Sunday, October 2, 2011

Interfaith Journey to Israel #6

In the Path of Abraham: A Jewish, Christian, Muslim Experience of the Holy Land
September 5-11, 2011
Day 5

We woke up this morning in Jerusalem.  After an early breakfast, we drove to a spectacular view of the Mount of Olives.  We were not the only ones travelling by tour bus that chose the early morning view.  The was a whole herd of buses at the viewpoint and we climbed down joining other tourists.  We drove down through the Judean desert to Masada, a mountain top fortress, built by King Herod over 2000 years ago.  This was the site of the last stand of a group of Jewish zealots against the Romans.  Their only choice was to be enslaved or killed by the Romans.  They chose death by suicide as the Roman army approached the fortress after building a hill road to it with Jewish slaves, already captured. 

The rocky desert is hauntingly beautiful but it seemed a rather austere place to be. There were huge water caverns dug out of the rock beneath the fortress.   What little rain that fell in the desert was funneled by rain gutters cut into the rock so that it would run into these caverns. It was a great feat of engineering.

The heat was daunting.  There were a group of tourists there from a cruise ship.  One woman decided to wear minimal clothing to improve her tanning potential.  She nearly passed out from heat prostration.  Another passenger tried to cool her off with cold water bottles under protest from the insensible woman.   As I watched others try to look after her, I was grateful for her kind friends watching out for her despite her resistance to their efforts.

We drove back up to Jerusalem in time to welcome the Sabbath at the Western Wall.  It was quite a sight to see groups of men, dancing and singing in the Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest and renewal with such joyful vigour.  The members of our interfaith group were swept into the dancing on both the men's and women's side of the prayer space in front of the wall.  Many people told me that this was one of the most moving experiences of the trip. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Interfaith Journey to Israel #5

In the Path of Abraham: A Jewish, Christian, Muslim Experience of the Holy Land
September 5-11, 2011
Day 4

We began our day at the Temple Mount, the location of the famous Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque, holy sites in Islam.  But few of our Muslim friends were with us because they were visiting the Mosque where Christians and Jews are not longer allowed to visit.  We were standing in a circle on the beautiful grounds in the early morning sunshine, when one the guardians of the site, clanging two metal "pot covers" together, ran toward us shouting.  "No prayers here, no Jewish prayers" and kept clanging this metal pot covers together to prevent any prayers from reaching God's ears.  He started shouting directly at me.  "you Jew, no prayers" I told him quietly not to worry.  I was not praying.  Our Roman Catholic priest had been praying for peace in Jerusalem a few minutes earlier.  We all left the site.

Our bus took us all the Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem Holocaust Museum.  I have visited this museum many times but I find each experience to be unique.  Survivor, Hanna Pick, shared some of her story with us in a private room.  She had been a childhood friend of Anne Frank and the story she shared was around her friendship with Anne Frank when they were schoolgirl friends in Amsterdam, both German immigrants, escaping the Nazis in a new city.  As a fellow prisoner, she also met up with Anne Frank again in 1945 just before Anne Frank and her sister Margot died of typhus in the concentration camp.  Our whole group was profoundly affected by this experience.

Back in the bus, we drove to Gush Etzion, a settlement in the disputed territory (the West Bank) beyond the "green line".  Mayor Saul Goldstein, gave a talk about why the Jewish settlements make sense to him.  These areas that were intended to be Arab Palestine by the UN in 1947, were given by God to the Jewish tribes of Judah and Simon when the Jewish people entered the land from slavery in Egypt according to the Bible.   In fact, Jews bought back some of this land from Turkish landholders in the 20th century for purposes of Jewish settlement.  There were Arab raids on the settlements before the founding of the state of Israel and the children of the original settlers, the fathers of whom were killed in the raids, returned after the 1967 war.    Saul Goldstein and his fellow settlers has created a beautiful, green community and were determined not to leave it again for the sake of a peace deal.

Back in the bus, we drove to Hebron, a mostly Arab city in the disputed territory.  In Hebron, which existed from the biblical era, there is a cave, purchased by Abraham, where most of the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs are buried according to the Bible.   Muslims also revere Abraham.  Buildings have been erected around this cave to mark the holy site.  However, after terrible battles between the Muslims and the Jews in current times, the building has been divided into a Jewish section of access and a Muslim section of access for visits.

We have seen much "marking of territory" by each religious group and even within religious groups on this visit and lots of hyperbole about who is really in charge.  It makes a mockery of holiness for everyone.

We returned to Jerusalem late but went on a tour of the archeological tunnel under the western wall.  How such huge stones were cut and laid out with biblical era technology is a mystery to me.
More about Jerusalem later.