Tag Archives: Jerusalem

From simplicity to luxury

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I opted to stay in Jerusalem at a hostel.  The Abraham Hostel was a place I visited on my first trip, as it was the departing point for two tours I took.  I rented a private room, and stayed for 8 nights.  It was very simple, but full of life.   The room looked like a dorm room (Julie said it looked like a convent room), there was a huge kitchen, bar, and common area.  The common area was filled with people throughout the day and night.  There was much activity in the evening.  Breakfast was free every morning.  Simple fare, but it did the trick.  You were expected to wash your own dishes.  Ok, that worked.  I’ll probably stay there again.  It met all my needs, and the price was pretty much unbelievably reasonable.  I loved it.  Easy access to everything.

My three days in Haifa are completely different.  I am staying at a luxurious boutique hotel in the German Colony,  – a hotel that dates back to the British Mandate.  The Colony Hotel has tile floors, marble bathroom floor, a balcony to the street,  every bit of the hotel is beautiful.   The room comes with free breakfast – a spread as good as any I have had in Israel, in a beautiful dining room.  It is simply luxurious, yet still even without the negotiated rate from the Friends Forever partner school, very reasonably priced.  I am very glad I am staying here.  I am equally glad, I stayed first at the hostel.   I am sure when I am at Hayarkon 48 hostel in Tel Aviv-Yafo, that it will be back to simplicity.  But I’m equally confident that the location a block from the beach will more than make up for it.

Ok, back to enjoying a slow Saturday.

Farewell to Jerusalem

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Tomorrow morning, I will leave Jerusalem for the second time in less than 12 months.  The concept of that is hard to grapple.  The fact that I have been here twice in such a short time really is a testament to the pull that this city has.  In the seven days I have been here, it has been a whirlwind.  I was incredibly lucky, in that I was invited to join along on 3 1/2 days of programs organized by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which had organized a world class, extremely fair and balanced, trip for a group of evangelical thought leaders, designed to explore the different dynamics of the conflict; to see the deeper narratives; and get a small taste of Israel.

In the last week, I have met with, or listened to a long list of people, in reverse order, including:

  • Professor Moshe Halbertal, senior fellow, Shalom Hartman Institute
  • David Horivitz, editor in chief of the Times of Israel
  • Salim Munayer, director of Musahala: a reconciliation program
  • Kids 4 Peace
  • Deborah Applebaum
  • PLO chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat
  • Dr. Kahlil Shikaki, Director, Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research
  • Mr. Amir Dajani, Managing Director, Rawabi, a new Palestinian planned city
  • Gal Berger, Israeli Journalist
  • Avi Melamed, Fellow of Intelligence and Middle East Affairs, Eisinhower Institute
  • Udi Cohen, director, Citizens Accord Forum for Jews and Arabs in Israel
  • Rabbi Arik Aschermann, senior rabbi, Rabbis for Human Rights
  • Professor Yossi Klein Halevi, senior fellow, Shalom Hartman Institute
  • Eliyahu McLean, Abrahamic Reunion
  • Bassem Eid, Palestinian Human Rights Activist and Political Commentator
  • Shaul Judelson and Jawad, Friends of Roots
  • Walid Issa, Shades Negotiation Project
  • Rabbi David Rosen, interfaith director for judaism outside of the US
  • Rev. Canon Hosan Naoum, dean of St. George’s Cathedral
  • Poet Rivka Miriam

Add to that, visiting Jerusalem’s Old City on Shabbat, the grave of Oskar Schindler, the tomb of David, the Tower of David museum, the Israel Museum, west jerusalem, Yad VaShem,  Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity, Ramallah, Rawabi, the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, the Gush Etzion settlement bloc (ok, it was dark out, and we pretty much just went to the winery), and numerous neighborhoods in West Jerusalem.  I even learned how to navigate the public bus system.  And a wonderful dinner with a friend’s daughter.

I’ll admit my blogging has been sporadic.  Look at all those people and places.  An awful lot of material and ideas to think through. But there will be more to come, over the next week here in Israel, and in the month to come.

Tomorrow, phase two begins.  Light rail to Central Bus station, and then an express bus to Haifa, where I will spend the week in the German Colony, and will spend every possible minute reuiniting with the friends forever kids and their families.  Then a night in Nazareth to spend with Raed, and then the last four days in Tel Aviv, with more meetings, and some opportunity to explore a part of Israel I haven’t seem before.

Two Days later… hard at work

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Somehow it is already Monday night.  I last wrote on Saturday.  Sunday was a long, good day.  Joined Ethan Felson’s JCPA/Christianity Today group on a day that began at St. George’s Cathedral in East Jerusalem, at 8am.   It was raining out, so instead of walking, I took light rail.   The day began with a 90 minute meeting with Rabbi David Rosen and Rev. Canon Hasan Naoum, Dean of St. George’s.  The discussion was about interfaith work.  Rabbi Rosen is the director of international interfaith work for all of judaism, outside of the United States.   Father Hasson, is  an Anglican priest, in charge of St. George’s, the only Anglican church in the old city area.  (it is directly north of the old city).

We then went to the morning service, which was interesting.  It was a high liturgy, with much similarity to roman catholic mass, but with about 75 percent in English the rest in Arabic.  That was interesting to participate in.

Then we were off to Bethlehem, but the weather was miserable – pouring rain by the bucket, so it wasn’t quite as fun as when I went last winter. We literally parked at the entrance to the Church of the Nativity, and went in.  The church has been under renovation for several years, and as a result, you coudn’t really get a good feel for what it actually looks like on the inside.  Lots of scaffolding.  But in addition, because it was Sunday, the Roman Catholic part was closed, as was the entrance to St Jerome’s cave.  The church actually has three parts,  Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and RC.   The metaphorical birthplace of Jesus is accessed through the Greek Orthodox part.   The words metaphorical are mine, as there is no way to tell where Jesus was born, assuming he was born in Bethlehem.  I know, stick to the day.

After the church we went to lunch at a Palestinian restaurant across from security barrier (the occupation wall) adjacent to the Jacir Palace hotel.  This was exactly where we were last year.  Lunch was great, with good conversation, and then it was off to a store for souvenirs.  I didn’t partake, nothing struck my fancy. I couldn’t see myself coming home with a baby Jesus doll or a wood manger (which interestingly enough, was not a cave!).   Then we were off heading south towards Hebron to Gush Etzion, a settlement about 20 minutes south.  We were there to meet with representatives of Roots or Shorashim.  This is a unique program that brings settlers and Palestinians together in not just co-existence efforts, but dialogue, and shared living.  They have a small plot of farm land which is the foundation for a wide variety of programs, including grassroots development, a local leader program, and ways to connect communities between settlers and local Palestinians.  The program was really quite impressive, and gave me a much better feel for the potential of positive interactions within the settlement blocs than when I was in Hebron last year.   We also met at a winery in Gush Etzion.

Then it was time to head back to Jerusalem, where we had some time off, before dinner at a nice restaurant, where we had what was one of the highlights of the day — a hour conversation — a lecture really – by Yossi Klein Halevi, a journalist and scholar at the Shalom Hartman Institute.  Yossi did an incredible job bringing together the evolution of the conflict since the 1980s, before the First Intifada, and really captured the challenges today.  This too demands much thought, and I will be writing up a summary of it.    That was the day.   8am to 10pm.

Today started early.  Really early.  4:30am early.  Why?  Well, I can’t seem to sleep past then, but this morning the Super Bowl was going on, so I turned on my iPad, and connected to my Hopper 3 receiver at home and managed to watch the Broncos bring home the first championship since 1999.  That was a nice start to the day.   My real work began at 9am, however, when I spent 70 minutes with Bassem Eid, a well known Palestinian human rights activist.  Bassem and I had an incredible conversation, grappling with the issues faced by Palestinians and the real failure of the Palestinian Authority to provide any sort of democratic leadership.   And yes, this too will be expounded on later.   I have a lot of work to do.

An hour later, I met my friend Eliyahu McLean.  I first met Eliyahu when he was my guide to Hebron, last February.  But he also  came to ISU this Fall, for the Abrahamic Reunion multi-faith event in October.  We went to a really neat local hummus restaurant in an orthodox neighborhood 5 or 10 minutes to the west, and just chatted for 2 hours.

Then this afternoon, I followed up on a promise I made, and headed on the light rail, to Yad VaShem, the World Holocaust Memorial/Museum, but this time went to the Holocaust (or Shoah) archives, where I spent an hour collecting materials from a community in Hungary for my friend Shamira Gelbman.  That was actually a lot of fun.  I then did a fairly quick walk through the museum, and visited the children’s memorial before returning to the hostel.

I took a few hours off, did some laundry, then walked the neighborhoods around the hostel, and in city center, and grabbed a bite to eat.   And now, I am back, describing my day.

Tomorrow I have two meetings, with Rabbis for Human Rights, and the Citizens Accord Forum Between Jews and Arabs.   This will also be my first foray onto the public bus system.   I’ll have some time off in the afternoon, and then am going to dinner with Rabbi Rebecca’s daughter, who is studying at Hebrew Union College.   I can hardly believe tomorrow will be my fourth day here.

I’ll end with this.  Jerusalem is one of the most incredible cities I have been to. It so diverse in many ways.  Its hard to put into words, but I just love the feel of the place.  And in many ways, I like West Jerusalem better than the Old City.  The neighborhoods and restaurants have such variety and an authentic feel.   It very much is a city where East meets West, and it is sometimes hard to imagine that we are in the Middle East, and not somewhere in Europe.  Yet, at other times, there is a completely Middle Eastern feel.  There are so many competing cultures, and foods, and smells, and everything that goes with it.

Ok, I’m done.  More tomorrow.  And I’ll begin to pull together my notes from the experience so far.  My last trip was about competing narratives.  This trip has already exceeded that in many ways.



An epic day of walking, reacquainting myself with Jerusalem

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I am tired.   Not necessarily from jetlag, but from walking, 13 miles.  A freaking half-marathon.  Today was my day to do some sight-seeing, so I got up, had breakfast at the hostel (I love this place, its not fancy, but its cheap, and it has just a great feel), and then decided to go on a short walk.  Ha!  Short walk.   I had decided that I would go to the Citadel this morning, instead of the Israel Museum, but I thought I would just meander a bit, and then come back to the room before heading out.

I walked down Jaffa Street to King George, and past the hotel I stayed at last year – the City Center Suites.   Kept walking, the city is kind of a ghost town on Shabbat, but it felt safe.  I walked through a park and a garden and ended up on King David Street.   It was familiar, we had dropped a car off there last year.  At this point, I decided it was sunny, not raining, why not just walk a little further.   A few weeks ago I re-watched the movie Schindler’s List, and at the very end, the Schindler Jews all paid homage at his grave-site, which I knew was in Jerusalem.  I had looked it up, and saved it in google maps.  He was buried in the Protestant cemetery.   At this point, it looked like I was fairly close to it.   Close, but the maps don’t show the hills and ravines.   But I kept walking.

I ended up walking past it, could not find any entrance from the road.  Or wasn’t even sure it was there.  But I realized I was at the Tomb of King David.  So I ventured in, and visited the tomb, as it was shabbat, there were lots of people praying.  A christian site was adjacent to it, in the same complex, the room of the last supper.  I visited that too.   But I was determined to find Schindler’s grave.  I went a circuitous path, and finally, ended up at a gate of a cemetery which looked like it was it.  Fortunately two cars showed up, and two Arab families got out, they were going to a family member’s grave.   I asked if this is where Oskar Schindler was buried, and was told yes, and that someone would be along momentarily to open the gate.   So, I managed to get in, and then the man (who was also a tour guide, of course), pointed me to the grave site.   I took a rock, and placed it on the tomb.   I spent far more time trying to find it than I was actually there, but it was truly worth it.

At that point, I walked back past the Tomb of King David to the Zion Gate to the Old City.  I then walked along the inside of the walled city, and came to the Kotel, or Western Wall.   I walked through it, and then back through the Jewish and Armenian Quarters to Jaffa Gate.  Before leaving, I went into the Citadel, or Tower of David Museum.  This was the one Old City attraction I did not get to see my first trip.  It was cool.  The best part was going to the panaromic view on the highest level of the tower.   What a view of the Old and New Cities.   After about an hour I was done, and  by now I was hungry.   I wasn’t in the mood for Old City fare, so I decided to go to the restaurant at the YMCA, which I was told was very nice — and more important – was open on Shabbat.  It was both.    After a great meal, I walked back to the hostel.  I showered, took a break and then said, its 1pm, I am in Jerusalem, I can’t just hang out, I need to visit something.  So I decided I’d go to the Israel Museum.   For this I took a cab.   Kind of felt like I got ripped off with a “shabbat price,” by the cabbie, but he got me there.

The Israel Museum is on a large campus, across from the Knesset.  I immediately went to see the Dead Sea Scrolls, in the Shrine of the Book, and then visited the huge model of second-temple Jerusalem.  Very cool.   Although since I can’t read the Dead Sea Scrolls, it was less exciting than I’d hoped.    I then walked to the main museum, and explored the archeology and fine arts collections.   Both were excellent.  They had a room filled with Piccasos, and a good — not quite Art Institute of Chicago, but still excellent – impressionism, with lots of Monet, Gaugin, etc.   AND yes, there was ONE Van Gogh.  Properly photographed.  The museum was pretty cool.  The archaeology section was excellent.

By now, my energy level was getting depleted, but I still wasn’t thrilled about a 50 shekel cab ride, and by my trust Google Map, it was less than 2 miles back.  SO…. off I went. I started by hoping to catch a view of the Knesset, but it was unclear if foot traffic was allowed, where the gated road was.  Same was true for the Israel Supreme Court.  But it was at least viewable from the road.   I took a few photos, made my way through the Orthodox neighborhoods west of the Mahane Yehuda market, and back to the hotel.   All by 3:20pm.   According to Apple Watch, 1,260 active calories burned, 28,855 steps taken, and 12.96 miles walked.   I believe it.

I’m done for now, going to nap, and then out to dinner with Ethan Felson and the group he is with at a neat restaurant a SHORT walk from here, and a discussion afterwards with the owner and a local Jerusalem poet.

And that was my day.   No great epiphanies, but I saw a lot of the city, and it is a cool place.   I do wish the stores were open, I could use some more food.  🙂

I’ll update this blog with photos later on.   It is nap time.

Rain, Snow or Sun – the Old City is unlike anything else

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We arrived in Jerusalem yesterday and explored the old city in the rain.   Last night it snowed at least 5 inches, maybe more, and the entire city of Jerusalem pretty much shut down. This morning there were no restaurants open in the area of central city where we are staying, near King George and Ben Yehuda, but we figured we would find something in the Old City. We headed out, and walked down the middle of Hillel street, which was partially cleared, and made it to the Jaffa Gate. We had hoped to visit the Tower of David Museum at the Citadel. Alas, it was closed, but there was a Christian church and café open adjacent to it, so we managed to find breakfast.

We then walked through the sluch to the Jewish Quarter and arrived at the Western Wall. It was busy – as today is Friday, and Shabbos begins tonight. The snow provided a very nice contrast to yesterday. When we first went to the Wall, the rain stopped; today the snow stopped and the sun even came out.   Someone told us that the sun comes out at least once a day in Jerusalem. I believe it.     It was there where I met two guys from Drake University in Des Moines, fellow Missouri Valley Conference schools. They were here to develop a study abroad class on diversity issues in Israel. I told them I was here to develop a peace studies class, and I suspected that was very similar. We chatted for awhile, and one of the guys was their Dean of Students. I will follow up with him when I return home.

We headed up from the Western Wall, to see if the Temple Institute was open (it wasn’t), but we met a college age student from Orange County who has been studying at the Yeshiva there for more than a year. 12 hours of torah study a day, five days a week.   He offered to bring us up to the roof-top of the dormitory to get a view of the wall and the Dome on the Rock. It was a spectacular view. And then we had snow-ball fights with kids on the adjacent roof-top.   Fun.

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Israel – Expect the Unexpected

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I have learned in the seven days I have been here, that Israel operates on its own clock, not quite the same as in America. And to expect the unexpected.  Last night we were told that there was a snow storm coming that would likely close the roads in the city.  This was frustrating because we had planned to visit two peace organizations today – the Abraham Fund, and the Peace Center at Givat Haviva.   But we knew that if the roads closed, we’d be in trouble.   And we were kind of mentally exhausted from all that we had experienced in the first six days, so we made an executive decision and cancelled the meetings (Steve and Raed still traveled to Givat Haviva, and met, so I’ll get info from them), and headed to Jerusalem this morning.   We once again drove to Tel Aviv, and then headed east.

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