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Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC)
Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC)
Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC)


Scottish Interfaith Pilgrimage - diary


Sun 6 July
check-in @ Edinburgh

via Amsterdam

Mon 7 July
arrive Tel Aviv

transfer to St Andrews Guest House, Jerusalem -sleep!




lunch (breakfast!)

walking tour of Old City

Western Wall

Haram As-Sharif and Al Aksa with Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari

Sufi Centre to meet the “Jerusalem Peacemakers”

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

meet the new Latin Patriarch






Guest speakers from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Israel and Palestine

Interfaith Pilgrims

Finlay Macdonald
Edinburgh Airport, Sunday 6th July and everyone arrives in good time to be checked in for the flight to Amsterdam, then onwards to Tel-Aviv. After all the planning and organising it is hard to believe the great day has finally arrived.

As we travel, the Wimbledon men's final is taking place. By the time we are due to board in Amsterdam, the Church of Scotland group are clustered round a large screen, gripped by the fourth set tie-break. Federer wins to make it two sets all. Frustratingly, we have to wait until we arrive in Tel-Aviv to learn the final result.

Na'eem Raza
Arriving at Edinburgh Airport for the journey of a lifetime (second to the Hajj!), I was filled with excitement at meeting the 30 or so faces that were going to be my travel companions for the next 7 days.
Arriving at Amsterdam and the team had started to gel, laughing, sharing faith perspectives, learning and teasing each other. Arriving at the transit check in gate and suddenly three of us and then others, who are clearly Asian, Arab, or Muslim looking are pulled to one side. The initial excitement has turned to apprehension.

Who, what, when, where, why? We're through! But the group suddenly realises the challenges we were about to face at Tel Aviv.

Ephraim Borowski
Yes, it's a funny little world!
Ten days ago the Convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland and the Director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities parted at the end of the launch of the Scottish-Islamic Foundation with the promise to meet again at 3am in Tel Aviv. And now here we are - or at least here I am, waiting for the group to arrive.

The last few days have been pretty frantic - hoped-for meetings falling through, busy people having to change their schedule, trying to rejig the jigsaw again and again. In the end we will have to temper enthusiasm with practicality - we can't be in Jerusalem and Haifa and Ramallah all at the same time! For reasons my friends will only hint at, the bus takes unaccountably longer than I do to travel the same distance, and given where we're going, we also need to allow time - lots of time - for security checks and clearances.

It's taken a lot of time and effort to get where we are: the planning group had a clear idea of the mix of religious, lay, and youth leaders that we wanted to make up the group, but negotiating the labyrinth of volunteers' and nominations' vested interests in order to achieve that mix was not always easy. It would be easier to accept that there's no show without Punch, if it weren't Punch himself telling you so!

A street in the Old city of Jerusalem

And then there was the advance security clearance - a process for which the template was clearly designed by Kafka! OK, I admit that it didn't help that the list of participants kept changing - but so did the information required. And we know it was worth it - when I arrived last week, the clerk at immigration control scanned my passport and said with incredulity "you've been listed by the Foreign Ministry!"
I just hope the others get the same treatment, else we'll be here all night.

But it's the programme that's the real five-ring circus! We started with a clear structure dictated by geography and religion. Thanks to the support of the Church of Scotland, we will be lodging in their guest house in Jerusalem and their hotel in Tiberias. As an inter-faith group, we want to participate in the main observances of the major faiths for which this place is holy, so of course Jerusalem is the place to be on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. We want to visit the Baha'i shrine in Haifa, so we can do that either northbound or southbound - but if we have to be back for prayers at Al Aksa at noon of Friday, that restricts our choice. We don't want to be outdoors in the heat of the day, but if the Mufti and the Chief Rabbi can only see us at certain times, we have no alternative. Who said we didn't need umbrellas?!

Anyway, enough reminiscence - the plane has landed and the time for anticipation has come! What we need now is for everyone - and all their luggage - to clear customs together.....

Na'eem Raza
Arriving at a beautifully constructed airport, we lead ourselves to passport control and again five of us, Asian, Arab, Muslim looking are pulled to another side! This time for a real interviews with repeated questions ... ... people are merely trying to do their job!
A mere 30 minutes later and the small group are allowed entry to Tel Aviv and met with hugs and smiles as we all start to look out for each other.

Finlay Macdonald
The arrival in Tel-Aviv brought the first awareness of the realities we were facing. Despite all the effort to work with the Israeli Embassy in London and their providing us with a letter giving everyone's passport details, five members of the group - all Muslims - were taken aside for questioning. This delayed us for less than an hour but was an unsettling start.

Interestingly surprise was expressed by security people in both Amsterdam and Tel Aviv at the idea of an interfaith group. At the end of the day the effect of the unsettling arrival into Israel on the group was positive, with concern and support for those who had been treated differently, but also a recognition that the Israeli security people have a job to do.

A walking tour of the Old City of Jerusalem

Na'eem Raza
We depart to our hotel and arrive an hour later in a sun-rising Jerusalem. A swift check in and we are all out for the count only to meet at noon for lunch and walk the Old City. Within five hours we have scaled the main Muslim, Jewish, and Christian sites and met some key people from the Jerusalem Peacemakers searching for peace and dialogue. The agenda is set...

In March I led an event to raise $85,000 for the people of Gaza. I am here with no set agenda but to get to know people from all sides, faiths, professions, perspectives and then look at where I can best support the peace process. We all need to move on.

Exhilarated and exhausted we arrive back at the lovely St Andrews Guest House for dinner.

Immediately afterwards we meet a group working at Israeli checkpoints to ensure a safe and just passage for Palestinians and support the soldiers with similar with a watchful  presence. Tomorrow we travel with the same group to meet Palestinians and Israeli settlers on the West Bank, members of the Knesset, and Arab leaders, before evening dinner with various faith communities.

The efforts of the background team have resulted in a smooth transition from Scotland to Israel, and a programme that has not only set the foundations for an interesting, but also for a challenging week ahead, a week that I am looking forward to with an open mind and heart...

Maureen Sier
Sometime during the day it hit me that in one afternoon I had visited the most holy sites of three major world religions - the Al Aksa mosque, the Holy Sepulchre, and the Western Wall; how do you begin to process such an experience? Devotion and violence present in all three places and such a mixture of emotions swirling round in my heart and head.

Being here with friends from seven faith traditions feels like such a blessed privilege. I really wanted to pray at each of these Holy sites and to ask God that this inter-faith delegation from Scotland would be able, through their devotion, to do something that would challenge the violence. Praying at such holy places was a powerful experience.

Later we met with the 'Jerusalem Peacemakers', the founders of which are a devoted Jew and a Sufi Sheikh, who shared with us their transforming stories of inter faith dialogue and hope. It was here that I could see how prayer could be transformed into concrete action, The work being done to bring individuals and faith communities together was impressive and it was more than encouraging to think of the many many projects for peace that operate throughout Israel.

In the evening we had the opportunity to meet representatives of a group of 'accompaniers'. An odd-sounding title but I guess it describes what they do. This international delegation from the World Council of Churches accompany Palestinians at checkpoints at 'the wall', observe procedures, and report any human rights violations. Tomorrow they will accompany us to Hebron and I know we that will give us much to think about.

This is a complex country with complex problems, and whilst part of the solution will be inter-faith dialogue and cooperation, I am realistic enough to know that this can only be one part of a complex jigsaw.
the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock

Finlay Macdonald is a Church of Scotland minister, Principal Clerk to, and former Moderator of the Church’s General Assembly; he is active in inter-faith dialogue and is a member of the Scottish Religious Leaders’ meeting.

Na'eem Raza is a Civil Servant, currently on a sabbatical running Scotland’s only Faith Consultancy training organisation. He is Muslim.

Ephraim Borowski is Director of Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, Vice-Convener of BEMIS (the Scottish minority umbrella organisation), former treasurer of the Interfaith Council, and member of the Scottish Government Faith Liaison Committee.

Maureen Sier is the development officer of the Scottish Inter-Faith Council, currently seconded to the Scottish Government Equality Unit.  She is the Baha'i representative on the World Religions for Peace European Women of Faith Network.


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