We arrived in Israel only 48 hours ago and already we are deeply immersed in the work of faith exploration and bonding as a group. Ours is a unique band of travelers. We are an interfaith pilgrimage of 27 Christians and Jews traveling through the Holy Land. The reasons for participants choosing this opportunity to travel to Israel are varied. Some are here for the opportunity to travel with a rabbi and a bishop to a place they’d long dreamed of but had never visited. Others are in long-term interfaith marriages and had promised one another that one day they’d journey here together. And for still others, this ten-day pilgrimage is a chance to reconnect with a country that has long held a very special place in all of our hearts.
Six and a half years ago, in November 2010, Bishop David Zubik and i journeyed here together for the first time, and the experience was so spiritually powerful for each of us that we pledged then to do it again. And now we are proud to be leading our second interfaith pilgrimage of peace to what he, as a Catholic refers to as the Holy Land and I, as a Jew, know as our Homeland. Together we are touring sites significant to our respective faith communities as well as sites that speak to all we share in common.
Already we have visited Tel Aviv and Caesaria, sight of Herod’s first century palace and elaborate commercial port; Nazareth, sight of Jesus’ mother Mary’s annunciation; Cana, site of Jesus’ miracle wherein wedding water was turned into wine; the ancient first century synagogues of Capernaum and Magdala (along the northeastern coast of the Sea of Galilee); and the Mount of the Beatitudes. Tomorrow we travel down the Jordan Valley and up into Jerusalem, where we will all share Shabbat.
The wonder of the trip is not that Jews and Christians are traveling here together, though that is not insignificant. The true blessing of our being together is how much we are learning about ourselves, our respective religious histories and faith, and all we share in common – even and especially amidst our differences.
As my Hillel rabbi and mentor Rabbi Jim Diamond (z”l) explained to me as I headed off to Israel for my first year of rabbinical school 27 years ago, “an encounter with the land and people of Israel is, for the reflective individual, an encounter with one’s truest self.” And already it’s clear that Israel – this Holy Land, this singular and special place – is once again working her magic!