September 5-11, 2011
We flew overnight for 11 hours to arrive a bit tired and time-challenged in Tel Aviv, and began our all- day tour in 2 buses, starting in Tel Aviv at a century- old building, still under renovation that housed a synagogue/interfaith centre. We were struck by the bright early morning sun and the heat because it was still the middle of the night in Canada. Rabbi David Rosen gave us an excellent overview of the complexity of the interfaith relationships in Israel over the past 50 years. There is freedom of religious practice in Israel. However, within each religion, there are also disputes and strongly held views, some for peace-building and others strongly suspicious of those working toward peace and compromise, which has an impact on the conversations among faith group members.
We had a driving tour by bus of Tel Aviv and Jaffa, (the older city) and drove north to Nazareth the largest Arab city in Israel. We visited the Church of St. Joseph, the traditional site of the home of Joseph and Mary. It was a large building, shared by 2 orthodox faiths, with beautiful orthodox icons, both paintings and sculpture. The priest there indicated that the Christian population in Nazareth is shrinking. Our next visit was to Terra Santa College which was attached to the Roman Catholic Basilica. Father Amjad, the local parish priest had attended this College as a student. Mr. Bahig Mansour, a Druze man who is director of Israel’s Department for Religious Affairs came to welcome us. We laughed with him as he explained that he was late because his wife, a native of Nazareth, gave him bungled directions. He also emphasized the significance of freedom of religious practice in Israel that is protected by the government. He shared a bit about the Druze religion which is quite secretive. It does not accept converts.
We climbed onto the buses in the hot afternoon sun and were driven to Kibbutz Lavi where we had dinner and fell into bed exhausted, knowing that the tour would begin again very early the next day.