Day 11 began with an early morning visit with Rabbi Ron Kronish, founder and Director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI) and Kadi (Judge) Zahalka, Judge of the Sharia Court of Jerusalem. Established in 1990, ICCI is a coalition of over 60 interfaith organizations with the goal of spreading a message of reconciliation and peaceful coexistence among the Christian, Muslim and Jewish religions. It seeks to accomplish this goal through educational programs and visits to communities and schools throughout the region in an effort to have all of the religions, cultures and identities understand each other in the interest of building peace. During the visit, we learned that Rabbi Spilker was Rabbi Kronish’s first intern during Spilker’s year in Israel 1992/1993. Kadi Zahalka, a very well educated and learned individual, is one of ten Judges on the Sharia Court of Jerusalem where he hears civil matters under Sharia law and seeks to bridge civil law with rules of Sharia based on his in-depth knowledge of both. (see photo) To hear Rabbi Kronish and Kadi Zahalka speak with such a deep understanding and respect for each other’s religion and culture, one feels a sense of hope for a peaceful coexistence – but only if this type of engagement can be widely disseminated throughout the entire population of the region. We finished up about 10 am and then traveled throughout the city of Jerusalem to get a sense of the commercial and residential areas and to see and talk about the current geopolitical situation. We stopped at several points to see and talk about the security barriers in different places consisting of either walls or fences and which divide different Israeli and Palestinian areas. (see photo) We also saw many houses with bullet-proof windows. A very depressing way to live but clearly necessary until peace comes to the area and residents no longer need to fear for their safety.
On to Gush Etzion where the kids went on a zip-line adventure with Ido at Eretz Ha’Ayalim, site of the longest zip-line in Israel, while the adults met with Col. Benzi Gruber, Deputy Commander of an Armored Corps brigade. The discussion with Col. Gruber focused on the dilemmas and ethical decisions that must be made in the field, many times in a matter of seconds, when IDF troops are confronted with terrorists in an area with non-combatants. Col. Gruber explained the training received by Israeli troops on avoiding collateral damage in the form of injury or death to non-combatants even when the troops are faced with immediate danger. A very difficult story to explain all of the efforts made by Israeli troops to avoid collateral damage when, despite these efforts, collateral damage is unavoidable.
We met up with the kids who had returned from zip-lining and who had run into an IDF soldier named Avi who grew up in St. Louis Park!! (see photo) He has lived in Israel since he was ten.
During the drive to the German Colony neighborhood of Jerusalem, where we planned to have lunch, we were entertained with a Karaoke song sung by Lilith and Levi. A very nice interlude.
After a leisurely lunch, we had a wonderful visit at Kol HaOt Art Gallery where we first read the story of Abraham and Issac through artistic scrolls and then the group, divided by family, prepared artistic scrolls memorializing, through symbols and colors, our visit in Israel. These personal scrolls were shared with the group and we each talked about what it was we were taking home with us from this trip. (see photo) A very moving experience for everyone in the group. Our day concluded with a wonderful farewell dinner at the Little Jerusalem garden restaurant located on the premises of the Anna Ticho house in Jerusalem city center. The building serves as a public center for Art as well as a restaurant and was bequeathed by Anna Ticho to the city of Jerusalem to serve as a center for Art under the auspices of the Israel Museum. Back to the Mt. Zion hotel at about 10:30 for relaxation and any last minute packing. Those returning directly to St. Paul boarded the bus at 1 am for transport to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv for our 4:50 am flight home.
– Dan Shapiro