Paul McKibben reports:
This fall, 13 Jewish and Christian senior citizens from Warren County will embark on a once-in-a lifetime trip to the Holy Land.
It’s more than a sightseeing trip to a revered, ancient part of the world. It’s a chance for residents of Jewish-affiliated Cedar Village in Mason and United Methodist-affiliated Otterbein Lebanon in Turtlecreek Township to come together and intimately learn about their faiths, which share a common origin.
This will be the third time Cedar Village has taken a group to Israel but its first inter-faith trip.
Carol Silver Elliott, CEO and president of Cedar Village, recalls the first trip, in 2007. That’s when members witnessed a group of people on their knees crying in the Old City of Jerusalem.
A shopkeeper told Elliott they were at the seventh station of the cross, part of a series of prayers. The seventh station is when Christians recall Jesus Christ falling a second time while carrying his cross on the way to being crucified.
“For me as a Jew, it was like ‘Oh my gosh. I forget that this is the birthplace of all of the world’s major religions, not just Judaism,’’ she said.
Elliott said the idea of an inter-faith trip “had been percolating in the back of my brain.” Her husband, Tom, works at Otterbein, so she is familiar with the community. She met last year with Otterbein President and CEO Jill Hreben, who loved the idea.
Elliott hopes the trip sets an example for others. She said the travelers, who ages range from mid 60s to late 80s, are open to learning about other beliefs.
“What’s wrong with the rest of us that we (often) can’t get along? I think there’s a big symbolism there,” she said.
Stanley and Marjorie Zeidman plan to fulfill a dream at the trip’s midpoint, when they ascend a mountain desert plateau overlooking the Dead Sea.
The Jewish couple, who live at Cedar Village, will renew their wedding vows on their 62nd anniversary at the ruins of the Masada (means “fortress’’ in Hebrew), near the Dead Sea in Israel.
“Just being in Israel and at the Masada, which is as high as you can get to God….,” she said.
Roman soldiers defeated Jewish fighters in 73 A.D. at the Masada, the Jewish patriots’ last stand against the Roman army.
A total of 30 staff members and residents will depart Oct. 24, arriving the next day in Israel.
Preparations for the trip include reading two books about the Methodist Church and one about Judaism. Travelers will also worship together by attending a service at each retirement community.
The trip is a personal one with a deep meaning. It’s to a part of the world where Judaism, Christianity and Islam all trace their roots. It’s where Christians believe Jesus Christ – the son of God and a Jew – lived, died and rose from the dead. For Jews, it’s the land promised to them by God.
Cedar Village resident Fred Schrier, 85, will be keeping a commitment to his late wife, Sharon Elizabeth Cundiff. She died in November from pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease.
His wife was born Methodist in Atlanta but converted to Judaism while at Ohio University. His wife always wanted to travel to Israel. Before she died, Fred told her, “Somehow or other … we’ll get to Israel.”
Otterbein resident Mary Ann Wheeler, a 78-year-old Catholic, will walk the streets where Jesus was praised and crucified.
“Never in my lifetime did I think I would ever be able to walk on the ground where Jesus walked, the Apostles … and see the mountains that we read about in the Bible,” Wheeler said.
Rev. Barbara Schnecker, pastor and chaplain at Otterbein Lebanon, hopes to gain a greater insight of traditions. She said when she reads Scripture she’ll be able to describe what she read and bring it alive. She’s noticed that in others who have made the journey.
“They’ll read Scripture and it takes them right back to that place,” she said. “And it’s a holy moment for them. It deepens their spirituality.”