Multifaith trip to Israel planned for 2014

“The Path of Abraham” leaders, from left, Iman Abdul Hai Patel, Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, Rev. Karen Hamilton, Father Damian MacPherson, and interfaith and diversity advocate Judy Csillag, are planning to bring a multifaith group to Israel next March. [Photo courtesy of The Catholic Register by Michael Swan]

Building on the success of a multifaith trip to Israel in 2011, a group of Jews, Christians and Muslims will travel to the Holy Land next March to gain new perspectives on the three major monotheistic religions, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The Path of Abraham,” so-called because Abraham is seen as a central figure in the texts of all three religions, is a nine-day tour meant to provide opportunities for participants to see each religion through another lens, said Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, spiritual leader of Beth Tzedec Congregation and a co-leader of the trip.

“Because we are seeing it through other people’s eyes, or with other people, it opens us up to their experience as well,” he said.

Ontario Multifaith Council president Imam Abdul Hai Patel – who is leading the trip along with Rabbi Frydman-Kohl and fellow co-leaders Father Damian MacPherson, director of the Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs for the archdiocese of Toronto; Rev. Karen Hamilton, secretary general of the Canadian Council of Churches, and interfaith and diversity advocate Judy Csillag – said this trip will focus on the commonalities in the three Abrahamic faiths, and promote messages of peace.

“There is not just history there, there is spirituality. For people to visit Israel, it’s spiritually uplifting… From the Jewish community, many people go to Israel, but going on this trip is a unique experience,” Iman Patel said.

“We also hope to bring a message of peace to Israel and Palestine and show how we in Canada are living together… that we are in harmony with each other.”

The itinerary includes visits to Bethlehem, Hebron, Nazareth, the Galilee, the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, the Golden Mosque and Haram al-Sharif, Yad Vashem, the Church of Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Participants will also meet with religious leaders, Holocaust survivors and political figures, including a representative from the Palestine Liberation Organization’s negotiations department.

“In this itinerary, we will be going to a [Jewish] settlement and to a Palestinian refugee camp,” Rev. Hamilton said.

“So often, when people go to Israel and the Palestinian territories, they see one particular perspective or another,” she added.

Rabbi Frydman-Kohl said this tour allows Jews, most of whom would not venture into Palestinian areas, to “hear from Palestinians about their experiences and similarly, Muslims and Christians are able to hear from residents of Gush Etzion about why they are there.”

Following the trip, participants are expected to attend interfaith dialogues to explore their newly gained perspectives.

“Of course, the conversations are very tough,” Rev. Hamilton said.

Recalling the 2011 trip, in which 56 people took part – 23 Christians, 15 Jews and 18 Muslims – Rabbi Frydman-Kohl said there were experiences that highlighted some of the challenges in the region.

“When we were in the Temple Mount area, Christians and Jews were told [they are] not allowed to pray here. Only Muslims are allowed to enter the mosques. Suddenly, there is a real sense of exclusion,” he said.

On the other hand, there were other experiences that were unifying. 

When the group visited the Kotel for Kabbalat Shabbat, “even those who have serious questions about Israel and the Palestinians found themselves dancing with soldiers,” he said.

Rev. Hamilton recalled visiting the Church of Nativity, where it’s believed that Jesus was born.

“One of the Muslim women, in a hijab… started to cry. She was just beside herself in the best kind of way because there is more about Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the Qur’an than there is in the New Testament… She was just overwhelmed to be standing in the spot where Mary gave birth to Jesus,” she said.

For more information or to register for the trip, contact Csillag at [email protected].