In August 1994, I was an introspective, brainy 16-year-old, fresh from a summer in Israel with a busload of other 16-year-olds. On my last morning in Jerusalem, I had watched the sun rise: cool breezes over ancient golden stones. I heard church bells ring and the Muslim call to prayer, whispering my own Hebrew dreams into fuzzy pink air. As a Jewish teen who went (reluctantly) to Israel for the Roman ruins but stayed for the prayers, when we chanted under desert stars I was suspended somewhere in between Reform Jewish teenagerhood and a future as a religious studies professor—plus my always evolving, complex relationship with Jewish adulthood.
This was when I first encountered Rodger Kamenetz’s The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet’s Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India.
I frequently speak to church groups about pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I speak as a pilgrim, but the conversation often turns to politics. Inevitably someone will ask about our denomination’s position on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. There’s no simple answer.
An established interfaith group is in danger of disintegrating as major American Jewish groups and prominent mainline Protestant churches differ over U.S. aid for Israel—a long-standing argument that the group was established, in part, to diffuse.
In Jordan, reports are mixed as to just how good relations are between the Muslim majority and the Christian minority. What's clearer is that the stronger divide is between native Jordanians and the many Palestinian refugees.
The two locals we spent the most time with, our tour guide and our bus driver, represent both differences.