us had not, and all of us were excited to go this time around. Learning about our traditions leading up to our adventure was valuable, and our experience in Israel was transformative.
It’s no surprise that religious leaders in the Bay Area are knowledgeable about the issues, have heard the stories, studied the narrative and seen the headlines. We live in a highly politicized environment. We are lambasted for small errors we make in casual conversations, expected to have nuanced stances on every issue and pressured to be heavily involved. We knew we would have to talk about hard stuff on this trip – the nitty-gritty was just the tip of the iceberg. So, we prepared ourselves for the tough conversations that were to follow and looked ahead with excitement.
Following our first Israeli breakfast (always a hit), we started our exploratory journey. Every morning launched with a study session at Hartman and the days were packed with sightseeing led by our fantastic guide, Maayan Leshem. There was hours of studying and dialogue and, of course, great guest speakers. We climbed the hills of Jerusalem, ran our hands through the water Jesus walked on in the Galilee, visited the village of Baka in the West Bank, and were even allowed to touch the famous, graffiti-covered separation barrier. We ate way too much food without regretting it and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the Old City at night after the tourists and shopkeepers made their ways home.
Every speaker was engaging, informative and deeply caring about their sliver of the world and what it means to them. We met with secular and religious Israelis, Ultra-Orthodox, settlers, Palestinians, Christians, Americans and even a Druze woman who welcomed us into her home-based restaurant and explained to us what her people believed in. Many of the speakers moved us to tears. Some of them ruffled our feathers
One speaker in particular was deeply disturbing. A young activist who accused Zionists of racism and white supremacy and equated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with race relations in the United States, he told dramatic and upsetting stories. Much of what he said made many in the room nervous, many were offended, although some could certainly empathize. Finally, one of the Christian leaders from the group confronted him, “You have no plan to fix your situation; you are only focusing on your anger.”
Fortunately, the next speaker quickly evaporated our discomfort. A Palestinian woman, with a doctoral degree in computer science from the Technion, regaled us with tales of her inspiring work. She brings Arab children and Jewish children together to learn how to use computers and interact with each other. Having such diverse speakers back to back gave us a window on the many different outlooks in Israel. It's amazing to hear such a hopeful voice after hearing such a critical one. One of us asked her, “We just heard a man speak who had only anger, and no solutions. How can you be motivated to keep working towards creating a peaceful society?”
She responded that there were too many “islands of hope” to keep her from seeking peace.