Let me contextualize my remarks by saying that this is my first trip to Israel, after being born one year after the country was founded n 1948. As the only Jew in the group, I have a unique perspective on the trip. My attitudes have been shaped by growing up in a Jewish American household, with three grandparents who were immigrants from Eastern Europe. (My maternal grandmother was born in the US, but her parents were from Europe). I grew up thinking that if they had not made the decision to come to America in the early 1900’s they would have almost certainly been killed in the Holocaust. I, like many American Jews, was strongly influenced by reading the novel Exodus and seeing the 1960 film, both strongly romanticizing the Zionist enterprise. And while I grew up a somewhat practicing Jew, attending Hebrew school, having a Bar Mitzvah and attending synagogue on the High Holy days, I have abandoned practice but still feel a strong Jewish identity.
Professor Gilberto Gomez – Mr. Elias J. Jabbour is a kind gentlemen of sharp eyes, a generous smile, and a big heart. Almost 80 years old, he however is energetic and passionate about the possibility for peace and understanding in a troubled world. A descendent of the Canaanites who inhabited the lands around Nazareth from times immemorial and a self-defined optimist, Mr. Jabbour runs the “House of Hope” in the living room of his modest home in Nazareth, where he took our entire group for a convivial lunch prepared by his wife and grandchildren. It is a rectangular room lit by fluorescent lamps and adorned with handmade sings. “Love,” “Faith,” and “Hope” are all in English. There are also signs in Arabic and in Hebrew. Another sign wishes us a “Happy New Year in 2007.” The food is delicious, and Elizar goes around the table to make sure all students Andes accompanying faculty try the hummus that is served in small dishes. “It is made with the best olive oil in the world,” he says.
Mr. Jabbour is a minority within a minority: a Christian Palestine. He has devoted his life to the search for understanding and reconciliation in present day Israel. He bemoans the walls, physical and mental, that separate the various communities throughout this small country, and finds that situation extremely abnormal in a land in which the three major religions, which all share a common core, managed to coexist for centuries. An “optimist at heart,” he thinks there is not only room for reconciliation but a dire need for it. “We will be here together, or we will not be able to be here at all,” he says indicating that there cannot be a “solution” that excludes others. He doesn’t particularly blame one group or other. “We are all humans and thus all different,” he says, adding “we need to live with our differences and learn to love them, why does it have to be so hard? We are humans, and sometimes not the best humans.”
He emphasizes that only through the opening of the heart can a stalemate of decades begin to be solved. He laments that Jewish and Palestinians, although living next to one another, find it so difficult to meet and interact. Children, for example, go to separate schools. The town down the road from Nazareth is Jewish and is only three miles away, yet no one from Nazareth ever goes there, no one from there comes to Nazareth, perpetuating a separation that is lasting too long. Most dire, in his view, is the situation of Christians in the Holy Land, large numbers of whom have migrated and continue migrating elsewhere. If the situation is not changed, he thinks we will see a paradoxical situation where the Holy Land, the place where Christianity was originated, will be devoid of Christians.
“Hurry up and eat more hummus,” he reminds the whole group now. And then he reveals the secret of why it is the best hummus in the world: “It is made with olive oil that I myself produced,” he says with a coy smile. Now, there is hope in this world.
Scott Morrison ’14 – This week in Israel has been challenging in more ways than one, and I will probably leave this country with more questions than answers. How fitting, right?
It’s fitting because Wabash tells students about the importance of questioning. We base our classes on discussions and we ask a lot of questions; these are questions we are told to continue asking throughout life. The experiences of the past days since my first blog on the first day of the trip have been amazing, enriching, and beautiful in a lot of ways. But they have also been ugly in a way, and this is what has raised the questions in my mind.
That leaves Judaism. The Western Wall is a moving sight. To be able to pray alongside Jewish Haredim was awe-inspiring. We broke bread on Shabbat in the home of an Orthodox Jewish man named Ben, along with his wife and a friend. We shared in food and song as family and as friends. I truly believe this is something that would please God. It too was amazing.
Cody Buresh ’15 – Looking back over the experiences of this trip I am extremely grateful and amazed that this group of Wabash men have had the opportunities to go on many adventures such as: staying on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, visiting the city of Jericho, having the privilege to tour the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and many other mind-baffling occurrences. Today we had the privilege to travel to the Western bank to the small town of Bethlehem. Throughout the day we gained a plethora of information about Bethlehem during biblical times and also the current situation from our visit at Bethlehem University.
I am going to be focusing mainly on the knowledge that we gained about the biblical period from our experiences today. The weather was not cooperating today. It decided it would be another good day to rain and be cold, all of our wet feet did not agree. Our plans were to (first) travel to the actual location where Jesus Christ was born and view the manger, but surprisingly the Prime Minister of Great Britain (David Cameron) also had the same idea so we had to make a quick change. We headed to the Shepherds’ Fields within Bethlehem that was specifically dedicated to the shepherds depicted within the nativity story. The beautiful small church is absolutely breath taking and was cleverly designed by Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi. I thought it was quite intriguing that all of the fixtures within the church served purposes, which are absolutely amazing tour guide Habib explained. The church was designed to have only one high point in order to represent a tent that the shepherds would live in. There also were many spaces within the ceiling to allow the natural light to illuminate the room representing the star light and also the light of the heavenly host. If our tour guide were not with us we would not have noticed the importance of the design and the significance of the fixtures within the church. Habib simply amazes all of us with the amount of knowledge that he possesses about all of the scared places within Israel. He is without a doubt the best tour guide within all of Israel and today he showed all of us why.
After we were finished taking pictures of the incredible Franciscan church we made our way to a natural cave close by. This is the location that showed the entire group how fortunate that we have Habib as our tour guide. When we first entered the cave there was another group of tourists within. There tour guide was explained to them how shepherds used caves to live in because when it is warm outside it is cool within in the cave and vice-versa with cold weather. Once the other group left the cave Habib informed us that there is much more to the story of the shepherds. All of the information that follows is all from our tour guide, Habib.
The shepherds of Bethlehem were in charge of raising sheep for the temple sacrifices. According to the laws of the time the sheep that were used for the offerings had to be a one-year-old male sheep that had been outside for 365 days (one-year). Since these sheep needed to remain outside the shepherds were also outside, not using the cave during the awful winter (rainy season). You can see this in Luke 2: 8, “That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep”. Once the sheep were of age the shepherds would bring them to the city of Jerusalem to be sacrificed for the Sabbath (Friday). It was important that the sheep that was to be sacrificed did not possess any blemishes (broken legs, or injuries). Once the sheep’s blood was completely spilled for all of the sins the priest would return to the people and proclaim, “It is finished”. When Habib was explaining the many intricate steps of the sheep’s life I was astounded by the parallelism to Jesus Christ. He was born in the small city of Bethlehem. When his time had come Jesus was led to Jerusalem to be sacrificed. It was extremely important that he did not have any imperfections (blemishes). On Sabbath Jesus Christ was crucified and gave up his life. He proclaimed, “It is finished”, and then passed away.
I personally was not knowledgeable to the depth of the parallels between the sacrificial lamb from Bethlehem and Jesus Christ. I want to thank Habib for helping this entire experience come to life for this group from Wabash College. The information learned from Habib will not be forgotten and has helped the biblical passages show new life. Thank you Habib.
Joe Jackson ’14 – I wish that I possessed the skill to paint an adequate picture in 500 words of the side of the world I’ve seen here in Israel, but I do not. Although I know that I cannot do my experiences of this country justice, I would still like to try and capture to some capacity the history and the importance that is found here. Despite the fact I could talk for days about the breath-taking sceneries, armed soldiers on street corners, ghettos, Israeli women, food, the prevalence of Americanization, or that doing any of these things would only be getting at the tip of the iceberg. Most notable though, for me at least, was the fact that in two days I was able to visit the most revered places of all three of the world’s major, monotheistic religions. Between Al-Aqsa, the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Church of the Nativity, I was blessed with an opportunity to experience a part of history in a way many people only dream of.
We started yesterday by visiting Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, the holiest mosque and one of the surrounding structures placed by Muslims on what the Jews and Christians refer to as the Temple Mount. Disregarding the conflict that surrounds the history of the location, the mosque itself was impressive to say the least. By a stroke of luck, we were actually granted access inside both Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, something that rarely is allowed for any non-Muslim. What I found to be particularly interesting, was that it was abundantly clear the majority of Muslims did not approve of our admittance into their sanctuary. From the time we took our first steps into the building, we were greeted with unaverted gazes and we actually left the building to frantic shouts from women that are traditionally directed at intruders of the mosque. As a practicing Christian, this place did not speak to me on too much of a personal level, but the response of the Muslims to our presence served as a testament to the sacredness Muslims feel towards the site.
Visiting the Wailing Wall, arguably the most-important site to a present-day Jew, proved to be a comparable experience to that of our visit to Al-Aqsa. Although we hardly left to chants directed at our presence, I must admit I still felt a little out of place due to others’ stares and facial expressions. If you know the history of the Wall, the site obviously does not hold much significance for a non-Jew. It stands to reason then, that a traditional Jew might not get overly excited at the idea of having to share the remaining fraction of their Temple with a bunch of tourists, so similarly to the Muslim response, the Jewish response I perceived was understandable. Much like I felt the next morning at Al-Aqsa though, despite not having any religious connectedness with either site or feeling any religious epiphany, it was impossible not to feel something in the pit of my stomach. There is honestly no other way to describe the feeling or to explain it, but between the beauty of the structures themselves and the histories surrounding the structures that date back to the beginning of human existence, it’s hard not to feel something.
Surprisingly enough, visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Church of the Nativity did not do too much for me than did the other sites I have mentioned. A part of me wishes that I could say I had some life-changing experience, but I did not. I knew what I believed before coming and I suppose I’m happy that simply visiting a site did not change that. That being said, seeing the place where my savior was born, died, and buried, did do something. I felt connected to the history of my faith and to those that share my faith, and seeing all the others worshipping and admiring in the same building I was solidified all that I already believed.
Austin Budell ’15 – I write on this cold and rainy day from the holy city of Jerusalem. Three of the sites we visited today constitute the “climax” of our immersion trip — The Dome of the Rock, Al Aqsa Mosque, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Non-Muslim tourists rarely receive the opportunity to enter the Dome of the Rock, but we enjoyed the privilege of exploring the sacred site. The Dome of the Rock (located on the Temple Mount) is highly contested for a variety of reasons. First, the rock is located over the site where Abraham was (traditionally thought) about to sacrifice his son. Whether this son was Isaac or Ishmael is the object of dispute. Muslims regard Ishmael as the son to be sacrificed, while Jews believe it was to be Isaac, who would later father the nation of Israel. The site is also disputed by Jews due to the Dome’s location on where the former Temple sat. Considering that the Temple Mount is the most sacred place to Jews, it is not surprising that both Jews and Muslims continue to dispute ownership.
Al Aqsa Mosque, also lying on the Temple Mount, is considered to be the third-holiest place to the Muslim faith. Built in 705 A.D., Al Aqsa is one of the oldest mosques on earth. The significance of the site is associated with the Prophet Muhammad’s Night Journey, mentioned in chapter seventeen of the Holy Qur’an. After making this journey, the Prophet instructed his followers to begin praying towards the direction of Jerusalem (which was later changed to Mecca). The controversy surrounding this site is two-fold. First, the Prophet Muhammad made the Night Journey in approximately 621 A.D., where he traveled from Mecca to Jerusalem in a single night to “the farthest mosque,” or Al Aqsa mosque. This begs the question of how the Prophet Muhammad could have traveled to Al Aqsa Mosque before it was even constructed. The second object of dispute is, again, its location on the Temple Mount, the holiest site to the Jews. Thus, Al Aqsa is a contested site on both its legitimacy in context of the Night Journey and on its location of the Temple Mount.
Perhaps the most peculiar of all the sites we visited today was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This church is thought to house the location of the last five Stations of the Cross, being the division of the garments, the nailing to the cross, the crucifixion and death, the taking down from the cross, and the laying in the tomb. Each station is associated with a unique relic or legend related to a specific station, the most prominent being a tomb where Jesus was thought to be buried. Upon entering the church it was readily apparent that the features were of Greek-Orthodox characteristic, evinced by the elaborate mosaic portraying Christ’s death and the abundance of distinctly Greek candle holders hanging from the ceiling. Upon further investigation, however, it became clear that a variety of Christian sects had laid claim to this site.
After climbing to the second floor of the church, you could actually see where the line dividing Roman Catholic and Greek-Orthodox jurisdictions occurred. The right side was apparently Roman Catholic, as its minimalist layout stood in staunch contrast to the many ornate candle and incense burners occupying the ceiling of the Greek-Orthodox side. Our guide later stated that six Christian sects have a claim to this site; the three major sects being Roman Catholic, Greek-Orthodox, and Armenian, with the minor three being Coptic, Syrian, and Ethiopian Orthodox. All six of these Christian branches occupy a space or shrine within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which demonstrates how this site is contested among Christians.
With the fifth day of our journey in the Holy Land coming to a close, I cannot help but realize how eye-opening of an experience this immersion trip has been. Between speaking with the locals, traveling to holy sites, and experiencing local cuisine, I feel like a world away from good old Wabash. Overall, the trip has been totally worth the jet lag and sleepless nights with early mornings, and I would strongly recommend anyone interested in making a pilgrimage to Israel to do so.
Isidro Vargas ’14 – Over the last few days I’ve found myself stuck in a troubling routine. Waking up too early, feeling unrested, and staying up too late, anxious in anticipation for what the next day might bring. As I lay here typing, it’s still hard to believe that just this morning I walked though some of the most sacred religious sites the world has to offer. Our Wednesday journey included: An early morning tour of the Temple Mount, where we received exclusive access to the Dome of the Rock, and Al-Aqsa Mosque, two of the holiest sites in Islamic tradition (excluding the Kaaba). Before the sun could reach its highest point we had also made our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher; which contains, according to tradition, both the Tomb of Jesus Christ, and the site of his crucifixion.
It’s such a blessing to have visited some the sites of which most Christians and Muslims can only dream about; sites, which beforehand, I had only been able to picture from textbooks and personal research. I have to say that this experience is both everything I expected it to be, and so much more.
As our Wabash group has made its way though Old City Jerusalem we have found ourselves in a new world, one which we are still struggling to understand. In the Al-Aqsa mosque, for example, there is a display case holding bullet shells and tear gas canisters from the 1967 Sixty-Day War, but the reality is that at any moment Israeli armed forces could potentially strike Palestinians in this holiest of sites. Throughout the city one can still find the scares of bullets on the bricks of walls and gates, a permanent reminder of the tensions between Israelis, Palestinians, and other pseudo-religious-political groups. As many of my group members pray and hope for an end to these conflictions, we have also found some peace in the individuals we have met throughout our stay. Individuals who have welcomed us to their home, and treated us with the type of respect we hope they will one day project towards each other.
To conclude our journey, we would make a visit to see Yad Vashem (holocaust research center) and the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are held at the Israel Museum. These final points in our itinerary are seemingly appropriate. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain the old oldest known manuscripts of the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. Thish as been the primary text of my religious endeavors over the last four years at Wabash, and I am ecstatic to see the proof of religious antiquity for my own two eyes. At the same time visiting the Holocaust History Museum in the same land where Jews continue to be persecuted really hits home; serving as a final reminder of just how low humanity as fallen into sin, and why these so called ‘foreign’ matters need to be addressed, rather than brushed off as if the problem will solve itself.
Zeno Joyce ’14 – Even with the title of our class being “Contested Sites, Contested Texts”, I wasn’t sure how my life’s contestation would even fit or if it were even applicable. But I too would realized, I am not alone in this struggle of faith.
I never knew how moving this experience could be until today. I struggled to sleep in Capernaum, waking up at 12am, 2:30am and finally 5:30am, feeling empty that I had not joined my comrades in their visit to the Sea of Galilee. So at 5:30, I went to the bank at the Sea of Galilee, with hopes that the sun hadn’t risen.
Fortunately, I was able to mediate and pray as the sun slowly breached the horizon. Then immediately my mouth began to sing songs from church, those about the goodness of Jesus and the inability to complain because of His sacrifice. I was filled with so much joy, in that I could feel and hear the words of my Grandmother – whom I know would have cherished this opportunity and is the reason for my religious commitment.
After leaving the Sea of Galilee, we went to the site where Jesus was baptized near Jericho. It was here my emotions would get the best of me.
I was blessed to meet a fellow brother from Uganda, whom too is a Christian. We conversed on our birthplaces and how we both envy one another. He expressed to me that despite the negative image and stereotype of African American – African, we are connected by faith and that is all that matters. I was moved by this candid nature and quickly jotted down his contact information, seeing that I only had 1 minute to make it back to the bus.
This interaction exposed me internally. I too have personally contested my African and American identity. As I sat on the bus on the way to Jerusalem, all I could do was think about how much love I was shown by a complete stranger despite all my personal uncertainties. My eyes began to flow with streams of emotion and love, as I was reminded of Jesus and the Apostles on the Sea of Galilee. Our tour guide Habib, had pointed out earlier in the King James Version that the apostles are called children by Jesus. Unlike other translations that say Jesus called them friends, this is not the case because they too learned from Him.
This stood out to me, not only because I learned the ages of the apostles, but in that they too needed to learn and grow just like all of us. Not only have I been exposed to new culture and traditions, but I have learned that we all are children of God—not matter your color, creed, race or religion. As a religion major, this trip to Israel is the apex of my Wabash journey.
– Photos by Ian Baumgardner ’14
Logan O’Connor ’15 – Jericho is the oldest city in the world, estimated to have been founded in 8000BCE. So it was really really interesting to visit this site. The ruins of ancient Jericho look like a giant mound of dirt, but this is because it has not been excavated very well. The excavations that exist have uncovered the oldest building in the world (10,000 years old) and there is also the remnants of the northern gate of the famous Wall of Jericho. The most interesting aspect about the site is the view. It is located within a valley that is 450 meters below sea level, and the view from the top of the mound is borderline incredible.
More important than Jericho though, is the plight the Palestinian people face. When people talk about Apartheid it is assumed that you are talking about pre-1990’s South Africa. But there is Apartheid in Israel as well. The Palestinians are militarily confined to the West Bank by Israel. It is also considered a felony for an Israeli to enter Palestine. In that sense it is Separateness-which is what Apartheid is. The cities in Northern Israel are very affluent and modern, but travel no more than 30 miles south and the conditions the people live in are a world apart. Palestine has the look and feel of a third world country, yet Israel is a very modern pseudo-Western country. While neither side’s hands are clean in the struggle, Israel’s are far dirtier.
The claim that the Israelis have over their land is bogus. You do not get to claim inheritance to a land that you have not been in full control of for 2500 years. The Old Testament is not a valid legal claim to land. Additionally, according to the Old Testament there was/is a contract between God and the Jews. God did not give the ancient Hebrews the land that is now Israel for free, there were terms that were agreed upon. The Hebrews violated this contract many times. In fact, the violation of the contract is a central theme in the Old Testament. The ancient Hebrews were forbidden from worshipping other Gods and human sacrifice, and yet this is exactly what they did over and over. The original Temple built by Solomon had altars to other Gods in it. The standard theology is that the Hebrews were conquered by the Babylonians because of the breach of contract. Furthermore, the Palestinians inhabited the land prior to 1948. What the modern nation of Israel has done is a mix between how the Europeans treated the indigenous population of the New World and Apartheid South Africa. The Israelis stole the Palestinians land, and now confine them to the desert.
The state of Israel is incredibly hypocritical. For a people who have been known for not having a home and being persecuted, you would think that they would not exile others from their homeland and persecute them. Yet that is what is happening here. In that sense modern Israeli’s are incredibly myopic. And America sides with the Israelis in the separation of the West Bank. Which is a shame, because that goes against everything that America is supposed to stand for. But I guess money rules all. Just because you had land 2500 years ago is not a fair reason to treat the people who rightfully live in the land you want like garbage. Both sides could have peace, but unfortunately there is money in war. This is a problem that will go on and escalate for the foreseeable future, and it is a shame because this country is unbelievably beautiful. The land that is Israel should be shared, not fought over. I am fine with the Jews living in Israel, but their claim to the land is much weaker than the Palestinians, who had lived in the land for hundreds of years prior to 1948.
– Photos by Ian Baumgardner ’14
Kalp Juthani ‘15 – Shalom from the Sea of Galiliee! Today, we had the opportunity to tour Nazareth and learn from a Palestinian Peace Activist in Shefar’am; both of which challenged me to rethink the conflict that has plagued Israel for centuries. We started the day in Nazareth, where we visited the Basilica of the Annunciation. After weaving our way through local markets to avoid the pouring rain, we entered Basilica and were stunned by its magnificence. Light from its stained glass windows bounced off of the floors and illuminated the church with an absolutely beautiful assortment of colors. The central dome dominated the hall, protecting a grotto beneath it. Roman Catholics believe that its location is the site where the angel Gabriel visited Mary to announce that she would conceive Jesus. In many ways, the beauty of the church induces a feeling of spirituality and left us all with a powerful experience.
We climbed up a spiral staircase in the basilica and found numerous mosaics depicting Mary from different parts of the world. As we explored the main hall, the Muslim call to prayer could be heard in the distance. The sound echoed through the church but it did not seem to disturb any of its rituals inside. A few minutes following the call for prayer, we heard monks reciting Latin chants and large bells ringing from the churches towers. This is when it all finally began to connect for me. The religions were competing against each other with sound. It was clear that both Muslims and Christians wanted to be heard in the city. The competition didn’t just end here. We were then taken to a site holy to Muslims on an adjacent lot and encountered a site of contestation. We learned that the Muslim community had intended to build a Mosque on the site to celebrate the life of a holy man but had been denied permission to do so. The rivalry between the two religions has become central to the life of the people of Nazareth and their fight continues to dominate every scene in the city.
We continued our afternoon in Shefar’an, an ancient town that overlooks Haifa. Despite sharing a history that is shrouded with myths involving events in the life of Jesus, the town was completely isolated from other pilgrimage sites. We drove through narrow alleys, passed an abandoned synagogue, and arrived at the House of Hope, where we met Elias Jabbour, a Palestinian peace activist. For many of us, he immediately shattered our presumptions about Palestinians in the region. Mr. Jabbour was a Christian and argued that the earliest Christians were also Palestinians. What surprised me was the large number of Christian Arabs in Israel. I have met a few Christian Arabs in the states and have always assumed that the vast majority of them fled persecution and ended up settling outside of the Middle East. This is definitely not the case. They receive very little recognition from other Christians and continue to be fragmented by the Arab Spring. I am certain that the pilgrims that we encountered in Nazareth have similar assumptions if not worse ones regarding Arabs.
Before I begin preparing for tomorrow’s exciting day in Jericho and Jerusalem, I wanted to thank everyone that has made this experience possible. It has been beyond anything that I could have imagined.