With the joy of kids getting out of class for the summer, our cohort had opportunity to get the lay of the land on a road trip yesterday. While our classes about God and Judaism are not explicitly political, the challenge of striving for peace in this region is never far from our thoughts.
We began the day by traveling to the top of the Mount of Olives for an introduction to the landscape of Jerusalem, followed by a view of the Arab-Jewish weave in East Jerusalem. We we headed into the West Bank (called Samaria and Judea by settlers) we encountered the stark realities of the wall, check points, refugee camps, and Jewish settlements. The internal debate here is complicated and protracted and certitude about possible solutions cannot come easily--especially for a non-resident.
An inspirational stop was our visit to Rawabi, the first fully planned Palestinian city, located north of Ramallah, for a glimpse at a synthesis of private investment and national aspirations and a basis for possible agreement scenarios for the future. A billion dollar project, it is a great economic boon for the longed for Palestinian state. What diplomats cannot negotiate may be pragmatically solved by visionary business people.
We then drove along the western ridge of the Samarian hills, continuing past Palestinian villages and Jewish settlements until we crossed back into Israel's undisputed land. We journeyed toward Tel Aviv, the modern bustling city.
Nestled along the Mediterranean, this cultural center of the land is a mixture of old and new, religious and secular, east and west. A walking tour allowed us to see where the 1948 Declaration of Independence as a nation was signed as well as other historic sites.
We concluded our evening by sharing in home hospitality with the family of our guide, a bright young Jewish scholar. He and some musician friends have started a new community that gathers for Shabbat on Friday evenings; they use contemporary as well as ancient Hasidic music and are filling a distinctive need among young adults. Longing for deeper spiritual experience and friends, this is a growing community of worship.
Music touches our religious affections in ways words often do not; as we sang with and for our new friends, we sensed the beauty of communion, hallowed by God's presence discovered in each other.
Molly T. Marshall