Saturday, March 1, 2014
St. George’s Guest House
Well, I tried to convince SOMEONE else in the group to post on the blog for today. Clearly, I have failed as a leader in this circumstance!
We arrived in Tel Aviv yesterday afternoon without incident. ‘Seems the combination of wearing a clerical collar and answering the question, “What is the purpose of your visit?” with the word, “Pilgrimage,” makes for a quick trip through immigration.
Last evening, we stayed at Azzahra Hotel where we met Hanna Khoury, our transportation coordinator, who gifted us with chocolate (he had no idea we were bringing 15 lbs. of chocolate to our friends)! We met the Zimmanns who transformed their Doblo into a clown car allowing us all to drive to Jaffa Gate for a lovely dinner at the Armenian Tavern.
When we returned, we opened our gifts, “gold, frankincense –“ oops, wait, I get so confused here. The Zimmanns opened our gifts of Saline, Listerine, Cheez-Its and Seth’s long-awaited game, “Zombicide” game and companions.
Marty provided his well-rehearsed 90-second introduction to our pilgrimage before we all began to fade and needed to head upstairs for a good night’s sleep. And it was so.
Today, we were up (not quite as early as planned) for an amazing buffet breakfast before meeting Tarek, our driver, for our trip to Hebron. We picked up a group of 6 scholars & theologians led by Anna (from Sweden) and were on our way.
Our tour of Hebron was led by two volunteers with EAPPI (Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, the World Council of Churches): Stefan (a graduate student in international studies from Austria – studying in Geneva) and Estefania (an attorney from Ecuador who worked for the Department of Immigration before leaving her job to take up her work here). We began with a little shopping in the old souk (“What is your name?” “Sue.” “Ah, like souk”! Exactly!) where we discovered that Ella has the word “sucker” emblazoned on her forehead (we couldn’t see it but the shopkeepers certainly could!) before heading to Ibrahimi Mosque.
We entered the mosque without incident and the Wolverine women all opted for the blue cloaks which Tim deemed “very Lord of the Rings.” This was the first time I’d been there when the lights were on so we could see the room of the tomb of Abraham; the artwork is lovely. (There was a pigeon standing on the pall…a rather interesting mix of biblical metaphors, there…) We were also able to get a good look at the tomb of “Abraham’s wife” (aka Sarah) and to bow down to see the four candles burning for the Patriarchs and Matriarchs (Abe, Sarah, Jacob and Leah); the incense was a truly fragrant blend. The mosque was quite busy. Tarek explained that people often come from Jerusalem to visit the Mosque on Saturdays.
We had no guide at the Mosque and I missed Abu Hani but shared one of his jokes with the group. (What was Adam and Eve’s phone number? 281-APPLE.) Tim got another joke from one of the shopkeepers: What are the two “misses” in the US? Mississippi and Missouri. (No extra charge for those!)
Stefan and Estefania had hoped to take us to the synagogue adjacent to the mosque (I had seen it but have never been inside) but discovered that it’s not open to non-Jews on Shabbat. Then, they took us down Shuhada Street, once the hub of Hebron, which was closed during the Second Intifada. We were stopped by soldiers and asked for our passports before being allowed to enter the street. The only other traffic along the street consisted of families going to and from the synagogue and the IDF and Israeli Police. Greetings of “Shabbat Shalom” were exchanged by our group and a few of the settlers.
We went up the steps leading to the Palestinian School, steps that have become iconic as they often figure prominently in photos and videos of children being harassed on their way to/from school. While we paused at the top of the steps, Ahmed, a young man known to our guides came along (carrying a textbook on American literature!) and kindly shared with us a bit of his experience living across the street from the settlements in Hebron. He told us how, one day, two 4 year-old cousins were playing above his house when he heard a commotion. The little girl went running down to Ahmed’s house, barely able to speak and shaking. The only word she could utter was, “settlers.” Ahmed went running up the hill toward what turned out to be a group of 7-8 soldiers, two of whom had hold of the little boy. After a heated exchange, they let the boy go; he was not injured physically.
Stefan and Estefania took us farther up the hill, beyond the school, into the Muslim area to show us two sections of land that have been claimed by the Israeli Antiquities Authority. There is curiosity as to whether they will find archaeological treasures (quite likely in that area) and turn the land into a tourist attraction or set aside that task in favor of building another settlement as has happened before.
We then went DOWN hill, back into modern Hebron for lunch and a stop at the glass factory. The students were in better positions to listen to one of the glass blowers as he worked but we all could see how amazing the process is. This particular artisan recently spent 3 months in New York and Boston (teaching the art at BU.) I found a few things I’ll treasure and others I hope others will. We enjoyed wonderful tea while browsing the shop and carefully making our decisions.
After a few of our young compatriots posed with a white camel on the median of the street in front of the glass blowing and ceramics shop, we were on our way back to Jerusalem. [WARNING, TMI for some: The next shop over from the glass/ceramics shop is a butcher who had on display the carcass of a full camel – with its head still intact.)
As it turns out, Tarek’s regular job is to shuttle IDF soldiers from one point to another. As a result, they all know him, so going through checkpoints with Tarek at the wheel is a downright friendly experience! We checked into St. George’s Guest House on the grounds of the Anglican Cathedral. Our rooms are comfy and there’s a solarium just outside our rooms (complete with outlets for electronics). We’re enjoying the WiFi and time to catch our breath and do a little exploring before we head into the Old City for dinner.
Peace from Jerusalem where I’m listening to the call to prayer which always makes me smile.