Monday, September 27, 2010

Thoughts from Beverly Good


Beverly Good, one of our pastoral associates, was privileged to participate in an interfaith group’s study tour of Israel from July 26 through August 2nd. The Tour, sponsored and underwritten by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, gathered religious leaders from several communities to savor some of the most ancient sites in Israel and to listen and learn from many perspectives about the challenges and opportunities facing contemporary Israel. Among the participants, were the following leaders who joined Beverly from Lexington: Rev. Paul Schupe from Hancock Church, UCC, Rev. Sally Thacher from Pilgrim Church, UCC, Pastor Bryan and Karen Wilkerson from Grace Chapel and Rabbi David Lerner from Temple Emunah. Also enjoying the experience were three priests from the Archdiocese: Fr. John MacInnis, Fr. James O’Driscoll and Fr. Sean Maher. We asked Beverly to share some “highlights” of the trip…

When I accepted the chance to go to Israel, I thought that the trip’s strongest effect on me would be that when I heard of geographical places in Scripture, my eyes would get that special light I often see in the eyes of those who’ve been there. And, surely, that has happened to me. Now, when I hear (or read) the Scriptures, I can picture the Lake of Tiberias, the Mount of Beatitudes, the Sea of Galilee. We stopped at the Mt. Scopus Promenade on entering into Jerusalem to recite a traditional blessing as we looked over the city. We visited Old Jerusalem, both the Jewish Quarter and the Christian Quarter. We visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and prayed the Stations on the Via Dolorosa. We went to the Western Wall, and prayed there. Many of us prayed Shabbat, and then all of us celebrated Shabbat dinner with rabinnical students from the US. A whole morning at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum—not long enough! And, yes, those places were amazing, and being there with a group so diverse (Rabbi Bill Hamilton said he admired “How faith dances in all of you.”) was a lovely, long exercise in good listening and respectful truth-speaking.

The surprise for me, though, was in the people we met in Israel, and the amazing stories they shared with us. When we went to Misgav Am, a northern Israel kibbutz and army outpost, we met Ari, from Cleveland, who fought in six wars. As we looked over the border to southern Lebanon, he told us his story. As did Nadia Ismail, a Muslim Israeli citizen; Col. Benzi Gruber, deputy commander in the Israeli army; two young men, one Arab, one Israeli, who are both executive directors of One Voice, a group that advocates for peace, and a husband and wife journalist team from America. They all spoke from their own reality, and our group heard each one’s truth. But, the stories don’t always match up. What one person (or group) sees as aggression, the other names self-defense. I am convinced it is in the telling of the narratives that people can come to awareness of the larger picture. Since we’ve come home, face-to-face meetings have been scheduled to work toward peace. Remarkable! May God bless these efforts in marvelous ways!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Rosh Hashanah Sermon - Rabbi Dan Liben

Rabbi Daniel Liben Rosh Hashannah 5771

Moment by Moment

Shannah Tova! A friend recently turned to me in minyan with a quizzical expression and asked, “Rabbi, Jews don’t believe in ‘being born again,’ do they? I thought about this for a moment and then I replied, “But of course, we do.” It’s what these holidays are all about. Not the kind of sudden, change-your-life in a flash of religious awakening being born again, but a more constant, ever present awareness of the process of renewal. Hayom Harat Olam- Today the world is born again, and so, potentially, are we. Consider this: if Rosh Hashannah were nothing more than a commemoration of a long ago event, the anniversary of the Big-Bang moment in which God began the work of creation, and then left it to its own devices, then there would be no religious meaning to this day, and little hope that our world, so in need of healing, could ever change. Judaism, however, makes a different claim. In our morning prayers, we say, not once, but twice, in the first of the two blessings before the Shema, “Hamechadesh b’tuvo bchol yom tamid maaseh bereshit:” God renews in His goodness the work of creation continually, every day.

And if the world is renewed each day, then aren’t we, who inhabit this planet, and who are sustained by the same Divine life-force that sustains all creation, are we not renewed each day as well? Our lives are filled with infinite possibilities, which we only sometimes have the courage to glimpse, and the paths we travel are often unpredictable, and surprising.

Listen to this story about a man named Noah Alper. Way back in May 1969, when he was a senior at the University of Wisconsin, he was incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital. Fear of being drafted into the Vietnam War, personal issues and a steady diet of psychedelic drugs, converged to send him barreling over the edge.

He writes, ”one day, while confined to the maximum-security ward, I peered out a small bathroom window through a dense security screen. As I looked out towards the leafy manicured grounds, I made a vow that someday I would rejoin “The Outside” and escape the imprisonment of my own thoughts.

Alper was released from the hospital almost a year later. He could not have known then that, thirty years later, he would sell his business, Noah’s bagels, the largest bagel retailer in the United States, for $100 million dollars. After selling the company, he picked up his family and traveled to Israel, in order to study at The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Alper writes: Soon after our arrival, in Elul, I was sitting in Yakar, a neighborhood synagogue, during Kabbalat Shabbat services. Surrounded by ecstatic singing, clapping, and faces filled with joy, my gaze was drawn outside through a window covered by wrought-iron bars. I looked at the rustling leaves of a tree, and was emotionally transported back to the bathroom at the hospital.

The promise I had made to myself half a lifetime ago was fulfilled. I had returned to the green verdant world to build a family, a career, and a future.”

How could that twenty year old kid, stuck and scared, imprisoned by bars both physical and psychological, have predicted where his life would have ended up? How can any of us? Sometimes, to be born again is to have faith that the world is not as narrow as it seems, and to allow yourself to imagine possibilities that have yet to unfold.

Sometimes, our renewal is foisted upon us, born out of adversity. In this past year of continued unemployment, underemployment and economic uncertainty, so many people who thought the arc of their professional careers was long ago determined, have had to find the courage to try to reinvent themselves and to discover new and different strengths. It is not easy.

Often, renewal and rebirth come at a painful cost; and force us to give up old dreams of who we once thought we were, or of how we saw our lives unfolding: The young person, for example, who decides to reveal to his family that he is gay, or the spouse who finally decides that she is able to let go of a failed relationship, are reshaping their core stories in ways that demand courage, and faith in an uncharted future.

Change is not easy, even when it is necessary. It is not easy to let go of old assumptions, to modify the stories that we tell ourselves that define who we are or what we stand for. But when we are open to seeing the change as a rebirth, then it feels like a returning, a teshuvah, a going back to something authentic, even though it may be stepping in to something new. We loosen up on the tightness with which we cling to our stories, we allow ourselves to hear a different story than the one we assumed to be true. That’s how we are continually born and reborn again.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro suggests that the words Rosh Hashannah , literally , head of the year, should be re-read as “Rosh Shena,” or “ Head Changing Day,” because you can't have a new year with an old head. A new head, he suggests, is a story-free head. Our stories define us. If our stories are positive and loving then we are optimistic and loving. If our stories are negative and fearful, then we are angry and afraid. A new head is story-free. A new head engages reality with compassionate curiosity, going into what is without the baggage of what was or what is supposed to be.

Day to day, getting a new head doesn’t mean rewriting the entire story of our lives. Most of the time, our born again moments are not radical transformations; rather, they are subtle shifts in our understanding of self and our understanding of others, an opening of a door, or a slight change in where we draw a boundary. I’m not referring to simply learning new facts, but to our ability to take that information deeply into our hearts, into the place where we hold our most important stories. This is possible because we are willing to hear, to allow for the truth of other stories to modify our own. Let me share with you two small examples from my own experience this past summer; one having to do with an item in this summer’s headlines, and the other, with an unusual trip to Israel, an interfaith clergy study tour that I had the honor of co-chairing.

First, the news item: On July 31, former first daughter Chelsea Clinton married Marc Mezvinski. This was an American royal wedding. And, like all high profile celebrity weddings, it received a lot of press. In the Jewish media, the focus was particularly on the fact that it was also an intermarriage. Everyone had an opinion: The groom wore a tallt and a Kipah- this was a good thing. The Saturday evening wedding was at 6:30pm, hours before Shabbat was over – a bad thing. A minister co-officiated with a Rabbi- this was a good thing, or a bad thing, depending on your views about these matters. The bride and the groom incorporated Jewish symbols, including not only a huppah, but a ketubah, a Jewish marriage contract. A good thing or a bad thing? You decide. Dr. Arnold Eisen, the Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, and a former professor of both the bride and the groom, when they were at Stanford University, skipped the ceremony out of respect for the Sabbath, but attended the reception: In Conservative circles, a controversial thing.

It seems that everyone had an opinion. We all had judgments to make, based on the philosophical positions we hold regarding intermarriage, as well as rooted in our personal family experience. And when we judge, we usually begin with the rehearsed positions that we have taken in the past, the stories, that like computer programs already loaded, pop up first on our screen.

So here are some of my long held views on the subject of intermarriage: First, on a macro-level, it is problematic for the future of the Jewish people. We are barely more than two per cent of the American population, a sociologically insignificant number. Thus, even in homes where only Judaism is practiced, it is a challenge to educate, to inculcate, to live a real Jewish experience that will be meaningfully passed on to the next generation. At the same time, we don’t live on the macro level, but on the personal level. Every couple is unique, and deserves to be seen as such. And, unlike in decades past, intermarriage is not seen by most Jewish partners as a rejection of their Judaism. Perhaps some non-Jewish partners may someday choose Judaism for themselves, perhaps not. This past spring and summer at Temple Israel, we celebrated with five members of our community who became Jews by Choice. Either way, we have an obligation to reach out and to support every couple that chooses to raise a Jewish family. Synagogues can not say this strongly enough: If you are part of a Jewish family, then you are part of our family.

At the same time, I have always counseled couples who are intermarrying to have a civil ceremony, rather than to blend, and to misappropriate the rituals of their respective faith traditions. Christian and Jewish rituals express very different values and commitments, and their integrity should be respected. This advice, I strongly suspect, is largely ignored by couples and their families, who not only don’t see the harm in mixing religious symbols, but who feel the need to affirmatively express their own tradition in the ceremony.

Well, here is where I felt the shift in my story, a rebirth, if you will: when I saw Chelsea and Marc’s wedding picture. In a celebrity wedding that was remarkably private (even Hillary’s boss wasn’t invited), in which the release of information about the wedding was tightly controlled, the wedding picture that the couple chose to release to the world was all the more pointed in its message: The groom wearing a tallit and a kipah, gazing lovingly into the eyes of his bride, with the huppah and the ketubah clearly displayed in the background.

Time was, I might have sniffed judgmentally at the interfaith Ketubah as inauthentic. My head may still tell me that, but my heart tells me something different, because I know couples who display them proudly in their homes. And I have seen families, under the most tragic of life circumstances, make life and death decisions based on the Jewish commitments that that Ketubah represented to them.

About a year ago, a young man who grew up in Temple Israel called me for some advice. His bride-to-be was not Jewish, but he wanted to incorporate some aspect of Judaism into the wedding. Problem was, they were planning a destination wedding in a somewhat exotic location, and no Rabbi would be available. He knew that, even if the wedding was local, as a Conservative Rabbi, I am forbidden to officiate. But, what readings could I suggest that could be used in his wedding? Well, I wished him and his bride every heartfelt blessing on their upcoming marriage. But as to his question, I couldn’t think of a Jewish ritual or text that I thought would be appropriate for the ceremony. I hope I would answer with more wisdom, with a more listening heart, if given the opportunity to replay that conversation. Chelsea’s wedding reminded me of how my story on an important issue to me has evolved over time.

Although we barely notice it, we are continually shedding our old skin, as dead cells are replaced by new ones. What does it take for us to be born into a new heart, as well? It takes what Solomon, the wisest of Biblical Kings, prayed for. He asked God for a Lev Shomea, a listening heart. Although the western tradition prejudices the intellect in favor of the emotions, Biblical Hebrew knows no such dichotomy between mind and heart. Sometimes, it is only the Lev Shomea, the listening heart, that will lead us wisely to the truth we need to know.

Now the same week that Chelsea and Marc were getting married, I was part of an interfaith clergy mission to Israel, sponsored by the JCRC, Boston’s Jewish Community Relations Council. I was one of three Rabbis invited to join the trip, along with two members of the JCRC staff, and about 15 Boston area Protestant ministers and Catholic priests. The purpose of the trip was to both educate, and to build relationships with Christian community leaders, so that they might better be able to understand and convey Israel’s story to their communities. For the Rabbis on the trip, this was a chance for us to share intimately with our Christian colleagues the Israel that we love and to which we are so devoted. And the JCRC did a masterful job in putting together a program of multiple narratives and perspectives that conveyed the complexity of Israeli society and politics.

Together, we toured Christian and Jewish holy sites, and at each place, one of us took responsibility for leading the entire group in a prayer or a reflection. That Friday night, several of the clergy came with me to welcome the Sabbath at Kehilat Kol HaNeshama. I chose this synagogue to take them to because it offers a prayer book with English transliterations, and a style of prayer characterized by spirited congregational singing, punctuated by meditation. Rather than sit politely and observe, as I might have done if invited to attend a church service, my Christian counterparts threw themselves into the affair with gusto, singing and praying with this congregation of Jewish Jerusalemites, a mixture of natives, former Americans, and visitors from around the world, with a fullness of heart and being. Something shifted for me. Older assumptions about religious boundaries and borders were adapting to the reality of my personal experience.

Over the seven days, we heard stories- many stories. We met with Ethiopian immigrants in Haifa, and Kibbutzniks on the Lebanese border. We heard from peace activists, and from West Bank settlers, from experts on military ethics, holocaust survivors, Arab Israelis, and we even had tea with the Palestinian Mayor of Bethlehem. And, although these narratives were often conflicting, together we listened, and were able to hear the truth that was in all of them. Let me share with you just two of the stories we heard from two women we met that week.

Nadia Ismail is an Israel Arab from the town of Nahif, near Carmiel, in the Galilee. Nadia founded and runs a group that empowers Israeli Arab women to educate themselves, and to enter the work force. She is originally from Haifa, and is well educated, well spoken, and forthright in her views. Although her work has born much success, she was not shy about sharing some of the obstacles with us. One woman from her town, for example, successfully interviewed over the phone for a job at a bank in nearby Carmiel. That is, until she arrived at the bank in traditional Arab dress and was told, sorry, your appearance is too traditional; I don’t think it will work out for you here. I can still hear the frustration in her voice as she shared this story with us. Nadia, too, dresses in traditional Muslim attire.

Nadia also gave us a brief tour of the crowded streets of Nahif, which sits on a mountainside overlooking the industrial park of Carmiel. “That’s our village’s land, you know. The JNF took it, and now we are in the position of having to buy back our own land if we want to expand the village.” Well, the issues of land title and of the allocation of government resources are much more complicated than Nadia presented. But, never the less, this is her perspective. Nahif sits crowded on the hill, while Carmiel expands. I did not agree with every detail of her story, but I could hear the truth in it, nonetheless. And yet, in spite of what she perceives as injustices perpetrated by Israeli society, Nadia is committed to the vision that there is a place for Arab Israelis, and that a more equitable place at the table can be claimed through grass roots efforts like hers.

A few days later, we headed south to Sderot, near the Gazan border. There, we met with Linda Bialis, a young, idealistic film maker from California. A few years ago, Linda decided to make her first trip to Israel because she had heard about the unrelenting attack of Kassam rockets from Gaza on the town of Sderot. She was confused by the lack of media coverage this was getting in the US, and decided to travel to Israel to make a film about it. The story she found was one of every-day heroism of Israelis under fire. It was also the story of her film, “Rock in the Red Zone,” a remarkable and totally unexpected blossoming of Sderot as a center for alternative rock music in Israel. This new music scene was the response of Sderot’s youth to the ongoing reality of living with rocket attacks.

While making her movie, Linda fell in love with one of the subjects of her film, got married, and made aliyah. How could you not love Linda’s story? It had all the elements of the Zionist narrative that I wanted my Christian counterparts on the trip to hear: the courage of innocent, ordinary Israelis under fire, the ability to deal with the tension of war through the arts rather than through violence and despair, and the idealism of American Jews who are so inspired by the reality of Israel that they change the course of their lives in order to be a part of it.

But the “truth” is multifaceted, as listening to both Linda and Nadia’s stories reminds us. Yet, acknowledging the truth of a narrative that is different from my own does not negate the truth of my own story. As our bonds of friendship and of trust grew in strength, this group of clergy pilgrims shared honestly, and struggled to make sense of it. Israel is a miracle and an inspiration, both for the Jewish people, and for the world. And it is also a country like other countries, and a very young one at that, that has challenges to overcome and injustices to redress. If this seven day journey through Israel, hardly my first trip to a land that I think I know quite well, was in some way transformational, it is because it was a week of listening, not only to facts, but to stories of real people, stories that often challenged my own, stories of the heart. That is the only way we grow.

We live in an age of increasing intolerance and polarized public discourse, in which the Lev Shomea, the listening heart, is in such short supply. The left demonizes Israel, while the right demonizes Islam. This week, Time magazine scandalously blames Israel for the failure of peace talks which have barely begun, with a slanderous front page headline claiming to explain Why Israel Doesn’t Want Peace. My suggestion: don’t buy the issue, but read it online, and write a letter of protest. At the same time, fringe Christian ministers, who plan to burn Korans this week on the anniversary of 9\11, get far too much press than they deserve. And normal Americans across the country are divided on whether Muslims even have the right to build an Islamic community center in New York City. We mistake stubbornness and close-mindedness for steadfastness and loyalty, and we demonize every opinion that is different from our own. We say, “that’s my story and I’m sticking to it,” instead of listening to what is true, now, in this moment, and allowing our story to grow.

As a community and as individuals, the best thing that we can do is to tone down the rhetoric, and listen to each other, broaden our conversation. As one final example, let me talk about Israel, and the ways in which we choose to support her. Many of you know that Temple Israel led the second largest New England delegation to the annual AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington last year. Nearly 8,000 supporters of Israel, Jews and non Jews, spent three days learning, lobbying our congressmen, and sending a strong message on the importance of the American-Israel relationship to Washington. I love the fact that AIPAC is successful in its mission, which is not to support a particular Israeli political agenda, but to focus Congress on the importance of the American/Israel alliance. That support is crucial to Israel’s long term survival. At the same time, I understand that some of us who love Israel perceive AIPAC to be monolithic, and feel a greater sympathy for JStreet, which is more interested in supporting and encouraging particular Israeli policies, that support the realization of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. It saddens me to hear American Jews polarize into either\or positions around these two organizations. And it saddens me that here in our own congregation, some of our members feel that the robust support that AIPAC enjoys leaves little room for them to express support for Israel in their own voice. There needs to be a respectful place for all of our voices on, this issue, as well as on many of the issues that we find difficult to discuss, some of which I touched upon today. Because that’s where the possibility for growth lies, in listening to each other’s real concerns, hopes and fears.

Even after all the books and journals have been read, after all the rhetoric of the pundits have been evaluated, our work is not complete until we have listened to the lived experience of others and we hear what it is that our listening hearts have to tell us.

My friends, may this be a year in which the seeds of peace and tranquility finally take root in the Middle East. May this be a year in which we are guided by the wisdom of our hearts and our intellects, a year in which fear fades and faith is renewed. And may we realize the possibility of being born and reborn again into the truth revealed in every moment.

I want to conclude by reminding you of the words of an old Shlomo Carlebach song: “Return again, return again, return to the land of your soul. Return to who you are, return to what you are, return to where you are born and reborn again.” Please sing them with me.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Reflection by Reverend Sally Thacher

My summer was filled with rich blessings. In June I spent a stimulating week at Yale Divinity School studying with two of my favorite Bible professors. July brought our son's marriage to a young woman whom we have loved for several years. It was a joyous family celebration in the rolling hills of Oregon's Willamette Valley.

A week later, I set off on the most amazing trip of my life. You've heard countless jokes about the Rabbi, the priest and the Protestant minister who.....Well, we were seventeen rabbis, priests, and ministers who traveled to Israel under the auspices of the Boston area Jewish Community Relations Council. The study tour was intended to provide greater interfaith understanding, especially in the context of that fascinating, exciting and perplexing land that is the birthplace of our respective religions.

Both my heart and my head are so full of what I saw, learned and experienced that I hardly know where to begin to share some of it with you.

We traveled the length and breadth of Israel, visiting biblical and historic sites and listening to an impressive roster of speakers about the many successes and accomplishments of Israel as well as the issues that face the country today. We read scripture, prayed together and shared theological reflections each day. In the course of our shared travels, study and conversations, we developed strong bonds as brothers and sisters in our common vocation and increased our understanding of our sister faiths.

In addition to visiting biblical and historic sites, we stayed at a Kibbutz in the north. We toured disputed border areas both in the north and in the south near Gaza where "incidents" took place within days of our visits. In the Golan Heights, we visited the border with Syria in a place aptly named "The Valley of Tears" where the destruction was almost total, UN peacekeeping forces continue to patrol, and a rusted tank from earlier battles stands guard over the empty landscape.

We developed a better understanding of the dangers Israelis face in certain areas, especially the disputed areas, and of the vulnerability they feel as a tiny nation the size of New Jersey with a population of 7 million, surrounded by hundreds of millions of often hostile peoples.

I also learned that this underlying existential fear grows not only out of physical and external threats, but from divisive internal issues as well. This diffuse anxiety seems to lead to a fear of criticism. A number of times I heard the claim that criticism or questioning of some of Israel's policies amounted to anti-Semitism and de-legitimization of Israel as a nation. Although that is undoubtedly true in somes cases, it seemed difficult for some Israelies to accept the fact that criticism can also come from friends and allies who deeply desire that Israel continue to thrive and to do so in a secure environment of just peace.

After this trip, I will never read the Bible the same way again. What a powerful experience to see and walk the land where Jesus preached and healed and taught about the Kingdom of God, and where the prophets railed against the sins of a society which repeatedly failed to obey God. It was a breathtaking experience to walk next to the Jordan River across which Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land, to dip into the water where Jesus was baptized (even if it wasn't the exact spot), to see what it might have looked like in his day. To sit beside a church on the slopes overlooking the Sea of Galilee somewhere near where Jesus fed the 5,000 and preached the Sermon on the Mount, and listen to a colleague recite as if he were preaching to us, was a precious gift.

Entering Jerusalem was perhaps the most emotional moment of the trip for me. At the end of the rigorous and scorching hot days, our bus paused at the top of one of the hills overlooking Jerusalem where we disembarked for a traditional Jewish blessing recited on entering Jerusalem the first time on each visit to Israel. Interestingly, part of the ritual is to say a blessing over bread and wine as they are shared- a poignant reminder of Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples on the outskirts of Jerusalem on the eve of that fateful weekend.

Spread below us in the golden glow of the late afternoon was the city for which Jesus wept before entering -- and still has cause to weep-- the city which was the setting for the agonizing climax of his ministry. It felt as if our trip through Galilee and along the Jordan valley also was culminating in this city which is so important to three faiths, a city which has seen so much betrayal and bloodshed over the centuries and even today finds itself at the center of international disputes.

It was heartbreakingly beautiful - the famous golden limestone wall surrounding the Old City with the stunning gold of the Islamic Dome of the Rock at its heart, atop the Temple Mount. We sang a haunting Hebrew song called "Jerusalem of Gold" whose refrain brought me to tears each time we repeated it: "Jerusalem of gold, of copper, of light, Am I not a violin for all your songs."

No trip to Israel would be complete without a visit to Bethlehem or to Yad Vashem, the Jewish National Memorial to the Holocaust. My heart is full with gratitude for the grace of this unforgettable experience.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My Trip to the Holy Land, a Reflection, Rev. Matt Carriker

Last week, I had the pleasure of traveling to the Holy Land for the very first time. What a week! Organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council, our trip consisted of a group of almost 20 Christian and Jewish clergy persons.

As I walked numerous Jewish and Christian holy sites, I couldn't help but feel a deep connection with the land in Israel. Everywhere one travels there is a history as ancient as the Bible itself. I was consistently amazed at how often we would pass sites while driving and hear from our tour guide things like, "this is the field where David fought Goliath" or "this is where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found."

From this experience, I began to understand the depth of connection that the Jewish people feel to the land of their ancestors. As I gazed upon this ancient land, I could imagine traveling the desert with Abraham and Sarah. As I walked through the Old City in Jerusalem, I could imagine what Jesus might have felt while entering the gates of the city on Palm Sunday, or while constantly challenging the religious authorities. On the trip's blog (found here:, Rev. Sally Newhall put it perfectly:

"To see what Jesus saw when he stepped out of his doorway each day as a child, what David saw as he climbed the hill that we call Mt. Zion, to overlook the hills upon which the Crusaders and Muslims fought so long ago and more recently the war of independence and the Six Day War - to see all of this feels like being in a vortex of time and brings those events so much more alive for me."

Each day, I also heard about how the land here- and the connection that people of sincere faith feel to that land- has been a source of conflict over the past century. How could such great spiritual traditions fight for so long over land- even to the point of killing one another?

What I found out in the Holy Land is that the majority of people- over 70% in both Israel and Palestinian territories- are in favor of peace. It is a minority of extremists on both sides whose actions have thwarted the peace process. It was inspiring to see examples of people from both sides of the conflict who are working for peace, and who have been doing so for some time (most especially from the OneVoice movement:

One activity that made the trip especially meaningful was the spiritual dimension infused into it, where one clergy person was asked to share something at each site- perhaps a prayer, a scripture reading, a reflection, a song, etc. In the midst of sites that were often busy and noisy, these reflections brought me back to the heart of why we were here.

One day, our group traveled to the Mount of Beatitudes. Before we entered the grounds to where Jesus was reported to have spoken these words, one of the clergy repeated verses from the Sermon on the Mount. As he spoke from the heart, without notes or text, these words of Jesus (from Matthew 5: 3-11 and 5: 43-48) came alive:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven...
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

What would it take to live out these words today? To be peacemakers? To live with purity of heart? To hunger and thirst for righteousness? To love even our enemy?

After a talk on the Israel/Lebanon border, we heard about how an Israeli kibbutz (place of communal living) on the border had been bombed for over 30 days straight in 2006. We heard about a terrorist organization called Hezbollah, controlled and financed by Iran, who is hiding weapons in the homes of civilians in Lebanon. The talk was, to say the least, a bit daunting. How can we achieve peace in the midst of these circumstances?

After the talk on the border, the words of St. Francis of Assisi came to my mind. At a reflection after the border talk, I shared with our group St. Francis' peace prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen.

After only one week in Israel, I do not have all the answers on how to achieve peace in the Middle East. In fact, my time produced more questions than answers! But, from the life of Jesus, St. Francis, and saints of every religion, I do feel positive about one trustworthy first step to peace:

Be the source of the change you with to see in the world.

Don't wait for another to be loving. Be loving first. Don't wait for another to make peace. Be a peacemaker in all that you think, say, and do.

A simple solution? Perhaps. But it is a message that Jesus gives over and over again in his teachings in the gospels, and through the living of his life. Embody peace yourself. Though temporary peace can be made through laws, agreements, and mandates, lasting peace comes from within the human heart. This is a peace that is not simply the absence of conflict, but that is full of harmony, beauty, goodness, and the love of God.

May that peace be yours today, in all things. Blessings,

Matt Carriker

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Thoughts from Rabbi Dan Liben

I am so very grateful to JCRC for the opportunity to see Israel through the eyes of another faith tradition, at the same time that I was engaged in sharing with Christian colleagues the Israel that I love from the perspective of my own tradition. The last seven days together have been transformative, and I will be processing our time together for a very long time. Several things came together to create an experience that surpassed my expectations.

First, the incredible array of voices that JCRC put together in planning this experience created a symphony of complexity and depth. There is no single Israeli narrative here; there are many, often passionate, narratives voiced by people who love this country and who are seeking truth as best they can. Kol HaKavod to the JCRC for bringing these varied voices together for us.

Second, the coming together of this particular group of Holy Land Pilgrims, Jewish and Christian, was a Divine gift. The openness, the trust, the intellectual honesty and the compassion of these individuals reflected nothing less than the presence of God. We shared, we heard one another, and we learned from one another. Also, the ability of my Christian colleagues to join in Jewish Sabbath prayers with us with such whole heartedness was humbling, and has given me much to think about. It is not usual for adults to make new friends, good friends, in a week. But I feel (I know) that I have.

Finally, this crazy, challenged, and challenging country, this sui generous miracle of a people restored to its ancient land, this society of immigrants who against all odds share a vison of a common destiny that is both particular and universal in its outlook and goals, inspires me beyond words. As Bob wrote, it is a work in progress. And yet, the commitment of people here to overcome the contradictions and to create a just society under unusally complex circumstances is the true miracle of the State of Israel. May we all be blessed to stand in its light.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Thoughts from Father Jim O'Driscoll

I was very moved by my visit to the Holocaust Memorial in Washington DC but I cannot express how profound the experience of visiting Yad Vashem was for me. Our guide, Gilad Peled, made the tour of the museum not only person but he shared a profound amount of information.

The Children’s Memorial was the most moving. The darkness with the memorial flames glittering like stars in an empty night sky intensified the recital of the names and ages of the children.

Of the six million murdered in the Shoah genocide, the one and a half million children’s murder was the most horrific. How can often “ordinary” human beings, frequently educated, demonize, dehumanize and murder babies and children?

Countering Stalin’s boast in the face of the mass murders that the “death of one man is a tragedy but the death of a million is a statistic”, Gandhi, I believe, said “the killing of one man is the killing of a whole universe.”

Thoughts from Rev. Sally Newhall

Here it is – the beginning of our last day in Israel! My head is spinning from all I have seen and heard. Reflecting on what stands out for me from the trip some things come to mind. First, the land. This is my second trip to Israel but I am still mesmerized by just looking at the land. To see what Jesus saw when he stepped out of his doorway each day as a child, what David saw as he climbed the hill that we call Mt. Zion, to overlook the hills upon which the Crusaders and Muslims fought so long ago and more recently the war of independence and the Six Day War – to see all of this feels like being in a vortex of time and brings those events so much more alive for me.

The second major impact of this trip has been the amazing array of people to whom we have been introduced. Just yesterday we began the day speaking with a Holocaust scholar before seeing Yad Vashem, from there to the Foreign Ministry to meet with two division heads before visiting the settlement of Efrat and finally dining with the former Executive Editor of the Jerusalem Post! My head was spinning by the end of the day. I am so grateful for this unique opportunity to discover so many facets of Israel’s history and present. Yesterday, our six days of traveling and experiencing this rich trip together erupted into a rich discussion on the bus.

Our wonderful mix of theological perspectives has been an integral element in this this whole week and is the third impact of this trip for me. We have worshiped, prayed, and argued together – all of us growing in our understanding aand appreciation of the richness of the heritage we all share and of the uniqueness of our differences. Out of all of these experiences has come a new sensitivity to the importance of the use of language in the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.

For instance, I have discovered the importance of remembering that Palestine was never a nation in this land – rather Palestinians were residents in the occupied territories (subject to the Turks, British and French). So to speak of giving the West Bank back to the Palestinians is itself inflammatory language. For many with whom we have spoken, the demand that the West Bank be given to the Palestinians is actually a demand that Israel give away territory to a people who never held it in their own right before. I have become aware of how much more I need to learn

And so our last day begins…