Marist High School religion teachers Karen Ramirez and Kathleen Greenan traveled to Israel in July through a partnership between the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago. The program’s purpose is to expose Catholic school teachers to the modern State of Israel with the expectation this experience and information will be brought back to the classroom.
During the ten day trip, a total of nine teachers from seven Chicagoland high schools visited holy sites, attended lectures, shared in prayer, and collaborated with one another. “We were intrigued by this unique partnership and inspired to attend this program for many reasons, including being in the birthplace of all monotheistic faiths-Judaism, Islam, and Christianity,” explained Ramirez, who is the coordinator of curriculum and instruction for the religious studies department at Marist.
Although this trip was not exclusively a holy land pilgrimage, the group did visit many sites. The Marist teachers found it awe inspiring to stand in the path of Jesus’ Stations of the Cross, to see where Mary was visited by the Angel Gabriel, and to celebrate the Eucharist atop the Mount of the Beatitudes. The pair of teachers were overwhelmed to see the original construction of the western wall that holds up the original temple (now the place of the Dome of the Rock). They stayed in Tel Aviv, a city as urban as downtown Chicago, and visited a Jewish Ethiopian farm as rural as a southern plantation. They stood atop Masada and learned about innovative technology and construction of King Hared and the Romans over 2,000 years ago. They learned about modern water recycling technology in Israel and swam (floated) in the Dead Sea.
The group also talked with experts in Israeli history, politics, and education and was invited into sacred Sabbath celebrations with local Israeli families. “We witnessed the struggles of the social order between the many different inhabitants of Israel as we sat with an Israeli Arab family, visited an integrated (Arab/ Jewish) school, and talked with groups that are trying to break the impasse,” explained Ramirez.
Both teachers say several experiences from the trip will impact their teaching, including, a far better understanding of the geography of the area. Actually standing in the places they and their students read about in scripture will influence the lessons they create. They also say a powerful lesson of the trip is that understanding and conflict resolution comes from dialogue and conversation. “Any opportunity we have to immerse ourselves in something unknown and bring that authenticity to our students furthers the Marist mission of making Jesus known and loved,” said Greenan.
Started in 2005, the primary focus of the program is on modern history and the present-day realities of Israel -- cultural, political, security, intellectual, innovation, social, and more. Since 2007, more than 60 teachers have attended, and a Jewish educational specialist was added to the team to help prepare the teachers before they traveled and to support their efforts for curricular incorporation after they returned. Additionally, the Jewish Federation and the Archdiocese arranges two meetings annually with all past participants to share curricular ideas and continue to learn more about the modern State of Israel.
Marist High School offers 12 religious studies courses. Students are required to take eight semesters of religious studies. The teachers work to help students experience a lived faith while learning the history and teachings of the Church. Campus ministry programming complements this effort through service and retreat programs.
Top Photo: Dinner selfie: Karen Ramirez (left) and Kathleen Greenan (right) attend dinner with teachers and locals.
Right Photo: Teachers attending the program in Israel took a break from touring and learning to float in the Dead Sea.