George Wielechowski (RRC, 2015) spent his one year Multifaith Internship helping to plan and staff a 10 day interfaith clergy trip to Israel, organized by the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies.
Here are some of his reflections:
Our interfaith group of more than 20 highly-accomplished and experienced rabbis, bishops, monsignors, priests, reverend doctors and the like had been studying “holy land narratives” together in an academic setting for more than four months as part of the Maryland Clergy Initiative. Yet it took only a few days together 24-7 to start talking in a new way: one in which we felt safe to question our own assumptions. Once this happened, none of us came away unchanged.
During our trip we spent time with a spectrum of leaders: Rabbi Michael Melchior, former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Sharon government ; Haim Peri of Yemen Orde, two retired Israeli Army colonels, one of whom was the lead designer of and our personal guide around the Security Fence; several Knesset members; Arab priests and ministers deeply involved in social justice work; Israeli scholars and (in a private meeting, picture above left) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian Authority.
As we debriefed together casually over evening meals after long days trying to get to everything on the itinerary, we found ourselves wondering aloud on various questions. The Christian clergy asked themselves if they had not missed an angle or two in understanding who Israeli Jews really were. How would they communicate their new insights to their congregations? The rabbis, for their part, glimpsed pieces of a Palestinian narrative that needs to be heard by their congregations. They acknowledged that a one-sided narrative is no longer compelling to younger, more tolerant Jews in America.
We also learned to put all this in perspective. What the world thinks of the politics of both the Israelis and the Palestinians plays a backseat role to what each government delivers to their citizens every day in the form of real security, opportunity, and pride. Israelis and Palestinians really don’t care all that much about Americans' opinions or our proposed solutions. They feel a personal responsibility for bringing about peace, or not, on their own terms, and on their own land.
This particular "take away" was challenging for us all. Some of the Christian clergy spend vast amounts of time in sermons, and in general assembly meetings of their denominations, working to educate and influence on the subject. It was also challenging to the rabbis. Many of them devote time and energy throughout their careers to crafting a “position” on Israel, leading trips to the region, and struggling with their own views and those of their congregations on the land and its politics.
As a rabbi-in-training, the one seminarian among these veterans (some personal mentors, others now personal friends), it was eye-opening to listen as my future colleagues passionately discussed their realizations, and struggled with what it might mean to their communities. I find myself often remembering the view from Arafat’s tomb. (picture left) Through a wall of pure glass, I looked out over all of Ramallah, a vibrant city with a growing prosperity and sense of hope. I wondered then, and still do now, what that means for the future of my people? How I will help my future congregants and myself live with and learn from the complexities of this land?
George Wielechowski serves as an RRC Multifaith Intern through the generosity of the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.