My disclaimer, This is more of a thought dump and I am still on jet lag which means it has not be edited so be warned all of my english folks!!!
So I have to say there has been a unreal ness to the trip to this point. Of course yesterday was kind of a nothing day as we landed made our way to the hotel and tried to keep our zombie selves awake so we could have a somewhat normal sleep. Personally, I had the fun of swimming in a salt pool at the hotel. As a group we got to meet the group and what a group this is. People ranging from current and former seminary presidents, nationally recognized Jewish leaders, and a few like me!
Today we jumped right in to the program. We stared the day with former Knesset representative Ruth Calderon. She did a Talmudic study for us that was both moving and enlightening. The passage that she shared was on Rav Rahumi translated from Aramaic to be rabbi Love. A fascinating passage that taught us about love, priorities and balance. An interesting insight is that in Aramaic Love is connected to the womb, I am still thinking about what that might mean as an insight for Jesus who most likely taught in that language.
It was an awesome way to start the real meat of our trip especially since she started very close to where I stopped with my Doctoral work with getting people to focus on the story first, then engage the difficult things. She said when there is a lot of drama and tension people go back to the ethos in which the believe they belong instead of creating solutions. Not surprisingly she shared that there is no sharing stories in the Knesset because it is difficult to live the story because the tensions too high. I did tape this study so hopefully I will have some time when I get back to edit that and post it.
The second speaker was former Israeli Ambassador to the US and Recently elected member of the Knesset Michel Oren. He brought us a very honest “off the record” talk which was both enlightening and challenging to hear. I won’t go into all of what he talked, that could be a dissertation once the interpretation was added, but I was struck by how similar the economic situation in Israel is to San Jose. Both with a great disparity of the haves and have nots. This is before adding in the Palestinian issues.
It was also interesting to hear the perspective of an Israeli politician on the frustration in the peace process as well as his longing for a peaceful two state solution. He also went on to help us to get some understanding of Netanyahu’s “change” in stance. Which he said was not really a change more of a admission of the reality of a situation where a peace process can’t happen if both sides cannot even recognize each other legitimacy equally.
As for Israel, I learned that 20% of the Knesset does not even recognize the legitimacy of the state of Isreal (Half of those are Ultra Orthodox Jews!). Also according to Michael, 70% of Israeli’s support the two state solution, yet 70% do not recognize it’s legitimacy.
All of this makes you wonder if Peace can happen. That is when they brought us to the Peres Center for Peace. WOW! This place is doing what I hope our church would be doing, instead of perpetuating the fighting or even taking sides they find ways through mutual needs and sports and other youth outreach to build relations with Jews and Arabs in Israel and Israeli’s and Arabs between Palestine and Israel. The have now brought thousands together and have the independent confirmation of the effectiveness. Being that over half of the population of Palestine is under 16 changing mindset will help to build trust and a hopeful future.
They also run this incredible Medical outreach which brings children from the Palestinian territories into Israel for needs which cannot be met in Palestine. This touches hundreds of kids every week! But they don’t stop there! They are also working on training the doctors so they can go back to serve in Palestine after serving a residency in Israel. While this program is not about peace, the communication and stories connect people in a way that build bonds of trust.
If you have not figured out the theme of the day for us today, it has been the power of story and understanding the humanity and personhood of all people. Without the recognition of an individuals personhood we are stuck in a situation which rejects the possibility of peace. It is not removed from the situations at home between police and minority communities, or communities that reject affordable housing because they do not want those people in their neighborhood.
This thought was really brought home in our afternoon study of the beatitudes at the mount of the beatitudes. We all recognized that this location is probably apocryphal but walking through the garden, reading the scripture was moving. When a Rabbi pointed out that if it were on that mountain, or one of the others around, here was Christ teaching about how to interact with the occupier while maintaining identity and focus on the message.
We also had some fun swimming in the sea of Galilee and these feasts which, well I have not eaten so well for a long time!
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen