Henry Goes to the Holy Land – Day 6

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January 18, 2015

Before leaving Manger Square and Bethlehem this morning, we visited the Separation Wall that runs through Bethlehem separating it from Israel.

Saying goodbye to Stars  & Bucks.

Saying goodbye to Stars & Bucks.

The wall was assembled as several narrow sections, each thirty feet high. The surface of the wall facing Palestine is smooth concrete, which makes the perfect surface for spray painting graffiti. Many sections of the wall include intentional displays and commentaries by individuals and groups in Palestine that talk about the experience of being “imprisoned,” of despair, hopelessness, anger, challenges for justice and simple pleas. Some of the graffiti is very beautiful or poignant artwork. Many languages are represented on the wall from locals and from visitors who have journeyed here from around the world. All of it is a letter to Israel.

Bishop Greg and me at the wall

Bishop Greg and me at the wall

The group from the Diocese of Olympia at the wall.

The group from the Diocese of Olympia at the wall.

Rachel finds an important message on the wall.

Rachel finds an important message at the wall.

The wall at the check point going out of Bethlehem.

The wall at the check point going out of Bethlehem.

After our visit to the wall, we crossed the armed check point into Israel and made our way to Jerusalem. Our first stop was St. George’s College, an Episcopal university and the site of the Anglican cathedral in Jerusalem. The local parish here is composed of Israeli Arab Christians, and the Eucharistic service we attended was bilingual, Arabic/English. We sang hymns in each language and heard the sermon twice, Arabic followed by English.

St. George’s Cathedral interior

St. George’s Cathedral interior

The service at the Cathedral at St. George’s.

The service at the Cathedral at St. George’s.

The service was led by Archbishop Sulheil Dawani, the head of the Anglican Episcopal Church in Jerusalem. The four bishops traveling in our group were robed and participated in the service as concelebrants. It was a great service, even though the tiny space heaters in the cathedral were no match for the cold temperatures of the morning. We were freezing, and everyone in the congregation had their coats, gloves and hats on! It was one of those times I was glad to have both a natural fur coat and a sweater.

Here I am checking out the view from the cathedral lectern.

Here I am checking out the view from the cathedral lectern.

After the service, we went out into the courtyard of St. Georges and into another section of the complex for cups of hot coffee spiced with cardamom and other spices – the perfect antidote to a cold morning. Then our group was ushered into a private drawing room to meet with Bishop Sulheil. He shared with us something of the reality of the Christian community in Israel and Palestine. Namely, the percentage of Christians in Jerusalem, for example, has dropped to less than 1% of the population here. There are many reasons for this, but the biggest concern about this decline is that it has been the Christian leaders in Jerusalem that have served as a bridge for peace between Israel and Palestine in the local incidents that occur. Without those who strive for peace, the alternative looks pretty grim. That said, there are many dedicated Muslims and Jews who are also dedicated to peace in Jerusalem.

During our meeting with Bishop Sulheil.

During our meeting with Archbishop Sulheil.

Bishop Greg and Marti with Archbishop Sulheil.

Bishop Greg and Marti with Archbishop Sulheil.

Rachel and I with Archbishop Sulheil.

Rachel and I with Archbishop Sulheil.

After our session with the archbishop,  we went into a lecture hall on campus to hear a presentation by 31 year old Ruth Edmonds. Ruth is the local coordinator in Jerusalem for a group called the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), a human rights organization dedicated to ending Israeli occupation over the Palestinians.

Hope Edmonds and me.

Ruth Edmonds and me.

Ruth is a smart and passionate person, whose mother is an Israeli Jew and whose father is a British non-Jew. She shared amazing information with us about the social and governing forces that contribute to the oppression of Palestinians and demolition of Palestinian homes in the West Bank. Homes can be destroyed and home or business building permits denied to the effect of preventing any reasonable life at all for Palestinian families.  The policies of forced relocation have effectively made Palestinian towns into prisons. And yet, Ruth offered a hopeful perspective in the end – that resistance to violent solutions is stronger than ever before all across the world.

St. George’s College

St. George’s College

After eating lunch at St. George’s, we went to Yad Vashem , the Holocaust Memorial. Located on the western slope of Mt. Herzl on the Mount of Remembrance, the memorial consists of a series of indoor exhibits as well as outdoor memorials and a research center. The exhibit halls follow the historical events and circumstances leading up to the events of the holocaust, including quite an indictment of the role of European Christianity in casting Jews as the theological villains of Christ’s death. This perspective of the time contributed to social conditions that helped to enable racism and persecution.

Yad Vashem museum

Yad Vashem museum

While our group toured the memorial, it did seem ironic to many of us that a company of young Israeli soldiers were also touring the memorial. Somehow, it seems that rather than instilling a sense of empathy out of their historical experience, there is a fueled victimhood that wants revenge for grievous wrongs that serves to perpetuate violence and victimization of others – namely, the Palestinians.

Young Israeli soldiers contemplating a collection of shoes from victims sent to the furnaces.

Young Israeli soldiers contemplating a collection of shoes from victims sent to the furnaces.

After our tour at the memorial, we visited Ein Karem, which means “spring of the vineyard.” According to early Christian tradition, John the Baptist was born in Ein Karem. It contains a site called Mary’s Spring. Tradition has it that Mary visited Elizabeth here and where the Magnifcat was sung by her for the first time. There is a spring that is said to be where Mary met Elizabeth.

Church of the Visitation

Church of the Visitation

Mosaic of the Visitation on exterior of the church

Mosaic of the Visitation on exterior of the church

Fresco of the Visitation inside the church

Fresco of the Visitation inside the church

Altar

Altar

One of the many floor mosaics.

One of the many floor mosaics.

Statue of the Visitation in the court yard. The Magnifcat is displayed in several different languages on tiles around the walls.

Statue of the Visitation in the court yard. The Magnifcat is displayed in several different languages on tiles around the walls.

The Church of John the Baptist in Ein Karem is built on the remnants of Byzantine and Crusader churches, a good indication of being an authentic site. Inside the church are the remnants of Byzantine mosaics and the cave home in which John was born. The church has been in the care of the Franciscans since the 1600’s, and we met one of the monks who live there now.

Monk and me!

Monk and me!

After Ein Karem, we went to our hotel, The Gloria, located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, near the Jaffa Gate. The first two floors of the hotel were built in the 1850’s, and Rachel and I are on the second floor (which is really the first floor, since the entry level is called floor “zero.” The hotel has a great atmosphere, with vaulted arched ceilings and cushions on every possible surface one can sit on.

exterior

Lobby

Lobby

Areas to talk

Areas to talk

We walked to dinner at another hotel called the Notre Dame, so that after dinner we could hear a presentation by two very special men who are members of an organization called The Parent’s Circle. The group is composed of both Israeli and Palestinians whose children have been killed in conflicts. The group transcends issues of politics and religion to focus on the common cause of the cessation of violence and the building of peace. They actively promote reconciliation between individuals and nations.

The Notre Dame Hotel

The Notre Dame Hotel

Rachel with Rami and Khaled

Rachel with Rami and Bassam

Rami Elhanan is a seventh generation Jerusalemite Israeli Jew. His daughter, Smadar, was fourteen years old when she was out shopping for books for the new school year and was killed (along with two of her friends and two others) by two Palestinian suicide bombers. Bassam is a Palestinian Muslim who became involved in the Palestinian struggle as a boy growing up in the ancient city of Hebron. At 17, he was caught planning an attack on Israeli troops, and spent seven years in prison. However, In 2005, he co-founded Combatants for Peace, an organisation of former Israeli and Palestinian combatants leading a non-violent struggle against the occupation. Since then, Bassam has not once picked up a weapon – not even when, two years later, his ten-year-old daughter, Abir, was shot in the back and killed by an Israeli sniper at a checkpoint.

Rami and Bassam shared powerfully of their personal stories and struggles and how they now lecture together for peace. At the end of the presentation, Rami said, “You in America must all strive for peace with us. In the holocaust horrible things were happening and no one said anything. Horrible things are happening now. You cannot be silent. It is not anti-Semitic to work for peace.”  To read more about these two extraordinary men and their friendship, go to http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/aug/03/men-kill-children-middle-east-israel-palestine

I think I may need to stop barking at squirrels…

Henry

My room at The Gloria

My room at The Gloria

Henry Goes to the Holy Land – Day 4

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January 16, 2015

This morning, we said a very fond fairwell to the Pilgerhaus (Pilgrim House) in Tagbha. It was a wonderful place to stay, and I highly recommend it to pilgrims traveling to the area of northern Galilee.

I finally found the sheep that I knew were out there!

I finally found the sheep that I knew were out there!

After making sure that all our luggage made it back onto the bus, we headed south along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Traveling through Tiberius, we had glimpses of the old Roman fortifications of that town. Established in 20 CE, the town was named after the Emperor Tiberius. It was the capital of the realm of Herod Antipas.

The town of Tiberius soon became so well known, that the inland sea was called the Sea of Tiberius by the Romans.  However, the Hebrews continued to call it by it’s traditional name, Yam Ha-Kinerett (later just “Kinerett” and still later, “Genessaret”, and then”The Sea of Galilee”).

Date trees

Date trees

After winding along narrow roads for about an hour, we left Israel and crossed the boarder into the West Bank.  Soon we arrived at our first destination, the modern town of Jericho, located near the Jordan River on the West Bank. Jericho is 849 feet below sea level, situated in an oasis of the Wadi Qelt in the Jordan Valley.

Jericho Sycamore Fig Tree

Jericho Sycamore Fig Tree

It's a very big tree and deserves two pictures...

It’s a very big tree and deserves two pictures…

Stopping first near a large, old sycamore fig tree which locals like to say was the very fig tree that Zacchaeus climbed when he wanted to see Jesus through the crowds at during one of Jesus’s visits to Jericho (Luke 1-12). Whether this is THE tree is pretty doubtful, but is a very old tree, and is an example of the type of tree mentioned in the Scripture story.  I’m sure you’ll be glad to know that I refrained from peeing on it.  😉

Fortress ruins in Jerico archaeological site.

Fortress ruins in Jerico archaeological site.

After visiting the fig tree, we went to some ancient ruins of a fortress of some antiquity that had been refortified by Herod Antipas who had also built a winter palace at Jericho.  Also, the Gospel story of the Good Samaritan is set in the area – a Hebrew man is traveling through the mountain valley pass from Jericho to Jerusalem when he is set upon by thieves.

The ruins are interesting but in need of better conservation.

The ruins are interesting but in need of better conservation.

Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of more than 20 successive settlements in Jericho, the first of which dates back 11,000 years (9000 BCE). It was an early religious center for the Canaanite people, and the name “Jericho” is a Hebrew word derived from the Canaanite word for “moon.”

The destruction of the city (“when the walls came tumbling down”) actually occurred quite sometime before the Israelites migrated to the area, but it’s likely that they discovered the ruins and developed a story to explain them that also underscored their rise to dominance in the area during the Hasmonean Empire (a Hebrew dynasty descending from the Tribe of Levi, c. 110 BC).

With new friend Emily on the cable car going up to Mt. Temptation.

With new friend Emily on the cable car going up to Mt. Temptation.

After exploring the fortress ruins, our group drove over to a cable car station that takes people up to the top of a low mountain known as The Mount of Temptation.  Christian tradition attributes this mountain as the location of Jesus’ time of discernment in the wilderness. Their are many caves set into the sheer sides of the mountain, many of which are still used to this day by monks, hermits and shepherds.

Freshly squeezed pomegranate juice made from some of the  largest pomegranates I've ever seen!

Freshly squeezed pomegranate juice made from some of the largest pomegranates I’ve ever seen!

Before boarding the cable cars, many of us stopped to grab a quick cup of freshly pressed pomegranate juice.  YUM!!

Mt. Temptation

Mt. Temptation

Traveling in the cable car up to the “Temptation Restaurant” at the top was a lot of fun, with pauses in the ascent now and then for others to be loaded into cars either above or below us.

Marti didn't like it when the car paused or went over the tower juntions.

Marti didn’t like it when the car paused or went over the tower juntions, but she’s smiling nonetheless.

The view from the top gives a sense of Jericho today.

The view of Jericho from the top of Mt. Temptation.

The view of Jericho from the top of Mt. Temptation.

Rachel and I at the top.

Rachel and I at the top.

We didn’t eat at the restaurant (as “tempting” as that was!) but took the cable cars back down to eat in a pilgrim restaurant below.  Outside where we ate, I met a flock of very nice peacocks.

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Outside our restaurant.

Outside our restaurant.

After lunch, we did an amazing thing.  We drove to a site along the Jordan River that hasn’t been open to the public in a long time, due to conflicts between the countries of Israel and Jordan.   The Jordan River is the boarder between Israel and Jordan, so it is a place of much tension.

Armed guards on both sides of the river keep careful watch over those who come to visit the waters. We could see them as we waded into the river and gathered water to bring home with us.

This picture is taken from the Israel side of the Jordan. The open structure on the other side is in Jordan.  Inside it are armed Jordanian soldiers who are keeping a close eye on us.

This picture is taken from the Israel side of the Jordan. The open structure on the other side is in Jordan. Inside it are armed Jordanian soldiers who are keeping a close eye on us.

During our drive into the river area, we passed through the gates of a “No Man’s Land” swatch of territory that is actually a mine field with fencing on both sides of the swatch.

Going through no man's land to Israel's border with Jordan.

Traveling through no man’s land to Israel’s border with Jordan.

However, even in the midst of all of these signs of tension, we found a moment of real peace as Bishop Greg led us through a renewal of our Baptismal promises and then anointed each of us by name.

Bishop Greg anointing Dean Steve Thomason of St. Mark's Cathedral.

Bishop Greg anointing Dean Steve Thomason of St. Mark’s Cathedral.

The water of the Jordan River is very silty in this place, and the mud fine and squishy – much to our remark as we waded along the wooded steps set under water at its bank.

Pilgrims from the diocese of Olympia hanging out in the very cold waters of the Jordan River.

Pilgrims from the diocese of Olympia hanging out in the very cold waters of the Jordan River.

Me and Marti Rickel collecting river water to bring home.  The river is very silty here because it flows quickly and stirs up the thick, soft mud in its banks. It settles out quickly in a still bottle.

Me and Marti Rickel collecting river water to bring home. The river is very silty here because it flows quickly and stirs up the thick, soft mud in its banks. It settles out quickly in a still bottle.

I love this picture!

I love this picture!

Once our time was done, we drove back through the mine field, out through the Wadi Qelt and up through a pass to Bethany.  Gaining lots of altitude very quickly, we passed several modern Bedouin encampments.  These encampments are a mix of old and new – children herd goats and sheep, families build huts of corrugated metal; the port water into their camps and many have generators and televisions.  The Bedouins are a people on the move, moving their camps according to season and location of good grazing for their goats, sheep and camels.

The small shacks are a Bedouin settlement.

The small shacks are a Bedouin settlement.

Bethany is a Palestinian town that has been separated from the nearby city of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives by the Israeli Separation Wall. Thirty feet high and 430 miles long, the Separation Wall was built by Israel as a security barrier separating Israel from the West Bank.  However, often the wall makes deviations into Palestinian territory.  The wall has a very negative impact on the Palestinian economy and makes travel very challenging.

The Separation Wall blocks the road.

The Separation Wall blocks the road.

At Bethany, we stopped in a church dedicated to the memory of the raising of Lazaras, who (along with Mary and Martha) were very close friends to Jesus.  He seems to have visited them frequently when in the area of Jerusalem.

Inside the Church of Lazaras,  Bethany.

Inside the Church of Lazaras, Bethany.

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The church has some antiquity at least going back to the Byzantine era, and it has beautiful acoustics.  The song during our brief prayer service there was very moving to us Anglicans, who love a well-sung hymn!  David Spring would have liked this very much.

Dome interior.

Dome interior.

Remnant floor mosaics from Byzantine era.

Remnant floor mosaics from Byzantine era of the church.

Once again aboard our bus, we had to drive around the Separation Wall blocking the direct route to Jerusalem.  We stopped in Jerusalem just long enough to drop off our guide to retrieve his own car before continuing our caravan to Bethlehem.

saca souvenir

This portion of the Separation Wall runs through Bethlehem.

The bishops decided to take us to shop at Christian cooperative gift shop that supports about 70 families of Palestinian Christians still living in Bethlehem.  As with Bethany, the economy of Bethlehem is highly impacted by the Separation Wall that excludes it from easy access to Israel.

We were glad to do “exert our economic power” as Dominic put it and support the Christian community by basically shopping our brains out at the cooperative.

My room at the Casa Nova.

My room at the Casa Nova.

Finally, we made the last few minutes of our Journey to our hotel..which is amazingly located on Manger Square, only feet away from the entrance of the Church of the Nativity.

After supper at the hotel and prayer in the nearby Franciscan Chapel in the church complex, it was off to bed after a very full day.  So many thoughts and emotions are running through my head, that all the reflection is exhausting but important.

Here’s to Barking at Squirrels!

Henry

Manger Square in Bethlehem is still decorated for Christmas, and the Armenian tradition celebrates Christmas Eve tomorrow. Jerry Christmas!