My apologies, an update on my adventures was due weeks ago. So much has happened in the last few weeks, and it will be impossible for me to sum up everything we’ve done in any reasonable length. However, I will do my best and you can ask questions for clarification as you wish, and hear more when I return home.
After leaving Beit Sahour in the West Bank, we spent Shabbat weekend with Orthodox Jewish families in the settlement of Efrat. Settlements are HIGHLY controversial communities that are located inside the West Bank, but annexed and connected to Israel and Jerusalem through the Wall/security fence bypass roads. Going from living with Palestinian families and feeling like we had “family” there to living at Efrat was extremely difficult. The difference in understanding from one place to the next was huge, and there was no way for us to fully explain all that we had learned and seen in Palestine. That said, I found Shabbat to be very meaningful, and enjoyed the religious discussions about pacifism and Judaism/Christianity. Overall though, I was really frustrated by most of the planned activities because they felt forced and as if they were so focused on proving themselves to us that they were only showing us the “pretty stuff.”
Jerusalem University College (JUC):
After leaving Efrat we spent two weeks at JUC studying the Biblical Historical Geography of Israel. So essentially what that means is we looked at the very land itself, the terrain, the water sources, etc and used that knowledge to understand life in that area, and what that understanding of life in the land meant in Biblical times, and how it continues to impact how we read the Bible today. The first week we spent in and around Jerusalem. We visited places like Hezekiah’s Tunnel, the Pools of Siloam, the Mount of Olives, the pools of Bethsaida, Jericho, Gezer, etc. (Mind you we left the city a bit for these last two) Then, the second week we spent doing overnight trips from our JUC campus base. The first to the south and the Negev where we visited places like Askelon on the Mediterranean, Beersheba, Masada, and the Dead Sea. Then four days in the Northern part of Israel, the Galilee. While there, we lived on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and spent time exploring the Jezreel Valley, Dan, Caesarea Philippi, and Capernaum. We even looked over the border into Lebanon and Syria. Throughout all our time at JUC, I really appreciated the way we, as a group as well as individuals, were encouraged to wrestle with Biblical texts and use our surroundings to bring the scriptures to life. I know that within our group, everyone really appreciated our JUC leader/teacher, Aubrey, who was always willing to talk about differing interpretations of scripture and sort of discern with us what the text is trying to say.
After our two weeks at JUC, it was time for free travel. Our group split up into smaller groups and headed out into different directions, some to various places in Israel, and others (myself included) to the beautiful city of Istanbul, Turkey. 11 of us flew out of Tel Aviv super early Sunday morning, and then split into smaller groups once we arrived… or rather Melissa and I split off from everyone else. Melissa and I spent our week at a small family run hotel in the Fatih part if Istanbul (Istanbul is HUGE, and neighborhoods can be like their own little cities). We spent the week walking through the city, visiting beautiful mosques, riding ferries, and trying a bunch of different foods. In particular, I fell in love with a hot drink called Salep which is hard to describe because we don’t really have anything like in the U.S. but is delicious. Other food favorites were Kumpir (Baked potatoes) and Waffles, both of which are prepared “Subway style” where you start with the basic ingredient (Potato or waffle) and then add a bunch of toppings. Delicious. One thing we thought about doing, but ended up not doing due to the cost, was a turkish bath… but who knows, maybe I’ll get the opportunity to do so at some other point in my life.
Last week, we returned to Jerusalem and lived at the Ecce Homo convent in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. I loved it. Returning to the Old City felt like a homecoming of sorts, and it was interesting to have all these French nuns surrounding us. While at Ecce Homo we studied Hebrew (aka. tried to learn the alphabet and a bit of vocab), visited Yad Vashem (the national Holocaust museum), and explored the city in individual groups. Places like the Temple Mount, the Citadel Museum, Dominus Flevit, Garden of Gethsemane/Church of the Nations, Peter in Gallicantu, Garden Tomb, the Upper Room, and the Holy Sepulcher. In essence we spent one day tracing the path of Jesus during Holy Week from the Last Supper to his Resurrection.
This week we are staying at Kibbutz Hannaton in the Galilee. Not the sea, just the region. A kibbutz is essentially an intentional community that traditionally was like pure communism where everyone worked on the kibbutz and had everything in common. Kibbutzim are mainly agriculture based and allowed for everyone to work on the farm and share responsibilities. Since the 70’s Kibbutzim have moved away from the pure communism of their origin and in addition to the profit from kibbutz businesses, members of the kibbutz put money in the communal “pot” for shared resources and making sure no one in the community falls below the poverty line. In general, however, people mostly work off the kibbutz, own their own homes on the Kibbutz property, etc while also being a part of the kibbutz community.
I’m hoping to give at least one more update before I return… but no promises.
Lots of Love, Mandi Jo
P.S. Less than 4 weeks left… How is that POSSIBLE???