As perhaps the only Jewish person among the 200+ people who went on the June Israel trip, I just have to say something briefly to my Christian brothers and sisters.
I was part of the faculty, assigned to one of the African American Leadership buses. I already work with AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, with their 'Outreach' division, so I was especially excited about joining this group to the Holy Land.
The trip was, from my Jewish lens, way beyond what I had expected. Israel touches me very deeply. It causes me to choke up constantly, even for seemingly trivial things like just seeing a small Israeli child, or a young IDF soldier or even the sight of the Israel flag. I love that place deeply. But there were certain moments - like being at Yad Vashem or hearing that a 23 year old policewoman had been fatally stabbed - where the pain at times seemed unbearable, and yet each time my Passages bus mates were not only sensitive to my sadness, but also profoundly touched themselves. I was not alone. We grieved together, hugging often and tearfully, and frankly it was the most graphic display of Judeo-Christian unity I have ever witnessed. This was the real thing.
And there were many such other instances.
One night one of the pastors and I were strolling alone on a warm Jerusalem night, and he turned to me and said, "I feel like I've come home when I'm here."
When an Israeli mother told us she cries sometimes because she thinks no one in the world cares for her people, someone in our group whispered to me "We do."
Israel has real problems, both externally and, sadly, internally. It's not a perfect place, but what country is? In the coming months, I hope to keep an ongoing and candid discussion going about Israel with my new Passages friends. And although I'm just one guy and don't claim to speak for all Jews, please allow me to tell you how much you deeply touched this Jewish heart.
The Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah, means 'hope'. The Jewish people have had their share of tragedy. But because of the kindness of my new Passages friends, my Jewish soul got a much-needed injection of 'hatikvah'.