Monday, April 23, 2012

Friendship journey to Israel - Apr. 23, 2012

The Muslim holy day is Friday; the Jewish holy day is Saturday; and the Christian holy day is Sunday. So since we are in the Jewish state, we were looking forward to the arrival of Shabbat (the Sabbath) on Friday evening.

However, before we rested, we had to work! Friday began with a visit to Ammunition Hill, a site critical to the Six Day War in 1967. Remember that prior to June, 1967, Jerusalem was part of the kingdom of Jordan. In 1947, the U.N. proposed the establishment of 2 states - one Jewish and one Palestinian. Israel accepted the plan, but the Palestinians did not. The 1947 borders established a very narrow state, mostly on the coastal that slopes down to the Mediterranean. In the 1948 War of Independence, Israel also seized land in the Galilee that would otherwise have gone to the Palestinians. In response to war-like acts by Syria, Jordan, and Egypt in 1967, Israel also attacked and seized Jerusalem and the west bank of the Jordan River.

Following our visit to Ammunition Hill, we visited one of the disputed settlements on the west bank - Kibbutz Kfar Etzion. It may or may not be part of a future Palestinian state, but for now it makes wonderful wine and we had a terrific lunch there.

The lunch put us in a properly reflective mood for Shabbat which we celebrated seated on the southern steps of the Temple platform where Jews "went up" to Herod the Great's temple 2000 years ago. We were joined by Adam, a rabbinical student from San Francisco, and his girl friend, Emma, a cantorial student from San Diego. Emma led the music and Adam accompanied her on his guitar, and they could not have been nicer. They are here for a year studying Hebrew. Afterward, we went back to our hotel for an enormous Shabbat dinner.

Although it was meant to be a day of rest, Saturday was busy. Several of us went to the Israel Museum in the morning, and in the afternoon we were off to Bethlehem, which is now administered by the Palestinian Authority. There we visited the Church of the Nativity, founded by the Empress Helena, Constantine's mother, in the 4th c. While there we watched and listened as Orthodox monks and priests sang evening prayer amid clouds of incense. Saturday evening I walked up to BenYehuda street for falafel and watched as the streets filled with people as Shabbat ended, enjoying themselves before going back to work or school the next day.

Sunday morning we were up early for our 2 hour trip to the Galilee. First, we went to Banias, near the site of the Biblical city Caesarea Philippi, where Peter acclaimed Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. In Roman times it was also a place for the worship of Pan. It's easy to see why it was a place of worship. It is where the River Jordan originates and the water flows down and over a series of dams with green plants growing just beneath the surface. Then, we went to Capernaum at the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum is where Jesus called his first disciples, worked his first miracle (according to Mark he freed a man from a demonic spirit), and it may have been Jesus' home for a time. Standing in the ruins of a 4th c. synagogue, I talked about Capernaum's significance in the gospels.

Then we drove to one of the loveliest and (to Christians, at least) most important spots in Israel - the Mount of the Beatitudes. There Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is remembered in a church overlooking the Sea of Galilee and set in the midst of glorious gardens. The Christians in our group gathered for a short worship service, inviting our Jewish friends to join us. I led the service and talked about how the Beatitudes demonstrate Jesus' "Jewishness". Like Psalm 1 ("Blessed is the one who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly..."), Jesus employes a Jewish literary form. And like the prophets, Jesus puts God firmly on the side of the poor and disenfranchised. At the conclusion of the service, Rabbi Miller blessed us in Hebrew and I translated into English.

We spent the evening at a lovely hotel run by Kibbutz Lavi.

Today we went first to Jesus' boyhood home - the town of Nazareth. It is an Arab village that was formerly mostly Christian but is becoming more and more Muslim. Roman Catholics remember the story of the angel Gabriel's "annunciation" of Jesus' birth to Mary in a modern and beautiful basilica that is built over the ruins of a first century house that might have belonged to Jesus' family. A very special feature of the basilica is a series of depictions of Mary done in the styles of cultures from around the world. There is a Chinese Mary and an Uruguayan Mary and so on.

After Nazareth we went to the town of Tsafed very close to the Lebanese border. Tsafed was the home of Rabbi Jacob Luria, one of the founders of the Jewish mystical tradition known as "Qabbalah". It is really one of my favorite places in Israel. Set on the top of a hill, the narrow, windy streets and views of the valley down below remind me of Assissi in Italy.

We ended the day on a completely different note, visiting a "high tech" incubator and learning about some exciting biotech inventions being developed there.

Tomorrow we are off to the last leg of our journey in Tel Aviv.