Russell Berrie Fellows Cohort XV Travels to Israel 

Cohort XV arrived in Jerusalem on Sunday, June 11 to begin their Israel Study Tour, the final part of the Russell Berrie experience before graduating into the JPII Center for Interreligious Dialogue alumni network as JPII Leaders.

The Study Tour kicked off with interactive scriptural study sessions at the Shalom Hartman Institute, where Professor Adam Afterman offered an introduction to the academic program of this visit, and Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, president of the Institute, gave a talk on “Judaism and Pluralism.”

Academic study at the Hartman Institute continued throughout the week with excursions around Jerusalem, including an ecumenical tour of the Old City with Hana Bendcowsky, a guided tour of the Israel Museum and the Shrine of the Book, and a visit to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. 

The Fellows also participated in “Healing Hatred and Meeting Place,” a workshop facilitated by members of the Rossing Center, an interreligious organization based in Jerusalem that promotes an inclusive society for all religious, ethnic, and national groups.

“From various encounters of workshop and group study/sharing with some indigenous groups, I learnt that people are waking up in an unprecedented manner to the pluralistic realities and challenges of our world today and are devotedly committed to fostering a peaceful coexistence,” shares Sr. Geraldine Anugwem (Nigeria), “with religion as a starting point.” 

Rev. Karikoga Tawanda Hope (Zimbabwe) reflects: “Understanding the three Abrahamic religions—how they live and feel in suffering and joy—gives me hope that a world free of violence and atrocities among humanity is attainable.”

June 17 began with a mass at the Garden of Gethsemane and continued with visits to the Mount of Olives, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Last Supper Room, and King David’s Tomb. 

“Every bit of the Holy Sepulchre is divided, but the thing that unites every bit of it is the prayer,” reflects Sr. Josmy Jose (India), “Every pilgrim’s whispering during the visit turned to be a prayer for peace in the world. I am reminded again that I am a pilgrim on this earth.”

In the final days of the Israel Study Tour, the Russell Berrie Fellows traveled to Bethlehem, Nazareth, and the Sea of Galilee, including stops at the Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum, and the Supremacy of St. Peter. 

“Exploring ancient archaeological sites like Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth, I learned about the interconnectedness of different faiths and the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” shares Ashin Mandalarlankara (Myanmar), “I gained a deep appreciation for the rich history, diverse cultures, and religious significance that permeate the Holy Land. The most enjoyable aspect was witnessing the vibrant tapestry of traditions, from tasting delicious Middle Eastern cuisine to participating in religious prayers.”

The Israel Study Tour concluded in Tel Aviv, where the Fellows visited Jaffa, St. Peter Church, and the ANU Museum of the Jewish People before taking off from the airport. 

“This is a unique experience: to study Judaism in Israel,” shares Fr. Jackson Johnson (India), “Interaction with different people engaged in interreligious dialogue in the Holy Land helped me explore new possibilities. It gave me a new outlook on approaching interfaith dialogue in the future.”

“​​It was quite moving to see what interreligious life looks like, with its beauties and challenges,” says Halil Avci (Germany), “I learned a lot about my fellows, because we have spent much quality time together. I learned more about what they are bringing into this endeavor of interreligious engagement and where they are going to take it in the future.”

“Meeting with people who are motivated to create a culture of peace and harmony strengthened my aspirations to work for peace in and around the world,” concludes Sr. Josmy Jose.