Brian Flanagan, an associate professor of theology at
Marymount University, is still processing a 10-day seminar on
Judaism he attended in Jerusalem last month, which included
intense discussions on religion and the challenges of life in
Israel. He also made personal pilgrimages to several
Flanagan is one of 23 American Christian leaders
participating in 13 months of study that begins and ends with
seminars in Israel. "Encountering Judaism: Faith, People,
Land" launched July 12-22. Participants range from the senior
pastor at a Baptist church in St. Louis to a lecturer at
Georgetown Law School to university chaplains and
Each day's study made use of a modified form of a traditional
rabbinic approach to Talmudic study called havruta, in which
a pair of students read aloud, analyze and discuss a shared
"In our case we did this with small groups of three, four or
five people," Flanagan said. "For example, we might take
Genesis 1 and 2, read a sentence or two at a time, discussing
what it means and why. We would do this for an hour to an
hour and a half, multiple times each day."
They eventually used this approach to read documents such as
the Israeli Declaration of Independence, essays by scholars
on contemporary Judaism, even works by Jewish and Arab
Israeli poets and novelists. Flanagan may use a form of this
method with his Marymount students.
"You can't talk about contemporary Judaism without talking
about the Israeli/Arab conflict," Flanagan said. "It's going
to be more of a focus next summer, but we've already had some
That included a walking tour of Jaffa, an ancient city south
of Tel Aviv, led by two historians, an Arab and a Jew, from
the perspective of their communities.
"It's one of the few cities that still has a mixed population
of Arabs and Jews," Flanagan said, "and it helped us see the
complexity of their relationship as both friends and
Other highlights included an audience with Israeli President
Reuven Riylan, shabbat dinner with a local family, fellowship
at the Jerusalem Craft Beer Festival, and services at an
Flanagan, who was making his first trip to Israel, made his
own Christian pilgrimage, which included Mass at the Church
of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to be on the site where Jesus
was crucified and where His empty tomb is located. The church
is shared by Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Armenian,
Syrian, Coptic and Ethiopian Christians, and is at the center
of the Christian Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City.
"That was one of the more moving experiences as part of my
Christian pilgrimage," Flanagan said.
After the seminar, he stayed four days with friends in Tel
Aviv and visited Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee.
"I'm grateful that we have a year and another trip to process
the experience because of the complexity and intensity of
this experience," Flanagan said. "I made a lot of good
friends both from the States and from Jerusalem. I'm also
excited to see how what I've learned will help me this fall
in the classroom. I was already committed to ecumenical and
interreligious dialogue, but this trip has rekindled my
calling to do more, both at Marymount and in the region."
In the coming year, the group will engage in monthly webinars
and study classical and modern Jewish texts with leading
Israeli and American Jewish scholars. The program is a
partnership between the Shalom Hartman Initiative in
Jerusalem and the American Jewish Committee, a global Jewish
advocacy organization headquartered in New York that works to
advance human rights and democratic values.
"There is so much that we can all learn from one another,"
said Marcie Lenk of the Hartman Institute, whose Christian
Leadership Initiative began in 2008.