Christian and Jewish Travelers Visit the Holy Land Together
“We were not tourists,” states Sister Lois. “We were pilgrims, who traveled to Israel not only to see the Holy Land, but to appreciate the sacred sites … we began our trip, for instance, with a biblical breakfast at Neot Kedumim, a large nature reserve dedicated to the flora and fauna of the Bible. We then took a nature tour, reading the Bible – both Hebrew and Christian scriptures – that referenced the plants and activities we experienced.”
“Having participants from both faiths allowed us a chance to study and learn together,” said Rabbi Sara Perman. “At every site we visited, we were able to share and teach, ‘this is what happened here, this is the Christian connection, this is the Jewish connection…’
“Our journey was back into a very old world of Scripture,” said Sister Gemma Del Duca, SC, co-director in Israel of Seton Hill’s National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education, who met the group in Israel. “The Torah for the Jewish participants, and the Gospel for the Christians. Each participant reacted to the experience in different ways, religiously, emotionally, and even physically.” “One participant, for instance,” Sister Gemma added, with a laugh, “described Jerusalem as hot, hilly and holy.”
The idea for an interfaith trip to Israel began with a conversation between Sister Lois and Rabbi Perman. They enlisted the help of Greensburg travel center Vacation Station to plan the trip, and recruited interested travelers from among their friends, Seton Hill alumni, and members of the local community and Congregation Emanu-El Israel. The group prepared for the trip by learning about each other’s faith and studying the history of the region they were about to travel to. Some even took classes in Hebrew, which were partially underwritten by the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, taught by Shoshana Halden, a teacher in the Hebrew School at Congregation Emanu-El Israel. Once in Israel, the group was led by an Israeli guide, Amir Mor, a local student currently earning his doctorate in Middle Eastern studies.
While in Israel, the group visited the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh’s sister city of Karmiel and region of Misgav in the Galilee. While there, the group visited a women’s cancer center. They also had the opportunity to learn about interfaith living by visiting the St. Vincent Hospice for severely handicapped children in Ein Karem, run by the Daughters of Charity. At St. Louis French Hospital in Jerusalem, the travelers met with Sister Monika, a Sister of Saint Joseph, who described how the hospital provides a hospice for terminally ill Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
“It was the perfect experience for a first trip to Israel,” said Margaret DiVirgilio, of Greensburg, Pa. “It was educational as well as spiritual … although we did try to cram 2,000 years of history into a week.”
The group enjoyed traveling together so much they have already gotten together for one reunion at Seton Hill, and are planning another in December, to celebrate Hanukah or Christmas, and to share photos and video of their trip.
“Many of the participants expected to be entering an armed camp … they couldn’t believe how modern, vibrant and alive the country is,” said Rabbi Perman. “I feel as if we started out as a band of travelers, and returned home as ambassadors.”
Trip participants included: Lynn Conroy (SHU ’58) of Greensburg, Pa.; Audrey Johnson of New Kensington, Pa.; Mary Catherine Motchar of Greensburg, Pa.; Sister Mary Philip Aaron, S.C. (SHU ’61), of North Huntingdon, Pa.; Sister Patrice Hughes (SHU ’62) of Pittsburgh, Pa.; Ann and Robert Gelman of Youngwood, Pa.; Raye and Harry Coffey of Monroeville, Pa.; Margaret DiVirgilio (SHU ’80) of Greensburg, Pa.; Linda Earnest (SHU ’78) of Greensburg, Pa.; Barbara Kennedy of Greensburg, Pa.; Carolyn Falcon of Greensburg, Pa.; Sister Lyn Dwyer (SHU ’65) of Delmont, Pa.; Sister Lois Sculco of Greensburg, Pa.; Rabbi Sara Perman of Greensburg, Pa.; Michael Philopena of Greensburg, Pa.; and George Shaner of Greensburg, Pa. The group was met in Israel by Sr. Gemma Del Duca, S.C., co-director in Israel of Seton Hill’s National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education.