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ISRAEL-PALESTINE: First Steps in Israel: Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Jisr Az Zarqa, Jericho

Sore Feet

Saturday, September 2, 2017: Tel Aviv, Jaffa

Shalom! Here we are in Tel Aviv, Israel. Our feet have carried us for 29 hours in this exotic city. My first impressions of this land: The sand is hot, the sun brilliant, the skin leather. I feel as if our foreign presence is obvious. We walk around dripping with sweat like everyone else and we squint from the overbearing light – just like everyone else – but the lingering stares from the locals feel heavy (I think it is because of our Chacos, water bottles, and backpacks!).

Group with Tel Aviv cityscape

Now, I hesitated to substitute the word “locals” with “natives” because of Israel’s distinct and complicated history. In Tel Aviv, it is different because every religion, style of dress and language is welcomed with open arms. However, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is ever-present. To put it simply (and pleasantly), Arabs lost their homes when the Jews arrived, yet the Jews fulfilled their prophecy to acquire the Holy Land. There seems to be a silent tension when the conflict is discussed from a one-sided perspective. I have been feeling as if the people that speak to us about their opinions are not spilling all that lies on their hearts. Instead of being open minded, it seems to me that most people we have encountered maintain their stagnant, silent attitude and avoid discomfort at all costs. When our group walked down the coast to Jaffa – a one hour walk south of Tel Aviv – it felt like were the only people in the streets.

Our guides, Elad (Moroccan Jewish) and Alaa (Palestinian, Israeli citizen and a graduate of EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding program), explained in a careful tongue that Old Jaffa holds burdensome Arab Palestinian history, which entails a negative connotation for the Jewish Israelis. Despite this, most Palestinian homes in Old Jaffa have been repurposed into boutiques that overflow with vivid paintings, jewelry, spices, and napping street-cats. It hurts me to know what happened to the Palestinians who used to call these places home.

Even in the most shadowed corners of Old Jaffa, the winding stone walls still prove capable of absorbing the brilliant heat. It is a port town, aging close to 5,000 years. Each stone path is chipped with biblical history. On our first full day in Israel, our feet have carried us across sand where the disciples once walked. We have waded in warm Mediterranean waves, stuttered our newly-learned languages of Hebrew and Arabic, and seen the house of Simon the Tanner where Peter slept after he raised Tabitha from the dead, and where he had a vision from God commanding him that “what God has cleansed you must not call common” (Acts 10:15).

Our feet ache with heartbeats of a new adventure, and our mouths still fall agape at the sight of this beautiful land. I feel overwhelmed with this unfamiliar place, its deep internal conflict, the languages, and the stares. I do not have much to say about our first week in Israel. My mind, however, proves opposite of my mouth. It has become feral like the Israeli street cats – constantly stirring and pulling up emotional garbage – and I can’t seem to twist my thoughts into comprehensible words. Regardless, I have an immense hope for the good that could come from this diverse desert. The friendships I am forming hold a sense of genuineness I have rarely felt before. I will move onward, Insha’Allah (Arabic for “if Allah allows” or “God willing”) to tomorrow, where our feet will further carry us in the Holy Land.

-Larissa Graber


Sunday, September 3, 2017: Tel Aviv, Neve Tsedek, Jisr Az Zarqa

Walking through the streets of Tel Aviv we hear a different narrative from the day before. Our guide, Abraham Silver, a long-time resident of Israel with American Jewish roots presents the story of a youthful city with a history of only 107 years, started mainly by people in their teens and low 20s.  Yes, 60 families, mostly made up of people our age helped to build the first Jewish city in what would become Israel. Abraham shows us a picture of the families, on a sand dune, with a barren landscape behind them, waiting to be tamed.

Walking through Tel Aviv we look up into glass buildings that reach new heights. We walk on sidewalks that cover old sand dunes. The “New York of Israel” is a success story woven with the pain and fear of a thousand years of living in ghettos and fleeing pogroms. We feel the effects of massacres in Rome, Spain, Kishinev (Google it), and across Europe. All is cross-stitched with the bravery, imagination, and the stubborn (blind) determination only present in teenagers. Israel was founded by young adults with nothing to lose. Moving to the U.S. would have been the responsible choice, with job opportunities, family, and pre-existing, thriving Jewish communities. Israel was the dreamer’s choice. The end result is a victorious fairy tale that overshadows all else. Our guide stood in the center of Neve Tsedek, the first neighborhood of Tel Aviv, proudly singing the song of a found people.

The tale continues to be one success after another. We see the houses where the founders of the modern Hebrew language took a biblical tongue not spoken for more than prayers in 400 years and developed a colloquial language so that the eventual nation (already dreamed of by this time) could have its own language. We stand in the middle of a metropolitan sprawl looking at a tiny cappuccino kiosk, what had originally been the very first building of Tel Aviv. We sit in front of the first Jewish school for girls, one of many examples of the revolutionary Israelis. Finally, our guide tells us, “The Jews have a home. Finally, we are safe.” But there is a lot more to the story that we find out later.  For instance, that picture of those first 60 families, standing on a sand dune, with nothing but empty space behind them.  We later find out that had the photo panned to the left or the right we would have seen the Palestinian villages that already existed in this “empty land”.

Who do we believe? How can we get the full story? That is what we are here to do. And it is hard work . . . if it is even possible.

The contradictions continue as we learn about different types of peacebuilding efforts by Israelis and Palestinians and organizations made up of both. The Shimon Peres Institute for Peace and Innovation (started by Shimon Peres, former Prime Minister and President of Israel) swears that relationships are the keys to peace.  But their building is built facing the seafront, blocking the view of Palestinians living behind it and very close to a Palestinian cemetery. Zochrot, the second institution that we toured, vows that there cannot be peace without justice – allowing Palestinians the option of returning to the land they were forced to leave. They have created a map that shows the Palestinian villages emptied or destroyed in 1948 during the “Nakba” (Arabic for “catastrophe”) when Israel became a nation.

Jaffa – Our guides, Alaa and Elad


The third institution we saw, Beit HaGafen, works with the shared humanity of art. Then we visited Jisr Az Zarqa, a poor Palestinian city in Israel, where recent development and tourism attempts show potential to bring better economic conditions to this town of 40,000 people.

Next to this, we hold within us frustrations over the language barrier and the joys of having fun with friends. We are still college students learning what it means to live in this world. We are sleepy and excited, exhausted and rejuvenated. We have more questions than answers, more processing in the works, and we all share a deep sense of something. When we figure out what it is, we’ll let you know.

-Lindsay Acker


Indiana Jones was Just a Movie

Wednesday, September 6, 2017: Jericho

Tuesday night we said goodbye for a few weeks to our guide Alaa after a day’s tour of his home city of Akko. Wednesday morning we left Haifa on our faithful modern-chariot [bus with air conditioning] for the old and new city of Jericho.  We pulled into a quiet gas station just outside of Jericho and if not for the signs being in Arabic and Hebrew and the presence of several camels, it would be hard to tell that we are not in the American Southwest. After refueling and picking up our new guide, a local man named Hamudi, we drive into Jericho. Before crossing into the city limits (which are controlled by the Palestinian Authority), we must first part ways with our Jewish guide, Elad,. Regardless of how badly we want him to accompany us and vice versa, it is illegal for him (and all other Israeli Jews) to enter Jericho, which is part of the Palestinian Authority known as “Area A” (for more information on who controls which part of the West Bank, click here). It is with heavy hearts that we must continue without these two guides, who have quickly become friends. This is one of the first tangible lessons of the conflict. Shortly after leaving Elad we get our first true glimpse of the “Palestinian State”.Jericho is a cluttered canvas splattered with shades of grey, beige, and off-white. In some places it looks like a public service announcement about the developing world and in others a modern city. One of the most obvious signs of tension between economic development and stagnation is an “Oasis Hotel” and a casino – a massive, beautiful, modern building with doors locked tight and only “guests” allowed to enter. Unsurprisingly, the potential for explosive conflict is bad for the once growing business and has driven away much of the casino’s former clients, providing an even more powerful reminder of the stranglehold Israel has on Palestinian territories.

After a lunch of delicious shwarma (meat wrapped in a pita with various sauces and vegetables) or falafel (fried balls of chickpea and spices, wrapped in pita with various sauces and vegetables) we head to the tree that Zacchaeus the tax collector climbed to see Jesus as he passed by in Jericho. Today the tree is like so many other sites in the modern Holy Land – a tourist trap. A local vendor hawking his wares stopped to tell us the story before immediately returning to enticing us with scarves and trinkets. As thanks for the story, a few of us bought head scarves or other small items. I was personally pulled aside by a man selling dates and after some intense negotiation, I passed on his product which I knew was overpriced. I have to this point left out an essential character in our story, Ibrahim, our long suffering bus driver. Ibrahim is a man of few words, speaking only softly and seldom. Despite being quiet, his driving is anything but. After boarding the bus again, Ibrahim takes us to an overlook below the Mount of Temptation, and displays his skill behind the wheel that would make Mario Andretti blush. Through a combination of grit, determination, and what I’m certain were a few Arabic curse words, our bus makes its way slowly up the steep and winding gravel-strewn slope to the overlook of the valley. Above us built into the cliffs is a large monastery belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church. Below us spread out across the valley floor is a tapestry of brightly colored patches of garbage that looked as though the sun has melted a million boxes of crayons. As lovely as the image might sound, it was far from beautiful. The vibrant realization was that the source of color was just human-strewn trash. After a few minutes of melting ourselves in the sun, we boarded our bus and Ibrahim once again showed his talent on the way back down the mountain.

Finally, we arrived at our last sight-seeing destination in Jericho: the archeological excavation of the old city of Jericho. It was at this moment my inner child (and inner Indiana Jones) was set loose. My joy, however, was short lived. Despite the ongoing excavation and restoration, the current site of Jericho is far from the lost cities and ancient temples Harrison Ford came upon. In part, this is due to the logistical challenges of excavating a place where temperatures typically exceed 100° Fahrenheit, electricity and water are spotty, and the conflict makes it difficult for archaeologists to get permission for new digs. I still found the walls and tower to be impressive, and the portions of the site that have been renovated are even more incredible when you consider that Jericho is more than 10,000 years old. Layer was built on top of layer, but the original stones and bricks that make up its early walls are easy to distinguish from the renovations.

Whether or not the site is accurate to the biblical Jericho or whether the story of Joshua and his famous battle has any truth is up for debate but I found it to be undeniably awe-inspiring. The longer we spent walking the grounds of the site the more my initial disappointment faded. This was the remains of the ancient city of Jericho! While there was certainly nowhere to practice my Indiana-Jones-bullwhip-skills or hidden passages to explore (thanks to ropes and chains surrounding all excavation pits), my childhood dreams of seeing the wonders of the ancient world were rekindled. As we left the town behind us, I reflected more on what it was that made me fall in love with history in the first place. It wasn’t some vain idea of being a “world adventurer” it was the idea of seeing the places where people had lived their lives and to have the opportunity to walk in their footsteps, experiencing their holy places, and perhaps most importantly, meeting people like Hamudi who told their stories and kept their myths and legends alive.

We read the Biblical stories of Jericho aloud as we headed to our next destination.  It was a good closer for the experience.

Rejected blog titles:

While we have not actually settled on a blog title, we have developed quite a list of rejected titles. Many are inside jokes, so you will have to ask us for the story.  We hope you enjoy them.  We will add to the list as more are proposed and rejected:

  • Armageddon has a gift shop (and we really only stopped to pee)
  • We cried at Chinese food (and a dog)
  • Hey Andy look at the cat!
  • Uncle Bill’s paying
  • There’s an essential oil for that
  • It’s Hot (pronounced with phlegm)
  • Uncle Bill, why can’t I put sunscreen on your back?
  • “It’s 100 degrees at 8pm and they tell us the heat wave is still coming!”
  • ANI DAVID !!!!!

Next week, keep following our adventure for thoughts about Kibbutz Ketura, the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, and various other things that fall on our minds.

-Owen Musselman

RADICAL EUROPE: The Journey Home

We arrived in Berlin on Sunday evening and began our city exploration the following morning. During our time in Berlin, we visited Wittenberg to see the home and church of Martin Luther. However, more important than the places we visited is the idea of the Cross Cultural program itself. On our final night in Berlin, we met for a debriefing session to evaluate where each of us stood on the program and what we had learned. A few days ago, people were ready to return home, but now they have become reluctant to leave.
As the trip ends, several students have begun to describe the cheeseburgers that they plan to eat upon arrival in the States. We are excited to return the land of free public bathrooms and air conditioning. We are excited to return to a land where water fountains are common everywhere, and drinking water isn’t carbonated. We cannot wait to read road signs and restaurant menus in English.
Now that the final day of Cross Cultural is here, we wish we didn’t need to leave for the airport at 4 am. We wish we could ignore national politics a while longer. We wish Kinder Eggs were sold in the US. We wish that the public transportation in our hometowns was as good as the Viennese U-bahn.
We’re going home.

-Tim Martin

RADICAL EUROPE: Free Travel Explorations

Free travel has been the part of this cross cultural I have been so excited for since before we left! Three of my peers and I were originally going to go to Geneva, Switzerland, but there were a sudden change of plans. So, we decided to go to Lyon, France for our 3.5 days. We figured it wasn’t too far from our departing station, Basel, Switzerland. It also wasn’t too far from our meeting destination, Strasbourg, France. Getting to Lyon was easier than I thought it was going to be. Walking around a city I have never been to before wasn’t half bad either. The places we visited were over a mile away from our Airbnb place, but it was an easy walk. On Tuesday, we went to the Basilique of Notre-Dame de Fourvière.

We admired the view (pictured below) for a good 15 minutes before going inside to look at the basilica and crypt. Afterwards, we went down onto the Renaissance district called Vieux Lyon. We ate lunch at a pizza shop and walked around some other cute, little shops.

Wednesday we decided to do a day trip to Paris since it was only a 2-hour train ride. Once in Paris, we headed over to the Notre Dame. The cathedral was breathtaking! We spent about 15 minutes inside. Once done there, we went to the Louvre. This is where the Mona Lisa is. We ate our lunch while in line to get through security. See, Kim has always gone to the grocery store to get sandwich making ingredients because it is cheaper. So, that’s what we did. We went to a Simply City and bought ingredients to make PB&Js! This was perfect because we didn’t have to go sit down and wait for our food to come out. We spent 2 hours there and I’m sure we didn’t get to see everything because it’s just that big. We were also on a tight schedule. After the Louvre, we walked to the Eiffel Tower! This was my favorite part of the day. We went up to the 2nd floor. The view from there was amazing!

Free travel was definitely a learning experience with a bunch of firsts, but I wouldn’t trade the experiences or memories for anything.


Our cross-cultural (CC) group split into three smaller groups for five-night homestays with local Diné (Navajo) families on the reservation. All three homestays were in Leupp, which is a very small town near the reservation border. My group consisted of six guys who stayed in a modernized off-grid hogan. Hogans were a traditional round housing for many Diné, and came in many forms – the most common of which was a round log building with dirt floors.
Our hogan was about 25 feet in diameter, built from cement block with a shingled roof and a finished interior, featuring drywall and linoleum floors.We used kerosene lamps (and our flashlights) for light, and had a large container of water for hand washing. There was a plywood outhouse with a small solar garden light about a hundred feet away for use as a bathroom. We showered every few days at a local chapter house (similar to a chamber of commerce).
Our hosts, John and Dixie, were incredibly hospitable and welcoming. Dixie and her daughter cooked delicious food for us and we always had more than enough. They did a great deal to make us feel comfortable and at home.
John’s father, George, is one of only a few remaining Navajo Code Talkers. George very graciously agreed to speak with our whole CC group about his experience as one of the Code Talkers who served in WWII. His daughter Annabelle explained much of his story, and then George spoke for a bit. He also mentioned that he often declines requests to speak for groups now, but that since John had requested on our behalf, he was happy to meet with us.
On Monday (5/29), we were allocated the day to spend with our respective host families. My group awoke early to travel to George and his wife Emma Jean’s house. The six of us spent our morning with mattocks and shovels, clearing their garden and yard of hearty weeds. Though it only took us a few hours, they seemed to really appreciate what we had done – Emma Jean even went so far as to introduce us as her “pale, sparkly grandsons” (rough translation) to others we met.
It felt really good to be able to do something in return for this family that had done so much for us, and I was really honored to be considered as part of their family even though we had only spent a short time with them.
-Clay Cordell

RADICAL EUROPE: And Up the Alps We Go

Since we’ve arrived in Europe we’ve caught glimpses of some mountains. The more we’ve traveled, the more of them we’ve seen. I’ve grown up around mountains, and I’m quite familiar with them, but the Alps are an entirely different story. At the bottom you’re hot and burning up in the 80 degree weather, but you’re staring up at snow covered peaks. And let me tell you, they are breathtaking.

Today, we got the opportunity to hike one. We didn’t get to the snow peaks, but where we ended was actually a spot that was covered with some snowy patches just a few weeks prior.

Our trek up the mountain was led by Dr. Werner Schwartz, an official “Bergführer” (mountain guide) and “Naturschützer” (nature protector) for 30 years. He taught us about the rocks, plants, animals, and water of the area on our journey to the top.

We came out onto the ridge where the top of a ski lift ended, and climbed just a little further to the tippity-top. With nearly a 360 degree view, I think it’s fair to say that the little breath we had left was stolen.

After admiring the view, we began our descent and took a shortcut down through the ski slopes. At the base was a large lake where the remainder of the group welcomed us back. We ate our lunch together and then decided to go for a swim.

We took the polar bear plunge into the pool. After dipping our toes into the glacial lake and thinking it would be warmer, we jumped off the dock and into water that was just as cold as the pool.

Taking advantage of the free time we had for the rest of the afternoon, we joined the masses and lounged around the lake in the   grass, soaking up some sun and relaxing after our journey.

-Sam Jacob

RADICAL EUROPE: Cross-Cultural: Extreme Follow the Leader

Kim and Seth in Vienna, Austria

As a child, I played follow the leader. I mimicked the actions of others for fun.

As a college student, I find myself in a very similar situation. This cross cultural is an extreme game of follow the leader.

Our leaders, Kim and Seth, model how to function in contemporary Europe. They guide us through cities and on public transportation. They gladly share their wisdom and calm our nerves. We follow. We learn by example.

These times of mimicking prepare us for times of independence. Almost daily we are given opportunities to explore or assignments to find specific locations. This is when the roles reverse. My peers and I will take turns directing, learning through practice.

Although this ever changing game of follow the leader is fun and challenging, it has a specific focus. We are tracing the paths of our Anabaptist roots. We are walking streets where they were beheaded or burned for refusing to recant their faith. We are crossing rivers where some were drowned and where some fled by boat. We are visiting towns where their communities thrived for a short amount of time and towns where they were forced to leave. We are following the steps of our Anabaptist leaders, imagining what life and faith meant to them.

A new perspective on Karlskirche in Vienna, Austria

Looking back over the last three weeks, I have learned a lot in this game of follow the leader. Navigating a new European city is no longer daunting. Ordering food, when the menu is only in German, is exciting. Boarding trains has become a normality. Walking tours are necessary. Overall, I have become more confident, learning the tools I need to navigate within a new culture.

I have also realized how comfortable my faith experience has been. My choice to follow Christ does not have life or death consequences. My life as an Anabaptist is so much easier than my fellow Anabaptists during the Radical Reformation. This shift in perspective has given me an avenue to reevaluate my faith and relationship with God.

Playing follow the leader is much more challenging than it sounds.

🙂 Madalynn Payne

Reflections on Life in Europe

I started off this cross cultural thinking that I had a leg up because I had traveled out of the country to Europe before, but I was sadly mistaken. Last time I was with my group of 20 something people carrying huge suitcases and matching backpacks, moving like a herd through towns with a tour guide on a big bus. This time around, we are a group of 11 students, and are encouraged to try to live like the locals. This way is definitely more scary for a 19 year old who is used to having my parents be a call and a 30 minute car ride away.

European culture in general is very different than American culture. The population as a whole is generally more reserved, in anything from clothing to personal expression. Personally I have received mixed receptions. Sometimes there are people that would love to talk to you and hear your story, and patiently wait for you to figure out what the heck you’re trying to get in the Billa when you can’t read a lick of German and have to rely on pictures. Then there are some that give you the, “I can totally tell you’re American by the way you enter a room” look and aren’t having it. Luckily there have been far less of the latter looks.

Something else a small town southern girl such as myself had to get used to is living in the city. There are people talking and laughing, car horns, street cleaners, and more at all hours of the night and very early in the morning. But then there are the advantages; like being able to walk to everything, having regular access to public transportation, and having things to do at 9pm when you’re bored and can’t journal any longer. Other things I’ve had to get used to are having to pay for water (you learn to just bring your water bottle and not ask for drinks), different foods, people trying to speak to you in different languages, pesky tour groups that are like 40 strong, and apparently they don’t like ketchup as much as we do. Also can I just mention that while I was well aware that they don’t drink sweet tea over here, that’s on my top 10 most missed list.

So far I have talked about a lot of disadvantages, but there are some pretty great aspects to this trip as well. I have redefined my definition of “lost”. Before I used to rely on my cell phone GPS or call my dad (a human atlas) when I didn’t instantly recognize my surroundings. Now if I don’t it’s not a big deal, we’ll figure it out eventually. Another HUGE plus is the scenery. There are so many places that look like they’re straight off a postcard, except I get to see them in real life. There are plenty of photo opportunities over here. Also, this trip has been great for whipping some of us into shape. There has been a lot of walking, which obviously there are some downsides. If your body isn’t ready, the first two weeks will be quite an adjustment. The plus side is that you’ll come back looking better than ever. Plus all that exercise means you can eat an apple strudel after dinner a few nights a week.

This week has been kind of travel heavy with going from Vienna to Salzburg to Innsbrück with a couple day trips to different towns thrown in the mix, so we have gotten well acquainted with the OBB (train station). Time is passing quite quickly, but the memories we’re making will be unforgettable.

-Madison Streett

Week Two: Vienna

Group photo after tea, coffee, and snacks at Ilse’s apartment.

Ilse Friesen has been a great connection for us here in Vienna. Because of her, I feel like we have been able to immerse ourselves more into the culture than we would have otherwise. On Sunday, she invited us to her apartment for a proper cup of Viennese coffee and tea. It was great for us to be able to interact with her inside her home. On Tuesday, Ilse came to our little classroom and gave a lecture on female crucifixes. Ilse is extremely intelligent and has written numerous works of females and saints in the church. On Thursday, we were invited by her and her brother to a private piano concert. This was an amazing opportunity to her professional piano players that we wouldn’t have gotten without her.

Inside the Wiener Riesenrad

On Friday we visited the Prater and had the chance to ride the Wiener Riesenrad. The Wiener Riesenrad is one of the largest and oldest Ferris wheels in Vienna. It was fun to be able to take an afternoon to relax and bond even more as a group. Although it’s sometimes stressful to be in a group all day everyday, we are mixing and working very well together. Exploring a new country and culture is a great experience on its own, but even better when you’re surrounded by wonderful people.

-Miriam Beck

View from the top

NAVAJO NATION: from our visit to the STAR (Service To All Relations) charter school

STAR (starschool.org)

Today was a wonderful experience at the STAR school. My favorite part was playing basketball with all of the kids. I was blown away by how well they got along with one another in the game. Joe, Kyle, Griffin, and I talked about how all the kids were extremely close and have an inseparable bond. They put a smile on my face when I saw how much excitement those kids had. I was also happy to have a nice conversation with an 8th graders named Stephen. He made me realize that the Navajo people are just like me because he told me how he was nervous for the 9th grade. It allowed me to think back when I was in his shoes and had the same thoughts. These kids allowed me to escape my thoughts about missing family and to just be a kid. I am thankful for this experience today.

-Brendon Salladay

Photo credit is Jack Hummel. Featured in the photo are STAR students and Joe Hall, Brendon Salladay, Kyle Salladay, and Griffin Stanley.