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Interfaith group to travel to Jerusalem over Spring Break
Interfaith group to travel to Jerusalem over Spring BreakMarch 02, 2009Kelly Homan Rodoskikahoman@syr.edu
A diverse group of Syracuse University students from different faith traditions will spend their Spring Break in a unique way-by traveling to Jerusalem to study how Christian, Jewish and Muslim peoples have co-existed in the region throughout history and today.
Thirteen students-nine Christian, two Jewish and two Muslim-will travel to Jerusalem on Sunday, March 8, as part of the University’s “Three Faiths, One Humanity: Interfaith Travel Study Experience,” sponsored by Hendricks Chapel. They will be accompanied by Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, Episcopal/Anglican chaplain and rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Syracuse; Ahmed Kobeisy, Muslim chaplain and director and resident scholar of the Islamic Learning Foundation; Lowell H. Lustig, executive director of Hillel at Syracuse University; Kelly Sprinkle, interim dean of Hendricks Chapel; Thomas Wolfe, senior vice president and dean of student affairs; and Ginny Yerdon, special events coordinator at Hendricks Chapel.
A special website, http://hendricks.syr.edu/jerusalem, has been established for family, friends and members of the Syracuse University community to follow along on the trip. Members of the group will share their experiences through journal writings and photos that will be posted on the site.
The experience is intended to put a human face on the issues of how diverse faith communities have historically shared and continue to share life together, and in turn to foster a greater awareness of the contemporary issues within the three faith traditions and to renew dialogue toward understanding and cooperation.
Student selection for the trip began nearly a year ago. Students were required to write essays outlining their connection to their own faith commitments and how they felt they could participate in meaningful interfaith dialogue. Preparation for the trip has included lectures from SU professors on the history of the region, politics and conflict resolution, and sharing from within each faith tradition.
“The diversity among our student participants represents not only the three Abrahamic traditions; they come from various courses of study and life experiences. This diversity ranges from the religious devout to those exploring the spiritual dimensions of life,” says Sprinkle. “By bringing such a group together, distinctiveness and commonality are both emphasized.”
The itinerary includes visits to mosques, churches, synagogues and other sites that have special significance within the faith traditions.
This is the third year of the “Three Faiths, One Humanity: Interfaith Travel Study Experience.” Students traveled to Spain in 2003 to study the history between 750 and 1492, when under Muslim rule Jews, Christians and Muslims lived together and collectively created a culture of considerable discovery and advancement. Students traveled to Turkey in 2007 to follow the migration of these communities to Istanbul.
“In Turkey, we engaged the living communities of each of these faith traditions, exploring their shared history of coexistence with all of its dilemmas and successes,” says Wolfe, who created the “Three Faiths: One Humanity” template during his tenure as dean of Hendricks Chapel, and who laid the groundwork for the trip to Jerusalem. “That experience was transformative for our students in that not only did they encounter their own intergroup diversity throughout the entire preparation period, but they applied their local experience in encountering a new culture where these differences have a different kind of real-life context.
“The work that is required to stay present to all of the nuances and dramatic discoveries leads the participants to a new level of learning about the environment and themselves,” says Wolfe. “I believe this trip to Jerusalem, being that it is very special holy ground for these traditions, and with a long political history of having to negotiate conflict, will require an even greater attentiveness to the process of learning through dialogue.”
This will be the first interfaith travel experience for Emily St. Lifer, a senior in The College of Arts and Sciences from Colts Neck, N.J. “My major is religion, and I love Israel, and I wanted to see the country from the perspective of religious sites and with people who have never been there before,” she says.
St. Lifer says she is anxious to see what perspective that she, as a member of the Jewish faith tradition who has visited and studied in the region, can offer to her fellow group members who have never been there before. In turn, she hopes to learn from the experience had by others who may have never visited and are of different faith traditions.
Anna Koulouris, a junior majoring in newspaper in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, is of the Christian faith tradition. As a Greek Orthodox Christian and a student with a minor in Middle Eastern studies and philosophy, she says that the trip concept fascinated her immensely. “I’ve taken classes about other religions, but reading articles and sitting in class has its limitations,” she says. “Experiencing the sensations of this place, combined with critically thinking and discussing with a group of other educated people, will offer more in a week than could a semester class, at best.
“I hope this will be one of those experiences that will serve as a milestone in my life,” Koulouris says. “I want to have deep discussions with my group members and see things that many people will unfortunately only see in books. I’m confident that we will have some great stories to bring back.”
Sprinkle says preparations for the trip have included receiving lessons in each faith tradition, starting conversations regarding why Jerusalem is important for all three faiths, and learning to embrace even the difficult questions. “I believe the real work actually begins when we return from Jerusalem,” he says. “Hopefully, the participants can demonstrate that respect and understanding can stretch beyond one’s faith. It is from this deep respect and understanding that seeds of resolution and co-existence can be achieved.”