The interfaith pilgrimage to Israel was organised as part of an initiative to increase understanding and friendship between communities in Scotland. The idea grew out of a conversation between SCoJeC Director Ephraim Borowski, and Rami Ousta, CEO of BEMIS, the umbrella organisation for minority community organisations in Scotland, who were concerned that tensions in the Middle East may sometimes be an obstacle to the development of good relations locally. The Very Reverend Dr Finlay Macdonald, principal clerk, and former Moderator of the Church of Scotland, and Na'eem Raza, Director of Meem, a diversity training organisation, both joined the steering group, and around thirty people from seven different faith communities were invited to participate in the trip, which took place at the beginning of July.
“This is a wonderful example of how a chance remark can lead to something big" commented Ephraim. "With the generous support of the Scottish Government and charities, we have put together a mixed group of faith and community leaders, young and old, men and women. We will live and learn together for a week, in order to foster better understanding of each other’s faiths. Our hope is that we will be able both to be a living example of coexistence and co-operation for Israelis and Palestinians, and that we will be able to spread that message on our return to Scotland.”
The pilgrimage has received funding from the Scottish Government, and is supported by both the Israeli Embassy in London and the British Ambassador to Israel. The programme, which has been arranged in discussion with, amongst others, the Jerusalem Peacemakers, Eliyahu Maclean and Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari, and the Middle East Peace Initiative, includes sites of importance to the different faiths. Amongst the highlights will be a tour of the holy sites of the Old City of Jerusalem, a visit to the Baha’i world headquarters in Haifa, visits to Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Centre, and the Knesset (Israeli Parliament), prayers at the Al Aqsa mosque, a Seudah Shlishit (Sabbath afternoon meal) with Chief Rabbi David Rosen, and meetings with a number of prominent politicians.
“It is deeply ironic that a land called “holy” should be at the heart of so much conflict" mused Finlay Macdonald. "I hope that our pilgrimage will be a journey into closer understanding, deepening respect and enduring friendship, and that it will contribute in its own small way to the peace for which we all pray.”
On their return participants will visit a wide range of organisations to talk about the pilgrimage, and, using knowledge and understanding gained during the trip, they hope to make a positive contribution to the development of good relations between Scotland's many faith communities.