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.