A POWERFUL spiritual experience awaited a group of six Christian clergy who have taken part in the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) Rambam Israel visiting program.
They included Reverend Timothy Hein and Deacon Elizabeth Dyson from the Uniting Church in South Australia, Pastor David Quilty from Isa Community Church in Mount Isa, Queensland, Reverend Patrick Senn from the Anglican Church in Melbourne, Daniel Hill, convenor of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, and Pastor Donna Kipps from the Global Heart Church in Perth.
The visitors concurred that the program had revealed the complexities and diversities of Israel and exposed challenges to peacemaking in the region in ways they had not considered before.
Pastor Kipps said Rambam had been transformative. “What we’re hearing [in the media] is not the truth of what’s going on.”
Inspired by her trip, she has reached out to the international Bridges for Peace program, a global initiative advocating for Israel and world Jewry among the Christian community.
Reverend Senn expressed admiration of the enduring sense of belonging and peoplehood among the Jews of Israel – that they recognise that they “belong to something greater than themselves”.
Rabbi Ralph Genende, senior rabbi of Caulfield Shule and a member of AIJAC’s editorial board, who acted as the visitors’ liaison, told The AJN the group was exposed to political and social experts and to leaders from across the religious spectrum in Israel.
“They also visited important Christian sites and landmarks like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Christian holy places in the Galilee. The group met with Christian and Muslim clergy as well as rabbis; they were particularly moved by the meeting with rabbis and rabbanits from Beit Hillel, an inclusive Modern Orthodox movement.
“Without exception these Christian leaders rated their Friday night at the Kotel prayers as one of the high points of their trip,” said Rabbi Genende.
“Short as these trips are, their impact is significant and hopefully long-lasting. I am always filled with wonder at the way the experience of being on the ground in Israel, meeting with a cross-section of its society including Palestinians, and listening to the superb presenters AIJAC provides, actually changes the perceptions of our participants. Just as Jerusalem reveals itself layer by layer, so it peels away layers of preconceptions and stereotypes from the sensitive visitor.”
The clergy related their impressions at an AIJAC event in Melbourne on August 2 and at a Shabbat lunch hosted by Rabbi Ralph and Rebbetzin Caron Genende.