EDUCATIONAL TRAVEL AND PILGRIMAGES
Interfaith Youth Pilgrimage, Spring 2016
From May 21 - 30, 2016, eight recent high school graduates of St. John’s School in Houston, Texas joined JPB Co-Founder, Stuart Kensinger and his wife, Angie, for JPB’s first American youth trip to the Holy Land. For many years JPB has led adult pilgrimages throughout the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean, and we are delight now to include youth. The trip was designed to be an introductory interfaith encounter with the people, places, and issues in Israel and the West Bank.
The young people visited the important holy sites including the Western Wall, the Church of the Nativity and Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Al Aqsa Mosque and a rare opportunity to visit inside the Dome of the Rock. They witnessed life inside ancient desert monasteries as well as visits to Jericho, Qumran, and Acre. They swam in the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean. They strolled the Old City of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jaffa and Neve Tzedek, the first neighborhood of what would become Tel Aviv. Passing through the checkpoints in and out of Bethlehem, visiting the Dheishe refugee camp, as well as modern Tel Aviv and Haifa also helped the the group to experience important contemporary issues.
More than just site seeing, the youth trip introduced participants to daily life in the region through personal contact. A JPB graduate from the Armenian School took the group on a personal tour of the Armenian Quarter (Vanq) introducing the group to her friends and showing them what daily life looks like far from where tourists go. The Vanq is a walled quarter of the Holy City that is closed to outsiders.
These encounters offered them a collection of personal views of life in Jerusalem, thereby equipping them to comprehend the multiple narratives of the region and
The teens also visited the Hand in Hand School, a successful educational experiment combining Jews and Arabs in a mixed school, meeting with the principal and students. JPB families hosted the group in private homes for dinner and discussion. They enjoyed Jerusalem night-life with JPB’s local youth counselors, and they shared meals with other local clergy and NGO leaders. These encounters offered them a collection of personal views of life in Jerusalem, thereby equipping them to comprehend the multiple narratives of the region and conflict.
With each day that passed, the questions from the group became more insightful and animated. These young people began to develop a familiarity and understanding of some of the most pressing issues of their generation in one of the most important places in the world. Each night, the group marveled at how different their experience was from their expectations and assumptions. All in all, it was a wonderfully successful first journey with youth.