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מִיכָאֵל

מִי – In Hebrew, “mi” corresponds with “who” in English

כָ – “kah,” a shortened form of the preposition “coma,” it means “is/are like”

אֵל – “El,” one of the shortened forms of the name of God in the Old Testament (often “Elohim”)

Read as one, and contrary to modern translations of this name (which seem to imply that the name “Michael” is denoting God-like qualities to the bearer of the name), “mi-cha-el” translates as a vital question for all people; “Who is like God?” Read with a certain inflection, one might even translate this less literally and go for meaning, coming up with the equally vital concern: “Who is God like?”

Although ancient Judaism/pre-Judaism Israelite religion is not alone in assigning deep importance to a person and their name, I suppose I am partially tied into that tradition, having a Hebraic name after all. Case in point – King Saul, of the Book of Samuel and predecessor to King David fame. Saul is anglicized for “Sha’ul,” which is a derivative for the Hebrew verb “to ask.” The pivotal part of his life on Earth was his asking of Samuel where he could find the local man of God; Samuel informed Saul that he came to the right place, and thus anointed him. I am not personally planning on seeking out a prophet of God and looking for the annunciation required to be crowned King of Judah and Israel; I just point out that there is a huge importance placed on a person’s name as determining their pathway through life.

I can promise you, my readers, that my time here in Israel/Palestine has really, truly, deeply forced me to come to terms with this question thrust upon me by my name, and grapple with it in a different way then ever before. As my beloved SIS advisor Julie warned me while I was still considering coming here for this spring, “this is a hard place to live.” That may actually qualify as the understatement of this era; being non-Jewish and studying abroad at the Hebrew University already puts me in a minority of a very few people. Being Christian puts me into another, smaller minority; being a Christian who isn’t a Christian Zionist puts me into a REALLY small minority. Being a Christian who doesn’t completely take the Palestinian side either might actually put me in the unenviable position of being a minority of 1, for nearly six months now. So from my position of refusing to take political “sides,” I instead adhere to the “human side,” as that is really the only side ever worth taking.

Unfortunately, in the face of such a belief, I have continually witnessed the worst of humanity rearing its ugly head in all sorts of ways while I have been here. I have been shown the greatest of hospitality by Israeli families, and then had our dialogue turn into a situation where I received a two-hour-long moral lecture on how I must understand and therefore feel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have been shown hospitality in a refugee camp for Palestinians, run by the United Nations, but them I was also shown to the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade where they venerate people killed for resisting the oppressive force of the IDF. I have been mistreated by something like 60% of the Israeli police and IDF I have yet come into contact with, as I am never doing anything wrong and yet I am continually barred from enjoying pilgrimage sites, tourist locations, and even walk where I want to. I have watched Arab guys in a car cuss out Hasidic Jewish guys, who replied in kind by offering some select arm motions. I have friends who have witnessed a fire in the Old City of Jerusalem which destroyed a Palestinian home next to an Israeli school, and Jewish people stood by and watched without doing anything. I am always reminded by very pro-Israeli individuals of the 1000-day plight of a conscripted Israeli soldier, stuck a prisoner somewhere in Gaza. I have witnessed all of this, and far worse.

I have also been to the Dominus Flevit, the chapel built on the spot where Jesus is said to have wept over Jerusalem. Perhaps this is one clue to the character of God – humans being graced with the blessing and curse of free will, perhaps God is compelled to watch the horror of the news just as often as people do in the world. I once attended a sermon at the National Cathedral where the preacher made use of hyperbole – he repeated the phrase “Jesus weeps for them” after each conflict situation/disaster situation on his list of 25 items. He overdid it, and I don’t entirely agree with the message he was sending – he advocated prayer and meditation upon these problems in the world.

Why do I disagree with him? First of all, because I can read the next few verses after the aforementioned ones; the verses telling us that Jesus wept over Jerusalem and then went down into the Second Temple to throw the money changers and usurers out of the antechamber to the Temple. I am aware of the fact that Jesus is reported as advocating prayer in a variety of situations; while I do not fault others for accepting this premise, I can no longer accept it myself. I have been to far too many church services on different continents where the message was one of sitting back and praying that things improve, and then forgetting about the problems of the world. If people are truly created in God’s image, that means we have a touch of desiring to help others about us, something that gets shoved to the background far too often. Having walked around Nazareth and taken on part of the shame of being looked down on as a Christian with my Arab-Israeli Christian friend, I can honestly tell you that I utterly rebuke some of those churches I have been to in my life. Two Christmases ago, I went to Texas to visit a friend and we decided to go to a Southern Baptist megachurch, just for the experience. I don’t know whether it was the Bentley in the pastor’s parking spot; or the fact that their “church” had an attached gymnasium and several cafes and bookstores; or the fact that his “sermon” on the “7 things you need to do to be like Jesus” failed to include or even hint at “humility,” but something about that place made me embarrassed to even consider myself a Christian. I hate to break it to you, folks, but Jesus backed up his lofty moral ideals with direct action: he said to forgive people their sins, and then he sat down and dined with the lowest of the low in Kingdom of Judah society. He consistently made the claim that God is a loving God, and he acted this out by looking after people (feeding 5,000, for one small example). Perhaps the “Christians” of this world would benefit from a little bit more rolling-up of their sleeves to take care of other people, and a little bit less Old Testament-style condemnation of the people around them. Maybe.

And, having explained just how much I see that is wrong in the world, I end with three short, positive anecdotes. 1) Rami, a guy who grew up in Balata, is 21 and a university student of psychology and sociology. Why? Because he wants to go back and help the people he grew up with deal with the intense stress life puts on them every day. When I asked him what he thinks about this conflict, he looked at me sadly and told me something that matches up with my views: both sides need to apologize and repent of morally unjust actions, there needs to be governmental changes and revisions, and there needs to be one state where people live together as neighbors. Anything else is a dead end and will only prolong this conflict. Is he going to fix everything? No, but at least he is trying. 2) This news story, although slightly older, is a vital sign of the possibility of change for the better here. If Israeli Defense Force commandos from the IDF’s most prestigious unit will publicly come out and acknowledge that there is morally-unjustifiable action occurring, then perhaps more people can one day acknowledge the same thing, and thus enact change. 3) Finally, and most personally, my personal sanity and continued ability to function normally has been derived from increasingly larger amounts of time spent doing service work here in Israel AND the West Bank, and listening to many people’s hopes, dreams, and fears. It is intensely frustrating to be relegated only able to help a few people a little bit, and only some of the time, but it is the reality of my current situation in life. Although much of what there is to see here is negative (don’t get me wrong, there have been good times too), at the very least I will come away from this semester absolutely certain in the knowledge that I am set up for international religious aidwork of some sort.

I remain here in Jerusalem, working on final papers and finalizing my plans for this summer (hopefully traveling to nations around Israel – more on this later). I also remain here in Jerusalem, grappling and wrestling with who God is really like, as I probably shall continue to do for the remainder of my life.

What is in a name?

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