Last night in Haifa, a group of ten of us made our way to a Chinese restaurant, where we ended up having a "symposium" of sorts on religion, our motivation for being on this trip, and whether this trip has changed us.
I don't know to what extent this constitutes "change," but I was determined, on taking this trip, to relax. By this I mean that I have been willing to drop the overprepared mode of operating which has functioned so often when I travel. I essentially hand myself over to the tour leaders and let them show me the country.
The practical result of this is that I have a very relaxed mind. Many of you know that one way I relax is by doing sudokus and crosswords. I have to report, however, that today on the bus I have done five or six sudokus but have not completed a single one of them!
I've been meaning to mention something regarding the possible expectations of readers regarding photographs. I have taken a digital camera with me; I have opted, however, not to take pictures. Again, I believe in being relaxed, and taking pictures is too much like work.
I have been promised, however, by a very skilled photographer on the trip, that he will be sharing his photos with us.
There is work of a sort on this trip. I am acting as a "resource" for explaining Christianity when we are at Christian sites. I don't have to prepare; I generally refer to pertinent passages of the Gospels when I am talking about Jesus. The group in general finds my remarks very enlightening. As I see it, I am definitely carrying out the "business" aspect of this business trip: I am interacting with Jews of the Springfield area and furthering interreligious understanding.
This morning we left Haifa, but not before taking in the vista from above the terraced gardens of the Baha'i headquarters. From there we traveled to Caesarea Marittima, a fascinating Roman seaport dating from the time of Augustus Caesar in the 1st c. CE. Muslim attackers tried to destroy the place some centuries later, but most of the open-air theater still stands. Our tour guide showed us some vast greenhouses as an example of vigorous industry in Israel. Before we came to our last hotel in Tel Aviv, we visited a "youth village" (a comparison to Boys Town could be made), where Jewish youth from within and outside Israel come to experience some stability as an alternative to chaotic family situations. This effort is financed by Hadassah members in the United States.
The weather has changed. It is hazy and humid, a lot like many Illinois summer days. Here in Tel Aviv, the low tonight is supposed to 66F. Our hotel is right up against the beach.
I anticipate that this will be my last blog post. Tomorrow we will leave this hotel prepared to get on the homeward-bound plane; but since the flight is not till 11 pm, we will pack our days with activities just as we have every day of this trip. The schedule includes the Ayalon Bullet Factory Museum, Independence Hall, Nachalat Binyamin, HaCarmel Market, and Hatakhanah. I will know what these things are when I get there. After all, I'm relaxing.
Today we visited the crusader city of Acre, lunching on falafel, and then went to Nazareth, where we took in the beauty of the Church of the Annunciation. Once again I provided explanations of the Christian concepts of the intervention of the Son of God in human history. This trip is proving to be a significant moment for people of Springfield to come to a deeper appreciation of Christianity.
This evening I will be dining somewhere in the city of Haifa.
The trip is almost at an end. Tomorrow we will lay down our heads in Tel Aviv, then Thursday we have a full day planned before we reach the airport at 8:00 pm.
I continue to be amazed by the fact that we are experiencing high temperatures (97F is today's high in many spots in northern Israel) but the humidity is low so I am not aware of how hot it is. I keep drinking water, and our tour guide keeps pointing out the restrooms.
On Sunday night I celebrated Mass in my kibbutz lodgings. The higher altitudes of the Golan Heights provided milder temperatures and excellent sleeping!
This morning we drove in a caravan of Jeeps, Land Rovers, etc., to within a few hundred yards of the border with Syria. We could hear something being fired -- just what sort of weaponry it was, I could not say. We then had lunch in a Druze area of Israel's Golan Heights, and heard about the Druze state of being residents but not citizens of Israel -- sounds a bit like Psalm 137, no? We proceeded to the town of Tzveh, where we visited a Kabbalah synagogue and examined the numerous art shops there. We have driven into Haifa and checked in at the Dan Carmel Hotel. My room has a stunningly beautiful view of the Mediterranean. We have been invited to cocktails in a few minutes. This hotel heard about our difficulties at the Dead Sea and wanted to make it up to us.
Something I've been intending to append: Our tour guide wanted me to know that in the Old City of Jerusalem there are about 350 surveillance cameras which are intended to discourage what I experienced there 30 years ago.
This morning we said farewell to Jerusalem. Heading north, we had a very full day. We saw a mosaic floor from a synagogue dating back to the 5th or 6th century C.E. Toward the middle of the day we were in the area of the Sea of Galilee, where we lunched on "St. Peter's Fish," and saw Capernaum and the Church of the Beatitudes. I did a lot of narrating on things of Christian significance. My fellow travelers tell me that I am adding a lot to their appreciation of the trip.
I travel with a bevy of Jewish mothers who keep importuning me to drink water. Today must have been about a six-liter day. Needless to say, at every stop we make, I've had to make a beeline for the rest room. But I am staying hydrated.
In the afternoon we stopped for wine tasting and at a shop specializing in various olive-oil-related products. We went up a hill to see a vista including the northern Israeli border with Syria. The kibbutz we are staying at tonight is very close to this border.
I did not say Mass last evening, but I hope to do this tonight after our 8 pm supper.
It's Sunday, 5:23 am in Jerusalem and I am preparing to leave this terrific hotel, the Inbal Hotel Jerusalem, where last night I had in my room at Greek salad which seemed to be never-ending. (It was not possible to have the hamburger and onion rings because it was still the Sabbath.) I have CNN on and President Obama has just concluded his remarks at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. We're heading north to Galilee today.
Today's itinerary consisted of a visit to Masada National Park and the Dead Sea. Masada is the mountain refuge first developed by King Herod the Great around 10 B.C.E. and made famous by the Jewish zealots who in 73 C.E. decided against becoming Roman slaves, opting to carry out a murder-suicide pact among the 969 people holding out there.
At one point the tour guide asked me whether I was OK. I really thought I was OK. But I went to rest while the guide carried out the last part of the Masada tour. From there we headed to the Dead Sea, but when we arrived there, more people were looking at me and deciding that I was not OK. I was one of three people in our group treated for heat stroke. The temperature this afternoon at the "lowest place on earth" (ca. 1200 feet below sea level) was 104F. We are back at the hotel now -- our last night in Jerusalem. This evening is set aside for shopping and dinner on your own. I am ordering room service.
Last evening we entered the Old City of Jerusalem through the Jaffa Gate, had our evening meal at an Armenian restaurant, and took in a dazzling sound-and-light show on the history of Jerusalem at the Tower of David.
Today was our day to take in the principal Christian sites of the Old City. We began at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Access to the tomb of Jesus was difficult, but our tour guide saw to it that I at least could enter; I did so and, as I did in 1983, got down on my knees to kiss the slab venerated as the place where Jesus' body lay. I also touched the hill of Calvary; a hole big enough for one's hand is under an altar. We also visited the Cenacle, the site of the Last Supper, two post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, and the Pentecost event.
We visited the Western Wall of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, toured the Western Wall Tunnel which reveals the majority of the third-of-a-mile-long wall, and examined the nearby Hurva Synagogue, which has again been reconstructed after being destroyed three times.
When we returned to the hotel at about 4 pm, the Weather Channel was saying that the temperature on this sunny day here was 90F, but with a "feels like" temperature of 87. Wind chill?
The Sabbath begins this evening, and we will have a special Sabbath dinner here at the hotel.
Tomorrow we head to the Dead Sea. In the evening, I will celebrate Mass. It has proved impossible to schedule a Saturday-evening Mass in a Jerusalem church, since they tend to close about 5 pm. I brought with me everything I need for Mass, so I will probably just have Mass at the hotel.
When we were touring the Christian sites today, I took over from our tour guide to explain the meaning of resurrection, to relate post-resurrection appearances of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, and to talk about what happened at the Last Supper.
There is at least one other Catholic in the tour group. As I was discussing with the tour guide my plans for Mass, many members of the group offered to be present for the Mass "so I wouldn't be alone."
We had a very full daytime schedule on a pleasant, sunny day (current temperature 82F). At breakfast, Rabbi Daniel Gordis, an American living in Israel, spoke about the tensions of life in Israel and stressed that the struggle for this place is worthwhile. We visited an "Ethiopian absorption center" where Jews of this African country who migrate to Israel are helped to make the considerable cultural transition from their homeland. At the Hadassah Medical Center -- Ein Karem we saw newly-built facilities including a three-story healing garden and visited the hospital's synagogue, which is best known for the 1962 stained-glass windows of Marc Chagall depicting the twelve tribes of Israel. We then spent the afternoon at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, dedicated in 2005. The museum is in the shape of a long triangular concrete prism -- one could say, a long tunnel -- and the exhibits are so rich in information and artifacts that our hour and a half allowed for only a cursory viewing. The "Hall of Names" includes shelves of document boxes, within which, it is hoped, the names of every person killed in the Holocaust (the common estimate is of six million Jews) will one day be archived. The exit opens onto a vista of the hills and the sun, which hurt my eyes after the time in the tunnel.
I have been awake for 33 hours straight, so I am keeping today's post quite brief. We arrived at Tel Aviv this morning (Israel is eight hours ahead of Springfield) and, before we checked in at our hotel, the Inbal Jerusalem, we each planted almond trees at Neot Kdumim. Arriving at Jerusalem, we offered the Sheheyanu prayer and had a sip of wine. We proceeded to the scale model of Second Temple era Jerusalem and toured the Shrine of the Book, which focuses on the Dead Sea Scrolls. This evening, enjoying quite comfortable temperatures, we enjoyed an ample outdoor dinner at the Anna Ticho House.
Let's discuss one historical matter and get it out of the way. Thirty years ago, I did indeed get beat up in the old city of Jerusalem, and the link will take you to my remembrance of this event, as I wrote about it three days later in the journal I was keeping.
It's a curious thing that, in the months leading up to this trip, I have not been able to find that journal. I am interpreting this state of affairs as an invitation to myself to see things with new eyes.
Of course, my choice of group to travel with demonstrates that I want to gain a new perspective. In 1983 I was with an exclusively Catholic group of men studying in Rome. Today's trip is organized by the Jewish Federation of Springfield and most of those traveling are Jews from Springfield and elsewhere in Illinois.
Part of the task of the ecumenical and interreligious officer is to foster good relations between local Catholics and people of other Christian confessions and other religions. Of course, the charter directing Catholic relations with people of non-Christian religions is Nostra Aetate, a declaration of the Second Vatican Council in 1965.
I don't anticipate posting anything while we're in transit today. Be sure to check again tomorrow.