Living Stones

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We returned to Jerusalem this evening after two days in Beit Sahour and Bethlehem, in the southern part of the West Bank. We are inside the walls of the Old City, which is becoming famiIiar as I begin to get my bearings on our third time here. It was also nice to be able to take a hot shower here in the guest house after two long days on the road! I continue to be impressed with the cohesiveness, engagement, and positive spirit of our group and the visionary planning and organization that Jon and Melissa Graf Evans have done in organizing this Senior Project. Our days have been packed with meetings, conversations, lectures, tours, and visits to holy sites and museums.  I have been wanting to see Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, for a long time. Seeing and hearing the portrayal of the persecution of the Jews and the personal stories from the ghettos and death camps, realizing that the accounts that we can hear are an unimaginably small fraction of the victims, was heartbreaking. I was thrilled to dip my toes in the Sea of Galilee; and standing in a circle  outside the church on the Mount of the Beatitudes and reading from the Sermon on the Mount on a beautiful sunny afternoon was  simply breathtaking. I have been excited to see the Dome of the Rock and the churches in Jerusalem, Galilee, and Bethlehem. I have been struck by the walls:  the Western Wall, the walls of churches, temples, and mosques…I have seen pilgrims touch or kiss the thresholds of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of the Nativity, and the Wailing Wall, and a Druze Temple with great devotion…I have seen the “Security Wall” covered with graffiti as it cuts across Palestinian neighborhoods and refugees camps. There are walls that divide and walls that connect.

On our first night in Beit Sahour we met with a group of Palestinian students and shared a delicious dinner. Some beautiful traditional Debke dancing was followed by lively participation by the whole group and a birthday cake for Nate. Afterwards we split up for the first of our two homestays. We were welcomed with warmth and generosity by our host families, and had the opportunity to talk on a personal level about their lives and what we’ve been learning and experiencing. One of our hosts said to me, “Many people come to visit the holy sites, but they don’t take the time to meet and connect with people. Beyond the stones of the church itself – what about the people who worship there – the living stones?”

Our Senior Project is affording us amazing opportunities to see the sites and the rugged beauty of the land, and to get to know and hear the stories of people who live and work and struggle and celebrate life and seek peace and justice here. I believe that education like this, in which we connect with and learn from people who live halfway around the world and on both sides of this enormously complex conflict, who sometimes even can’t or won’t talk to each other, can make a difference. Tomorrow after breakfast we head to Ramallah to attend Meeting for Worship, visit Ramallah Friends School, and stay again with host families.

From a poem by Maya Angelou that was spray-painted on the Wall outside the Palestinian  refugee camp in Bethlehem:

“Love recognizes no boundaries

It jumps hurdles, leaps fences.  penetrates walls

To arrive at the destination of hope.”

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