Conflict between Israelis and Palestinians weighs on their minds during trip
By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
A priest, a rabbi and other Quad-City Christians and Jews recently returned from the Holy Land where they were exposed to history, interfaith dialogue and Operation Protective Edge. While the Israelis began their military operation against Hamas during the Quad-Citians’ pilgrimage, the 45 travelers focused on exploring sites holy to each one’s religion and engaging in interfaith dialogue.
Roxanne Miner, a religion teacher at Alleman High School in Rock Island, Ill., had the privilege of placing prayers written by students and faculty inside a chink of the Wailing Wall. “A good third of the letters were prayers for peace,” recalled Miner, a parishioner of Sacred Heart Cathedral, Davenport. She hopes the prayers, 130 of them tucked inside an envelope, will make people realize the futility of fighting.
The July 6-15 pilgrimage emerged from interfaith dialogue among Father Mike Schaab, retired pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island, Ill.; Rabbi Tamar Grimm of the Tri-City Jewish Center, Rock Island; Imam Saad Baig of the Islamic Center of the Quad Cities, Moline, Ill., and other religious leaders. Fr. Schaab said the Imam was unable to make the trip because it occurred in the midst of Ramadan.
As spiritual leaders of the pilgrimage, Rabbi Grimm and Fr. Schaab wanted “everyone to have experience of their spiritual roots in the Holy Land and to be open to those same roots for someone of the other faith. So, we visited both Christian and Jewish sites,” the priest said. An ancillary goal was ongoing dialogue among the pilgrims on the trip about what they were processing. “That happened to our great satisfaction,” Fr. Schaab added.
While she believes the pilgrimage accomplished its purposes, Rabbi Grimm found it ironic that “this culture clash is going on … and here we are trying to bridge understanding between our two faiths.”
Miner said the interfaith experience was “the ideal way of looking at Israel through the eyes of Jesus as a Jew and understanding his Jewish experience and also understanding our Christian experience.”
It was Miner’s first trip to Israel and she hopes to return. “The place I really want to go back to is the Mount of Beatitudes along the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It’s one of the most beautiful places I experienced in Israel … that’s where some of the greatest teachings of Jesus were given — the beatitudes, speaking on nonviolence … I’ve been teaching the beatitudes for 30 years.”
Had conflict in the Holy Land not been underway, “we might have focused more on history and what makes this a holy place to people,” Rabbi Grimm said. “But it heightened awareness of the conflict going on and how precarious the situation is for people living here.”
Israel began its response to Hamas’ rocket attacks, called Operation Projective Edge, on July 8. But the pilgrims were visiting Tel Aviv in northern Israel, away from the danger zone. “We didn’t hear any sirens until we got to Jerusalem,” Rabbi Grimm said.
When a siren sounded there, many of the pilgrims — including Rabbi Grimm, Fr. Schaab and Miner — were touring a tunnel 30 feet underground, behind the Wailing Wall (also called the Western Wall). “We didn’t even hear them,” Miner said. “We were totally safe underground.” Some pilgrims waiting above ground on the bus heard the siren and laid down on the floor for safety, Fr. Schaab said. Another time the siren sounded, “I think I was taking a nap and didn’t hear it,” the priest added. “People in the (hotel) lobby heard it and went into a secure room.”
Back home in Davenport, Miner’s husband, Patrick, became alarmed hearing news reports of the escalating conflict in the Holy Land. Until arriving in Jerusalem, Roxanne said, “I was only aware of the rockets because my husband was calling.”
While media reports have highlighted the rising number of deaths of innocent Palestinians, Rabbi Grimm thinks it’s unfair to focus on numbers. “Israel has an anti-missile defense system, which the Palestinians do not have. Israel is protecting its citizens. You’re going to blame them for that?”
Fr. Schaab noted that “in one sense, it (the anti-missile defense system) saved our lives because it was so efficient over Jerusalem. But it was also a reminder at that time that things were boiling … and it’s part of being in Israel. The country is still working out its relationship with all its neighbors.”
The pilgrims were well aware of the widely differing views on the political scene before going to Israel, but “one of the things we decided – Rabbi and I – was to not convince people of one side or the other,” Fr. Schaab said. “Let us experience it, deal with the international and national press, do our studies and then come to conclusion ourselves.
“… Knowing the beauty of the country and the people – both the Palestinians and the Israelis – it’s heartbreaking to see how they’re embroiled in this conflict again and how so many innocent lives on both sides are affected. It moves all of us to deeper prayer,” added Fr. Schaab.
“So many on both sides want to live in peace; they are willing to live side by side,” Roxanne Miner said, “but it’s the political leaders who get in the way.”
Still, “everyone has to make at least one trip to the Holy Land in their lives,” Miner believes. “I never realized how important it was until I went … (to gain) perspective of our Jewish background, our Christian history and to see the sites to really understand who Jesus was a little better.”