Friday, September 5, 2008

Jerusalem Stories, #2

Hello everyone,
Since Ole and I are just basking day after day in the glorious beauty surrounding us here in Scotland, we don't want you to get bored with the tediously repetitive ecstasy of our blog, so I thought I would try to write a little story every day from the adventures we had in our travels that I didn't have time to report. I thought I would start with the weekends we spent in Jerusalem, so here is:

Jerusalem Story #2:

During the weeks Ole and I were at the dig in Israel, we had to leave the Kibbutz every weekend because our cottages were rented out to vacationers. We kept going back to Jerusalem because we found it endlessly fascinating. I had written to my children about the personal anguish I experienced the first weekend. (That was Jerusalem story #1.) My heartbreak was the result of two factors. First, I had very high expectations that I would experience an unparalleled closeness to God when I visited the very places that Jesus had walked. I was very disappointed in the commercialization of the Holy City and in the tension between the various religious groups. Secondly, we were treated very rudely again and again in our encounters that first weekend. We finally realized that the Arabic people we were trying to relate to thought that we were Jewish. (Ole's new beard and his nose made him look the part of a Jewish resident. We began to notice that all the Jewish bus drivers, security guards, restaurant owners, etc., spoke to him in Hebrew, whereas they spoke to other tourists in English.) We learned that there had been an incident that weekend: two Israeli policemen had been shot and killed very close to where we were staying, and so tensions were heightened, and we were feeling the nasty emotions directed at us. I finally ended up in tears, and God sent a lovely Hebrew woman to comfort me – an unforgettable experience. After God's intervention through her, I was fine, and the next weekend we had an entirely different and wonderful experience.

We checked into our hotel on Suq Khan-el-Zeit in the Old City on Friday afternoon, showered off the 5000-year-old dust from our dig at Gath, ate hummus and pita bread at a little Arabic restaurant, and walked through the ancient streets to the Wailing Wall to be present for the beginning of Sabbath. We had to walk through a security checkpoint, but there was a sign that assured us that the chief rabbis of Jerusalem had ruled that operating the turnstiles did not constitute a violation of the Sabbath. No photographs are allowed to be taken near the Wailing Wall on Sabbath, but we watched in fascination as hundreds of Orthodox families, dressed in their Sabbath costumes, came to pray, sing and dance. We were sitting on a low wall at the edge of the Plaza that adjoins the Wall when I became aware of a man sitting next to me on a section of wall that was a bit higher. I looked up into his kind face, and we began to visit. Eventually, he moved down beside Ole on our low wall, and we talked for more than an hour as the Plaza gradually emptied and we were left alone in the soft Jerusalem night.

He told us that he was Jewish but had been born and grew up in Lebanon. His dear elderly parents and some siblings still live in Beirut, but he had managed to escape about twelve years before and had been living in Jerusalem ever since. He described his childhood and youth as an agonizing struggle to belong in a society that rejected him, his family, and everything about his culture. As a little boy he was consistently the victim of bullies, and there was no authority to protect him – they looked the other way. His dear parents struggled with poverty as their shop was boycotted. Every interaction with the community was filled with threats and disdain. During the civil war, they were detested by all sides. People often spat at them and said, "Why don't you go back where you came from." His sensitive heart was tortured by an inability to find a sense of identity, to feel good about his heritage. Eventually, he was able to fly to Cyprus and from there back to Israel where he claimed "Alia" or the Right of Return for anyone whose mother is Jewish. He gave up his right to ever return to see his parents in Lebanon, but he keeps hoping to be able to bring them to Israel as well.

He told us "For several years after I came back to Israel, I had dreams within dreams." We weren't sure what he meant, but he explained that he would have a nightmare that he was back in Lebanon, suffering as he had before. He would wake up terrified. He would get up and walk about his bedroom touching the walls, the furniture and telling himself, "No, this is Israel. I am free. I am safe. I belong here. I am in Israel." But even as he tried to convince himself, he would not be certain that this was reality. He suspected that he was only dreaming that he was in Israel – because he had dreamed of that for so long. He would go back to sleep, and the nightmare of being back in Lebanon would return, and he wouldn't know which was reality and which was the dream. Eventually, those nighttime horrors subsided and now he praises God every day that He brought him back to the promised land.

As our new friend struggled to help us understand what Israel meant to him, Ole and I thought we could grasp for the first time how desperately important this homeland was to Jewish people all over the world. This conversation helped us to be more sympathetic with their determination to hang on to this land even though it meant soldiers with machine guns on every corner and rabbis and scholars who carry pistols in their belts at all times.

As we walked back to our Arabic hotel through the ancient streets, now quiet and dark, we tried to imagine our escape from this sad world to our true home. Will it take us some time to really believe we are in the New Jerusalem? During the first years of the millennium, will we have dreams that we are back in the land of death and sorrow?

Sabbath morning dawned sunny and still. We walked out of the Old City through the Damascus Gate, to the Garden Tomb. A British Christian organization cares for the lovely gardens that surround the possible site of Jesus' crucifixion and burial. We walked to the cliff with the rock formations that looked like a skull. Was this Golgotha? We walked back down into the garden and found the huge winepress that indicated this might have been the vineyard of the very wealthy Joseph of Arimathea who buried Jesus in his own new tomb. A group of young Christians had gathered in a small gazebo and were singing hymns with a guitar. We spent more than an hour in prayer and reading the story again of our Savior who endured so much to ensure that we do have a true Home to go to and can claim the Right of Return.

In the afternoon, we walked to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. This photo is of the ancient olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane that may have been the very ones that heard Jesus' prayer the night he was arrested.

No comments: