The most difficult part of the Interfaith Pilgrimage materialised when we arrived back in Scotland - “How was your trip?” came the question, “Err, where do I start?” came my reply! And such is the case with writing a short essay such as this, but I shall attempt to characterise the most important elements.
Firstly, the group itself. I can only suppose that the organisers had fantastic foresight when selecting participants for each faith group. After a few days, I felt like I had known these people for months. I noticed with pleasure that every time we all took our seats in a new location, I'd end up sitting with a new person. People wouldn't 'retreat' to their religious, age or gender groupings, which I must admit I expected might happen! I've made some really close friends on the trip, who I've already begun regularly meeting with back here in Scotland.
What solidified these friendships was surely the unique experience we shared. The programme was at times stressful, uplifting, depressing, challenging, inspiring and everything in-between. Sharing the holy sights and rituals of each religion was really special, being Jewish I particularly enjoyed Shabbat. On Friday evening the whole group was taken to the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem where we heard the beautiful sounds of the choir, followed by a traditionally joyful and plentiful Shabbat meal back at the guesthouse. On Saturday night, after meeting the inspirational Rabbi David Rosen, we joined in Havdalah with Alon Goshen-Gottstein, which proved to be an excellent opportunity for reflection within the group, and was one of my favourite moments of the whole trip.
Despite the focus of the trip being interfaith relations, the politics of the conflict were all too obvious, and impossible to be ignored. Whether it was security checks at the western wall, the bullet-proof glass at the Tomb of Abraham, or the checkpoints and barrier en-route to the West Bank, we were confronted with these issues constantly. This meant we were repeatedly challenged and confused about our allegiances, which I think can only be a good thing in such a complex situation.
I never wanted to go on a 'run of the mill' trip to Israel, sightseeing from one perspective is not enough to understand the place. I still don't completely understand Israel, but the Interfaith Pilgrimage was anything but a 'run of the mill' experience and for that I'm extremely grateful.
Anthony Silkoff is a Jewish student at Glasgow University Student, and is Chair of OneVoice Glasgow.