In one of his last gestures before leaving his position as Government Affairs director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, my friend Zach Carstensen put in my name for a trip run through a program called “Interfaith Partners for Peace.” The idea behind the trip is to pair up rabbis and ministers from the same geographic area to travel to Israel and learn together.
Aside from visiting Jewish and Christian holy sites, the majority of the trip is visiting with organizations and individuals who are working on various projects of peace and understanding, mutual recognition and concern. Projects that seek to build connections between Israelis and Palestinians in order to help bring about reconciliation and a better future. We travel to Tel Aviv/Yaffo, the Galilee and Jerusalem. And we travel to Ramallah and Bethlehem.
I’m very excited for this opportunity.
[Also excited to meet and travel with my partner, Stephen Crippen, an Episcopal Deacon in Seattle. Zach paired us up, we have never met. However, we did work together when we both served on the Faith Cabinet of the R-74 campaign which brought marriage equality to Washington. We know each other by conference call and Facebook.]
It has been a long time since I was in Israel-12 years ago, while I was in rabbinical school. During seminary we spend a year studying Hebrew and Jewish studies. It was a wonderful year for me and Yohanna and one-year-old Ozi, travelling a lot, spending a lot of time with Yohanna’s extended family all over the country.
And it was a difficult year as well. It was during an intifada, and there were many attacks and bombings of public places. I remember hearing some from our Jerusalem apartment, including one evening when we were reading online about one attack only to hear another go off nearby. And that year a young man serving in the IDF who lived in our building was killed during an attack at a checkpoint. His name was Erez.
It was that year (2001-2002) that lead to the building of “the wall”-the separation barrier that creates a physical division between the Israelis and Palestinians. Since I have not been back, I have not seen it. It is one thing I am anticipating experiencing, along with the many other changes that have taken place in the past 12 years. (A newly redesigned Yad Vashem/Holocaust museum, for example. Cousins who were once kids are now adults, for another.)
I’m reflecting on this upcoming trip following the elections earlier this week. While Netanyahu’s Likud party won the most seats in the Knesset, there is still the need to form a government. And while the Israeli electorate on the one hand affirmed the status quo, the Arab joint list made new gains and the Orthodox party suffered greater losses than they had in the past. I don’t know what the political environment will be in two months when I am there.
I don’t know a lot about how things will be. But I do know that both Israel and I have changed in the past 12 years. I go with an open heart and an open mind, expecting and hoping to be challenged and, hopefully, inspired.
And not only am I different, but I will experiencing Israel in a way I haven’t before. I will be experiencing Israel in part through the eyes of Christian leaders, who have their own relationship with this Holy Land. And I will be learning from those who are committed to creating a new reality through mutual understanding and co-existence, though an understanding of the differing narratives and through the refusal to create divisions, “sides” or “the other.”
Some may remember on Yom Kippur I spoke about “What About Palestine!?” While it started as graffiti on our synagogue’s building sign, I reflected back to us that this is a question that we as Jews need to address. We need to care about both Israelis and Palestinians. I look forward to this (one, not the only) opportunity to engage again with this question myself and to bring back what I learn.