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Monthly Archives: April 2009

This is actually a true story about my living situation, and it is uncanny as to how much this parallels both the content of the peace studies course I took at AU last semester, and the situation here in Israel/Palestine at present. As one may have gleaned from previous posts, I live with Zack, a Jewish guy from New Jersey in room 107 of my building. We live amidst an interesting mix of other people, who I have learned more and more about as time has gone onwards. I will fill in more details over the course of this story.

When I first arrived in Jerusalem, there were two other American guys who were placed to live on the floor. I acknowledge that our floor certainly isn’t 5-star quality, but I also don’t happen to have their monumental sense of entitlement, threatening every Hebrew University employee they spoke to that first day that they would “call their parents and have them complain,” that they “weren’t willing to live in such a prison,” and other choice, “I’m a whiny rich kid” sentiments such as that. As per usual, the squeaky wheels got the oil – they were moved to the Student Village in about 2 weeks, as rooms opened up therein. That lovely pair of people aside, the rest of my floor was quite standoffish in their actions, as were Zack and I. I am not proud of this, but there was definitely “the stare” going on between everyone on the floor. From the very beginning, we figured out that our next door neighbors on one side were Arabic (from the talking we could overhear), and that our across the hall neighbor was probably Russian (he really looks like it, as well as listened to really loud movies dubbed in Russian with his door open). No one really said anything to us, and we didn’t have much inclination to speak to other folks on the floor so much (from this point on, I can only speak for my own inclinations and sentiments in our situation).

As time went on, my knowledge of Hebrew expanded from “Shalom!!” to have actually conversational skills, and my across the hall neighbor’s loud movie watching and video gaming continued. As my homework levels continually increased and his noise levels stayed at “really loud, approaching the noises of a war zone,” I finally decided I needed to speak to him about this. But, as a master of conversation (years of practice, several degrees and jobs in this field), I recognized that I should go in with some sort of positive topic of conversation. I know he loves computer games, something which I happen to enjoy as well. I came back from class one day to the sound of a war zone (one war-esque video game or other, with surround sound to add to the effect), and so I decided to pay him a visit. I went in and told him simple phrases, things like “I also like computers,” and “did you build this one?” He was really excited to learn that I too enjoy computers (it turns out that our respective machines are similar setups, and we both built them ourselves), and so we had a good conversation relying on my feeble Hebrew, his feeble English, and his computer’s English-to-Russian translator for assistance.

From my initial understanding of that specific neighbor as “Russian guy who likes video games but disregards the ability of others to do homework,” I now had a more mature understanding of my neighbor. He is actually a Ukrainian immigrant to Israel, and is studying statistics. He works for the IDF as a security guard for Jewish families near the archeological dig at the City of David (a predominantly Muslim area, which is an entirely different blog post), and loves video games and the like. Oddly enough, even though I learned all of that and understood him, he finished that part of the conversation by explaining to me that he actually dreams of being a famous chef (not what I was expecting, but more power to him). I also learned that he didn’t realize how loud his games could be with his door open, and he learned that I prefer to do my homework in my room. He turns the volume down, and keeps his door closed much more often as a result, and I had a friend on the floor (besides Zack) for the first time.

Just recently (a month ago at this point, I suppose), the Internet connection Zack and I were using in our room simply ceased to exist, and thus we were out of options for using the Internet in our room. This wasn’t doable for either of us, but neither was trying to get a connection set up in the middle of the semester: first, the Israeli company Bezeq is AWFUL and notorious for being such, would probably take a quarter of the semester to even set up the connection; and second, many abroad students at HU have had the hardest time canceling their Internet connections upon leaving and are charged for extra months after leaving. Therefore, we thought of the idea of somehow splitting the cost of the connection with one of the rooms around us, as their semester goes for a month beyond ours. Obviously we tried the room of my Ukrainian friend first, but he explained that he gets his connectivity through his cell phone company and so had no router. That settled it – time to finally introduce ourselves to our neighbors and see if they had a connection.

Later that week, we stopped by when they were home and spoke to one of them, explaining our problem. He introduced himself, and sympathized with our problem, telling us that we could simply use his Internet connection for free once it was set up (rather than letting us split the cost with him, as we wanted to do). We thanked him very much, and subsequently always greeted him when we saw him (although he wasn’t around very often for some reason). After several days, I ran into him as he was sitting in the common area and studying, so I decided to sit down and strike up a conversation with him. As it turns out, he is an Israeli Arab Christian (quite the mix, right?) from Nazareth in the north. He is studying nursing, as are several other Arabic guys on the floor, and this explained two things: they take all their classes at the Givat Ram campus on the other side of the city, so they weren’t around much; and they also worked a bunch of night shifts doing practical nursing as part of their problem, which explains why they like to be noisy at like 2 in the morning… they just woke up and are about to leave for work.

Just a few days ago, he and I managed to sit down and speak some more, and some very interesting sentiments came out of that conversation. I knew he was from Nazareth, and we discussed religion and the upcoming visit of the Pope in May. After looking at the Pope’s intended schedule, he told me “Michael, we’re both going to be sick on Thursday the 14th, so we can go see the Pope in Nazareth and then I can show you the churches there.” This is an amazing opportunity in several ways, and one I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t made friends with him due to my interest in sharing an Internet connection. He also explained to me (and these are his words entirely) that as an Israeli Arab, he is consistently and totally discriminated against by “security” forces, police officers, and soldiers. He also made the statement that he is willing to accept this, as he believes that his opportunities as an oppressed Arab in Israel are at least 10 times better than they would be anywhere else in the Middle East. Strong sentiments indeed, and ones I would have never heard from anyone if I hadn’t made friends with him.

This, of course, still leaves a bunch of folks I don’t really know. There is a pair of Russian guys who definitely give dirty looks to the Arab guys, and also seem to look down on the Ukrainian guy. The Ukrainian guy, while nice, does have the awful tendency of playing violent computer games with his door open and the surround sound turned all the way up… including last Friday, when about 30 Arabic guys had a prayer service in our common area and asked him to turn the volume down. I am friends with the Israeli Arab Christian guy, and perhaps he is the key to my getting to know some of the other Arabic guys – although to be fair, I make a point of saying “salaam” whenever I see them and receive a greeting in turn, but we have never sat down and actually verified that the other side is *actually* human (that is the most facetious statement in this whole post, by the way). I can promise you that not everyone on the floor will love each other at any point in the near future, but I would like to believe that if I have been able to break the ice in some ways, maybe other people on the floor can at least greet each other once in while (not even every day). Then again, maybe not – an unfortunate parallel to the real situation here.

And, having made those points clear, to emphasize the “peace studies” portion of the title of this posting, I am surprised to tell you that one of my peace studies courses from last semester was right on the money with one of the concepts it taught us. Called interest-based or integrative negotiation (and based on this book), we learned about the fact that it is usually much more successful to negotiate only in terms of what each party wants, in order to have a worthwhile outcome. This was definitely not the reason Zack and I asked around about a collective Internet connection; we just wanted the ability to use the Internet in our room again. At the same time, sitting down and talking with our standoffish neighbors about what we wanted and what we had to offer them (partially covering the cost of a commonly-desired good, an Internet connection) is sort of what integrative negotiations are all about. I know I didn’t like the loud volume of a certain neighbor’s computer, but it was the fact that I pursued quiet as a friend after sharing similar interests that I got it and didn’t make a bitter neighbor for seeming rude. Maybe this sort of negotiation could help refocus the situation here: there are a lot of people, with a finite supply of resources and space, and a number of locations which are valued by different religious traditions. Although not easy, perhaps an outside influence reminding the parties involved that simply hating the other side hasn’t work so well thus far could allow for this sort of positive, win-win type of negotiating between all involved parties. Simply some more of my musings on peace in this worn-torn land, with some personal anecdotes and evidence to back it up.

Today I finally remembered to take my camera with me to campus for two specific purposes; first, I wanted to photograph the location of the terrorist attack from 2002 as mentioned in the title; and then I wanted to photograph my favorite piece of artwork adorning the campus here (two fairly separate ideas, but near each other so posted together).

The Attack
In the Nancy Reagan Plaza, outside of the Frank Sinatra Cafeteria (very odd choice of names, I know), there is the location of a terrorist attack in 2002. Up until that point, Hebrew University had been an open campus without much in the way of security or walls around the campus proper. As drawn from one of the memorial plaques at the location today:

“On Wednesday, July 31, 2002, at 13:32, a bomb exploded in the cafeteria at this site. In this act of terrorism, nine Hebrew University students and staff were killed. More than eighty were wounded. The very foundations of the University were shaken.”

This is the inscription on the plaque beneath a tree labeled “Tilted Tree,” and for good reason. The tree (pictured below) was partially uprooted by the force of the blast, yet still stayed partially in the ground. After clearing up much of the other damages caused by the explosion, the decision was made to leave the tree at the angle and enable it to continue to grow as such, in a sort of defiant statement that life will continue to go on, even in the presence of terrorism.

Nearby, closer to the actual location of the blast is a garden with a stone facade naming those killed in the blast. As drawn from those panels:

“The unwavering resolve of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to continue its mission of research and teaching in an atmosphere of openness and tolerance for the benefit of Israel, the Jewish People, and humanity serves as an everlasting tribute to those who lost their lives here in such tragic circumstances.

[list of the names of those killed] Benjamin Blutstein, Marla Bennett, Revital Barashi, David Gritz, David Ladowski, Janis Ruth Coulter, Dina Carter”

As a result of that attack, Hebrew University is now completely surrounded by high walls with only a select few entrances (each with security guards and metal detectors). It was nice to know that the school had managed to stay free from very overpowering security for so many years before 2002, but given the reality of the situation here, it can be argued that at least some of those security measures are needed, for the time being.

The Artwork
Although there are many, many sculptures around the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University, and quite a few of them are by famous Israeli sculptors, I still like one of them more than all the rest. Of all the Biblical imagery from the Old Testament, the story of Jacob wrestling all through the night with God (as mentioned both in Genesis and Hosea) is one of the better ones in my opinion. Something about the imagery of the man who was supposed to receive THE blessing of God, whose offspring would be the people of God still having to fight and wrestle with God (in the story literally, but in the lives of all people figuratively).

As with many other holidays/days of importance, the national Israeli day for remembrance of the Holocaust (in Hebrew, “Yom HaShoah”) starts the evening before and continues for the full following day. This is, by the way, the same manner in which Shabbat is observed every weekend: the entire (Jewish part of the_ city closes down prior to sundown on Friday afternoon, and stays closed until sundown on Saturday.

On the actual day of remembrance itself, Tuesday the 21st, a few of my friends and I decided that we wanted to attend the morning remembrance ceremonies at Yed VaShem (check out my previous post for more information). We departed around 8:50, which as I was aware was definitely not enough time to get across the city of Jerusalem by bus, but that is what ended up happening nonetheless. On the Egged 23 bus, we started across the city towards Mount Herzl, but that meant going through the most traffic-fraught Orthodox neighborhoods in the middle of the city. We also ended up driving right past the Israeli shuk, which is also an extremely busy part of town. All of that detail serves a purpose; instead of being in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Memorial Square at Yed VaShem for the sounding of the air raid sirens, we were in the middle of the street, still on the bus. This turned out to be both a blessing and a curse, as we were instead able to experience the effects of the 10 AM air raid siren with other average citizens of Israel (the sort still on their way to/from work) – the entire bustle of city life died. Cars stopped where they were immediately, the buses (ours included) stopped where they were, and people able to easily stand up got out of their cars, and in our case, off the bus to stand outside and spend several moments remembering all of those Jews killed in the Holocaust (that is what the day specifically commemorates, regardless of the fact that something like 12 million civilians were killed in the Holocaust). As a matter of disposition, there aren’t too many noises or sounds that truly bother me; on the very short list of those that do are nearby and unexpected gun shots, and air raid sirens, which are the same thing used in World War II and thus evoke many emotions upon hearing them in a non-historical-movie context.

To help truly explain the situation, here is a video of us (Justine, Théo, and his visiting girlfriend Aline) getting off the Egged bus at the sounding of the air raid sirens across Israel at 10 am, as the entire country stopped what they were doing, got out of their cars or chairs and stood to think about the people who died:

After re-boarding the bus, we continued on our way to Yed VaShem and arrived to a scene of hundreds and hundreds of Israeli students of all ages clamoring to get onto small shuttle buses, presumably to go down to the memorial as well. Justine and I got ahead of the others, and we decided to try and just walk the fairly short distance to Yed VaShem, thus avoiding the massive lines for the shuttle buses. Little did we anticipate just how RIDICULOUS the Israeli security arrangements for the day would be (and that statement was made keeping mind how important the day is for them).

Security Check 1
We were quickly and forcefully directed to go get in line for the small shuttle buses, thus delaying our entry to the ceremony even further. We picked up the pace, not wanting to get stuck behind the latest batch of 300 students just arriving, and got into a holding queue. There were hawk-eyed IDF and police standing around “doing nothing,” but it was pretty clear that they were watching the dispositions and body language of people in the first queue for whatever counts as suspicious in their eyes. We eventually were allowed into…

Security Check 2
Entering the temporarily fenced-in area, we were directed towards what I first (from very far away, mind you) thought was a concession van of some sort. It was actually an IDF security van, where the middle opens all the way up to reveal… a combined metal detector and bomb scanner, now with built-in conveyor belt. It was like a mini-airport security checkpoint, right there on the pavement. We moved through fairly easily, and eventually were able to swim against the flowing current of Israeli school kids and get onto one of the small shuttles. We drove over to the grounds of Yed VaShem and got out, leading us to the front of…

Security Check 3
This one was more selective in a few ways; first, there were temporary yellow fences leading in several different directions. We were asked if we had invitations at the first entrance, and said no; as such, we were sent down the longer, more-winding second path. In the middle of it, we were stopped by another security guard and asked why we were there, why we were in Israel, where we’re from, if we had any weapons (oddly, he felt compelled to ask each of us separately in front of each other if we had any weapons on us), and then checked out passports versus our Hebrew University identification (apparently, that checkpoint had the dual purpose of also being vigilant versus false ID’s). We finally got through, walked through the temporarily shut-down and cordoned-off Visitor’s Center, right into the clutches of…

Security Check 4
This one was the real deal, again. There were multiple temporary metal detectors (the walk-through sort) with barriers between them and enough security people milling around to put the security at the Senate buildings in DC to shame. We were asked to remove everything from our pockets, and then each stepped through the metal detectors at least once (I swear, in Israel they calibrate those things to detect the level of iron in one’s blood). Then, they asked me to demonstrate that my camera was in fact a working, legitimate camera. As horrible visions of Illegal El Al Possession Seizure 2.0 started running through my head, I got a shot of a gentleman cleaning some of the security gear up (that would be the attached crooked-angle shot of a guy with security stuff) and proved myself enough to allow us through. That wasn’t the last of them, though; they did a lovely job of tossing our possessions at us (literally); Théo wasn’t pleased about his tour book getting thrown at him, and I wasn’t so happy about my camera being tossed at me either. Yet another reason why I really, thoroughly don’t like “security” forces anywhere; they infringe upon your rights, and then gloat about it by treating your possessions as being of no value.

OK, having exhausted myself leading you, my readers, through the procedures I had to get through in order to remember victims of the Holocaust, I am happy to report that I was finally able to get into the actual grounds of Yed VaShem and walk towards the ceremony. As we approached, we noticed many different things at once; the huge variance amongst the types of people there (IDF soldiers, police, the elderly, the Orthodox, the non-Jewish, and so on), as well as a huge and elaborate setup for the event. Hundreds of chairs, towers with lights, and then a huge series of flowers in the process of being laid for the memory of Jews killed in each of the countries affected by the Holocaust; all this and more. The photographs speak well for themselves in this case.

After observing the events in the Memorial Square for quite some time, we made a fortuitous decision to go towards the Hall of Remembrance at the time we did. It is important to note that this year’s focus for Yom HaShoah was on those children killed during the Holocaust, and so the main event for the day focused on child survivors of the Holocaust. Each year, Yed VaShem hosts people reading the names of all 6,000,000 Jews killed in the Holocaust, which is a monumental endeavor indeed. This year, the readings took place in the Hall of Remembrance, but they opened them up with a haunting hymn sung by a youth choir.

A video of the performance of a youth choir to open the reading of all 6 million names of the Jewish people killed in the Holocaust:

After staying and hearing the moving testimony of child Holocaust survivors (although they spoke in emotionally-charged and -quickened Hebrew, I was able to follow that the one woman pictured below watched her grandmother, mother, and two siblings get shot to death in their home during a Nazi ‘Aktion’), we departed the Memorial and started towards the exit. Justine and I went to see one of the few parts of the grounds I missed last time; the underground Children’s Memorial. We went into the dark, dark area with the back-lit images of children who were killed and the names, ages, and countries of those killed being read in multiple languages. We walked past the area I reached last time, and into the main part of this specific memorial… an otherworldly, nearly pitch-black room filled with mirrors and extended upwards for a few meters. In the center of the room, there was a large series of ever-climbing rods with candles lit and burning atop them. Magnified by the mirrors, and with the background noise being the names, ages, and nationalities of children killed based on ethnicity was quite emotional overpowering, to be sure. I am very glad that I was able to experience it the second time I went, however.

We departed the grounds of Yed VaShem, having observed Yom HaShoah and laden with emotions and thoughts.

Photographs from Yad VaShem:

On the day after Pesach break ended, Sunday, I decided to check out a place I have heard a lot about but never been to – Eizariya, the Arabic name for “Place of Lazarus.” In the West Bank, about 6 miles from Jerusalem, this place has the traditional location of the first tomb of Lazarus, and the house of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. Scott was also interested in visiting there, so we departed Sunday using our tried-and-true method… we took the Arabic bus #1 to their central bus station, and simply asked around for the correct bus to take. In this case, it was a complex answer: we needed to take the 36 bus, but only a specific iteration of the 36, off in the corner of the smaller central depot.

Getting aboard, we slowly drove through the streets of Jerusalem, and eventually made it into the West Bank. We drove along for a little bit longer, and at some point I realized that although we were on the right bus, we really had no idea of where to get off. Being the one seated in the aisle seat (due to height issues, as one can imagine), I “volunteered” to go try and ask the driver where we needed to get off. It wasn’t that he wasn’t friendly; its just that when we asked if his was the bus to Al-Eizariya, we got an emphatic nod but no English-based response. I tried a bit in English and a bit in Hebrew, and thank God that the older Palestinian gentleman seated behind the driver heard what I was asking and pointed me in the right direction, as well as explaining to the driver where we wanted to go. It turns out that the name of the Church of Lazarus in Arabic sounds quite similar to how it would be in Hebrew, “knessia al-eizariya.”

Getting off at the suggested spot, we immediately saw where we intended to go, up a hill. The road we walked on, as you’ll see from the attached photographs, was very recently the recipient of US taxpayer assistance through the USAID program, which pleased me; it is reassuring to know that at least a small portion of the money taken by the US government is used for a good purpose. The road itself is brand new tile done from Jerusalem stone, and is a beauty to behold; it really prepares one well for the Christian and Muslim holy site they are about to enter. Walking up that new tiled road, we arrived underneath an orange sign proclaiming “the Tomb of Lazarus.” There was a gentleman who walked with crutches underneath, “asking” for a 5 shekel donation to get in, but it was clear that we needed to pay to get in. We entered the narrow corridor, and Scott was immediately accosted by an elderly pilgrim who insisted on Scott becoming his photographer.

After assisting that man with photos, we descended downwards for quite some time; close to 5 meters under the ground, actually. We arrived in a small alcove filled to the brim with Russian Orthodox pilgrims, and then a small table with votive candles and a donation box. We each were handed candles (so not really donation-based, as it were), and then attempted to go down into the tomb itself. I say attempted, as more than half of the Russian Orthodox pilgrims in the upper part of the tomb instantly and loudly admonished us, promising that “THERE’S NO ROOM FOR YOU IN THERE.” Not wanting a fight, we waited patiently until something like 8 people came out of the tiny tomb. We then proceeded down into the tomb, which was problematic for me. Being 6’4″ and wearing a backpack, I instantly handed Scott my camera and candle as he nimbly crawled down into the tomb. I then managed some 5-star contortionist acts to get in crawling on hands and knees through the very small whole leading to the Tomb itself.

Once therein, the temperature actually managed to get even warmer (a minor miracle, to be honest), and there were several alcoves with votive candles burning. There are photographs attached which do justice to just how small of a space the Tomb really is. After climbing several meters up to the street again, Scott and I noticed that we were both sweating, but breathing really heavily; like, the sort of out-of-breath that people who run a marathon have going on. Thinking for a moment, it all clicked in my head: a very small space with a small corridor leading down to it (not much air flow); a bunch of people generating heat and carbon dioxide, as well as constantly burning votive candles = a recipe to get really light-headed, if not worse. It was actually sort of scary to realize just how out of breath (partially asphyxiated, given how long we were down there) we were upon coming up again.

We wanted to get some lunch first, so we went and had some excellent chicken schnitzel at a nearby Arabic stand, for quite the cheap price of 17 shekels each (a bit more than USD $4), and thats including a can of Coca Cola per person. After eating and a discussion ranging from reactions to the neighborhood to the oddities of Newfoundland accents (as Scott explained, a “cross between Canadian and Scottish, but less comprehensible”), we departed to go and actually see the inside of the church, but ended up needing to wait for the Catholic Arabic service to end. After sitting and admiring the ancient pillars in the courtyard for a while, the service finally ended and we went in… accompanied by something like 85 Spanish-speaking tourists (at first, I couldn’t determine if they were Italian or Spanish, but then the all-telling “yo pero” came forth and truth was determined). They were just as welcome to go in as Scott and I were, but they were a different sort… Scott and I like to visit places and interact with the people there (I said “Salaam” to every member of the congregation leaving the sanctuary), while the other group in that church literally pushed congregation members out of the way in their fervor to be tourists. Its a big difference that I see all too often, and I can’t say that I appreciate the way that people act when they come to Israel or Palestine as “tourists.”

In any event, we left the church and started walking along the main road because 1) we needed the 36 bus to get back and they come somewhat infrequently; and 2) I wanted to see some more of Al Eizariya as the modern neighborhood. I hope you enjoy the attached photos of what I did get to see.

And a short video of the very end of the Muslim call to prayer from the mosque above the Tomb of Lazarus.

The photographs, as per usual with captions.

Due to the uncertainties of my Internet connection while I am here, I wasn’t able to post this video with the original post, where you can read more about what happened.

The first part of the wedding procession we caught on video, as we were caught in the middle of their procession:

and the other part, giving a glimpse of the greatly excited Muslim women singing the counter-melody to the men’s part:

These videos were both taken by Théo Cohen, and are posted here with his permission.

After getting some delicious and cheap falafel with Coca Cola for lunch (not the traditional Easter meal, but I wasn’t willing to travel all the way home and thus miss additional parts of the Easter experience in Jerusalem), I started to really get tired. Mind you, 2.5 hours of sleep isn’t so much energy to continually walk up and down hills in the heat of the sun over Israel, and even the excitement of my situation on Easter couldn’t keep me going forever.

With that in mind, I instead resolutely decided to go ever onwards, and experience some more. As such, I finally decided to go to the Garden Tomb, which I always see as I use the Arabic buses and their nearby bus station, but never got a chance to go into. Having experienced the insanity of ever other holy site on Easter, I took the necessary precautions on my approach; I made sure my backpack was fully zipped and secure, took my camera in hand with the strap double-wrapped around my wrist, and adjusted my wallet so it was securely in my pocket. I walked down the narrow alleyway from the main street to the entrance, where a well-dressed usher was eying me from.

I arrive and greet him, which he responds to with the straightforward “you cannot visit, as their is a French service in progress.” Not one to be put off by the usual Israeli arrogant rudeness, I proceeded to instantly respond in French, explaining that I am Lutheran, and I am indeed looking to attend said service. His face’s mask of “I work here and therefore have implied authority” melted straightaway, at least for a brief moment. A very brief moment – he agreed that I could go in, but imposed a strict no-photographs rule on me before I entered, thus reestablishing him as The Boss, at least in his eyes. Leaving El Jefe behind, I entered the beautiful, lush Garden Tomb and found a seat.

The people around me were a mixed bunch with a few being clearly French (from the way they dressed), but predominantly Francophone African people filled the seats. Sitting down in the middle of the service, which happened to me many times previously in the day (in addition to the sunrise Lutheran service, I caught the last 3 minutes of a Latin homily, about 10 minutes of a different English sermon, and then the second half of the German Lutheran sermon at the Church of the Redeemer), I was still more than able to enjoy what was going on. Although the music was too quick and too filled with French slang for me to follow, I certainly enjoyed the 7 or 8 different harmony parts sung by the African folks around me (it was like Zambia Church Service 2.0, now with more Easter fervor). That, and I am incredibly excited to relate to you that I followed at least 85% of the all-French sermon. The preacher was a good one, and his accent was close enough to non-Northern French that I could understand him… so the only things which were problematic were the more technical grammatical statements, as well as the more specialized theological language. But so I sat in the shade of the trees of the aptly-named Garden Tomb, in front of the tomb itself with the Easter-only “You won’t find him here, for he is risen” sign and listening (and understanding) a French Protestant sermon made for the most perfect unexpected end to my Easter in Jerusalem. I hope to get back there soon when they are open and get more photographs of the beautiful setting there.

As the procession I was a part of stepped aside, they let one of the many Palestinian Scout processions of the day go through, playing their bagpipes and drums all the way through. The interesting part of the Palestinian Scouts is that their uniforms are determined by their individual religious background – the Christian Orthodox are light blue uniforms, the Catholics wear the khaki, and I believe the Protestants are the dark green (not sure about that one, though). In any event, they assemble every Easter by troops and get into their dress uniforms for processions through the streets. I am told by Scott that there was an outstanding Good Friday procession as well (check out his video here). They have bagpipes and drum corps, which is not necessarily the instrument set I would have expected, but nonetheless I enjoyed them every time I ran into them.

In any event, the Catholic Palestinian Scouts processed through the procession, which had ceased processing for that moment (I must be honest; I had a huge grin on my face as I wrote the preceding), playing their usual music all the way through. They were all very good, and it was nice to see that they treat all Scouts equally, regardless of age. The oldest played consistently, and the youngest were just along to be in the parade, but the mid-aged Scouts had drums and bagpipes of their own, which they were able to play something like once every 5 songs to give them confidence-building practice with the real thing. Good stuff. I am also pursuing the opportunity for me to do work with the Palestinian Scouts, which I think would be fascinating. I hope to be able to post to that effect in the near future. In any case, go to the next post to read more about the day.

The first of two videos of some of the Palestinian Scouts in action:

and the second clip:

A whole bunch of photographs, taken from in front of, behind, within, next to, and diagonally across from the processions:

As I mentioned in the previous post, I left the Sepulchre as part of one of the many processions through the streets of the Old City that took place during all of Holy Week. It cannot have been Orthodox, as their Easter fell a week later this year. It probably wasn’t Catholic, as their habits of the monks involved were not Catholic. This is problematic; they were also not Armenian, as their habits weren’t fitting for that either. They also traveled with a bishop of some sort (check him out, as well as the clothing of those in the procession in the attached photographs), but his demeanor and clothing didn’t provide me any hints with nationality or denomination. That, and they were escorting the ambassador and his wife (according to other bystanders, from Holland). As such, we had the ceremonial Arabic Christian guards leading the procession, and ceremonial (proper, unknown ethnicity here) guards at the rear of the procession.

We moved through the extremely narrow streets, with all other people forced to stop for us either due to the weight of people pushing forward, or helpful IDF soldiers making use of some of their legitimized governmental force to coerce people into waiting (a guy with a machine gun and friends tells you to wait, you’ll probably end up pausing, at the very least). Along the way, I encountered people speaking every conceivable language as they scurried from Holy Site A to Holy Site B, in many cases managing the wordless arguments of yelling and gesturing that so often arise between people of different nations trying to get to the same place. For example, apparently one of the Easter processions in the Old City last year saw Monk of Denomination H get too close to the line of Monk of Denomination J, prompting… a brawl between the monks present. Not especially Christian behavior, but this also partially explains the nearly excessive security forces throughout the Old City. I also passed by the single helpful Israeli banker, the man who helped me be able to take shekels out of the bank without 15 (I counted them) pages of paperwork every time; apparently he is a Christian, as he was also in his Easter best and carrying a palm frond. Eventually, we got towards the area of the Jaffa Gate, where there is actually a plaza and thus the ability for me to finally get ahead of the ponderous procession to get some better photographs. At this point, the procession actually stopped for the only thing which could stop it – another, bigger procession. Read about my encounters with various Palestinian Scouts in the next post.

After the excellent sunrise service, I started to make my way across the Mt. of Olives to get to the Old City. Although it is an area declared “wholly unsafe” by my school, I walked through it again, greeting many people as I went through, and given “Salaam” in return, as per usual. Walking in dress clothes on such a hot day wasn’t so much fun, especially not the (at points) 60 degree inclined plane that is the side of the Mt. of Olives. Walking down through the Jewish cemetery, I made a quick stop at Dominus Flevit and took a look at the spectacular, shining Dome of the Rock from the best seat in Jerusalem. Continuing onwards down the hill, I first thought of stopping into the Garden of Gethsemane, but then I realized that most of the church services in the city would probably be in the morning. As such, I first called Justine to see if I could accompany her family to Bethlehem for the French service they were going to, but I realized that I didn’t have my passport and would therefore be unable to get back into Israel easily.

As such, I decided to go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and meet up with some friends; on Easter in Jerusalem, what better place to go than the Catholic, Orthodox, and Armenian location of the burial of Jesus? Walking through the thoroughly crowded streets, I made my way towards the equally-crowded plaza in front of the Sepulchre. Along the way, I saw a ridiculous number of IDF and police walking around in groups of 5 or more, and then even more soldiers stationed at intersections and other points of possible need for defense. As I was told more than two weeks later, apparently a deranged man decided to go into a rage in the streets of the Old City on Good Friday, and stabbed several individuals – so that only served to strengthen the Israeli government’s intention to provide complete security. No cars were allowed into the Old City, and other such policies were implemented for Easter only.

Arriving in the plaza, I met up with my friends and realized that I wanted to wait whatever time it would take to get into the Sepulchre, as the crowds in front of the temporarily closed doors were huge (the doors were closed for a short period of time after each procession returned to the church). I joined the mass (there was no line or queue, of course), and eventually was able to get in. The Sepulchre was absolutely packed, and people just kept coming in. The red stone, said to be the burial stone of Jesus, was particularly reverenced by the pilgrims, with most people praying in front of it, many kneeling and kissing it, and some rubbing it down in an attempt to clean it. Further into the Sepulchre, all sorts of bright and cheerful decorations, and they opened additional windows and skylights, so that it was actually bright within the sanctuary for once (a beautiful sight). Waiting in the milling crowd, a procession eventually started after the Catholic church blessed and sanctified the empty tomb. Although I still can’t quite figure out which procession I was a part of, go check out the next post for more details.

A few brief videos to give a better sense of how it was to be inside the Holy Sepulchre on Easter:

and more of a focus on the Tomb itself:

And a whole bunch of photographs:

I woke up early enough for the service mentioned in the title that my mom was able to call me at 9:30 PM Eastern Standard Time, which was useful as a secondary alarm. On the down side, it means that my 4:30 AM wakeup time only allowed me 2 hours of sleep for a whirlwind Easter experience. As you shall come to see, from reading what I did all day, it was all more than worth the tired situation and VERY early wakeup call.

Dressing in my Easter finest, I elicited quite the look of shock from the Reznik dorm guard on my way out: 1) I was dressed very classy, and Israel is a very casual place; and 2) it was EXTREMELY early in the morning for a college student to be leaving the dorms. I walked along the side of Mt. Scopus and the university campus, and eventually arrived at the front gate to Augusta Victoria. Walking in with other Christian folks going to the service, we hurried past the hospital towards the edge of the Mt. of Olives and the service itself. Arriving in the still-dark morning, we shared the bulletins already amongst the people there. I arrived in the middle of the first reading (I got up early, but not early enough given how sluggishly I was moving). After the Gospel reading from Mark, and Pastor Mark Holman of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer from the Old City began his sermon, the sun did as it was told and rose. But it didn’t just simply go up into the sky and start beating down on us, as its usual method of affairs. It was a bit foggy that morning over the Maale Adumim settlement and surrounding Palestinian communities, so the sun lit those areas up incrementally as it rose higher and higher. It was also considerate enough to rise slowly and through clouds, allowing me to get a whole bunch of shots and then spend a whole bunch of time worrying about which ones to post here (check them out, and tell me what you think).

Pastor Holman’s sermon continued, and was focused predominantly on the colloquialism from sports of “the ball is in your court,” as a sentiment describing that it is up to each person to act on what moral directives they are given. In the context of a sermon given on the Mt. of Olives, next to a ruined Jordanian bunker from 1967 and on top of the land where the Roman 12th Legion headquarters was located, Pastor Holman went on to make the point that soldiers have occupied these lands before to the detriment of all the locals, and that continues today. He urged everyone present to do their part in taking care of their fellow human beings both here in Israel/Palestine, and everywhere else in the world. This was particularly poignant, as the service was composed of Arabic-, German-, Danish-, and English-speaking individuals from all over the world. The culmination of his sermon was when he pulled a tennis racket and some balls out from behind the makeshift stone altar, and shot half of them towards the crowd and then the other half down into the olive orchards on the hillside, thus literally putting the “ball in our courts.”

The service continued with singing for a bit, and then communion as the sun rose higher and higher. A truly wonderful service on a wholly beautiful Easter morning. It only got better, as we were all invited to a Palestinian-style Easter brunch at the nearby home of Pastor Mark Brown, of the Lutheran World Federation. The food was all excellent, and before eating everyone present introduced themselves and where they were from, as why they were in Israel. We got an intriguing mix of people, professions, and professed reasons for being in Israel; from myself as a student from American University, to American people working in official capacities, to Norwegian girls volunteering at schools in Bethlehem, to a Dutch doctoral candidate of theology doing survey-based research of the Arab versus the Israeli reaction to Jeremiah 32. A great start to one of the greatest days I have yet had here. Check out the next post for the continuation of the story.

Here is a short video I took, of the Augusta Victoria church bells ringing in the middle of the service:

And, as per usual, here are the best of the photographs I took: