Jerusalem From a Shared Perspective

We’ve just finished the first full day of JRC’s Israel/Palestine study tour – which we devoted to understanding and experiencing Jerusalem as a “shared holy city.” While this might sound like an obvious fact, many Jews today (including myself) have been raised and socialized to regard Israel, if you will,  as a “Jewish city that just happens to be important to some other faiths as well.”

To this end we made a point of visiting and spending time at the three main holy sites of the city: the Western Wall, the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  Afterwards we met with two Shaykh Yusuf Abu Sneina, Imam of the al-Aqsa mosque and Rabbi Yechiel Grenimann of Rabbis for Human Rights. Tomorrow morning we’ll be meeting with Revered Naim Ateek of the Sabeel Institute to round out our visits with faith leaders.

Our tour is being led by Aziz Abu Sarah and Kobi Skolnick – who are Palestinian and Israeli respectively. Both Aziz and Kobi are remarkable individuals with powerful personal stories. Aziz is a native of Jerusalem who became radicalized at a young age after the death of his older brother at the hands of the IDF. He became active in the youth movement of Fatah and participated extensively in Palestinian resistance actions during the First Intifada.

Aziz has since become actively involved in Israeli-Palestinian coexistence work. He was one of the original staff members of the Bereaved Parents Circle and works with Rabbi Marc Gopin at the Institute for Conflict Resolution at George Mason University. Aziz and Rabbi Gopin have also founded Mejdi, a business that promotes coexistence through educational tourism and small business cooperation. (You can read an extensive interview with Aziz here.)

Kobi’s story is no less amazing. Born into a Chabad family in Israel, he moved to a settlement in the West Bank during his high school years. There he become a member of Kach – the Jewish extremist movement founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane that actively promotes violence against Palestinians. During his service in the Israeli army Kobi went though a personal transformation as he confronted the reality of the conflict.

Today, Kobi is highly involved in the Israeli-Palestinian peace movement – he was one of the original members of Breaking the Silence and now studies conflict resolution. He travels widely as a trained mediator and facilitator.

Among other things, the genuine friendship between Aziz and Kobi has powerfully affected the members of our group. Considering their respective backgrounds and personal journeys, their working relationship and very obvious affection for one another is moving and inspiring indeed. (The picture above was taken this morning at next to the Dome of the Rock. That’s me in the middle, with Aziz on the left and Kobi on the right.)

Tomorrow we’re off to tour East Jerusalem and Bethlehem before spending two nights in the Deheishe refugee camp. Stay tuned.

14 thoughts on “Jerusalem From a Shared Perspective

  1. Jil Levin Deheeger

    What can I say, Brant! What a wonderful first day and I truly feel honored to have a rabbi for whom these issues are not just abstract ideas. I know Michael will come back transformed. I’m looking forward to reading your upcoming entries. Jil

  2. Cotton Fite

    Dear Brant & Friends: It sounds like you’re off to a good start … but (he says defensively) if you can find anything holy at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre you will have done better than I ever have. When I was in Jerusalem in 08, Jerusalem police had to break up a fisticuffs between clergy over competing liturgical processions. On an earlier visit, I was shoved aside by a fellow pilgrim who wanted a better look at the “holy place.” Holiness , I found, resides more fully in the people of each faith and of none who persist in speaking and acting for justice and peace. Good travels, Cotton

  3. Cantor Michael Davis

    As a former settler turned peace activist, I applaud your initiative. What a fantastic trip. You are breaking new ground and creating a new model for congregational trips to Israel. Keep the reports coming.

  4. Rachel Barenblat

    Oh, holy wow. This sounds amazing. This is what I wish my first trip to Israel had been like (instead I was on a UJA/Federation Mission to Israel, which had some lovely moments but left me feeling frustrated about the way the trip’s organizers seemed to presume that Jerusalem, and Israel writ large, were, as you say, Jewish places which might happen to be important to some other people too.) Kol hakavod to you for taking a group in this way — and for your perennial willingness to engage lovingly with what’s so difficult about Israel and its realities.

  5. Aliza Becker

    This sounds absolutely wonderful. I remember Kobe well from many of our Brit Tzedek conferences, as he was a longtime activist with our New York chapter. Now that we are part of J Street, I know that he is speaking at many of our J Street U campus events, sometimes with Aziz, and students are always quite moved by him. Aziz, also spoke at a number of Brit Tzedek events and was always well received. I’m so pleased to learn about their latest venture, and I wish I could be there with you.

  6. Shirley Gould

    I visualize the headlines on the Jewish News. How can they top the one that called attention to our (JRC’s) open discussions? Truly, you are breaking ground, and I kleib naches as one of your congregants.

  7. theyenguy

    In middle east peace news today, Adrian Bloomfield of The Telegraph reports in article EU To Boost Status Of Palestinian Diplomats: the Foreign Office has confirmed that it and other EU member states are studying a proposal that would see Palestinian “general delegations” upgraded to “diplomatic missions” in a number of European capitals. But a Foreign Office spokesman said the upgrade did not “imply recognition of a Palestinian state,” adding: “We continue to believe that the creation of a sovereign and viable Palestinian State alongside a secure Israel is best achieved through negotiations.”

    Wishing Peace to all.

    I comment that the sentence beginning with the word “but a” is doublespeak. Webster’s dictionary defines doublespeak with these words: evasive, ambiguous, high-flown language intended to deceive or confuse.

    I am a reformed christian and I believe that a capital in Jerusalem for the Palestinian People MAY come at some time in future; but such a thing will ONLY come through announcement by the Sovereign of Daniel 9:27, who is also the same Sovereign of Revelation 13:5-10.

  8. Dorothee

    Dear Rabbi Brant,
    The bloggers’ world is more complex than a spider web and if you follow one thread you never know where it leads to. “Blogging doesn’t cure insomnia”…
    I was looking at 18th –20th cent. Westphalian Jews and came across
    the German name of Uri Avenery. He is well known to some older
    Germans interested in Israel like myself (67).
    He had something about this Seven Arches Hotel on the Mount of Olives…
    so I checked the found your blog.
    Very recently I paid a short visit to old friends on Grey Avenue in Evanston – small world.
    I will be following your travel reports with great interest.

  9. l m rosen

    Thanks for sharing your experiences in Israel with us. It seems that you will be able to give us an up to date on site description of the Israel-Palestine situation. I look forward to your updates of your groups’ study tour.


    l m rosen

  10. Mary Tappero

    My favorite DVD these days is Little Town of Bethlehem – and this post so reminded me of it. There are truly amazing people on both sides in Israel/Palestine who are interested in and committed to a nonviolent and empathetic approach to ending the occupation, violence and dehumanization of “the other”.

    I look forward to your future posts on this trip. Bless you for your blog and for your courage.

  11. Clif Brown

    Judging by recent events in Minnesota and Illinois, the time to worry for Americans who travel to Palestine is when they return and find the FBI wants to talk to them. It’s very discouraging when, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, our government has nothing to say about the harassment and arrest of non-violent protesters in the occupied territories and goes after our own citizens who simply visit. Perhaps you will be able to visit the protest tent in Silwan when you visit East Jerusalem. If so, please pass the word to Adnan Gheith that there are Americans who are following what is happening to him and wish him well.


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