Who could imagine that members of a Christian church would join members of a Jewish synagogue on a trip to Israel? This actually happened this past April, when 80 people from two houses of worship visited – together – sites sacred to each faith. Renowned sportscaster Brad Sham represented Temple Emanu-El, and Pastoral Resident Annette Thornburg represented Wilshire Baptist Church at a recent presentation at The Tradition-Prestonwood. They described the 10-day trip in a room packed with attentive listeners (also from both faiths) at the retirement community, where Brad’s mother “Chick” Sham is a resident.
Unforgettable moments were recounted. “We tried to look at each site through the eyes of those for whom that place was most meaningful,” said Brad Sham. “I particularly remember the Church of the Beatitudes, built where the Sermon on the Mount was delivered. When we came out, everyone sang a hymn our song leaders had provided. It was very moving.”
" We tried to look at each site through the eyes of those for whom that place was most meaningful"
For Annette Thornburg, the shared religious services were powerful. “We experienced Shabbat (Sabbath) Friday night on a hotel balcony overlooking a sunset in Jerusalem and two Shabbat services on Saturday. Sunday morning, we attended a Christian service outside while viewing a Judean hillside. Each gathering was filled with song and worship.”
Other visits included the Western or “Wailing” Wall; the Zion gate into the old city of Jerusalem; Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial; and Masada on the shores of the Dead Sea.
Interesting places were interspersed by equally interesting lectures from their own clergy and knowledgeable experts in Israel. “I gained wonderful insights about Israel from individual, spiritual, political, economic and historic perspectives,” said Annette.
" The most important experience was watching the remarkable way 80 very disparate people became one community in just a few days."
So how did such a trip ever come to be? The two communities have enjoyed an interfaith connection for some years. During that time, Rabbi David Stern of Temple Emanu-El and Senior Pastor George Mason from Wilshire Baptist Church have developed a genuine friendship. Both encouraged the trip and were vital parts of it. Their friendship undoubtedly sparked others.
“The most important experience,” said Brad Sham, “was watching the remarkable way 80 very disparate people became one community in just a few days.”
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