In June, 21 travelers from Temple Emanu-El, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, and St. Philip’s, under the leadership of the Rev. John Kitagawa and Rabbi Samuel Cohon, embarked on a 10-day interfaith journey to the Holy Land. Here are some of their impressions.

Top 10 Reasons I Would Return To Israel on Pilgrimage

  1. To continue growing spiritually. You can breathe in spirituality in Israel!
  2. To connect with my Jewish-Christian roots even more deeply.
  3. To experience the “thin places” again — spaces where the boundary between heaven and earth is especially thin; where one can more easily sense the presence of God. Transformative travel!
  4. To drink in Israel with both my eyes and mouth. “Israel is heaven on a plate.” (Thanks to 13 year-old travel companion Jake Gordon for this delicious description.)
  5. To experience renewing baptismal vows in the “mighty” Jordan River without the nosey nutria (river rodent) intruding.
  6. To expand my Hebrew vocabulary and pronunciation. (Boker tov! Sherutim?)
  7. To join another archeological dig. Awesome! Hand me a bucket and pick!
  8. To take more photos. (My spouse only snapped just under 2,000.) Ha!
  9. To explore more museums, climb more hills and stairs, walk again the roads that Jesus trod, and explore more marketplaces. I need the exercise!
  10. To experience genuine interfaith community.

–Brigid Waszczak

Renewal of Baptismal vows in the Jordan River

Ancient olives trees in the Garden of Gethsemane

Going on this trip to Israel was a dream come true for me. As an archeology/history buff, I’ve been fascinated with Israel my whole life. I wrote my first real research paper in high school on Masada, subscribed to Biblical Archeology Review for over 20 years, and have always been fascinated by how archaeology and history informs my understanding of the Bible. So I had high expectations for the trip which were more than met.

Highlights (in no particular order):

  • Attending different services with our compatriots from Temple Emanu-El, especially the one commemorating the end of Shabbat on Saturday night and the final Shabbat service;
  • Praying at the Western Wall and leaving a note in a crevice there — the atmosphere was thick with centuries of prayer;
  • Singing “Amazing Grace” in St. Anne’s, a Crusader church next to the Pools of Bethsaida;
  • The Garden of Gethsemane — enough said;
  • Participating in an archaeological dig;
  • Finally making it to Masada, 40-some years after first reading about what happened there;
  • Seeing how beautiful the Galilee really is — truly a land of milk and honey;
  • Learning so much from our wonderful guide and the rest of the participants;
  • The depth it’s adding to my reading of and about the Bible.

I’d go back in a heartbeat because, as much as we saw, there’s so much more to see and experience there.
–Leah Sandwell-Weiss

Beit Guvrin archeological dig

The tomb of St. Philip at Hierapolis

This was the third time John and I have been to the Holy Land. Each trip has offered new insights and perspectives — even when visiting some of the same sites. As our tour guide said, Holy Land sites and experiences are not something that can be checked off a list as “been there, done that.” If nothing else, the place from within with which a pilgrim views the sites changes. This has certainly been true for me.

One of the things that jumped out at me in 2012 is definitely not a new bit of information, but the context was deeply enriched. While at Banyas, John shared that active and fully acknowledged ministry for Jesus was contained in a 3-year period. Really? My faith is based on a lowly 3 years? NO! My faith is based on both the New Testament and the Jewish texts. The richness of this interfaith journey, with multiple Jewish and Christian worship services and plentiful conversation, was experiencing the similarities of our beliefs and practices. Even our tour guide (who has led other Christian tours) was amazed with glee when he realized (mid-Eucharist) that his Conservative Jewish worship community says the same “Holy, Holy, Holy prayer” (as he called it).

I was also surprised how much I enjoyed our light-hearted, laughter-filled raft trip down the “Mighty” Jordan River. I found myself “setting aside” all that we had been seeing and learning while paddling, and laughing (typically when the raft was traveling sideways or in circles). It was refreshing.
–Kathy Kitagawa

One of the highlights of the trip was participating in a Bar Mitvzh at the Western Wall in Jerusalem

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