(*note to readers, I began this blog in February after returning from Israel/Palestine, but didn’t finish it until December! Sorry for the long delay, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.)
Mike & I began the new year with a class in Jerusalem. We took a law school course together entitled “Conflict Resolution from Religious Traditions.” It was one of the few classes that would appeal to both of us, me as a pastor and Mike as a law student.
One of our readings, “Jerusalem: City of ‘The Between’” by Daniel Rossing beautifully captures the spirit of Jerusalem:
“To truly enter Jerusalem is to leave the alluring arena of either-or dichotomies and embrace the sometimes frustrating, but always rewarding realm of both-and dilemmas… The city invites all who set foot in her gates to celebrate Creation & seek Redemption, to grasp heaven & earth at once, to elevate reality w/ dreams & ground dreams in reality, to faithfully recall & respect the past & fervently reach out to the future, … to find security in one’s particular theological or ideological home without being afraid to wander in the open spaces of universal humanity, … to be empowered and powerless in the same moment…
We are constantly challenged – now! – to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to respond to the command to ‘go up,’ not as temporary escape from the demands of daily life, but as a timeless journey into the between, into the heart of life and faith… To journey into the between is not simply a matter of transportation, but indeed an occasion and opportunity for transformation.”
Indeed, Jerusalem, and what we saw of Israel/Palestine, was very much an in-between kind of space. There’s much I continue to process and reflect on from the course and from our experience abroad, but I wanted to start here with this:
We arrived in Israel after over a day of travel and an 11 hour lay over in Brussels. This was a welcome welcome as we picked up our baggage at 1am Israel time. We took the sherut (like a small airport shuttle) to Maeirsdorf Faculty Club at Hebrew University, Mt Scopus Campus. I thought this would be more “dorm-like,” but it was a full-on hotel which was a nice perk! We found it very convenient and comfortable.
We pushed the two twin beds together as to feel more like a married couple and less like roommates. the electric kettle & fridge in that nook were money.
Each room had a mezuzah (an encasement with a piece of parchment with the shema on it). They are placed on the door frame as is instructed by the halakha (Jewish law).
This particular campus is on Mt. Scopus and has some amazing views of Jerusalem.
Day 1) After registration, we had our first class. We learned about the many different Christian traditions in Jerusalem and how they not only have conflict with other religious traditions but within the Christian tradition itself. A trip to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher showed us how different parts of the church belonged to different Christian denominations: the Armenian Church, The Greek Orthodox, the Roman Catholic, etc… We also met with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate who is a judge in the Ecclesiastical Courts.
our student ID cards
Our first time viewing the walls of the Old City.
The Greek Orthodox judge telling us about the Ecclesiastical Courts. Did you know there’s no civil marriage in the State of Israel?
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is on the location where people say Jesus died on the cross and then where he would’ve been buried in the tomb. This would’ve been the tomb the women went to on Easter morning.
Some of the places we visited on this trip were likely the actual places, some were possibly the actual places and others were not likely at all. Whether these are the actual sites or not, there’s something powerful about joining with millions of people who’ve made pilgrimage to these very places for hundreds of years. What’s heartbreaking is the violence that often erupted in the name of these holy sites.
Walking into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Mike touching the ground where Jesus is said to have died on Golgotha. There’s a hole in the glass encasement where you can put your hand through and touch the ground.
a mural of Jesus being taken off the cross. anointed and buried. all of which they believed took place where this church now sits
me touching the slab on which they say Jesus was anointed.
entering the garden tomb where jesus was buried and from which he resurrected
inside the tomb
After a very Christian-oriented day, we ended our time in the Old City with a visit to the Western Wall.
the western wall on a drizzly January night
a woman prays on the wall; above & next to her prayers have been inserted into the wall
There was something so sacred about touching this wall which has remained standing for thousands of years. I lifted up prayers for peace.
Day 2) “Only through the encounter with ‘the other’ can we truly and faithfully fathom the infinite depths of our own unique otherness, our own particular memories and visions of the future.”
On this day we visited some places where, either intentionally or unintentionally, you are challenged to encounter “the other.”
ALYN (All the Love You Need) Hospital & Rehab Center is a children’s hospital that serves all children regardless of nationality, religious belief or ethnic background. Muslim parents encounter Jewish parents; Arab Palestinian children befriend Israeli Jewish children as they go through treatment together. Out of necessity and love for their children’s well being, adults learn to trust “the other,” and friendships are born.
a little girls walks with some help
Neve Shalom / Wahat al-Salam (meaning “Oasis of Peace”) is an intentionally diverse community jointly founded by Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinian Arabs in an attempt to show that the two peoples can live side by side peacefully, as well as to conduct educational work for peace, equality and understanding between the two peoples. It shone as a beacon of hope and light for me.
the sign welcomes us in three languages
a peace pole
tiles made by the children who live, study and grow up in this community
getting a walking tour of the community
Day 2 is also the day we got our RavKav. This turned out to be a good decision as we didn’t have to constantly have exact change to take public transportation. Actually getting it, however, was such an ordeal! We were sent to several different windows, back and forth and were sent all over that transportation building! It would make a good “Amazing Race” activity, I think.
mike waits in one of many lines to get his rav-kav
at least in the end, we were successful
Day 3) We had a class on Jewish Law which was informative, but reminded me why I quit law school (mostly teaching methodology more than anything else). Occasionally, though, I was intrigued because it sometimes reminded me of Biblical Interpretation.
After a full day of class, we made our first, but certainly not last, visit to Mahane Yehuda or “The Shuk” as some people call it. The sights, sounds and smells of the market place were glorious!
Day 3) Qadi Ahmad Natour, President of the High Sharia’a Court of Appeals in Israel, taught us a day-long seminar on Islamic traditions. I was fascinated by his interpretations of The Qu’ran. He also reminded us (a class of mostly American Christians and Australian Jews) that just like in any religious tradition, there are behaviors done by Muslims that have nothing to do with Islam. I’m saddened that he had to say anything to that effect at all, but it was indeed a good reminder and truth reiterated.
This day also happened to be January 5th and my 30th birthday! I couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate turning 30 than in Jerusalem where Jesus began his ministry around the age of 30. To celebrate, Mike and I went to dinner at Yudale, a one room tapas bar with the kitchen right in the middle that’s located near the Shuk. The servers and cooks were so much fun and even offered free birthday shots that they took with us!
menu for my birthday: 5/1/2012! the food was great!
they make your food right in front of you!
birthday dinner w/ the hubs
Day 4) No class on January 6. This day was Epiphany for us and Christmas Eve for the Greek Orthodox Church. We chose quite a day to visit Bethlehem!
First, to the field where shepherds lay keeping their sheep:
the fields where sheep would’ve grazed in Bethlehem
another view of those fields
where shepherds would’ve slept
mike inside the shepherd’s cave where the animals would’ve slept
skylights in the cave
exiting the caves where the shepherds would’ve taken shelter
Then, on to visit The Church of the Nativity located where they say Jesus was born!
Greek Orthodox Processional for Christmas Eve
entering the church through a very small door
inside the church
the processional makes it into the church
they go into the “grotto” where Jesus was born (we follow)
where Jesus was born
this is supposed to be the very spot where the Christ Child entered the world
Mike & I standing where they say Jesus was born. Merry Christmas or Happy Epiphany!
seems appropriate to have a nativity scene here
Driving to & from Bethlehem was quite an experience, too.
murals on the walls dividing Palestinian territory from Israel
check point. i believe those words say: “stop the wall”
We also got a nice view of Jerusalem driving back in with the Dome of the Rock shining brightly
we bought this in Bethlehem
Afterwards, we walked around the Old City before heading back home:
the supposed Room of the Last Supper
Jewish Quarter Gate
the dome of the rock from inside the Old City
near Muslim Quarter
outside Damascus Gate
walls of the Old City
Day 5) No class today either, so we took a visit with some classmates to Masada and The Dead Sea
Masada is the ruins of a fortress built by King Herod. There’s a lot of history here which I won’t go into, but it was the place of a mass suicide of Jewish rebels who chose death over slavery to Rome.
cable cars take us far up
some of the original mosaic can still be seen
walking the ruins
Afterwards, we took a dip in the Dead Sea which was, yes, very, very salty. But it was so much fun, and such an amazing experience feeling supported by the water beneath you.
floating in the Dead Sea
carefully walking on the sharp salt
covered in Dead Sea mud
Because it’s been so long, the days now start to blur together.
Michael Tsur who is a professional negotiator came to talk to us about conflict resolution. He was there at the Siege of the Bethlehem and helped negotiate the release of the hostages. I can’t quite remember what else we did that day. That night we saw a documentary of the Siege of Bethlehem.
Marc Gopin intersected conflict resolution with the religious traditions, and those were the most seminary-like classes we had. I loved them, the law students, not so much. Some of them kept wondering, “so what’s the law to apply here?” I think it was, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.”
Gopin also talked about the importance of raising compassionate people, not just successful people and how suspending your own reality & entering another world helps with that (another plug for reading fiction!)
The Rev. Canon Hosam Elias Naoum from St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem shared with us his interfaith work with youth.
Tomb of David Visit: This place showed how all three of the faith traditions can converge on one place and call it a holy site. The Tomb of David for those who are Jewish, the Room of the Last Supper above it, and above that a minaret and place of prayer for those how are Muslim
Mount of Olives Tour & Lecture: from an aerial view of Jerusalem, we reflected on how many different religious traditions exist so close together. We considered how such realities can make for conflict, but how they might also make for peace. And if not peace or conflict resolution, maybe a little conflict management will do.
class photo at the Mount of Olives
Hezekiah’s Tunnel- an aqueduct system built in ancient Israel. It was the darkest, lowest, wettest, most narrow adventure I’ve ever had. Good thing Mike brought a flashlight because it was sheer darkness otherwise!
they weren’t joking that the water would get that high
walking down to the tunnels
see? it’s thigh-high
sometimes, even i would have to duck to make it through
other side leads to the pool of siloam
Afterwards, we ventured back up to the Old City again
gates of the City of David
a view of the city
Tour of the Tunnels under the Western Wall: We went underneath current homes in Jerusalem to see more of the original Western Wall. not just the portion where people pray. It was awesome to get underneath and see what’s been buried by new developments.
the stones Jesus himself may have seen coming into Jerusalem
as close to the original “Holy of Holies” as you can now get
walking through the walls
Yad Vashem: We also visited the Holocaust Museum which was well done and poignant. May we remember our history, and may we always value all human life.
The Israel Museum holds so many amazing treasures from the ancient land of Israel/Palestine. Here in the U.S., we rope off old things and put them in glass cases, but there were so many things available to touch and walk through at this museum! Other highlights of this place are the Shrine of the Book that houses most of the Dead Sea Scrolls and, one of Mike’s favorite findings, the model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple period.
Shrine of the Book (that holds the Dead Sea Scrolls)
they’re held in an encasement that look like a scroll
2nd Temple Period Jerusalem! It was fun to run around and look at it up close. We felt like giants.
We used a taxi once, private charters twice with the tours, and a sherut twice (to & from the airport). Otherwise, we used public- buses and Jerusalem’s new light rail system.
The light rail, however, was literally brand new and bus lines were changing, and we came in a time of transition when no one was sure which bus would stop where. It was sometimes very frustrating as we walked from stop to stop, ran to catch something when we saw it, and overall just felt lost.
But it’s good for us to get lost in a city we don’t know every once in a while, and I am grateful for even this.
new light rail map, for this line
happy when we found the right light rail line
confused when the bus stops would have NO numbers on it to indicate which lines stopped there
And of coarse, the ever-important, Food: We did go to a few nicer restaurants (like on my birthday), but we mostly ate a lot of street food, looking for the cheapest falafel sandwich we could find! We also frequented two places, one on Jaffa Road and one at Hebrew University.
Helene: Queen of Hummus, a restaurant on Jaffa we went to 3 times
Mike & our new friends (our server and the owner) at the Helene: Queen of Hummus Restaurant
some shwarma place… (the place we went to in Hebrew University) it’s right as you get to the bus stops
corn outside the Old City
falafel sandwich & diet coke
From this experience, both classroom & otherwise, I decided that these are some of the things that may make for a compassionate person:
- the ability to empathize & see and feel from different perspectives (traveling to other places helps with this, I think)
- philosophy: the ability to argue and critically think
- opportunities to live vicariously through other people and through books and movies
- relationships that challenge your beliefs & deeply rooted understandings
- moments of cognitive dissonance: when your “reality” is agitated by another “truth”
- having opportunities to forgive and be forgiven
- allowing transformation and “little c” conversions to take place (not the kind where you switch religions, the kind where your understanding of your own faith expands)
- emotional intelligence: the ability to know what you feel and to understand why you feel that way PLUS the ability to understand what and why others feel a certain way.
So, there you have it- our trip to Israel/Palestine through brief reflections and many pictures. It really was a trip of a lifetime, and it was so wonderful to bring in 2012 in a place that will always remain so close to our hearts.
It was fun to reminisce as the year comes to a close, and let us continue to pray and work for peace here and everywhere.