First Steps in the Holy Land

We reached Jerusalem in the afternoon on a sunny day. Not a sunny day like any other, but the kind of day that invades your senses from every angle with an overpowering feeling. For me that feeling was astonishment. Or, at least, I think it was. I still can’t really understand exactly what my emotions were trying to communicate. What I do know is what I saw.

It’s an eerie thing to be standing before a place that you’ve heard about so many times. A place that you have read about in the Bible, talked about in school or in church. Maybe you’ve seen so many pictures and postcards of the place that you feel as if you’ve already been there. But the physical experience is something completely different. I saw Jerusalem in the flesh on Thursday and somehow felt that I understood it less. We seven YAGM volunteers were led to an overlook from which we could see the iconic Dome on the Rock. It stands there, in the middle of a bustling metropolis, glistening back the light of the sun. That is why I say this was a day unlike any other - the sun was simultaneously above and below us. Mosques, temples, and churches ascended from earth to sky as if to call their God down to talk for a while. This, as far as the Abrahamic religions are concerned, truly is the Holy Land.

First impressions can be difficult things to grapple with. I’m sure those of you who have taken the time to read this blog can agree with that statement. We Americans can often be quick to make judgements about people and places that are different from what we know. I, of course, am just as guilty of this as the rest. But the really beautiful thing is when we start to dig in and see the world as it is in all its complicated magnificence. All of it. With some time and a wide open mind, we start to see much more than the black and white of a first glance.

Dear friends and loved ones, if you are at all like me you may have specific ideas in your head of what Jerusalem should look like. You may have feelings about her people due to what you’ve seen or heard in the media. I want to challenge you to drop all of that. Help me do the same. Let us experience many more moments of seeing the sun shine in two places for the first time. Trust me … it is invigorating! 

September 15, 2018

At All Times

We carry these things with us AT ALL TIMES.

You may have noticed in some of the pictures, if you haven’t I encourage you to take a look, that all of us YAGM volunteers in the West Bank are carrying small shoulder bags, purses, or satchels with us. The reason you see us carrying these is a good one. A traveler in the West Bank without her/his passport is as good as a sitting duck. Every road in this place is watched by authorities wondering, “Who are you?” and, “What are you doing here?” The rather stark reality is that these questions must be answered quickly and accurately with only a visa page in a little blue book. This is one of the things we must carry with us at all times.

Another thing that will be found in one of these little bags is a cellular phone issued to us by our country coordinators. These phones have been programmed for in-country use as a sort of security measure. Rest assured, there are few occasions in which they are used, but that in no way decreases their importance. We bring them, fully charged, everywhere we go.

Where are my keys? This is a question I’ve grown so accustomed to asking myself back home. Did I leave them in my room? Are they on the hook by the door? It is not a question we allow ourselves to ask in this place. We lock our doors here, not out of fear but caution. I realize that this is a common practice in the States as well, but here it is a necessity. Lock, then unlock and repeat. We always know where are keys reside.

The fourth component of the at all times bag is money. Money, money, money. Shekels to be more precise. Much like the passport and visa, some get’n around money is required for … well … getting around. We must regularly take public transit in the West Bank, whether it is a buss, a taxi, or a Service. These are often inexpensive and prices can sometimes be negotiable. Certain colored plates will signify whether a vehicle is or is not permitted to enter Israeli territory from the West Bank. So we must always be cognizant of where we are going and how we need to get there.  Furthermore, some of the best food I have ever tasted is readily available in the streets. Falafel and Shawarma on every corner. We find ourselves fully fed for fewer than 10 Shekels most every day. This is extremely convenient but only if we’ve got that money ready to go.

Now you know a bit about the things we carry with us, you guessed it, at all times.