What Bearing Witness Means to Me

  • October 30, 2017

by Kathleen Stinehart

In July of this past summer, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Israel with 19 other Catholic educators with the Anti-Defamation League’s Bearing Witness Program. Since that time, I have been attempting to write about my experience, and have felt keenly unequal to the task. Not only was the trip enormous in terms of shifting my world view, but the memories and influences of those days continue to emerge in my daily life.

I have been teaching Scriptures for 11 years, and after being in Israel, I will never read nor teach Scriptures in the same way again. In terms of spirituality, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To visit the City of David, to stand in the Jordan river, to pray at the Western Wall, to ride in a boat on the Sea of Galilee – all of these and more make the Christian faith, and that of our “elder brothers in the faith” come alive and draws one into the sacredness of beautiful Israel. It is an experience that fills my heart with gratitude.

Prior to our trip, we had some required reading, which set the table for what was to come. In addition to the spiritual sites, we learned much about the intensely complex nature of the geopolitical situation in Israel. I had a broad strokes understanding of the history and current political climate. Or at least I thought I did. The situation is so much more complicated than I ever imagined, making possible solutions seem incomprehensible. I was so struck by the tremendous knowledge of the speakers and am left wanting to learn more. To speak with the survivor of a bombing attack and to see young men and women serving and protecting their country on a daily basis, brought a reality to the tenuous nature of life in Israel. Someone said that it was trying to live normally in abnormal circumstances. Embedded in all of this was an intense pride for Israel; for the technological advancements, for the generosity of its citizens, for the openness of its society. Especially after visiting Yad Vashem, I was overcome by the courage, the tenacity and the hopefulness of the Jewish people in Israel.

What an anchor in a sea of instability Israel is! This experience above all made me realize how important support for Israel is, not just for Israelis, but for the world.

As we were flying home, three young Israelis were killed on the Temple Mount. As I sat in the airport reading about it, I couldn’t help but think what a tragic illustration this was of what we had learned about the challenges of trying to live a normal life in abnormal circumstances.

The lessons learned, the friends made, the connections forged will remain with me for a lifetime. As I finish this, I think of all of the things I haven’t talked about: The Kibbutz on the border with Gaza, The peak on the Golan heights overlooking Israel, The mine fields, The Dead Sea, The Via Dolorosa and so much more. I feel keenly how inadequate my words are to do justice to this outstanding opportunity.

Kathleen Stinehart is an educator in the Theology Department at Ursuline Academy. For more information about future Bearing Witness programs, contact Karen Aroesty, karoesty@adl.org.