March 13, 2008Since leaving Beit Sahour and the West Bank several weeks ago, we have had a variety of experiences throughout Israel. We spent two weeks at Jerusalem University College, which is located just outside the old city walls on Mount Zion (the burial place of King David and a significant location in the story of Holy Week). At JUC, we studied Biblical geography, archaeology, and history, covering everything from rock formations to the history of the Temple Mount to just about everything built by Herod, and so much more. Some of the highlights for me were floating in the Dead Sea, staying on the shore of the Sea of Galilee for several days, and seeing countless Biblical sites. There is something special about reading a Biblical story while standing at the location where it happened. For the rest of my life, I will read the Bible differently.
After the JUC program, we had a week of independent travel. While many in the group chose to stay in Israel, visiting places like Tiberias and Eilat, about half of us, including myself, went to Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul is a beautiful city with the unique distinction of being in two continents, Europe and Asia. Several bodies of water divide Istanbul into three sections of sorts, so a common way to get around the city is by ferry. My favorite experience in Istanbul was riding a ferry across the Bosphorus River from Europe to Asia at sunset. Some of us also tried to cross continents one evening by way of a bridge we thought we could walk across...let's just say we were wrong. Other highlights for me included seeing the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace and taking an authentic Turkish bath. Istanbul's rich and long history (for example, one mosque, built in the 16th century, is called "New Mosque") made it a fascinating place to visit.
At the end of free travel, our group reunited in Jerusalem's old city, where we are now staying at a convent called Ecce Homo. In addition to the excitement of living in the old city, nearly a stone's throw from the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock, this week has been both mentally and spiritually enriching. Our studies are focused on Judaism, which gives us new insights into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I have a fuller view of the complex situation now, so it feels like things we have been learning all semester are starting to come together. At the same time, each new thing we hear only brings new questions. For me, the most valuable thing about studying Jewish practice and beliefs is the light it sheds on Jesus and the background of my Christian faith. Since Jesus was a Jewish rabbi, learning about the details of his faith enriches my own.
Our group is looking forward to spending Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, then moving on to a kibbutz near the Sea of Galilee. I love Jerusalem, and my time here has been life-changing. While it will be strange to leave, I look forward to seeing how the next stage of the journey will also change me.