The following piece was written by Reverend Anne-Marie Jeffery, a participant on the The Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey's recent Interfaith Clergy Mission to Israel. It originally appeared on St. Peter's Episcopal of Perth Amboy's website throughout the trip, January 17-24, 2018.
Day 1 - Welcome to Israel
I made it! We landed in Tel Aviv at 5:30 am after an unexpectedly quick trip of 8 hours. I was warned that the flight back would be much longer. We got on a bus and started driving into Jerusalem right into traffic which thankfully didn’t turn out to be that bad. Our first stop was the Haas Promenade which overlooks the Old City of Jerusalem. It was so amazing to see where Jerusalem was in context to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane.
My eyes could barely take it in. I took a walk (a long walk)to get to the rest room. As I walked back along the promenade which is on a ridge overlooking Jerusalem, it started to sink in.There it is right in front of me - where Jesus prayed as his disciples slept and then where he was arrested and then later ascended into heaven.
That was the theme for the day - barely being able to take it all in. From the Haas Promenade, we drove into the Old City for walking tour. It was raining and the stone we were walking on was quite slippery, but that didn’t take away from what I was seeing. One of the most amazing moments was standing in front of the site where the second temple stood which is now a mosque. This was the temple that Jesus would have know. I looked around and realized I was standing in the place where Jesus would have walked into the temple and the steps he would have used when he went into the temple at 13 and stayed to teach. We saw the remains of 2000 year old road that has recently been excavated and I imagined Jesus walking along it. We saw stones that the Romans threw down when they destroyed the temple in 70 CE. We ended at the Wailing Wall on the Western Wall where we had a chance to pray and place our petitions in the wall. I was struck by so many women who stood there just praying and praying. I prayed along with them for a bit and prayed for them as well. Pictures to come. Too tired to post anything else. Many Blessings, Rev. Anne-Marie
Today was a very different day that’s yesterday in that we spent less time touring various sites and more time listening to people of different faiths as we explored the complexity of the people who live in Israel and the issues that face them. This is actually one of the main purposes of the trip. I am going to give a couple of highlights from what each speaker said. It is still quite a long post, but as I re-read it, I found there was nothing I would leave out.
We began with Rabbi David Rosen, Director of Interfaith relationships. He said that one of the challenges for inter-faith work in Jerusalem was how much the different groups in Israel live within their own circles. There also needs to be a change from the zero sum game attitude which so many have which is that if you care about Israel, you don’t care about the Palestinians and if you care about the Palestinians then you don’t care about Israel. Everyone sees themselves as the minority being threatened by the other making it hard for each group to take a good look at themselves in the mirror. The only way he can see for things to change is to focus on initiatives that bring Israelis and Palestinians together and we had a chance to visit one of those initiatives later in the day. The very interesting thing he said is that the people in Israel blame anything the US government does on the Christians since they live in a religious state. We saw evidence of this later in the day when one of our speakers on hearing we were from New Jersey said, “You all are causing us a lot of trouble.”
Our next stop was to visit the Very Rev.d Hosam E. Baum, Dean of St. George the Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem. The five Episcopalians in our group were very excited to be there! Dean Baum’s background itself was fascinating. He was born in Nazareth and is a 4th generation Anglican. He calls himself Christian, Arab (Arab Christians have been around a long time), Palestinian (his parents were born in Palestine during the British Mandate) and Israeli (born in Israel. He believes it is important to have a Christian presence in Jerusalem so that people who come to visit can experience the ‘living stones’ not just the holy sites (aka dead stones). The sites are important, but it is important to connect with the present worshipping community of the time. One of the challenges he faces is that the Christian population in Jerusalem is dwindling. In 1922, there were 40,000 Christians. Now there are only 8,000. What keeps the Cathedral funded is the huge number of pilgrims who come - 3 million last year.
Our next stop was along the border wall which the Israelis have built for safety from the Palestinians. This is a wall which has created much controversy. It has cut towns in half, cut people off from access to their land and created many problems for Palestinians trying to get to work or even hospital. As we stood on the Israeli side, we could see Bethlehem which is outside the wall and Israelis are discouraged from going there with big red signs. It has made things safer on the Israeli side, but as our guide said there are many human rights issues that need to be addressed.
Then we drove outside the wall to the West Bank to the Etzion Settlement Block to meet the Israelis and Palestinians of Shorashim - Judhur (Roots) a grassroots project which brings Palestinians and Jewish settlers in a realistic and unique coexistence dialogue/living project. This includes working with youth groups, providing seminars for Jewish setters and Palestinians to hear different point of views and to talk. It is slow challenging work since both sides included groups who are not interested or strongly oppose this work. Read more at friendsofroots.net.
One of the big disappointments of the day was that we were not able to visit the Temple Mount which is the Muslim Complex on the site of the Second Temple. Instead we met with the person who would have been our guide at a Muslim public library. Entrance to the Muslim Complex is very restricted for non-Muslims and while we had temporary approval, in the end it was denied. Instead we learned about the Waqf, the Muslim Holy Trust and about why it is under the control of Jordan. It was also wonderful to see a copy of “Where the Wild Things Are” in Arabic.
I’ve learnt a lot today much of which I was sorry I didn’t know before. The whole situation is quite complex and perhaps it takes actually standing in these places and listening to the people to start to understand.
Day 3 - Memories for the Future
To begin, I must say that the Israeli breakfast is amazing. It includes the usual - omelettes, breads, oatmeal’s but also includes and amazing salad bars - with cucumber,tomato salads, olives, hummus and much more. I even made a video which I will try to post on Facebook!
We began our day with a visit to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, which opened in 2005 which is the second official Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. First, though, we had a discussion with Rachel Korazim, a scholar, who discussed why this museum replaced the one opened in 1953. She described how when the first survivors of the Holocaust arrived in Israel, they had a hard time talking about their story, and when they did, they were made to feel they could have done more to fight back. This led to a victim mentality which was reflected in the museum. The next generation worked hard to change this which led to this new museum which begins with snippets of old home movies from the Jews before the Holocaust instead of a large picture of Hitler. It also highlights all the ways the Jews fought back in small ways (children creating games in which secrets telling the next set of children where the hiding places were) and the young people organizing an uprising in the Warsaw ghetto. I cannot really say any more. It is impossible to begin to describe the museum. I have been to the one in DC, but this one was powerful in a different way. As Rachel pointed out, the one in DC is told from the point of view of the liberators.
After the museum we headed the Machane Yehuda Market also called the Shuk which is an open air market selling vegetables, fresh fish, meats, candy, nuts, spices and more. On Friday afternoons, it is crowded with people preparing for the Sabbath. It was quite an experience pushing through the busy crowds. By 3 pm, it shuts down as people head home to prepare for Shabbat. It is an amazing experience to be in Jerusalem for Shabbat (the Sabbath) where the whole city shuts down. All stores are closed and there is little traffic on the roads since most people don’t drive on the Sabbath.
When we got back to the hotel there was a festive air with lots of people coming into Jerusalem for Shabbat. There were young men with their rabbi and many families. Every one was dressed up and some of the elevators stopped on every floor. The Shabbat candles are lit 18 min before sundown which is done by the women. I joined Rabbi Metz in the lower lobby where candles were provided for the women to light and to prayer. Our group then gathered for a low key Shabbat service where poems and prayers were shared which was followed by a very wonderful 4 course Shabbat dinner. One really had to pace oneself to get through it.
I look forward to tomorrow to continue to observe what observing the Sabbath is like in a city where the majority of the people are observing it. Sometimes I wish our culture had more in place to allow us and our families a communal time of rest.
Shabbat Shalom. Rev. Anne-Marie
Day 4 - A Sabbath in Jerusalem
Well ....... we went a little off script today. The plan for the morning was to visit different synagogues in the city. Jewish worship is a lot more amenable for people moving in and out of the service than ours, so stopping by to experience a part of the service is OK. However, six other clergy and myself decided we would try to get to Bethlehem to the Church of the Nativity which is the traditional site of Jesus’ birth. The challenges were that we would be without our regular guide, that it is hard to find taxis on the sabbath and that we would be on our own outside the wall in a town where Israeli citizens are forbidden by law to enter because of the risk of kidnapping. However, our regular guide assured us that it would be safe for us and with the help of the hotel, we got two taxis to make the short 20 min 8 mile trip to Bethlehem. We made sure to have our passports, and were not stopped at the checkpoints going out or coming it.
Our first stop was at the spot where the angels appeared to the shepherds to announce Jesus’ birth. The Church of the Shepherds was built there in remembrance. It is a small church - really just a round room with no pews just an altar. The group before us was singing, “Angels we have heard on high” and we decided to do the same resulting in quite a powerful experience with our voices echoing off the walls. We then proceeded to the Church of the Nativity. The entrance to the church is quite small forcing just about everyone to bend as they enter. This was done purposely so people would be reverent as they enter and is actually the third version of the entrance to the church. The church itself was absolutely gorgeous and ornate and since the Armenian Christians have just celebrated Christmas on January 19, the church was still decorated for Christmas. We were lucky enough to be able to get into the cave below the church (called the grotto) which is thought to be the site of Jesus birth. We were surrounded by Christians from all countries desperate to be able to be touch the silver star that marks the spot of Jesus’ birth.
We returned to Jerusalem for a late lunch, which seems to be the custom on the Sabbath, giving people a chance to attend services and then headed out to see the Christian Quarter of the Old City and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which marks the places where Jesus was crucified and buried. It was ironic to be able to visit the place of Jesus’ birth and death in the same day. Like the Church of the Nativity, the church was packed with people longing to touch and be in the presence of the artifacts within - some prostrating themselves on the slab of stone that is said that his body was prepared on and lots and lots of candle light. The care and use of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher belongs mainly to three groups - the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Roman Catholic - all who have very strict rules about when they can have services, where they can be and what they can do in the church. While we were there, there were two processions both with chanting in two parts of the church just across from one another. It was a bit crowded, but all seemed to work.
We ended our evening with the Jerusalem Night Spectacular Sound and Light Show at the David Citadel Museum (King Herod’s former palace). Tomorrow, we attend services at the St. George’s Anglican Cathedral and then leave Jerusalem for the Sea of Galilee.
Day 5 - Plying a Path to Peace
After a wonderful early morning service at St. George’s Episcopal Cathedral in Jerusalem, we headed up to Shiloh, the ancient capital of Israel, until it was destroyed by the Philistines in about 1050 BCE. It was then that Jerusalem became the capital. It is also thought that Shiloh is the site of where the tabernacle was kept and recently they have discovered a rectangular site which matches the dimensions of the walls around the tabernacle as describe in the Bible and they plan an excavation this coming August. If you would like to join in, there is an American group, ABR, from Texas that is going.
To give some perspective on, Shiloh (see 1 Samuel 1:9 but read chapters 1 and 2 to get the whole of the story) is where Hannah prayed for a son and promised him to the Lord. The priest Eli thought she was drunk, but once she explained, he told her that God would grant her petition. To stand on the land where the ancient tribes of Israel lived and worshipped was one of those amazing astounding moments. The landscape has a rocky stony terraced look and I pictured the people we read about in the Bible gathering at the tabernacle for worship and celebrations. I also realized that the site of the tabernacle was not a big stone building as portrayed in many books for the call of Samuel, but rather much simpler arrangement with perhaps some stone walls and living areas surrounding the Tabernacle.
At lunch at Shiloh, we heard from Yisrael Medad, a long time resident of Shiloh, but also from Brooklyn, who talked about why it is important for Jews to continue living in the Biblical heartland of Israel. The situation is quite complicated and I am too tired to say too much about it. Israel is divided into zones. Zone A is under the Palestinian Authority and Israelis are forbidden to enter. Zone B is under Palestinian Authority, but Israeli soldiers police this area which is a buffer between zone A and C. Zone C is Israeli and Palestinians are allowed in with certain permits or if they are Israeli citizens. The Palestinians feel that the Israelis have moved onto the land and taken it over. The Israeli’s feel that this is their ancient land and they have a right to be there and settle, live and care for the land.
After lunch, we headed for Rawabi, a new Palestinian City created by Bashar el Madrid. The city is surreal. It is a planned city and meant to be the anchor of the further Palestinian state. When we met with the developer, he said Palestinians have nowhere to go - no where to take their families for fun, not many places to live and work. This project has provided 10,000 jobs for Palestinians so far so they do not have to travel to different zones for work. The unemployment rate in Palestine is very high. Bashar’s vision is to change the culture of war to one of peace, to one where they can build something for their children. They want to be a place of pluralism and welcoming and are building both a mosque and a church. They want to welcome all, but yet we saw this challenged when the Jews in our group were asked to remove their kepote (the caps Jewish men wear on their head) so they could not be identified as Jews. Also since we would be in zone A , the Israeli citizens with us had to have special paperwork. As I said it is complicated and I am not coming close to describing the situation. That said, the city is surreal. It is a planned city and it was almost like the science-fiction movie. The beauty is amazing - tall buildings rise up from the top of the hill all covered in the white Jerusalem stone. There is a modern shopping center and a huge outdoor amphitheater. Like any new city, it faces struggles. It is hard to persuade people to live far away from amenities before they come, and the Israeli government is making it difficult to widen the road that leads to the city and also has made it difficult for them to get services such as water. I do hope this city succeeds, because I do think it will be a place where Palestinians can see that there is a possible wonderful future for them. Check out www.rawabi.ps
We left Rawabi late and were not able to get to Nazareth. We will get up early tomorrow in order to fit it into our agenda. Tonight we are in Tiberius on the shores of the Sea of Galillee. We got in close to 8 pm and Rabbi Metz and I were able to take a quick walk along the board walk. I can’t wait to see it in the morning when it is light.
Much peace, Rev. Anne-Marie
Day 6 - Theology, Nature, Art and a Whole Lot More Packed Into One Day!
After waking up to a view of the Sea of Galilee (wow!), we got on the road on 7:30 am to go up to the Golan Heights. On the way we passed by Migdal, a Judeo-Christian village. Before any thing is built in Israel, they check that there is nothing of archeological value on site. From this work, it is believed that Migdal was destroyed in 65 AD and would have been similar to the community Mary Magdalene lived in Jesus’ time. In the archeological dig of the town, they found fish ponds and Hellenistic homes, but no idols suggesting that they were Jewish. They found mosaics suggesting that they were a people of means. They have also found synagogues with a 7 branch menorah signifying a joining of two communities. It was a place that was ripe for the Messianic message and it is likely there were others who preached a message similar to Jesus. Jesus was the one who was remembered.
We then headed up to the Golan Heights. This is also the place where beef is produced in Israel so we saw a lot of cows on the way. Our tour guide shared several bad cow jokes. The best one was - What do you call a cow that has just given birth? De-Calfeinated! After the 1967 war, the Golan Heights became a demilitarized zone. You can see yellow signs marking where old Syrian land mines are. We drove to the Golan Volcanic Park at Avital where we could see the border with Syria. At times, one can observe fighting between various groups in Syria. We did not see any fighting, but as someone said it was pretty early in the morning. The Israelis have built a wall to keep out Syrian immigrants who were flooding into Israel. However, they are providing medical care for the Syrians on the border including those who fight. Often the fighting breaks into Israel and as our guide mentioned her daughter saying, “Mom (Ima), we didn’t have a war this summer.” This made real to me the unsettledness that the people in these countries live with.
From there, we made our way to two significant places in the life of Jesus. The first was where we think the Sermon on the Mount was given beginning with the Beatitudes. Of course, there was a church there and we could see why they had chosen this spot. It was the place where Jesus could have preached to 5000 people because of the topography. Our guide explained that most of the holy sites have three phases. 1. The Byzantine period in the 300’s AD when Helena walked around asking locals where events related to Jesus happened. They told the stories and she erected churches on those sites. 2. The Crusader period in the 1100’s built churches on top of old sites and then we have 3. The modern era beginning in the 1860’s continuing into the 1900’ where new churches were created on the holy sites. This means that most Holy Sites have had several churches erected there over 2000 years.
Our next stop was in Tabgha, the church of the Primacy of Saint Peter, the place where Jesus invited the disciples for a fish fry after a long night of fishing and where he asks Peter three times - do you love me? Again this place looked like it really could be the place where this had happened and I made sure to take off my shoes and stand in the waters of the Sea of Galilee here. The water was surprisingly warm.
Then we headed to Nazareth where the angel appeared to Mary to ask her if she would bear the Savior of the World. First century Nazareth would have been quiet about 4 hours off the trade route. Today, Nazareth and Cana (where Jesus turned water into wine) have grown together so as we drove in we were able to see a narrow street that leads to the church that marks the spot where they think the wedding hall may have been. We got some information on wine at the time. Wine was kept as a paste to preserve it and then add water when you wanted to use it. At the end of the wedding when the guests were drunk, you increased the water. This is why when Jesus created the good wine the master of the wedding was amazed.
One of the difficulties of identifying sites in Nazareth is that Cana and Nazareth is that for many centuries, these areas were destroyed every 3 years. In fact, for many years the area was deserted except for times when the Crusaders in the 11th Century and the Ottoman Empire in the 16th to 19th century, emphasized the importance of this site. Today the Church of the Annunciation is built on the spot which was thought to be the home of Mary and below it are many excavations showing ancient homes of the time of Jesus. The church is huge and has five levels. The main source of light comes from the top dome of the church showing that light of Christ is primary.
After a quick lunch in Nazareth, we headed to the city of Umn el Fahem, where there is a gallery of art working to bring Palestinians and Israelis together. This city exists on the the seam between Palestine and Israel, but because of the boundaries that have been created, have ended up in Israel territory. This has created an identity crisis for the Palestinians who now find themselves living in a town that is part of Israel. The creator wants the gallery to be a place where the Palestinians and the Israeli people can begin dialogue. He hopes this can be a way to peace and has been engaged in this work for 22 years. Can the Palestinian and Israeli peoples find a way forward through art? There are challenges. Both peoples are religious and both religions forbid them from creating idols or masks. Sixty percent of the people in the town are poor and are ashamed to come to a gallery. The gallery at Umn el Fahem seeks to provide a place where Jews and Arabs can both share their narrative - especially a place where the Jews can hear the Arab narrative. They have gone out into the poor communities and created relationship to invite them in. Women have been invited to learn about making ceramics and I was able to bring home a small example of this. They provide free space for young artists to show their work. This gallery is yet another example of ways in which the Palestinians and Jews are finding ways to work together.
After this we headed back to Tel Aviv for our last night in a bed. Tomorrow we will tour Tel Aviv and get on a plane just after midnight to arrive at Newark very early in the morning. One noticeable thing for today was the changes in temperature. In the morning on the Golan Heights, I was wearing all my layers - shirt, heavy sweat shirt and coat. On the Sea of Galilee where Jesus cooked for the disciples, I was in short sleeves and then in Tel Aviv all I needed was my light jacket without the heavy sweatshirt. This is truly the desert.
I’m not sure when I will be able to post tomorrow. I will write, but since I may not have WiFi in the evening, I may not be able to post until I return to the US Wednesday morning your time.
God bless, Anne-Marie
Day 7 - Tel Aviv: The First Hebrew City
We woke to a rainy windy morning with gusts coming off the Mediterranean. Thank goodness it did not pour all day because we spent a good day of the morning outside. Today’s main focus was Tel Aviv, but first we began the morning hearing from Gerald Ostrov, CEO and Founder, of the non- profit “From the Grapevine”, a reThink Israel Initiative. Gerald was interested in what young people thought of Israel today and in surveys of Americans between 18 and 49, he found the main words that showed up in their responses were Jewish, holy, war, desert and ‘nothing’ meaning most knew nothing about Israel. Gerald created this non-profit to help people learn more about Israel. The site is fromthegrapevine.com. Check it out. It seems pretty interesting, plus it also demonstrates some of the best marketing practices.
We then headed for the Taglit Innovation Center for a glimpse of some of the innovation and research that is happening in Israel. Israel is a world leader in agriculture especially in dry desert area and thy are sharing their discoveries with countries in Africa. Many inventions come from Israel and I found out that my favorite traffic app, Waze, was created in Israel. Start-ups in Israel’s per capital is second only to Silicone Valley. Perhaps having to create a home in challenging conditions has encouraged an innovative people.
We visited Independence Hall site of the signing of Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948. It was hurriedly done since the fighting between Syria and Israel had already broken out. At the end of World War II when most returned home, the Jews found they had no home to go to. Many resettled in the US and other Western countries, but many headed to Israel, their ancient homeland and began formed settlements. The Palestinians did not like this large influx of Jews who were building houses and farming the land and tensions which had existed before cotinued to rise. The country was under the rule of the British Mandate which was about to end. The council met for hours and hours and finally just minutes before the scheduled declaration, the document was typed and Israel became a state. They went right back to war afterwards which they eventually won.
We also explored the Rothschild Boulevard where Tel Aviv began. It was a planned community of 66 families in the early 1900s. Once the town was laid out, they drew lots to choose their plots so that no one was favored by choosing the plots near the town center. the town grew from there. As the years passed, stories were added to the original houses and their style changed over the years. The city has continued to grow and today housing is scarce and very expensive. If you go to look at an apartment, you have to come with 13 checks. One for the deposited and the others post dated for every month of your lease.
After lunch in another shook (marketplace), we heard about the African immigrants that have been flooding into south Tel Aviv. We saw a small park where at one point a few years ago, thousands of immigrants camped for months before they were able to be moved. Israel has built a wall to stop these immigrants coming in as well. Some protections have been put in place or the immigrants. When parents stopped bringing their children to school because of fear of being arrested for being in Israel illegally, a safety zone of 150 m radius where parents will not be arrested. On the other hand, Israel is paying other countries like Rwanda and Uganda $5K per person to take them. Supposedly, these people say they want to go back, but recently several pilots of the Israeli airline, El Al, are refusing to fly the immigrants. Rabbi Susan Silverman, sister of the comedian Sarah Silverman, is a fierce advocate for this immigrants. It is interesting to see how the Israeli’s respond - some fiercely fighting for others rights and in other cases fiercely protecting what they have.
The last site we visited was the old Jaffa port. There we saw a model of an old gate found on that site. They believe the gate shows evidence of people being there in 8000 BCE. At the Jaffa port, we saw a house built on the site where Peter was though to have the vision where God told him that no animal is unclean leading Peter to welcome Gentiles into the church. It is from there tht he travelled a bit north for his first Gentile convert, Cornelius,
We headed back to the hotel for a session on how to bring your congregation to Israel and possible itineraries. I plan to explore this and may work with another congregation to see if we can do a joint trip. We all expressed the how much having the inter-faith aspect of our trip enhanced it so that is something else to ponder.
After one last wonderful dinner, we headed to the airport bracing ourselves for a 12 hour flight after a long day. During the dinner we had a speaker, who feels that for peace one cannot just talk to the liberals. One must engage those on the right on both sides - the most extreme. He likens it to trying to deal with a lioness and her cubs. If you approach her, she will be very fierce and yet you know that there is a side of her that loves her cubs. How do you talk to that side? It is about building relationship very much like the work our Way of St. Paul team is doing with the Barnabas questions. When you have relationship, then you have something to work from when it comes to the very hard questions. Slow work to be sure, but perhaps it is the only way.
It was an amazing trip and I will be sharing stories and pictures very soon perhaps with one of my fellow travelers whose congregation is near by. I have so much to reflect on and will continue to share. I hope these reflections have brought you along on this trip. Stay tuned for more.
Shalom, Rev. Anne-Marie
Israel is an inspiration to all who visit. Experience Israel for yourself on the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey's 'Four Corners of Israel' community trip, October 14-22. LEARN MORE.