I woke up extra early so I could pay a morning visit to the Church of the Nativity before we left Bethlehem. Our Galilee tour guide was scheduled to pick us up at 7.30am, and the Church opened at 6am, so I packed quickly, showered quickly, and headed in through the private Franciscan entrance at about 6.45. There was an Armenian Orthodox mass going on in the grotto, which I sat and listened to for a little while. It was quite moving, despite being a language I didn’t understand AT ALL. Not even the occasional liturgical word, oh no. Anyway, it was nice. Unfortunately, though, it also meant that I couldn’t go down into the grotto for one last time. Oh well. I wandered around the basilica a bit, pondered some icons on the Greek Orthodox side, and lit a candle. Then I was off for a hurried breakfast because, of course, I’d stayed past my budgeted time (7.15) in the church and was late! oy.
Before leaving Bethlehem, our driver and tour guide (both Palestinian Israelis because they were born and live in Jerusalem...but they have Jordanian passports and technically no citizenship in any country, and at the moment no right to vote in Israel’s upcoming elections) took us to the Wall to get a look at it and take some photos. There’s a substantial amount of graffiti on the Bethlehem side of the Wall, including slogans, questions, pictures, and even a mural of a living room window with a nice view, surrounded by two comfy armchairs. That mural is painted just opposite a house. The Wall has been built about 50 feet from the front of the house, so the view out the front window is of 20-foot-high grey concrete slabs. Except now they can look at a mural of what they used to see out their living room window. Sad. The place where we stopped to take photos is at the gate on the main road between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. In fact, it’s the same place where I took photos of the Wall being built last year. The very road we used 18 months ago is now blocked off by a huge metal gate that is only opened for high-security visitors...ie the patriarch, when he came on Christmas Eve, and the president, when he came on Christmas Eve... It was really sad to see what has happened here. Last year I was angry because the Israelis had bulldozed olive trees, destroying some and damaging some, in order to build this wall that cut the trees off from the people who own them and care for them and get their livelihood from them. This year, I’m angry because it’s finished and the land grab has been successful and people now have a view of a concrete wall where before they had views of their olive groves. I’m angry because now there is a different entrance/exit for Bethlehem, a way that is inconvenient for Palestinians and has even further ruined the already ruined economy of Bethlehem. The new gate includes a "security area" where Palestinians must walk through, be searched extensively (often in a humiliating manner, out in the open, etc), and wait long periods in the cold/heat. There is a sign that says "Welcome to Jerusalem" as you pass through the gate, and a graffiti mural next to it with a lion-like beast attacking a bird. What a welcome….through a 20-foot barrier that separates families, that separates people from their land and livelihood, that keeps pilgrims out, that keeps people cooped up in a small area, that isolates some of the most wonderful people I have ever met, and into a land where 18-year-olds carry huge guns and grenade launchers, where everyone is constantly afraid, and where foreign money—my money—supports oppression.
Once we managed to get through the security checkpoint, we were on our way to Galilee. It’s farther than you think! We drove up along the Jordan River, past Jericho (roadblocked…) on a road with "flying checkpoints" that stop every car with a white and green license plate (Palestinian) but let every car with a yellow plate (Israeli) continue on. Despite the fact that this area is firmly West Bank territory, Palestinians are not allowed to travel in it without permits. We finally arrived in Galilee, and our first stop was the beautiful Mt. of Beatitudes. I love this place. We stayed here last year, and it was fantastic. The views are wonderful, the church is gorgeous, the grounds are amazing, and the hospitality we received from Sister Assunta (a Syrian nun) was what I would consider legendary. Can I possibly use more superlatives? No. Anyway, this time I didn’t get to see my friend the Sister, but we did get to spend a few minutes looking around the grounds and the church. It was beautiful, just as I remembered, except of course the garden was not in bloom.
From the Mt. of Beatitudes, we moved on to Tabgha and the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes. Unfortunately for everyone in our group, there was a noon service going on and we weren’t able to go up to the altar to see the famous mosaic.
How hilarious (and simultaneously cool) is this commercialization? I bought a cereal bowl and a mug with this mosaic on it (in Palestinian pottery style). That’s right, when I eat breakfast I can remember the loaves and fishes. Awesome!
From Tabgha we went to the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, a Sea-of-Galilee-side chapel built on a rock where tradition holds that the events of John 21 took place. The disciples were out fishing but caught nothing all night, and in the morning Jesus called from the shore that they should try the other side of the boat. They do, and catch a ton of fish. Peter jumps in the sea and swims to shore. Jesus is cooking up a nice breakfast of fish when the rest of them arrive on shore. Then Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, and Peter is told to fee/tend the sheep/lambs. Anyway, all that supposedly happened at this site, which is on the shore and has a HUGE rock that could be used for all this talking, cooking, and fine dining. It was also really beautiful, and a place where we could all touch the Sea of Galilee. The sun was shining in beams through the clouds, and the song in my head was very definitely "and the glory of the Lord shone around, shone around, and the glory of the Lord shone around." Funnily enough, that’s the same song that popped into my head when we were at Shepherd’s Field, which had paintings showing the glory of the Lord shining around.
From the C.T.P.S.P, we moved on to my favorite site of all, Capernaum. I love Capernaum, "The Town of Jesus." It has great excavations, wonderful views of what 1st century homes would have looked like, a 4th Byzantine century synagogue built right on top of the synagogue Jesus would have attended and taught in, and, best of all, Peter’s House. That’s right, the very house where Jesus stayed, where Jesus healed people, where four friends removed the roof to let a paralyzed friend in to Jesus’ presence, that Peter’s house. I love Peter’s house, probably because I love that story of the paralytic. I was very impatient for our tour guide to stop talking so I could go back to Peter’s house and look at it, decide what rooms are what, etc. Unfortunately, there is a hideously ugly church built over the site. Fortunately, the inside of the church is not as hideous as I remember AND it has a glass floor where you can look down on Peter’s house from above. Very cool. Can I just say, I think archaeology is cool? Not cool in that I could ever actually do it, but cool in that when other people do it I like to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Anyway, it was neat.
And then we were on our way again…a falafel lunch in Tiberias (and ice cream!!! it’s much colder in Israel than Egypt, but Israel still has ice cream for sale. Take that, Cairo! bring back the ice cream! bring back the ice cream! Also, we saw donuts. real, fresh made, jelly filled donuts. Notice I said saw, not ate. anyway, i digress.) and then, after lunch, a van ride back to Jerusalem, past Jericho (still roadblocked and now dark too). After saying goodbye to Lynn and Dick at the Notre Dame (a very nice place), we headed to the Citadel Youth Hostel, just inside the Jaffa Gate. And then our adventures began in earnest!
We checked in, only to discover that Sarah was allergic to something. We didn’t know what at first, but later decided it was probably mold (there’s condensation on all the walls and ceilings). We went out to look for dinner and also Sarah and Jen looked into the possibility of changing hostels after the first night—and even made reservations at another nearby hostel. We ended up eating in a café right near the Jaffa Gate, called Samara. It had very good food (I had spaghetti with tomato sauce, mushrooms, and cheese) and even better hot chocolate. It wasn’t out of our price range either, though it did probably top it out (many people in our group, craving hamburger, paid 40 shekels (about $8) for that experience). After more looking around, we were (as usual) exhausted and we headed into our beds at the Citadel, where we found out that there’s basically no heat in our girls’ room (on the top floor) because using the heater overloads the circuit breakers and the entire hostel’s electricity goes out. We went to bed anyway, but boy were we cold! But...a day of Jesus-sites in Jerusalem awaited, so we were definitely going to get some sleep...hopefully.
"There are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down (or if the exact location of each were noted in reliable historical sources or maybe a map), I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written."