Chandler’s Holy Land Travelogue: Day 6

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Friday, February 2, 2018

It’s so very difficult to keep up with my own daily life here in Israel, let alone find a way to put into a few words what any of the many experiences here have meant. Every day seems to have four to six components—and those are just the planned ones! Even though I know that we are nearing the end of our time here—and it has flown by—it feels like it has been at least a month since we left. 

The following is just one day's experience:
 
Yesterday was a particularly long day. We left at 6:15 a.m. for Harem esh-Sharif (the site of Mohammed's ascension to heaven) and the Al-Aqsa Mosque; thus, the Dome of the Rock and the site of the ancient Jewish First and Second Temples, and we were first in line to go through the checkpoints leading up to this holy and contested site. 

The day before, while we were in the huge complex of buildings, holy places, and archeological digs, we heard some of the history of the Jewish and Muslim claims on the places at the top of this rise in Jerusalem.

When we entered the entered the great plaza, our friend, Sahibzada, entered the mosque to pray while we walked around outside and took in more of the history and reflected for ourselves on the meaning of this place. There is so much more to say about my own experience there, but that was only the start to the day.

From there we went around outside to the Western Wall, where we were invited to pray. I was accompanied by one of the rabbis in our group to stand, touch, and pray at the 2,000-year-old supporting wall which was underneath the Second Temple. Then, we walked from there to the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, which included our visit to the Davidson Center and the Southern Wall Excavations. We were again under the insightful tutelage of our guide, Uri.

Then we met Rabbi Noa Sattath, Director of the Israel Religious Action Center, near the campus of Hebrew Union College, where she talked about the complexities of the religious pluralism in Israel, a country where there is no barrier between church and state. She was brilliant, incisive and committed to being a part of building a just Israel. Her work has a long trajectory and her commitment was palpable.

After a couple of stops in Jerusalem to look at and hear about some of the political background to the areas “behind the fence,” we went into Bethlehem to visit the Church of the Nativity. It was moving and complex, as it is a site “hosted” by three different churches: The Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox, and the Roman Catholic Church. As well as being the traditional site of the birth of Jesus, it is also the site where St. Jerome is said to have written his translation of the Bible. 

While we were in Bethlehem, we also got to hear from Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and Noor A'wad, who are central members of the Shorashim Project (also known as Roots) in that city. They are committed to peacemaking, reconciliation, respect, and communication between Jewish settlers and Palestinian Israelis—a very, very difficult (even seemingly impossible) prospect, toward which they are making inch-by-inch progress.

After a late dinner, we got back to our hotel at about 10:30 p.m.

That is just the surface of what we experienced in one day in Israel. The Temple Mount and the Church of the Nativity were sufficiently moving all on their own—for our own experiences, and the experiences of our co-travelers, but in between were profound conversations about contemporary issues of peace, justice and community transformation. There is deep conversation with other religious leaders over the theology of Incarnation, pilgrimage, holy places, and formation. 

This is just the surface. It will be good to talk to you about it all when I get home. I thank you again for the privilege it is to be on this journey. Great blessings to you all!