Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace, and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear it with whitewash… Thus will I spend my wrath upon the wall and upon those who have smeared it with whitewash, and I will say to you, The wall is no more, nor those who smeared it.
Ezekiel 13:10,15 ESV
We woke up Friday morning in Beit Sahour after eventful evenings with our host families. After breakfast, we gathered as a large group again to continue our tour activities. Despite the short duration of our homestays, they gave incredible amounts of insight into the daily lives of Palestinians that it is hard to get in other settings.
Because Beit Sahour is in the West Bank and we were headed into Jerusalem, we had to cross once again through a checkpoint in the infamous separation wall. Our bus has an Israeli license plate and we are an American tour group, so we always have far less difficulty crossing through the checkpoints than do Palestinians.
Our sojourn into Jerusalem began with a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. “Yad vashem” means “a memorial and a name,” and it is a vastly important site to remember the atrocities committed in the Holocaust, largely against the Jewish people, and to say that the names of those brutally murdered will not be forgotten. Never again. Never again can we allow a whole people to be targeted and treated as subhuman simply due to ethnicity or religion. Never again can ethnocentric nationalism be permitted to take over the consciousness of a state. Never again can silence meet the building or whitewashing of ghettoizing walls, whomever they are designed to keep out, whether Jew or Palestinian or Latinx. Never again.
We heard from a representative of Rabbis for Human Rights in the afternoon. This is a diverse organization that includes rabbis from many different denominations of Judaism, such as forms of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism. Our speaker considered himself Conservative, and shared the narrative in Palestine both from his point of view and more generally how the organization sees the occupation. Hearing from him re-emphasized that the situation here cannot simply be divided into a binary of two opposing narratives; rather, as in regards to most issues, people lie on different points along a spectrum filled with nuance.
In the evening, we visited the synagogue that our speaker attends for a Shabbat service. In a highly helpful meeting before the service began, a member of the congregation explained to us much about the Shabbat service in the Jewish tradition and about the idiosyncrasies of that particular congregation. They consider themselves Open or Modern Orthodox, which we were told means generally having quite progressive theology while still maintaining traditional practices. Very hospitably, we were loaned prayer books that had transliterations as well as translations of the different parts of the service, which allowed us not only to follow along but also to speak along if we so desired.
As a continuation of the trend of hospitality that has characterized this whole trip, we finished out the day in roommate pairs at the homes of different members of the congregation for the Shabbat meal. This involved fascinating conversation with a wide variety of people, wonderful food, and attempting to say traditional prayers before and after the meal along with our hosts and any other guests. At least around the table to which I was welcomed, though we fell all along different political and religious spectra, we all desired peace. Even if we do not know exactly how to reach it, a true and just peace, a peace that means right relationship with each other and with God, a peace that builds bridges instead of whitewashed walls, is a spring of water for which all of our hearts thirst. At the end of the night, we could end our time together with a genuine exchange of “Shabbat shalom.”
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.”
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.
Psalm 122:6,8-9 NRSV