Heading Home

imageimageIt is the last day of our Senior Project. After saying goodbye to our Friends in Ramallah, we drove down to the west, to Jericho. A sign at the entrance to the city announces that Jericho is the oldest city in the world, 10,000 years old. Overlooking it is the barren, steep mountain where the story of Jesus’ temptation by the devil occurred. There is a monastery perched on the mountainside. We hiked up as far as we could, to an ice cream shop (yes, this is a land of contradictions!) overlooking Jericho and the Jordan Valley down to the Red Sea. We visited the ruins of Hisham’s Palace, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 749 AD, and then drove south along the Dead Sea to Masada for the night. Masada is a jagged, remote plateau which was turned into a fortress by the Hasmonean king around 100 BCE, and was used as a palatial refuge by King Herod at the time of Christ. It was the last stronghold of the Jewish rebels in the Great Revolt against Roman rule in 73 AD. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an important metaphor for Jews today. The site is spectacular. The story and the metaphor are chilling, the mountain is “a fortress of tragic Jewish sovereignty,” writes Ari Shavit. We rambled around the rocks and walls for a couple of hours before heading down the mountain, some on foot and others by cablecar. Later I wonder if that powerful narrative can be reframed for these times? We stopped for lunch and a hilarious swim in the Dead Sea on our return north. It was good to have a laugh and to watch the group cavort playfully in the salty water and the mud as we approach the end of our time together. How can I possibly synthesize what we’ve experienced together? It has been the trip of a lifetime, one which I am sure will inform and transform me forever. Jonathan (“Papa Jon” as the students have begun to call him) and Melissa have been masterful leaders and planners, and the students have been focused, cohesive as a group, respectful, resilient, articulate, supportive of one another, and fun. They have been superb ambassadors of Westtown. Israel and Palestine are a land of conflicts, contrasts, and contradictions: stunning natural beauty, magnificent holy sites, rapid development, shocking poverty, intertwined and seemingly irreconcilable narratives and perspectives about the land, the occupation, human rights, and how to find common ground and move forward. The Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, the churches, have been inspiring to me, even more so the people, the “living stones.” We have been blessed to be among Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze, all of whom are striving to live up to their highest selves. The hospitality of the families we stayed with will always stay with me. In the quest for commonalities in spiritual traditions in this challenging time, perhaps hospitality and compassion could be a new metaphor. What is true security? When your neighbor is treated well, you know each other, speak each other’s language, and, as the prophet Micah said, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and  no one shall make them afraid.”

I am still wrestling with these issues, as I am sure all of us are, and will continue to. It is part of the Jewish tradition to question, even to ask questions of God. If my memory serves, the name “Israel” was given to Jacob after a restless night in which he wrestled with an angel, and it means “he who wrestles with God.” Now we are back on the bus, heading for the airport. I can understand why Lydia Eisenberg told us that after 30 years of working for peace, she feels more confused than ever about the mosaic of points of view that we have been exposed to, and I know that each one is important. I am deeply grateful for having been able to be part of this Project. For our final session we celebrated Shabbat with the Jewish family who we visited just after we got off the plane two weeks ago. As our impassioned discussion ended, our host praised our students for their thoughtfulness and interest in meeting people and understanding international issues. “Keep on learning, after you return home,” she advised us. “You are leaders with so much to contribute to the world.”    image Sent from my iPad

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