Saturday, January 19, 2019

Trash today where Jesus walked

First view of trash-filled empty lot
I wanted to walk on the hills of Nazareth where Jesus walked and prayed as a young man.

View from top of the hill looking down at empty lot used for parking and trash
I planned three nights in Nazareth near the archaeological excavations of the small town that existed there during the lifetime of Jesus.  These are under and around the Basilica of the Annunciation (Roman Catholic), St. Joseph's Church, Mary's Well, and the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, places I visited in my first two days.

Nazareth in the first century CE had maybe 120-150 inhabitants, mostly all from the same clan.  That's why the statement in Luke, chapter 1, that Joseph was from the house of David also implies that Mary was of the same lineage.

On the third day of my visit, I walked from my hostel, close to the ancient ruins, up to the top of the mountain. The cobbled streets near the bottom of the hill were too narrow for cars, but later I came to wider streets and a few hillsides covered with plastic bottles, broken household items, and other trash.  Except for this open space, houses and apartment buildings were densely packed.

The Nabi Sa'in Ridge is composed of chalky limestone, like nearly all the bedrock of Israel. Millions of years of ancient seas deposited calcium from the shells of clams, oysters, corals, etc.  I picked up some small rocks to take home, thinking "These are the kinds of rocks Jesus grew up with."

The littered, unsightly open spaces bothered me.  I wanted to pick up all the trash and then plant flower gardens with benches for rest and reflection.  After all, this is where Jesus retreated after a day's work.

At the end of one road there was a flat paved area for parking and turning around, surrounded by apartment buildings.  A rooster and several hens were scratching in the fresh green grass sprouting next to heaps of garbage.

Suddenly a huge white Chevrolet Silverado drove up, made a u-turn, and backed toward the edge of the cliff.  A man hopped out, let down the tailgate, and started throwing boards, chunks of cement, and other construction waste down the hillside.  I stood there amazed and took a few photos.

I continued my hike to the top of the mountain, where there is a Salesian Church, convent, and school run by the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco.  Next to this property sits a large mosque.

Both look out over the wide Jezreel Valley and a number of cities therein, including the ancient Tel Megiddo, where Armageddon is supposed to begin.

Jesus climbed this mountain, looked out over this view, and formed his perspective on life.

What did Jesus think about as he looked over the valley toward Tel Megiddo?

And what would he think to see Nazareth today with 80,000 people, apartments, cars, and trash?

Monday, January 14, 2019

A Charity Case

It was Day 18 of my trip to Israel, Palestine, and Jordan, but all I could do was lie in bed in my room at Ecce Homo Convent. I was too sick and tired to do much else.

The evening before I had returned from three days in Jordan to see Petra and Wadi Rum.  I now had three days and two nights to visit the remaining sites in Jerusalem before taking a bus to Nazareth for my final three days in Israel.

My chest had been congested for over a week, and I was pretty sure I had a fever.  It was 2 pm and my day had gone like this: shower, rest for an hour; get dressed and wash out some underwear, rest again; go to the breakfast buffet, rest.

I needed to see a doctor, but how to find a clinic? And how far would I have to walk to get there?  Take a bus or taxi?  The internet or my DK travel guide to Jerusalem might have answered these questions, but I didn't have the energy to search them.

I decided to ask the Palestinian woman at the front desk of Ecce Homo for the phone number of a local medical clinic.  I would call, make an appointment, and then go out to do errands: mail a box at the post office, buy newspapers in English, buy cough drops, and get some cash from a bank.  After my three days in Jordan, I only had one fifty-shekel bill in cash, about $13.

I filled my large water bottle, girded myself with my fanny pack containing my passport, wrapped my neck and head in a wool scarf, zipped on my purple Eddie Bauer down jacket, and slung my multi-pocketed green purse over my shoulder.  Then I walked down one hall, up a stairway, across a patio, up a metal outdoor staircase, across more patios with views of the golden dome of El Aqsa Mosque and the top of Holy Sepulchre Church to reach the elevator.  Going down to the main floor, I wound through more halls to the entrance and front desk.

“I have a bad chest cold,” I announced in a faint voice to Maria, who lived in East Jerusalem and spoke five languages. “Could you give me the phone number of a clinic?”

“Oh my dear, are you drinking hot tea with lemon and honey in it?” she asked.  “And be sure to put the lemon peel in while brewing.  You’ll be fine.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “I’m drinking hot tea.”  But the motherly mode was not what I needed. “I’ve had this for a week, and it’s not getting better.  Could you give me the name of a clinic I could call?"
“Oh, I see, of course,” she said, noticing my deep cough.  “Kharim will take you.”  She waved for him but he was already outside and disappeared around a corner.  "He'll be right back, maybe twenty minutes.  He'll take you," she insisted.  

Apparently my plan of phoning to make an appointment had been replaced by a personal escort.  I chatted with her for twenty minutes until he reappeared.  Then she spoke with him in Arabic and sent us off.

I stepped outside with him into pouring rain on Via Dolorosa, the cobblestone route where Jesus carried the cross.  We were in the Muslim quarter of Old Jerusalem. 

In only twenty steps, we stood at the door of the clinic.  Kharim held the door open and spoke in Arabic with the woman seated behind a plexiglass window at a desk. Then he left.

"This is a free clinic, but I'm sorry, because you are not a resident of Israel, we must ask you to pay fifty shekels," she said in English. 

I pulled out the only bill in my wallet and handed it to her, astonished that after my three-day trip to Jordan, I had exactly what she wanted.

"There will be a short wait," she said.  “Please sit down and fill out this form.”

"Oh yes, thank you," I answered, thanking the God of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar for Kharim’s help and the one fifty-shekel bill in my wallet.  After giving her back the information sheet, I sat in the small waiting room with three other women talking and laughing in Arabic.  They all wore white or black head coverings and black loose clothing, as did the clerk who checked me in.  

I felt very foreign in my purple Eddie Bauer quilted jacket with my turquoise wool scarf, unable to understand a single word of what they were saying.  And my head was uncovered; I had removed the scarf after coming in from the rain.  An African-Israeli nurse's aide also in hijab joined in the conversation, smiling at me.  I smiled back, my only way of communicating good will and interest.

Then suddenly the doctor walked past and entered her office.  The nurse's aide told me to follow her in. The time was 2:50 pm--just twenty minutes after I had walked in the door.

"Yesh li tos," I explained, sitting down in front of her desk, accidentally mixing Hebrew and Spanish as I tried to say “I have a cough.”

She understood me, took my information sheet, and conducted the interview in English. 

"What medications are you on?" she began.

Medications!  Of course I should have brought a list to show her.

"A blood-thinner, " I began.


"No, uh...."  My mind went blank.  How could I have set out on a three-week trip to Israel, Palestine, and Jordan without bringing a list of my meds?  I felt like the dumbest tourist ever.

"Pradaxa!" I replied finally.  Yes, that was the name of the blood thinner.  I remembered a few other meds: Arimidex, the estrogren-inhibitor to prevent cancer recurrence; Zoloft for depression/anxiety, and Lipitor (what does it do?). I totally forgot Metoprolol, and I hadn't even been taking the weekly Fosamax I'd brought with me. Didn’t bother her with the vitamins, calcium, Omega-3 oil, etc.

Dr. Aida was patient, looking down at her desk as she wrote notes.  She too wore hijab: a thin pink wrap crossed the top of her forehead and around it a looser scarf in the same shade of pink covered her shoulders, leaving only a triangle of the first wrap showing.  Her eyeglasses were clear pale pink, her cheeks rosy, and her skin fairy-tale white.  I sat in awe of her business-like compassion for the stray tourist that had wandered in from the rain.  She must have been around 45 years old.

“Lie down here,” she said then, directing to the examining table and taking out her stethoscope.  I warned her that I have atrial fibrillation, and she was concerned about what she heard.  After sending me to the nurse's aide to have my blood pressure, temp and pulse taken, she saw another patient before seeing me again.

"You have mild bronchitis," she reported. "But because you can't take penicillin...."  We got into a confusing conversation about what I have taken before and what she would order for me.  I understood her English on simple subjects, but when she was listing possible meds, she didn't pronounce them the way Americans do--or maybe she was using their trademark names from Russia. When I said I can take Keflex, and she pronounced it with a soft c.

"I'm going to give you X," she said finally, using a word I couldn’t understand, “and also Y and Z.  Can you find a pharmacy?” 

“Oh yes, thank you,” I assured her, hoping one of them was an antibiotic.  "I admire your language skills,” I added.  “What languages do you speak?"

"Arabic, Hebrew, Italian, Spanish, and English," she said.  "I studied medicine in Italy."

"That's wonderful, " I said.  Her beautiful face and her charity to a stranger impressed me.  I felt sure I was seeing Jesus, the healer, right here in the Muslim quarter of old Jerusalem.  

Back out in the street, the rain had eased up.  I wondered if I still had time to get to the post office before it closed--and the bank, and a pharmacy.  It was 3:30 pm and the temperature was dropping, the sun soon to set.  

I studied the sign on the clinic door: El Aqsa Muslim Charity Clinic.  

Charity indeed--a humbling experience for an American tourist.

The door to the clinic

Lubna's Story

Lubna came by to give me fresh linens and take the wet towels because the regular housecleaner for my hall had a day off.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Woman Stoned in the West Bank

Biddya is a town in the northwest West Bank,
32 km southwest of Nablus,
where Aysha al-Rabi lived.

Last October 12, 2018, Aisha Rabi and her husband drove from the town of Biddya (pop. 8,000) in the West Bank near Netanya to visit their married daughter in Hebron and to prepare for the wedding of another daughter, Salam, 23 years old.

As they were driving home, with her in the passenger seat, a gang of young Ultra-Orthodox settlers attacked them with stones, killing Aisha.

The Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency, arrested three of the suspects on Saturday, Dec. 29, and two more this past week. Their names have not been released because all five are minors, students of the Pri Haaretz Yeshiva in Rehalim.

After interrogating the teens, Shin Bet released information about the case on Sunday, January 6, 2019.

Aisha was the mother of nine children.  Her 10-year-old daughter was with her mother and father in the car and watched her mother die.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders do not allow women to drive.  In this case, she wasn't even driving, just a passenger vulnerable to hatred of Palestinians living in the West Bank.  See

Shin Bet arrests many Palestinian terrorists but rarely arrests Jewish terrorists.

Aisha's husband said, "[a]ll we want at this stage is to put this affair behind us. We want to move on with our lives."

Aisha's brother was killed hours before his wedding in 1999.


Sunday, January 6, 2019

Ghosts and dungeons...

This convent is built over the place where Pilate flogged Jesus, and it is a little creepy at night--basically a hotel with a dungeon.

I had to venture out of my room to get water at 6:30 pm-- the water in the room is not potable. I got totally lost going up and down stairways outdoors with a cold wind blowing. (Austria got snowed in.)

But when I came to the main stairway that leads down to Roman times and the first century, I took a different route.

And yes, after all that effort I accidentally drank a glass of tap water. My stomach is gurgling.

Pilgrimage to Ecce Homo Convent

My Israel 2018 friends are flying home today. I'm staying 2 more weeks. I guess they're flying past Iceland about now. 

Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion
Meanwhile I made it to Ecce Homo Convent. 

So grateful to my sister, the Reverend Emily McColl, for telling me about this bed and breakfast for only $69 per night. It's situated two stories above the courtyard of Pilate's palace, where Jesus was flogged and put on trial. (Rulers held court just outside the entrance to their homes--court yard.)

It took 1 1/2 hrs from the front desk of our hotel (Dan Boutique Hotel at 31 Hebron Rd.) to my room. Rather strenuous. Thank you to Narel, the desk clerk at the hotel, for calling a taxi. I thought having the address was enough, but Narel asked which gate I wanted to go to. He explained that most taxi drivers will not go into the Old City. Too difficult on the narrow roads filled with pedestrians. He lives in the Muslim quarter just north of the Western Wall, but he no longer drives to his home. He parks just outside the wall of the Old City and walks to his home.

After studying the map I said I wanted to be driven to Herod's gate "Not the Damascus Gate?" he countered. I kept repeating,"I don't know" ("Ani lo yodeat"). 

Indeed the driver would not drive to convent door, just to Herod's Gate. Cars are not welcome inside the walls of the Old City. 
From there I hauled my bags to 41 Via Dolorosa and checked in. Beautiful convent of the Sisters of Norte Dame of Sion, founded in 1856. 

Then quite a maze to get to my room. Elevator to third floor, down stairs to a patio, around a few corners, down more stairs and corners to my room.

Barbed wire separating the convent from Palestinian Israelis
View from one of the balconies of Ecce Homo Convent

 Just above me are Muslim apartments with children playing on the balconies.

At 2:30 pm there was a call to prayer. I'm taking it as a call to nap time. 🙂

The icon in my room

View from another balcony

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Doves of Bethlelem

Near the armed security check station that separates Bethlehem, Area A, from the suburbs of Jerusalem, grey doves search the green grass and rubble for food. They peck at an insect and fly up to sit on a chain link fence.

White doves, the symbol of peace, appear on signs all over Old Jerusalem and in souvenir shops on t-shirts, bumper stickers, and ceramic plates, often with the message "Pray for the peace of Israel."

In Palestine I saw a sign saying "Pray for the freedom of Palestine."

The same God hears both prayers.

Dawn at Masada


Thursday, January 3, 2019

Temple Zero in Jerusalem

Did you know there was another temple in Jerusalem before the Second Temple (destroyed in 70 CE)? And before the First Temple built by King Solomon (destroyed 586 BCE by Babylonians).

This temple is informally known as Temple Zero and it dates from the time of Abraham, c. 2000 BCE. The place where Abraham did not sacrifice Isaac was Mt. Moriah. There was a city there called Salem with a high priest named Melchizedek.

Today our tour group from Los Angeles visited the ruins of the original 1000 BCE City of David outside the walls of the 1st C. city of Jerusalem. We also saw the altar of Melchizedek and a pillar next to it.

Our tour guide, Eli Shukron, discovered the City of David here, and he directed the excavation that led to the discovery of the altar from the time of Abraham.

It all began when he halted the digging for a water line because he heard the scrape of a backhoe on rock. Turned out to be Pool of Siloam mentioned in bible as where Jesus healed Blind Man. In 20 yrs of digging excavated 1100 tons of dirt, and he found artifacts from 2000 BCE City of David. Twice he opened locked doors to show us things no tourist ever sees--current work including 2000 BCE altar and pillar of non-Jewish Melchizedek Animal sacrifice.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Women's Right to Worship

It's hard for me to imagine women being excluded from a house of worship, but that's what the women of Kerala state on the southwest coast of India were protesting today.

They formed a 620km-long wall to show solidarity in support of women having access to the Ayyappa shrine.

The Supreme Court had ruled in favor of women having access, but religious leaders still opposed it.

Thank you to the Huffington Post for reporting on this event.

A good way to start the new year!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Tourists at the Bunkers

 Our tour bus went to Mt. Bental, which overlooks the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

Our tour bus went to Mt. Bental,