Sunday, April 29, 2012

Friendship journey to Israel - Apr. 29, 2012

My trip began and ended with music. At the beginning I played a recital of music by Haydn, Schumann, Debussy, Ben-Haim, Liszt, and Chopin at Kehillat Yozma, a progressive Jewish congregation in Modi'in, Israel. It ended with a program of music for choir and organ at Harvard University's Memorial Church (about which I will have more to say). It also began and ended in places that were and are holy, at least to me - Israel and Harvard.  But I'm getting ahead of the story...

Our last day in Israel was Yom HaAtzmaut - Independence Day. It began with a visit to Israel's version of Independence Hall on Rothschild Blvd in Tel Aviv. That was where Israel's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, proclaimed the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, and where the Israeli Declaration of Independence was signed. The room where the signing took place is not very large. Our guide told us that because there was no room for the musicians of the Palestine Orchestra, they assembled in an upstairs room and had to be signaled to play the national anthem - Ha Tikvah - at the appropriate moment. We also heard a recording of Ben Gurion's speech (in Hebrew) announcing the declaration of independence. I have to admit it was quite moving. The audacity of Ben Gurion and his fellow Zionists declaring Israel's independence was, if possible, even more remarkable than that of Washington, Jefferson, et al, in 1776. Both groups faced certain war and overwhelming odds - the Israelis from Arab states on three sides and the Americans from the greatest military power of the 18th century - Great Britain. And in both cases, audacity paid off. 

After visiting Independence Hall, we walked down Rothschild Blvd. One of the most interesting buildings we saw contained an investment firm on the ground floor and the offices of a Marxist student organization on an upper floor!

Then we reboarded the bus for a visit to Yafo, the biblical city of Joppa, site of the prophet Jonah's flight to Tarshish and of Peter's vision of clean and unclean animals in Acts 10. I talked for a few minutes about Peter's vision and how the decision by early Christians to dispense with the Jewish dietary laws and circumcision allowed Christianity to become a universal faith. I also talked a little about Paul and his sense of his "Jewishness." 

In the afternoon we gathered for a "debriefing." Julian asked each of us to share a "meaningful moment." I talked about Judy Miller's question, asking if the trip had changed my perceptions. I said that it hadn't changed my perceptions but had deepened them. I regard myself as both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian, but anti-violence and terror. In Nazareth I went into a shop to buy a cross. The woman in the shop was a Christian Palestinian. When I told her that I was an Anglican priest, she said, "Please pray for us. Nobody cares for us - not the Israelis, not the Palestinians, not even the Vatican." How can you not be on the side of people like that?

Our last night in Israel we had dinner in a marvelous restaurant - the Social Club. Afterward, most of our group went to the airport for their flight home, but some of us with flights the next day went back to the hotel. I had a flight the next morning at 8 am, so I was up by 4 to catch a taxi at 5. I had to change planes in London and after nearly 24 hrs of traveling I got to Atlanta.

I stayed over night with my friends David and Duane and left way too early the next morning, Sat., Apr. 28, for a flight to Boston. My reason for flying to Boston was to attend a concert honoring my dear, late friend, the Rev. Prof. Peter J. Gomes, who for 40 years was the Harvard University chaplain. Some friends from my graduating class and I had planned to commission a piece for the chapel choir in his honor. The last conversation Peter and I had was about the text for the piece and the composer. When I asked him to suggest a composer, he said, "Well, I suppose Elgar is dead..." So he turned over the selection of the composer to the university organist, Edward Jones, and me, and we decided on Craig Phillips, the director of music at All Saints' Episcopal Church, Beverly Hills. The text was Peter's confirmation verse: "beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a livingsacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed tothis world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is thatgood, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." And, of course, Peter insisted that we use the King James' version. 

Phillips' setting of the piece is beautiful, and I have to admit that tears were running down my cheek when the choir finished singing it. It may just be my imagination, but the choir seemed moved, too.

Tomorrow I go home after a long, exhausting, and incredibly rewarding journey. As I said at the top of this post, I ended as I began, in a holy place. Harvard and its Memorial Church are not holy the way that Israel is holy, but they are special places to me. As Israel demonstrates, holy places are not always peaceful, but they are places that challenge us, and both Israel and Harvard have done that for me many times. They are also places where we connect to God, to each other, and to ourselves in new, unexpected, and often uncomfortable ways.