Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations
From September 4-14, 2015 four members of the New York Conference joined four members of the Evangelische Kirche in Hessen and Nassau (EKHN)in Israel-Palestine for an intense time of travel and learning. “Come, See, and Act” was the theme of this study visit. In a small van, we travelled to Jerusalem, Jenin, Haifa, Nazareth, Tel Aviv, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Hebron. In those places, and others, we met and talked with more than forty people, who shared their diverse experiences and perspectives on the current situation, the ongoing injustice and intensifying racism, and the possibilities for peace. We visited with people who work to make healing and hope realities. Here are the reflections we wrote while on the trip. In the months ahead, we will continue to share the voices we heard and to reflect upon how we, as people of faith, might act to support peace in Israel-Palestine.
Friday: a reflection from Marjorie Purnine:
It's just after lunch on out first full day in Jerusalem, and I'm filled to bursting with images and words. We've already had four meetings: with a Palestinian Catholic priest, a Catholic priest with a Hebrew-speaking congregation, the international director of inter religious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, and an analyst from the International Crisis Group. The layered complexities of the situation here can boggle the mind. A few images: we drove from the airport on a highway which was off limits to Palestinians, with walls in sight, reminding me of a train ride I took through East Germany to West Berlin before the wall came down. We ate dinner in East Jerusalem, with West Jerusalem just on the other side of the wall. A few words we've heard: "Many walls outside and inside us but walls are not impossible to cross." "To love our neighbors is to understand their pain." "We need to watch every word that comes out of our mouths because words create the world...they are the bricks that the next generation uses to build."
Monday: a reflection from Laurie Heidenreich:
I was here in Israel/Palestine in 1998. What has changed? Today I see more walls, more checkpoints, and more barbed wire. What has stayed the same? Palestinian Christians, despite ever increasing restrictions, continue to hope. They hope for a different future. A future where their children might dream.The same is true for the Jewish and Muslim people we've listened to. They all have frustration with the current state of things. They have many fears. But they do have hope that things might change. That they might live in a world with less restriction. That their diversity might become a positive thing. That they might live their dreams.
Tuesday: a reflection from Deanne Bellinger:
Sunday evening and Monday morning we were in the city of Jenin, in a guest house provided by Cinema Jenin. This Cinema provides classes for children and young adults to learn the different arts associated with cinema. Here children can dare to hope that someday their dreams will be realized. They are only 40 miles from Gaza. How would the four of us feel if this were the case in New York. Suppose our brothers and sisters in Syracuse, Buffalo or Garden City were under the same threat as those in Gaza. How would we feel? This is what our Palestinian brothers and sisters feel everyday, yet there is hope.
Wednesday: a reflection from Tony Green:
Today is Wednesday, September 9, 2014, and I am sitting at the edge of the Sea of Galilee writing this reflection on a day when we have been listening to the “narratives” of people who live in this land we call The Holy Land. For these people, this is their home and I try not to forget this. Early this morning we heard from Nabila Espanioly who is a Catholic, Palestinian, Arab, feminist, activist, who has been fired four times from her job for speaking out about the oppression of Palestinian people. She happily anticipating going to the parliament to fill a seat in the Israeli legislature. This will give her some influence in the political process, but it sounds as though her participation is still very limited even though she has a seat. When I asked her what she thinks is happening to the children of Palestine and Israel as they watch and sometimes are directly impacted by the violence of war she told me she thinks they are traumatized each and every day of their lives and she is very concerned about their future because they do not receive any kind of therapy to help with the post traumatic stress. Nabila is part of a group that has a traveling program that assists children through art. She said this helps the children express their feelings and is therapeutic but much more is needed. After hearing Nabila and some other speak about the challenges of today, we traveled to the fourth oldest church in the world; The Church of the Healing of the Ten Lepers. It was a very calm place and took my mind away of the current day struggles while I prayed for a time. I went down into the earth through a hole on a ladder where there was a cave. This place is where some of the first Christians hid to escape persecution and pray together. I felt very blessed to stand and pray where some of the first followers of Jesus gathered for prayer.
Thursday: a reflection from Laurie Heidenreich:
We don't understand each other naturally. We have to create understanding. How do we do that? First, we must make ourselves present to the others. We must see them as children of God. Then, we must listen closely, so we might hear how they describe themselves. How do the people of Palestine/Israel describe themselves? In general, fearful. They are continually traumatized. They lack freedom of movement and opportunity. They feel that things are continually getting much worse. Many live with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). They see their parents being dehumanized. They see their children treated inhumanely. They long for a better way of life. There can be no peace in Israel/Palestine while the minority rules the majority. The gap will only continue to widen between the rich and the poor. There are people - Palestinian Christians, Muslims, and Jews - who are working tirelessly to deepen understanding among the neighbors who live such separate lives in Palestine/Israel. By supporting the work of these groups, we can make a small but, perhaps, a crucial, difference. God's justice will not reign until we see and hear our neighbor as ourselves.
Friday: a reflection from Marjorie Purnine:
Today, we visited the Diyar Consortium in Bethlehem, where our Global Ministries partner, Victor Makari, serves. What I found most exciting were their cultural programs for youth. We've heard so much about the problems that Palestinian youth face -- the unemployment, the frustration, the lack of a sense of security and a sense of a real future that leads to drugs, crime, and violence. At Diyar we saw teenagers pouring in with musical instruments, and we heard about their programs in theater, dance, culinary arts and other "tools for positive self-expression." They've even recently become accredited, so that their graduates receive BAs. Angel, a young woman who shared the activities of Diyar with us, talked about how Palestinian parents weren't enthused about their kids becoming filmmakers or artists, but when the graduates started getting jobs, they changed their minds. "Actually, there is a need for beauty in this place," she declared, "...you only need to knock on the door of creativity...to see it come out."