From HUGer Christine:
Our HUG group has been in Israel for seven days now, a week in the holy land. I would try and avoid sounding cliche, but each day has genuinely been a unique experience. I believe I have learned more on this trip than I have in the other two months I have been studying abroad; mostly things about the Holy Land, but also about my faith, commercialism, conflict, and the other two main religions that exist in this small country.
Today has been so full. I sat in my hotel room for over an hour trying to process the places I have been and what they meant to the people visiting the sites and I still do not think I have the skill to write this reflection in a way that will enable you to understand what we have experienced and how we have changed.
We started out our day at the ripe time of 7AM, and sleepy eyed and fresh from our night’s sleep we headed out to the temple mount, the place in the Old City of Jerusalem where the Jewish temple once stood (it was destroyed 40 years after Jesus by the Romans). In this space, we can find Jews praying to the Wailing (Western) Wall, the only part of the temple left standing. This is considered the Holiest of Holys because to the Jews, God’s spirit remains in and around these walls. I stood a respectful distance from the wall and found myself moved to tears by the faith I saw in the people. The Jews are not allowed in the central part of the temple; the temple cannot even be rebuilt because Islam built a mosque (Dome of the Rock) right over where the holiest place in the temple would have been (Temple Mount). The place that was built by the Jews is not in their control, and I am filled with deep sadness as I watch them touch and pray over the outside of it. I also am filled with rage as I realize how deep commercialism has run in our world as a noisy family stands and poses for a picture in front of the women who are praying over their holiest place; posing with their two year old, holding up peace signs, and laughing and being loud because they are overjoyed that they are here and will now have a picture to impress people with. I am disgusted, and this is an unfortunate reoccuring theme I have seen everywhere this summer - posing in front of tombs, taking selfies of themselves in front of women kissing a stone and praying, and a general touristic attitude of “I need my picture WITH whatever it is I am looking at”. It’s disrespectful, it’s rude, and it’s far too common. I love touring, but I really have a distaste for the culture of tourists.
Anyways, from the Wailing Wall we followed our tour guide to the closest we could get to the Dome of the Rock (the door into the square), the third most holy place to Islam. As mentioned above, it is built right on the Temple Mount, the place where God existed in the Temple pre-Jesus. The Muslims built a mosque over this stone because here they believe that Mohammed rose to heaven to receive the Koran. It was closed today to anyone that wasn’t a Muslim because of peaceful protests organized by the Jews in the city to gain the right to coexist and pray in peace in the temple center. I have since done some research and have learned that many of the Rabiis are pushing for the Temple Mount to turn into a symbol of universal religious freedom, since this place is holy to all three of the major religions, something I feel like would be a beautiful symbol of peace among religion.
Before leaving the temple square, we visited some of the 14 stops in the Via Delorosa, which takes people on a Jesus journey, ending with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest place for most of Christianity. We then continued down the street to St. Anne’s church and sang in their building, but the more beautiful part was listening to the group of Italians sing before we did. I found myself in tears for the second time that day, and we hadn’t even had lunch. I am still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I visited the holy place for all three major religions within the same square mile, within a matter of a few hours. There is truly no other place on earth like this.
Next, most of the group explored the tunnels of Hezekiah in the City of David, where David’ palace would have been, but I took the dry route because I do not like walking in water when it is dark (wouldn’t you agree, mom?). After lunch, we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Latin for tomb to make things more complicated), the place where even archaeologists agree that Jesus was probably buried. This church is huge; it is meant to cover everything that would have taken place when Jesus was crucified. This church has been destroyed many times, and today it is in possession of the Greek Orthodox church, though the Catholics rent it out for a few hours a day so that it will remain Catholic. The politics of the church are confusing, our guide explaining it is occupied by Catholics, Coptics, Orthodox, Armenians, etc. and it made me wonder if Jesus would be proud of the large church Christians have built or disappointed in the large disunity among the believers sharing the building. The church was impressive, but incredibly overwhelming (loud sounds, artwork, expensive looking things, tourists taking selfies UGH) and I was more than ready when we left. I am incredibly grateful that the churches I attend focus less on impressing the people that come in with its beauty and are more concerned with the heart and soul of the visitor.
There is so much more to what we did today, but I am limiting my information overload to what I have already gone overboard with. I would encourage you to push your student to give you a call; we are all a little homesick, and many of us would love to talk about our time in Israel (we need to talk about it, honestly). I pray tonight a prayer of thanksgiving for my my family and friends, the opportunity to see the places where bible stories come to life, and I also pray in gratitude that Jesus changed the way we had relationship with God; we no longer have to go to the place where God dwells to worship and pray to Him, because we are the temple and He lives in us.
Lots of love,