Weekly Update #9: Shalom Israel

Shalom Israel,

I’m still processing.

You are a culture of contrasts; secular and religious, the Zionists and the Palestinians, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank, Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews, wealthy and poor, Christian and Muslim, heaven and hell, parable and psalm, scripture and legend, outside the wall and inside the wall, war and peace, falafel and hummus. Some of them go better together than others.

The mention of your name offends some as blasphemy while others would lay down their lives for your protection. It is impossible to get it right, so I’ll only attempt to share a few of my perspectives. You are different than I thought you were. A few examples;

  1. You are more secular than I realized. Among the people we spoke to there was a claim that the majority of Israelis do not practice religion, although data suggests it is more like 50/50. It makes me sad. For me, it is faith that gets me through times when there are no answers. After visiting your holy land, I leave with more questions than answers. Faith requires acceptance of the hope that we will someday connect all the pieces of heaven and earth together into logic and then tie it together with a bow. It is this same faith we use to understand that these pieces are impossible to fit together. Pieces will always be missing from the puzzle of God’s humanity. Missing pieces is different than arguing they don’t exist.  
  2. Most people we talked to had a poor opinion of Hasidic Jews, the orthodox minority (approximately 10 percent of the Israeli population) you might be familiar with who dress conservatively, wear the cool hats and grow out their sideburns into curls. Many are supported by the state and live well below the poverty line.
  3. The Dead Sea is not a place to vacation but Tel Aviv absolutely is. The Dead Sea’s beauty is spectacular but she burned my skin and eyes with her 34 percent salt (normal ocean water consists of 3.5 percent salt). All that said, it was well worth it to experience floating without effort. Tel Aviv, a place I knew very little about, is alive and vibrant and exciting. I would come back any time.
  4. The old city of Jerusalem is so small and our world is so big. I’m having a hard time understanding how this one place could be chosen as the ancient and contemporary center of faith for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For my Muslim friends, I understand that Mecca and Medina are also both incredibly important, but somehow it is Jerusalem where both Jesus and Mohammed ascended to heaven.
  5. It is impossible to confirm the exact location of any of the holy sites which guides and materials are quick to point out. I realized quickly that the specific spot is not as important as the story which took place there. All that said, there is no more peaceful place than gazing out across the city on the Mount of Olives or inside the Garden of Gethsemane. As a Christian, it was these two spots, along with the Garden Tomb, that I felt the possibility of “am I standing right where this happened?”
  6. I found Israel’s conscription to be much different than I realized. I met so many Israeli youths who understood “never again” and the importance of an egalitarian armed force.
  7. Your children are out until dawn and it is socially acceptable. My mother’s’ advice that “nothing good happens after midnight” is not followed here.
  8. Masada. A true highlight. I am inspired by the speech of Eleazer Ben Ya’ir captured for history (perhaps with dramatic flair) from Jew turned Roman historian Josephus. A quick background; the Romans defeated Jerusalem and burned it in 70 a.d. Eleazer Ben Ya’ir and 967 Jewish people holed up at Masada and the Romans came for them. Instead of fighting after a long siege, Ben Ya’ir convinced his fellow people to kill themselves rather than be taken as slaves. It is safe to say, you had to be there to understand why this route was the best.

    “Since we, long ago, my generous friends, resolved never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than to God himself, who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind, the time is now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice. And let us not at this time bring a reproach upon ourselves for self-contradiction, while we formerly would not undergo slavery, though it were then without danger, but must now, together with slavery, choose such punishments also as are intolerable; I mean this, upon the supposition that the Romans once reduce us under their power while we are alive. We were the very first that revolted from them, and we are the last that fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favor that God hath granted us, that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom, which hath not been the case of others, who were conquered unexpectedly.”

  9. I did not know the stories of Titus, Constantine, Herod Agrippa, Helena, Ben Gurion, Bibi, Hezekiah’s tunnel, Saladin, Jaffa, Yad Vashem, Abu Bakr, the brutality of the crusaders, how to properly observe the Sabbath, the collapsing Dead Sea, the commercialization of the kibbutz, the accounts of absolute brutality throughout most of Jerusalem’s history or the role of the Pope during the Holocaust. Although the Bible, Koran and Torah are holy books, I also enjoyed third-party accounts, like Josephus, who gave some color to history outside of the books of faith.
  10. I came into this experience wondering if I would feel safe. Like Egypt, I felt very safe.

I’m unqualified to present a cogent argument for or against the never-ending Israeli and Palestinian conflict. If I tried, I would mess it up. I feel bad for both sides as they have lived for many generations now in this holy land where conflict and bloodshed are so common.

Instead of playing armchair quarterback, I’ll stick with what I admire most about you (since we should all look for the best in others and try our hardest to overlook others’ flaws). This is the same treatment I gave Italy, Switzerland and Egypt.

  • You are nothing if not resourceful and are so apparently creative.
  • You are fun to be around.
  • You are resilient and persistent.
  • You are blessed with diversity and physical beauty, of land and people.
  • You were kind and hospitable to my family, going above and beyond to make us feel welcome.

Aleichem Shalom,

– Renzi

1 thought on “Weekly Update #9: Shalom Israel

  1. Wow! An amazing account of a historical land of beauty and contrasts. We spent three weeks there last year (before the Golan Heights conflicts) and I could not have summed it up more beautifully. Shalom!

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