The Federation recently returned from an important mission in Israel, bringing with us over 25 interfaith clergy from the heart of New Jersey. The goal of the trip was to educate non-Jewish clergy about Israel so they could engage their communities back home in constructive conversations about it. It was pivotal for participants to stand in Israel, see Israel with their own eyes, and experience Israel first-hand to help understand the complex and nuanced issues surrounding this ancient landscape with its current-day dynamics.
This interfaith clergy journey to Israel was truly an amazing experience. Interestingly, many of the most important educational opportunities took place as a result of informal conversations between official itinerary stops and speakers. It is worth emphasizing up front that this trip was a bit of a pilot as the first interfaith effort the Federation has undertaken, and a successful pilot at that.
One of the greatest success factors was due to the fact that the rabbis participating in the trip were largely the ones who invited their interfaith clergy peers to be part of it. This brought together a very diverse and attentive group who were able to actively engage with each other. Equally important, because many of the clergy members had relationships proceeding the trip, that have been strengthened by the trip, they are eager continue coordinating efforts to bring peace and justice to local conversations about Israel and to their brethren in the Holy Land. That means ongoing engagement. They are interested in bringing some of the speakers we saw during the trip to the heart of NJ; they are eager to collaborate on programs; they will share their experiences with their congregations, ministeriums, and interfaith clergy associations; and some are even interested in encouraging Christian pilgrimages to Israel.
Participants had varying opinions and levels of understanding coming into this trip, Jewish and non-Jewish participants alike. They were able to gain new perspectives. Each participant is now able to write his or her own positive narrative about Israel and share their own experiences. In fact, toward the end of the trip, several clergy expressed they were both impressed and grateful we presented a balanced program with many different points of view. The trip was not intended to make participants into Zionists or Israel ambassadors, but to enable them to witness how complicated the situation is, and how simple answers or support for one-sided narratives would not be just or effective.
All the participants acknowledged coming away with broadened understanding and perspective about Israel. One pastor remarked toward the end of the trip that Israel is the best place for minorities in the Middle East, and perhaps the only place where they can worship and practice freely. This is not something he would have said before the trip.
To view photos from this trip, visit the album on Facebook here.