Monday, May 24, 2010
Mount Tabor and Bedoin Feast
Another full day. I’m writing much earlier than usual. Our leader is giving us an afternoon break so we can rest and catch up on e-mail and such, so this blog will only cover the first part of today. Tonight’s activities will have to wait for tomorrow’s installment!
We left early this morning for Mount Tabor, which is the Mount of the Transfiguration. As with all of the holy places from the Christian tradition, a huge church has been built on the site and it attracts pilgrims by the thousands. Mount Tabor is very high and the road up to the top is steep and winding. We had a few hair raising encounters with taxis coming down the mountain as we were going up. The view once you get to the top is spectacular out across the valley. As we drove up the mountain I had a new appreciation for the effort Jesus, Peter, James and John must have expended to walk up that mountain. Its no wonder the three disciples saw a vision – they were probably light headed from exertion!!
The church is a beautiful ornate building with a chapel each for Elijah and Moses and the main church has a splendid mosaic of the transfiguration scene. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself over the realization that while Peter wanted to build tabernacles for Jesus, Moses and Elijah on the mountain after he saw the vision and Jesus told him not to, centuries later, Christians would do just exactly that!! Precisely what Jesus did not want folks to do has been done in the name of Christian spirituality. Life is funny. I’ve included pictures of Elijah and Moses taken in their respective chapels and of the central mosaic in the shrine.
We then had a lecture by Fr. Shehadeh Shehadeh, a Palestinian Anglican priest whom I met when I was here the last time. He is the peace and reconciliation and interfaith officer for the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem. He spoke about the situation for Christians in the Middle East and the conditions under which Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the West Bank are living. As I listened to him I could tell that the past two years have been tough ones. He is deeply committed to the peace process, but equally disgusted with Israeli politicians and deeply distrustful of their motives. He firmly believes that the politicians in the Israeli government right now simply want to get rid of all Palestinians from Israel and from the occupied territories. He referred to the war in Gaza in 2008 and the recent Israeli elections as real dark moments in an already difficult history. His talk sparked a very rich and deep conversation about the realities of this conflict. Our guide is an Israeli Jew who teaches in the Israeli school system and has served in the Israeli army. One of our leaders from Nazareth is also a veteran of the Israeli army and Jewish. Then Dr. Shafiq and Moustafa (the young man who spent two hours in detention being questioned when we arrived!) are Muslim and the various American Christians in the group have varying degrees of sympathy for Israel or the Palestinians. Mostly everyone is trying to ferret out the “truth” in this conflict and that is incredibly hard to do. Ultimately we have to listen to people’s stories and try to understand the many layers of complexity in this situation. We had quite a discussion about the Holocaust and the extent to which it is still a factor in the Israeli psyche and Israeli inability to move toward more healthy relationships with Palestinians.
This very rich conversation started up on Mount Tabor and continued in the Bedoin tent where we ate a feast of a lunch. This Bedoin family owns a restaurant and nursery in the little village that is at the bottom of Mount Tabor. Many Bedoins live in that area, and while they retain a lot of their customs from their nomadic days, many of them now are not roaming nomads as they once were. They do, however, live very simple lives and hospitality is a major virtue and value in their culture. Entertaining the stranger in their “home”/tent is the height of what a Bedoin is meant to do. We ate in a very large tent that this family maintains, sitting on cushions on the floor. The food was simple, but delicious and plentiful. The lemonade was superb, being fresh and seasoned with mint leaves giving it a truly refreshing twist. We ate pretty quickly but then reclined on our cushions for at least 90 minutes talking through the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Fr. Shehadeh stayed with us through that lunch and his presence and the presence of our Israeli guide helped bring lots of different perspectives to the conversation. I’ve included a couple of pictures of the tent and our mealtime together. (The young man in the picture with me is Moustafa, our young Muslim student who is a fellow of Eboo Pate’s Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago. He has recently graduated from Wake Forest University and is going to do interfaith work for a living.)
One thing I noticed when I was here before and has not changed is that there are a LOT of feral cats in Israel! Everywhere you go you trip over a kitten! There is one very young kitten here on the kibbutz who shows up everywhere. Last night when I was posting this blog, she jumped up on my computer and walked around on the keys! One of our Israeli hosts said that every few years the government tries to have a campaign to spay cats, but somehow it never works for very long. So I wonder if I’ll manage to post this today without her help!
This evening we are meeting with an interfaith dialogue group of Israeli Arab Muslims and Israeli Jews who are active in working for interfaith cooperation and dialogue in Israel. We are having dinner with them here on the kibbutz. Then later this evening we are meeting with several Israeli university students to talk with them about their perspectives on Israel and its situation with the Palestinians. I’ll report on that tomorrow! Tomorrow morning we leave for Cesarea and then Jerusalem.