Sunday, January 15, 2012

News from Jerusalem, Friday, 13 January 2012

I apologize to those of you who have been following my trip to Israel for not having posted an entry in the last day or so.  This has been a very full trip and there have been several nights when I have simply been too tired to write.  I hope tonight to remedy this in part.

We began our aliyah, our ascent, to Jerusalem mid-morning on Friday the 13th.  The sky was overcast, but as we ascended into the Judean hills the clouds opened and the rain began in great earnest.  Although this rain was welcomed by many israelis, it presented a challenge to those of us who were about to spend the afternoon outside walking through the rain.

As we entered the outskirts of Jerusalem there was no grand vista.  The steep hills and valleys simply began to be populated with homes and other buildings.  Then there was a beautiful bridge supporting the brand new light rail system.  All of a sudden, in the midst of an urban area, our bus stopped and we got out to find ourselves at the foot of the wall surrounding the Old City.  Uri and Sebastian, our tour guides, hopped off to find some umbrellas and we were off into this city fraught with meaning for so many peoples and traditions.

Uri inside the Jaffa Gate
We entered by the Jaffa Gate on the western side of the city wall.  Here Uri sketched out the plan for the day with a backdrop of Ottoman towers, large groups of tourists passing in front and behind him and avoiding the traffic that seemed to treat sidewalks as legitimate places to park!  As we walked into the Old City, we saw a symbol of an approach to Jewish-Christian relations that many of us would like to set behind us --- Christ Church, the first foundation of the Christian Mission to the Jews, an effort on the part of Anglicans to convert Jews to Christianity.  Uri led us on a trip through the maze that is the Old City.  How he could keep track of the turns and routes was a mystery to me, but he brought us out onto a rooftop from which we could gain a vista of the Old City and the Temple Mount.

Damaged mosaic (r) and burnt beam (l)
From our roof top perch we walked down to Hurva Square, one of the central squares in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City where we had a quick lunch.  From Hurva Square Uri led us to the Herodian Mansions Museum.  Here we saw the archeological remains of the homes of the Temple elite with a poignant reminder of the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.  In one of the homes there is a mosaic damaged by fire as well as the charred remains of roof beam that has been dated to the precise time of the destruction of the Temple.  That event, so important to the development of contemporary Judaism, was also formative for the early Christian community as we were faced with the re-structuring of a Christian community without its heart in Jerusalem.

Western Wall (r) under the Dome
Western Walkway
From the Herodian Mansions we made our way to the Western Wall and the Jerusalem Archeological Park where the significance of this city became more embodied for all of us on this trip.  We made our way down to the south of the Temple Mount where an archeological park has been established around the southern end of the Western Wall and the length of the Southern Wall.  Here in the park we walked, wet and cold, over to the Western Walkway, an area of the Temple Mount most assuredly known by Jesus and the first community of disciples.  This walkway was one of the means of gaining access to the Temple and the surface of the walkway bears the scars of the destruction of the Temple as huge stones fell down upon the walkway.  The people in the left portion of the picture are taking shelter in small alcoves which would have been small businesses in the time of Jesus and the early Christian community prior to the destruction of the Temple.

From the Western Walkway we made our way up to the Western Wall where we all took a handful of prayers prepared by the parishioners of one of participants, Susan, the vicar of an Episcopal church in New Jersey.  In the cold rain I took my share of the prayers to the Wall and placed them into the joints of the wall and offered my prayers.  The first was the Summary of the Law, familiar to Anglicans:

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God,
the Lord is one.
Love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
with all your mind,
with all your strength and
with all your soul.
This is the first commandment.

The second is like it:
Love your neighbour as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

I then added the petition that

Lord, have mercy upon us,
and write both these your laws in our hearts, 
we beseech you.

I then asked our God to accept these prayers and to answer them as may be best for us and for those for whom we pray.  Then the Lord's Prayer and the eucharistic doxology from The Book of Alternative Services:

Glory to God,
whose power working in us
can do infinitely more than we ask or imagine.
Glory to God
from generation to generation
in the church and
in Christ Jesus
now and for ever.  Amen.

Then I made a quick trip to find the warmth and dryness of our bus!

After a very warm shower and a change of clothes I joined my group for the Shabbat evening services at Kol HaNashemah, a Reform congregation near our hotel.  Before the service we were greeted by a member of the congregation who asked us two questions that are of pertinence to Christians as well:  How do we reach out to those in the 20's and 30's?  How can our liturgy be more alive?

Following worship we returned to the hotel for Shabbat dinner with Rabbi Ron Kronish, Director of the Inter-Faith Religious Coordinating Council in Israel, a group that is working to bring together young Israelis and Palestinians in programmes that help develop their skills in dialogue.  Five young people joined us and shared their experiences in the programmes offered by the Council.  One young Palestinian participant expressed the depth of his feelings which proved to be a challenge to at least one of our Jewish colleagues, precipitating a lengthy conversation later in the evening.

Exhausted I left before the conclusion of dinner for bed!

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