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Christian-Jewish Leadership Project

Posted on Monday, December 04, 2017 by Carla Fenves

When I participated in the concluding meeting of the Wexner Summit "Stronger Together", which met in Zichron Yaakov last year, it was the first time that I had traveled to Israel in ten years.  The trip made me realize how much I had been avoiding the harder conversations about my community’s and my own relationship to Israel.  I returned from the Summit with a personal commitment to return to Israel annually, each time with a different lens.

This year, I participated in the Christian Jewish Leadership Project (CJLP) -- a joint project of the San Francisco JCRC and the Shalom Hartman Institute.  We were 22 clergy from the Bay Area -- 16 Christian and 6 Jewish -- with a diversity of ages, denominations and backgrounds.  The goal was “to build mutual understanding of our religious traditions as they relate to the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the complex realities of the region through engaging with our religious texts and traveling to Israel together.”

We began by meeting regularly to study together over six months that culminated in a trip.  We spent 10 days grappling with the State of Israel through an itinerary thoughtfully curated by Hartman’s staff.  But we also struggled with the history of our traditions’ complicated relationship and with the racism and sexism in American society today.

We shared enough -- an appreciation for the spiritual, for sacred texts and for the challenges of leading religious communities in the quickly-changing Bay Area -- that we could challenge each other and those that we encountered with a refreshing vulnerability and openness.  We asked questions that are usually too controversial or too painful to bring up at home: Why does our local Presbyterian Church promote BDS? How can we support Black Lives Matter, yet still proudly call ourselves Zionists?  Who gets to call themselves the victim and why?  How can we preach solutions to the conflict there when we feel more and more at a loss for solutions at home?

The CJLP provided us with the increasingly rare opportunity to have a nuanced, civil dialogue.  It was my first interfaith experience to move past apologetics and niceties to honest sharing about our differences.

We flew back to San Francisco with deeper relationships, nuanced understandings and a motivation to better communicate and collaborate in the future.  I am excited to witness the long-term outcomes of the trip unfold amongst our group with guidance from our local JCRC.  I am optimistic about the potential for this model to grow and spread in communities throughout the Jewish world.

WGF Alum Rabbi Carla Fenves (Class 19) is in her seventh year as a rabbi at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, CA.  Originally from Dallas, Texas, she graduated with a BA in Religious Studies from Stanford University and was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.