Tag Archives: Jerusalem

Jerusalem: A Melting Pot

There is much being said about Jerusalem in the news these days. It is Israel’s capital city, though most of the world does not recognize it as so. It is a weighty city with a beautiful yet violent history. While visiting Jerusalem during my CPGC trip, I enjoyed walking the ancient streets and tried to imagine the many events that occurred there. It took a bit of imagination because the reality today is quite different.

In Jerusalem there is tension between the vast varieties of people, yet it is a product of the openness of the city. Only under Jewish control of Jerusalem has there been religious freedom for all people. And it comes at great risk and a high price as Jerusalem has been one of the hot spots for terrorism. There is no other place in the world where I could have walked the streets and find myself brushing shoulders with not only multiple sects of Judaism, but also the Eastern Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Armenians, and even Mormons. The list could go on and on. Sometimes I felt like I was walking around the ancient version of Manhattan! Walking through the old stone streets of Jerusalem were monks, Imams, and my personal favorite, the evangelical tour groups who were occasionally found singing hymns.

Within the ancient walls of Jerusalem’s Old City lie four ancient and distinctive cultures. The Old City is divided into four quarters – the Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter, Armenian Quarter and Christian Quarter.

Constant streams of pilgrims visit the most holy site to the Jewish nation, the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall. Five times daily, one can hear the Muslim call to prayer being sounded from the El Aksa mosque located right above the Western Wall. Armenians fulfill their daily ritual prayers in the Church of the Holy Archangels – a structure dating back to the medieval period. And throughout the year, Christians retrace the steps of Jesus, visiting the temple ruins, Gethsemane, The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Garden Tomb.

The diversity of the ancient city of Jerusalem rarely, if ever, makes headline news, but it should. While Israel’s so called “intolerance” toward its Arab citizens dominates the mainstream media focus, individuals of every race and creed are granted cultural and religious freedom throughout Israel and most visibly in Jerusalem – the most holy city of the Jewish faith. This can hardly be said of any other country in the region and certainly not Saudi Arabia which will not even permit a Jewish person entrance into their country or any non-Muslim/infidel in Mecca.

Jerusalem is a shining example of religious and cultural freedom in an area of the world where religious persecution is practiced regularly and quite brutally. Jerusalem has seen much bloodshed in the past from religious conquests to dominate the region and the minds of her citizens. Thankfully today, there is freedom of conscience for all people. I am thankful to Israel and the Jewish people that I, as a Christian and a foreigner, was able to visit and celebrate the life of Jesus and worship freely without fear of intimidation or persecution.

From Jerusalem

One of today’s activities was meeting with the organization Sabeel.  We took cabs to Sabeel, which is located in a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem.  We were greeted by an elderly woman named Cedar.  Cedar gave us falafel for lunch and would soon after provide one of the most meaningful narratives of our trip.

Cedar is a Palestinian refugee who poured her heart into Sabeel and was eager to explain the organization and what had led her there.  Sabeel is a grassroots liberation theology movement among Palestinian Christians seeking to deepen the faith of Palestinian Christians as well as promote unity and acts for justice.  Sabeel, in Arabic, means “the way” as well as a spring of life-giving water.  Cedar suggested its Arabic meaning was related to the organization’s notions of developing spirituality based on justice, peace, and non-violence.

Despite varying opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I think it is fair to say that Cedar provided us with one of the most emotionally moving narratives we experienced in the entirety of our trip.  Cedar began with a brief introduction of the organization, but it was obvious that she wanted to tell her story, and more importantly, her victimization.  Once Cedar began, it was like she couldn’t stop.  She started from the very beginning, when she was forced to flee her home in Palestine as a child, emotionally explaining to us the harsh reality that most young people here (in East Jerusalem) do not have a childhood.  I think this idea stuck with most of us, and was brought up numerous times during our debrief later that night on the rooftop of our hostel.

We were able to set ourselves apart and step away, once again from the harsh realities Cedar described to us earlier that day.  The victim narrative Cedar provided us with was a part of her identity.  This was an identity that we could not relate to, which could possibly be one reason why it was such an emotional experience; acting as yet another reminder of the privilege we have as American citizens.  In the mean time we lent our ears to Cedar, and listened intently as she continued to fit as many words as she could into our meeting before we departed, eagerly trying to explain as much of what she endured as a Palestinian refugee as she could.  When we ran out of time and it became obvious just how grateful Cedar was for an opportunity to share her story, which appeared seemingly therapeutic.   In a way I think the simple gesture of our engaged listening began to validate her victimization, an important facet of reparation for victims after a mass atrocity.  We were happy to listen.

 

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The Pope was also visiting  Jerusalem while we were there! He got more fanfare than we did.

Jerusalem trip

Reflections on Jerusalem and New Beginnings in Jordan

 

Since graduating Bryn Mawr, I have had the amazing opportunity to take part in a 10 day trip to Jerusalem, an extension of a class I took this semester at Haverford entitled, Jerusalem: City, History, and Representation and travel to Jordan where I’m completing my Senior Bridge at the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center.

The day I landed in Jerusalem essentially predicted the trajectory of rest of the trip. 2 hours after arriving to our hostel after an eleven-hour flight from Philadelphia, I along with 2 other students, Prof. Hucks, and Prof. Koltun-Fromm went to a Shabbat Service. This was the first Shabbat Service I ever attended (I attended 2 overall during the trip), and it was interesting to experience a service led by a woman, a practice that is not supported by all members of the Jewish community. I was able to witness diversity that occurs within Jerusalem’s different religious communities—challenging notions of a monolithic religious community. After the Service, we went to Naomi’s friend’s house, who made us a wonderful dinner, where we engaged in conversation about various topics, including the conflict. I remember coming back to my hostel, not only exhausted, but also excited for the next 9 days. From the first day, I got the impression that the conflict is not too far behind any discussions centered on religion.

 

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to spend 10 days in a city as diverse as Jerusalem. Although most people were surprised when we told them that we would only be spending our time in Jerusalem (except for one day), there was so much to see in 10 days.  The trip was marked by visits to incredible historic and archaeological sites, conversations with different members of society—such as a local Rabbi who is also a passionate human rights activist, college students from East Jerusalem, and various educators who strive to bring together Palestinian and Israeli children to advance peace and understanding among many, and great insight into the conflict and the symbol of Jerusalem to the city’s different religious communities.

Thanks to CPGC, we all had the amazing opportunity to witness first hand the religious history of Jerusalem (which we spent all semester reading about) but also understand how conflict plays out in the daily lives of the city’s residents.

After learning about religion and conflict in Jerusalem, it is interesting that I am in Jordan right now, working for an organization that strives to encourage dialogue in the Middle East. Yesterday, I had my orientation where I was able to see how a local organization can have a great impact in encouraging dialogue and understanding. I’m really looking forward to the next 2 months!

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AMEN

Beauty is not always something that you can see. Sometimes, you can only feel it. In Jerusalem, the act of stepping into some of the most sacred spaces on earth, might not match in reality what one has experienced with the soul. Much like beauty, holiness is easier to feel than it is to witness. Walking through the Garden Tomb was a visually rewarding endeavor. The newly designed garden, gave the space a less ancient feel than one would expect. It was beautiful, but the holiness of the space was not conveyed by the groups of circulating tourists, overzealous guides and the meticulous placement of every stone, plant and flower in the garden. It was clear that the garden had been constructed to epitomize a space that would be worthy of Jesus’s burial. It was cool and well shaded, with stone or marble seating areas for groups to rest and reflect. It was comfortable; the best location for a Quaker meeting for worship. Despite such desirable traits, it was hard to get past the recognition that the space and our experience were constructed.

Our tour guide for instance, was an older man from Texas who returned to Jerusalem a few times per year to volunteer at the Garden Tomb. As a Christian, he either made general assumptions that those who came to visit the Garden were Christian, or he wanted impart sentiments or influences of Christianity onto those who visited. Either way, it was unexpected, especially for Haverford students, who hesitate to assume the religion of anyone. Our guide explained the reasons why it is believed that Jesus was crucified in Golgotha, (the mountain area next to the garden tomb), but he made it clear that such facts cannot be guaranteed. Instead, the story of Jesus and its impact on our lives are of greater significance than the exact place of his death or burial. With that, he said “amen”, and encouraged the group to join in with one and then two amen’s. Of course our group responded awkwardly, unsure of whether or not to participate. We did nonetheless, realizing that despite our religious orientation, this place and cause and story were a part of a great narrative that affected people in various spiritual ways. So two simple things happened that day, despite the recognition that much of our experience was being constructed, that we were tourists in a tourist-site, we recognized the history of these sites are religious spaces for people all over this world.

Our trip continues from that point, day by day with the negotiation of the tourist space with the religious.

שלום ,وداعا  - Sadé

A day outside the Holy City: “Oasis of Peace” and Tel Aviv

Yesterday (Saturday, May 31) we took a trip outside Jerusalem. As interesting as it is to explore old ruins and visit holy sites, our travels had definitely taken a toll on our feet and levels of enthusiasm, so it was nice to get out of the city for a day to relax.

We booked a bus to Wahat al-Salam ~ Neve Shalom, or “Oasis of Peace,” a village located around the halfway point between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. We met with Bob Mark, a Pennsylvanian who first came to Israel in the 1970s and now is a part of the community, and he spoke to us about the community’s goals and projects.

WAS-NS is a binational community in which Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs of Israeli citizenship choose to live together, to demonstrate that peaceful coexistence between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs is possible. The social structure in Israel demonstrates a high degree of separation between the two groups, and hardly any social contact between Jews and Arabs, including Jewish and Arab children, is made. WAS-NS brings together Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs as equals in a space that is neither Jewish nor Palestinian to live together and know each other as individuals. Today, around 60 families or 250 people comprise the WAS-NS community. Bob gave us an overview of two of WAS-NS’s projects: the university project, School for Peace, and the bilingual education system. Bob also gave us a tour of the beautiful WAS-NS grounds. All of the trees were planted and all of the buildings were built by WAS-NS community members. As a Haverford student who is used to living on an arboretum, it was a treat to be in nature after spending a week in Jerusalem.

From WAS-NS, we continued on to Tel Aviv. Haverford student Tamar Hoffman invited us to her home, where her mother had cooked lunch for us! We ate a delicious meal on the balcony with Tamar and her sister before Tamar walked us to the Tel Aviv beach to spend the afternoon.

I read on the Internet once, “People go to Tel Aviv to play and Jerusalem to pray.” Tel Aviv is much more secular than Jerusalem – someone called it the most “Americanized” city in Israel. The dress code was much more like what we are used to in the U.S., both on the beach and walking through the city. Some of us stayed on the beach for the entire afternoon, while some of us also walked along the port and peeked into different shops and cafés.

After our beach day, Tamar and her other sister helped us navigate to a Tel Aviv restaurant called Espresso Bar. I tried shakshouka, a dish of eggs and tomato sauce, for the first time. After that, Tamar brought us to an ice cream shop for dessert. I suspect that dairy products here are much tastier in general than dairy products in the U.S., and the ice cream was no exception. Ice cream was also very welcome to our taste buds to finish off our beach day under the sun.

We took a bus back to Jerusalem that night – the cities are only an hour or so apart. Even though our course focused exclusively on Jerusalem and the field study was designed to supplement our course materials, visiting WAS-NS helped us gain additional perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how people respond to it, and Tel Aviv was a nice break for us in terms of being able to pass the day by the ocean and, of course, of enjoying the incredible hospitality of another Haverfordian. Thanks, Tamar!

Jerusalem- May 27

Itinerary for the day:

7:00- Breakfast

7:25- Leave for Dung Gate

8:00- Tour with Nir: Davidson Center, tunnels, cemeteries

1:00- Freedom in small groups in the Old City and Yom Yarushalayim begins at sundown.

After the first few days of non-stop exploring, today was a nice break and a good way to really take in the city.  We started off the day with a tour with an archaeologist named Nir. The Davidson Center is an archeological park and gallery that displayed artifacts from the Second Temple Period up until the early Muslim period. Excavated at the site, was the market place that pilgrims would have gone to before going up to the Temple Mount for one of the three main Jewish Holidays during the second temple period. There were ritual baths (miqveh) that were used for spiritual cleansing with a set of stairs to go down to the baths and a set to come again. There were stone arches that used to be store fronts, including one where 300 coins were found, most likely the exchqnge rate for the half shekel needed to go to the Temple. Nir suggested that this was likely the market mentioned in the New Testament where Jesus expelled the money changers. This was all next to a 20 meter high wall that would have been twice as tall when Herod built it, but it was destroyed in part by the Romans. Market at Temple Mount

Ruins at the Davidson Center

We also explored the tunnel that runs along the Western Wall, which was used in different times as an aqueduct. It would have been at street level during the second temple period, although today it runs completely underground. The most impressive aspect for me was the use of gigantic stones in all the construction of the time. As we passed through we could see large flat rocks that were still on the side of the tunnel that would have been used for the pavement, columns that would have signaled the entrance onto a street, and a 780 ton rock that was about 4 feet above the ground and was a part of the Wall itself.  Today we still have no idea how the workers were able to move rocks that large. 780 Ton Rock in the tunnel

 

The tombs were very cool as well, ranging from the 13th and 14th centuries up until today. the cemetery is technically closed, but some people are still buried there in the middle of the night. The cemetery ran Long the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount and looked across to the Mount of Olives. Tombs Three tombs, or rather monuments in the Kidron Valleywere especially   impressive: Absalom’s, Zechariah’s, and that of the Sons of Hezir. As with many tombs and structures of the time, they were believed to belong to these biblical figures even though they were dated archeologically to the second temple period. Tomb of Absalom

Finally, after a lot of learning, a lot of walking, and a lot of sun and heat, we were free to explore the Old City on our own.  Meg, Al, and I (Annie), shopped in the Muslim quarter, ate more hummus and falafel, and then made our way back on the tram to the hostel for a much deserved and needed two hour nap.  By dinnertime everyone had made their way back to home base, and most people stayed on for the night, enjoying the cookout on the roof on a beautiful night in Jerusalem.Birthplace of the Virgin Mary

Jerusalem Day 3: Banging our heads against the wall

I actually can’t believe that the day I’m writing about was only our third day in Jerusalem. Our days have been packed full of the most fascinating, beautiful, and exhausting sightseeing I have ever experienced. I think we were all on the same page by the end of Monday: we were so tired we could barely move, and yet there was nothing we could possibly have given up about our day. We started the day at 7:30 AM by walking to Ir-David, or the City of David. As the oldest part of the city of JErusalem, the archeological dig that remains was full of a rich history from possible temple stones that had been pushed off the side of the temple mount when the Romans ransacked the city in 70 AD to a Mishnah (or a purification pool used before Jews climbed the temple mount in the second temple period) to the stairs and walls built by King Herod as part of the Temple Mount on which he built the second temple. Going back a little farther, we also saw walls that may have been part of Solomon’s palace during the first temple period and a government area that included some pretty nifty ancient toilet seats. As we saw and learned about some of the oldest ruins in an already impressively old city, two things other than awe for the ancient and interest at seeing another site that we’d been talking about for a whole semester came up for me. The first was a realization of the presence of yet more political tension surrounding this (not necessarily sacred) site. Although the historian giving our tour assured us that politics did not play a part in the actual archeology and assessment of the uncovered structures, it was difficult for many of us to accept that. The archeological dig at the City of David is funded and run by a Jewish foundation: it doesn’t seem like the most unbiased source for findings that have the potential to corroborate or disprove a religious narrative that so many people have such a passionate, personal, emotional stake in. The site became yet another example to me of how the science of historical work is, first of all, not a science because of the innumerable ways that any finding can be interpreted, and second of all, can be so impacted by whatever political situation exists in the state at the time when history is being uncovered. Furthermore, and the second thing that came up for me during this tour, the political tensions that exist in Jerusalem seemed paralleled by the tensions between the archeology of the City of David and the desire of those interpreting findings and presenting them to the public to fit what they were finding into the biblical narrative presented in the Old Testament. The parallel here is in the relationship between the people in charge, an existing narrative or status quo, and an unwillingness to consider the fact that things might be different than they have always been.

Following our trip to the City of David, we were certainly all ready for a late lunch, so we ate (more falafel, if my fellow travelers were anything like me) and then headed for two slightly less ancient experiences. The first was a tour of YYBZ, the organization that set us up with scholars as our guides for most of the sites we are seeing on our trip. We heard about different educational opportunities and pratices that are being opened up because of their organizations resources.

Finally, to finish the day, we met with Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the leader of Rabbis for Human Rights. I am not sure if I can quite sum up how inspired many of us felt after leaving this conversation. One of the struggles of being in Jerusalem has certainly been feeling equipped to experience the sacred sites and to take in more about the history of such a historically and religiously complex city, but not knowing how to react to the political situations that exist in this rich city. Rabbi Arik offered some insight into how he and his group have reacted to the Israel Palestine conflict in Jerusalem by standing up for human rights of both Palestinians and Israelis based on their (the group’s) Jewish values and ideals which are rooted in a belief that each person is created in the image of God and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. I am paraphrasing and oversimplifying, to be sure, but Rabbi Arik’s passion as he spoke to us about rebuilding Palestinian houses that had been torn down by the Israeli government and standing in front of bulldozers looking to do the same thing was incredibly inspiring and infectious. Not many people we have spoken with have offered much hope regarding the political situation in Jerusalem, but after listening to Rabbi Arik, I can tell you that as long as he is working here to be used as God’s hands in bringing human rights, equality, and restoration, I have infinitely more hope than I had before I knew he was here. One sentiment, first offered by Rabbi Abraham Heschel, but quoted to us by Rabbi Arik was that “in a democracy, some are guilty but all are responsible.” Rabbi Arik followed this quote by telling us about one time that he stood in front of a bulldozer that was going to demolish a Palestinian family’s home- he said that “the Torah which [he] had sworn to uphold was being demolished with the house and the image of God was being thrown in the rubble and in that moment [he] had no choice but to stand in front of the bulldozers.” Religious difference have had suh a dividing power in this community, and yet here we should all be taking note of how not just despite religious differene, but because Rabbi Arik was not afraid to reach across religious and ethnic divides because of his religious beliefs in a better world, he was able to embody an outstanding example of social justice, kindness, and tenacity in teh face of a seemingly hopeless situation.

To close, I include one more quote from our conversation with Rabbi Arik, “This kind of work is done by those of us who enjoy banging our heads against the wall, but if we keep going for long enough, sometimes, the wall breaks.”

Jerusalem – May 25: Names

I was originally planning to entitle this post “May 25: Temple Mount”, because that is what it says on our schedule. But I realized that doing so would mean buying into a certain narrative, one that calls the location in question the Temple Mount (or its Hebrew equivalent, Har HaBayit) which, despite being the appropriate term for my own tradition, is not the term that most people on the Mount would use. That would be the Arabic Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Enclosure. For indeed there were many Muslims on the Temple Mount, mostly in small study circles. According to our guide Yaron, most of those groups were there because they were paid to be there, their physical presence marking Muslim ownership of the space. Such a claim came to a fore when a Orthodox Jewish couple walked onto the Mount, prompting cries of “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”).

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A study group gathers in the shade, with the Dome of the Rock in the background.

This question of how to designate the space was an interesting one for me, because I wasn’t sure whether to think of myself as a tourist, like at the Garden Tomb, or a pilgrim, like at the Western Wall. At the entrance there was a sign warning Jews to stay away because of the holiness of the site, but I’ve never put much stock into such Orthodox rabbinical proscriptions. So up I went, and the site I found was one that was Jewish in antiquity, but is clearly Muslim today. Perhaps it will be Jewish again in some future messianic age, but in the meantime the spirituality that I find there comes from it being the site of some of the world’s most beautiful art and architecture. Indeed, I found it refreshing to refer to the site in accordance with its Islamic nature, in stark contrast to my Birthright trip, on which the guide refused to refer to the Dome of the Rock by any name other than “The Golden Dome”, as if pretending it were a secular site would make it go away.

The reason I entitled this post “Names” is because names proved to be a recurring theme of the day. After wandering the Old City and getting a view from the Austrian Hospice roof, we met with a group of Bard al-Quds students and a representative from the American Friends Service Committee, who took us to a cave system under the Old City known either as Solomon’s Quarry or Zedekiah’s Cave but which is almost definitely more recent than those two ancient figures. Such is the nature of Jerusalem nomenclature: places are mythologized to better fit into the narrative that people want to ascribe to those locations.

Next our guides took us to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. This, my first trip to East Jerusalem other then the Old City and Garden Tomb, proved to be an exercise in seeing the Conflict firsthand. Recently there has grown in Sheikh Jarrah, which has always been an Arab neighborhood, a right-wing Ultra-Orthodox community centered around a site called the tomb of Shimon HaTzaddik (Simon the Just), one of at least three sites in the Jerusalem area bearing such identification. The Orthodox community there has grown so much in its young history and has proved to be of such import in the channels of Israeli power that the local tram station, which serves the major Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, bears the name of Shimon HaTzaddik.