Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Eye-opening Israel

After having experienced the exhilarating wonder of skydiving free-fall, each of our family members will enthusiastically agree that never again will any of us ever be able to look up at the sky in the same way. For me it is the same feeling regarding Israel.

Throughout most of Africa seeing firearms soon becomes something not uncommon. However, in Israel it is the exceedingly high number of visible firearms in public places combined with who is carrying them that is both so surprising and unexpected. In every bus that we rode, we traveled together with those wearing military uniforms and carrying semi-automatic rifles similar to AK47s. This would include petite, shorter-than-five-feet tall, teen-aged females toting their clips of live ammo on webbed belts, and a group of young Jews, barely old enough to even think about growing whiskers let alone a full and proper beard, seen standing outside a quiet neighborhood synagogue where deadly weapons were slung on their traditionally well-dressed shoulders. It is quite a visual contrast and yet simply a way of life.

From the center of the walled city of Old Jerusalem, a square mile offers an unbelievable number of holy sites and their history. This proximity to each other is truly surprising and as a result, the abundance of newly introduced info flying my way was unexpectedly fast and furious.

For instance, the Dome of the Rock is a large, highly visible, gold-domed mosque that dominates the area on top of Temple Mount and is regarded by Muslims as very holy in regards to the prophet Muhammed. It is built on the site of King Solomon's Temple, location of the Holy of Holies and the Ark of the Covenent, which was later destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. The Western (Wailing) Wall is a short stretch of the original retaining wall left untouched in 68 AD when the Romans destroyed the second temple, which is a restoration built by Herod of Solomon's original temple. I found it quite unexpectedly surprising to realize that in order to keep the peace, the Israeli military are,in reality, providing security for Islam's third most holy site to insure the safety of a wall that serves all of Judaism as its most holy site. It is truly amazing to see a diverse people living in the relatively small area of Jerusalem with its Christian churchs, Muslim mosques, and Jewish Synagogues that, for the moment, have found a way to tolerate one another in relative peace.

The Mount of Olives, as viewed from the city walls, has many buildings on top with a Muslim graveyard covering half of it. Not much space for olive trees. The Garden of Gethsemane is at the bottom of the hill where one finds a few very old gnarled olive trees surrounded by a wrought iron fence next to the Basillica of Agony located on a very busy street. This was an unexpected setting and yet I did feel a sense of surprising peace here.

Walking up the hill on the winding street and around the corner of the old city wall we found Calvary/Golgotha crucifixion site as the Protestant churches believe with a rock-hewn grave nearby. Oddly, it is located at the back of a bus station now. I say the Protestants believe this but located inside the old city, in the Christian quarter is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Ethiopian and Coptic Christians all believe it to be built on the site of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Christ. Inside the church you can see the hole where the cross was placed, the stone slab on which Jesus' body was prepared for burial, and where resurrected. It was a huge surprise to learn about this different scenario on offer and that I'd never even heard of this particular church, despite it's obvious importance.

Amazingly, our trip to the West Bank to Bethlehem, was the easiest day trip we've made in my memory, despite having to cross a wall and go through checkpoints. Whereas on the Israeli side the people are armed with rifles, the West Bank side seemed armed with graffiti....

To quote our Haifa host, the Sea of Galilee, is actually a "sweet water lake" and claims the people around here have a tendency to exaggerate. Since it's not even a particularly large lake, I'm hoping not much more over here has also been exaggerated! But even if it's only imagined (ie, wrong location, inaccurate date, false artifact, etc), we still all benefit from a sense of contact with divinity. The point is, it doesn't matter if Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac in what is now Jerusalem or Ishmael in what is now Mecca, what does matter is that he was a faithful and obedient servant of God.

Having finally been there, Israel was an amazing trip for me, and, now, like skydiving and looking upwards, never again will I be able to think of Israel in the same way...



At 1:39 AM , Blogger The Bear said...

Hey Brandon,
I read your post several times, each time feeling strugle to express a profound feeling. On a small scale I can relate, but am jealous of your experience. Pqalmyra, Carthage, and Nauvoo are but pale shadows of the place that Jerusalem must be. I find it hard to explain why but I truly enjoyed your post, and it was comforting in some way.
I hope by now you are basking in warm water, and sunshine.
Take good careof yourself, and hug Maggie for me.
Love and Bear Hugs


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