Spring break took us to a not so distant land in terms of geography. It was, however, a fairly distant land in terms of political and social connectedness from our home in Egypt. Traveling around Israel/Palestine has been a lifelong dream of ours and the opportunity to finally visit (for Caleb, Becca had been before), was not disappointing. That said, this blog post will not be your typical overview of our favorite sites but rather a reflection on what we learned throughout the experience. Going into this trip, we both carried with us the influences of our upbringing in conservative Christian homes in America, but also the impact of living in an Arab nation the last 3.5 years. Our curiosity was tempered with an underlying tension that would challenge us to reconsider past assumptions, explore new ways of understanding, and ultimately be open to what the Holy Land could teach us.
While many people living in and visiting the countries of Israel and Palestine have different takes on the meanings of the places recorded in the Bible, the sites nevertheless play host to visitors of all colors and creeds. Seeing the towns that Jesus had preached in or the spots where the Old Testament (the Jewish Tenach) mentioned cast a fresh light on scripture. Overlooking the valley where David fought Goliath brought new life to the words that I have been reading since I was a child. While many of the sites (specifically in Jerusalem) aren’t 100% certain in their supposed location, we were reminded of an important aspect of our faith as Christ followers. If God wanted us to worship rocks, or revere places, we would know where these spots were without any doubt. But we don’t. We serve a living God and He wants our worship to be directed toward what is everlasting, Him.
Learning our Roots
A highlight for us on our trip was staying with a family in northern Israel. They generously opened their home to the three of us, prepared wonderful meals, and spoke with us with sincere curiosity about our lives. The best part was seeing the way they loved Ben! One man in particular really took to him, and in the mornings he’d take Ben from my arms and say, “We’re going to feed the chickens.” And off they’d go, like they’d been lifelong friends. Ben would return after a while, dirty and happy. The fact that it was Passover while we were there made for an extra-special experience. While I had read that Passover week wasn’t the best time to visit, in reality it was exactly the opposite! So many customs and traditions are only celebrated that week, and we were honored to have been allowed to be a part of it. We ate kosher, talked late into the night, and learned the importance of remembering what God has done for His people. The whole experience made us realize just how little we knew about the Jewish faith and provided context for better understanding the faith, its followers, and its connectedness to Christianity.
Just as we have learned a tremendous amount about Islam by living in the presence of Muslims for the last 3.5 years, we appreciated the impactful, albeit brief, encounter with this Jewish family. The whole experience was a reminder that often times, communities are closed and people of different faiths are kept at arms length, resulting in ignorance and misinformation. People unlike ourselves become dehumanized, giving prejudice and discrimination a foothold. We all do it, to some capacity. We push others who are not “just like us” away so that we never have to have those difficult conversations with people, or be caused to actually think about what we believe. But what amazing barriers are broken down when we forego our inclination to be “right”, and simply are there to learn. And in learning, cause our own faith roots to drive deeper and be watered.
Israel and/or/vs Palestine
How does one talk about what has already been described in countless news articles, personal blogs, and unfiltered Facebook posts? The conflict between these two states hasn’t stretched back for centuries, however, it certainly feels like a timeless problem. Fortunately for us, we came in with a pretty blank slate. Without a lot of preconceived ideas, we were open to listen and learn about the perspectives from individuals on both sides of the coin.
Between staying with a an old friend from Korea and her Israeli husband, sharing meals with a Jewish family, and being guided through Jerusalem by an Arab Christian, we feel like we learned about as balanced of a perspective of the relationship between Israel and Palestine that was possible in our brief visit. No, we are not suddenly experts, but we do have a greater empathy for people impacted on both sides. There’s no easy solution, but we do know that communication, or the lack there of, is a critical cause for some of the perpetual conflict. It’s easy to forget that people on both sides are just that–people.
If you get the chance to visit the Holy Land, do it! Is it safe? Yes! Is it life-changing? Yes! And should you stop and visit Egypt on the way? ALSO YES. 🙂