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Published on May 28, 2019

Middle East Trip Strengthens Understanding of Diversity and Faith

Cone Health Foundation President Susan Shumaker joined Board Member Mae Douglas and 36 others for Greensboro’s 2019 Interfaith Study Mission to Israel.

Susan Shumaker in Israel

Cone Health Foundation President Susan Shumaker in Israel.

One of my guiding values as president of Cone Health Foundation is a commitment to fostering a deep respect for difference. At last count, there were over 120 first languages and 140 countries of origin represented in our Guilford County Schools. That makes for a diverse community. For Greensboro to continue to flourish, we must do more than simply “tolerate” the beliefs of another but rather seek to understand, embrace, and appreciate the beautiful diverse aspects of diversity and faith. So, when the invitation arrived to be a part of Greensboro’s 2019 Interfaith Study Mission to Israel, I packed my bags.

National Conference for Community and Justice
and Greensboro Jewish Federation have been leading this Mission trip since 1994. Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro became an additional sponsor in 2007. The goal is to strengthen Greensboro by: encouraging people to form relationships across cultures and around the common goals of building community; building trust, respect and understanding of different spiritual and faith backgrounds and experiences while being together; promoting cooperative activities in the community following the Mission; and helping participants gain greater understanding of the complex issues pertaining to the Middle East today and apply those to Greensboro.

Mae Douglas

John Swaine, CEO International Civil Rights Center and Museum and Mae Douglas, Cone Health Foundation Board Member were part of Interfaith Study Mission trip to Israel.

Thirty-eight travelers, including Mae Douglas, one of Cone Health Foundation’s newest Board members, were part of this immersive experience. We left on a Sunday evening and spent the next ten days absorbing all the contrasts and similarities that make Israel an oasis of religious freedom in the Middle East. We visited a clinic dedicated to improving the quality of pediatric cardiac care for children in developing countries, regardless of the child’s nationality, religion, color, gender or finances.

Israel School Children

Save a Child's Heart

Parents and children at the Legacy Heritage Children’s Home of Save a Child’s Heart, located in Holon. Save a Child's Heart and the Wolfson Medical Center have treated over 5,000 children suffering from congenital and rheumatic heart disease. The children come from 59 countries where adequate medical care is simply unavailable.

In Tel Aviv, we met the principal of the Bialik-Rogozin School, a school that welcomes all children regardless of immigration status. In this school, refugees and children of migrant workers, come with little or no education at all, and are integrated into Israeli society through special education programs. In 2011, Strangers No More, a film about the school, won the Oscar for Best Short Documentary.

The importance of the Land of Israel is not limited to Judaism, it is also the place where Christianity was born, and contains many locations of great spiritual significance to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Our conversations at those sites were steeped in the complexity of relationships among Israel’s diverse ethnic and religious populations.

Wailing Wall

Western Wall or "Wailing Wall"

The Western Wall or “Wailing Wall” is the most religious site in the world for Jewish people. It is located in the Old City of Jerusalem. Thousands of people come to the wall every year to visit and recite prayers. The prayers are either spoken or written down and placed in the cracks of the wall. The wall is divided into two sections, one area for males and the other for females.

I could go on but, as we watched the sunset over the Sea of Galilee, it occurred to me that in this country of contrasts, great similarities exist as well. As I understand it, most people of faith come together through the common value of compassion for all people. Those commonalities and distinctions between faiths can powerfully address deep moral and ethical issues of scarcity of resources, the equality gap and justice, and the environment. Foundations are not only an important audience for these messages, they can also play an important role in addressing these issues in Greensboro.

Travel changes us. History is important and so is the sacredness of all faiths while honoring our common humanity. I am grateful to be on a journey to create a deeper sense of understanding, compassion, appreciation and tolerance for everyone that transcends race, gender, sexual orientation and religion – join me?

Tel Aviv Israel

Skyline of the city of Jerusalem

Israel Community Foundation

Tara Sandercock (far left), Senior Vice President, Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro has co-led the Interfaith Mission trip since 2007. Tara is pictured with fellow travelers, Ida Hinson and Gail LeBauer.


Masada (Hebrew for fortress) is an ancient stone fortress in Israel, located above the Dead Sea on a tall, rocky mesa. It is an Israeli national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the 840-acre complex holds well-preserved ruins attesting to the history of the ancient kingdom of Israel.

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