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Jewish congregation makes West Bank trip

Members of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston visited Palestinian homes and Arab and Jewish organizations throughout the West Bank and Israel last month.

Rabbi Brant Rosen says he organized the trip "because I believe it is critical that American Jews make an effort to learn about the Palestinian experience from Palestinians themselves.”

Members of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston visited Palestinian homes and Arab and Jewish organizations throughout the West Bank and Israel last month.

Rabbi Brant Rosen says he organized the trip "because I believe it is critical that American Jews make an effort to learn about the Palestinian experience from Palestinians themselves.”

Participants ranged from 24 to 75 years old, and included educators, doctors, attorneys and other professionals.

Rosen says most group members had visited Israel multiple times and he wanted them to challenge their understanding of the Middle East conflict by meeting with Palestinian families and civic leaders.

The Dec. 20 to 28 trip was reportedly the first time a Jewish congregational group has stayed overnight in a Palestinian refugee camp. Group members spent two nights in the homes of families in the Deheishe Palestinian refugee camp near Bethlehem.

“After playing with their children, eating with them, and sharing stories about our lives, I’ll never be able to read about violence in the West Bank without picturing the faces of the people we encountered,” said Danny Newman, 33, Chicago-area high school teacher.

Marjorie Frank, 75, former social work professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said, “I’m overwhelmed that I lived in Israel for 14 years and was totally oblivious. I knew Deheishe existed, but experiencing it was overwhelming. The family’s little boy put his arm around me every time I sat down, and we exchanged Facebook addresses.”

Participants visited sites including the Dome of the Rock; Jerusalem neighborhoods including the Arab community of Silwan; Hebron; Tel Aviv; and Jenin, which was the site of intense violence during an Israeli military incursion in 2002.

They met with religious and peace leaders including the Imam of the Al-Aqsa Mosque; a representative of Rabbis for Human Rights; members of the Bereaved Parents Circle and the Jenin Freedom Theater.

The trip was led by Aziz Abu Sarah, a Palestinian peace activist whose brother was killed by the IDF, and Kobi, a Jewish peace activist and former member of Kahane Youth, a Jewish extremist group who spent his youth in a West Bank settlement. Both have lost loved ones to the conflict.

The trip has provoked soul-searching among participants. “This trip has challenged the views that many of us have grown up with and has given us much to think about,” said Michael Shapiro, 72, former president of the Champaign-Urbana Jewish Federation.

Trip participants plan to organize public presentations in the area to share additional information about their experiences.

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