The Rev. Cindy Cox Garrard and Rabbi Beth Schwartz have been to Israel several times, but a trip there in February was a little different for both.
The two led an interfaith tour.
Twenty-nine people from Columbus were involved and five faith traditions were represented. There were Jews as well as representatives of the United Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal and Roman Catholic religions.
“It was a wonderful mix of different faiths. Some people already knew each other. New friends were made. People wanted to know about Israel from the perspective of people from other faiths,” said Schwartz, the religious leader of Temple Israel.
Garrard, associate pastor at St. Luke United Methodist Church, said Israel is a place in another part of the world that you might never have been to before, but you feel at home.
“In Israel, you know all the stories,” Garrard said.
Though the country is old, going there never gets that way.
“There are new discoveries made every day,” Garrard said.
The two came up with the idea while at an informal gathering of clergywomen. Eight months of preparation led to them leaving for a little more than a week on Feb. 5.
The two said the trip was an opportunity for Christians to see why Judaism and Israel should matter to them and to see the depth of the feeling Jews have for this place.
It gave both Christians and Jews exposure to common roots.
“The connection between traditions is so strong. Jesus was a Jew. He is part of Jewish history. When he is teaching scripture, he is teaching the Torah,” Garrard said.
She said the Christians were thrilled to walk in the same places Jesus walked.
A highlight for everyone was visiting Jerusalem.
As their coach made its way up a long hill, a Christian hymn, “The Holy City,” was played.
“It is a beautiful sight looking out over Jerusalem,” Schwartz said.
Garrard said sharing bread there was “profoundly moving.”
“It was a moment of holiness,” added the rabbi.
“Christians and Jews are both deeply committed to making the world a better place,” Garrard said.
There was much discussion on the trip.
Christians were thrilled to walk the Mount of Olives and visit the Garden of Gethsemane.
One highlight for all was visiting Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. A group of Israeli soldiers were there learning about anti-semitism, a topic very relevant today, said Garrard and Schwartz.
Group members also got to witness an Israeli Defense Forces paratrooper graduation in the ancient city of Beit She’an.
The group visited Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found and Masada, a first century Herodian fortress palace.
The travelers could never forget they were in a place of danger, especially as they toured near the Syrian border.
“You gain an appreciation for how safe we are in this country,” Garrard said.
“Everyone in Israel has someone who has been a casualty of war. Israel is a leader in the fight against terrorism and ISIS,” added Schwartz.
Schwartz said the group visited Mount Carmel, which overlooks the Jezreel Valley where Elijah defeated the prophets of Ba’al, the pagan God of the Philistines.
Garrard recalled staying at a former kibbutz in the Galilee area where the group visited a fourth century limestone synagogue at Capernaum, built on the first century foundation.
“This was a great experience for both Jews and Christians because of the antiquity of the site and because this was a site where Jesus preached the sermon in which he revealed his identity,” Garrard said.
Christians especially enjoyed getting in a wooden boat and traveling out on the Sea of Galilee for an early service of Holy Communion. The crew raised the American Flag in their honor.
A high point in for the Jews in Galilee was visiting the mud brick Abraham’s Gate in the ancient city of Tel Dan through which, Schwartz said, it is believed Abraham would have passed in pursuit of his nephew, Lot.
“We would love to do this again,” Garrard said of the tour. “It was a great celebration of friendship and hope.”