Jacob’s Porch Pilgrimage (Lutheran Campus Mission to The Ohio State University)
10 day trip - Israel-Palestine
On March 20-29, 2009, Jacob's Porch (the Lutheran Campus Mission to The Ohio State University) undertook a pilgrimage to Israel and the West Bank. It was an adventure into faith, justice, patience, understanding, listening, and pondering. While the trip was filled with visits to important sites of faith such as the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, it was also a foray into the ongoing conversation and conflict surrounding the continued occupation of the West Bank. Stretched emotionally, physically, and most of all spiritually, the pilgrimage changed the way each of us will read scripture as well as watch CNN. It was an opportunity to adopt a new vocabulary and perhaps a new way to work for justice and peace.
Reflections from Matthew Caracciolo, member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Upper Arlington and OSU student member of Jacob's Porch Pilgrimage to Israel:
The day after we got back from Israel, it was the first day of spring quarter and I found myself involved in another rendition of the get-to-know-you-game "two truths and a lie." One of my truths was "I've played Uno in Palestine." After they figured out which of my three statements was a lie (I definitely can't whistle the star spangled banner), I explained that they hadn't played Uno until they played with Palestinian rules. One student then went on to make the joke "what, do they execute you if you lose?" After a trip like this, comments like these are hard to stomach.
So it is not only my delight but my duty to report back to you after my incredible journey to the Holy Land and try to dispel stereotypes like these. Never before in my life have I physically felt my perspective of the world changing, and it was overwhelming at times. I know that God had a purpose for each and every one of us to be there. We quickly realized that between the students, there were no overlapping majors, and that we were meant to take what we learned in the Holy Land to all aspects of American life.
Here are just a few of the highlights of the trip...
- Standing atop the Herodian, ruins of an ancient fortress on top of a tall hill, viewing Jordan to the east and the West Bank to the west
- Walking through Hezekiah’s tunnel, dating back over 2500 years
- Praying where Jesus prayed in Gethsemane (in close proximity to olive trees that date back to his lifetime) and where he died on the cross (one of the firmer locations of Jesus’ life in the city)
- The Children’s Memorial at Yad Vashem, Israel’s holocaust museum. It is in the running for the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, and even now my eyes are welling up thinking about it (imagine a starry night of lit candles)
- St. Anne’s Chapel along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. The acoustics were amazing, and we stood there and sang for a while.
- Seeing a countryside that doesn’t look like Ohio. It is beautiful country, with pine forests giving way to rocky hills with short grasses and trees and finally to the mountains and deserts of Jordan
- And, people over there know what they are doing when they make tea.
Although Jews and Muslims are doing horrible things to each other in the Holy Land, they are both inherently good people, which makes coming to any kind of conclusive answer to the conflict even harder. Maria, my girlfriend, was able to make the trip, and as we walked around the grounds of Yad Vashem, she said, "Why does survival have to depend on stepping over another? These people have both suffered in the past, and nothing will change unless they forgive, like Jesus taught us." The answer seems so simple, but how does it start? Israel and Palestine don’t need our money or politicians, they need our prayers. Pray for forgiveness to envelop the land and usher in a new order of peace and understanding.
So here I am at the end of the first great adventure of my life -- made of many meetings and partings, memories and experiences, and an affirmed zeal for discovery. I kept a tally in my journal of how many "firsts" I accomplished on this trip, and I lost count over 40. I knew that going to Israel would be a huge step for me, and through this experience, I have acquired a taste for the "deep end" if you will, jumping out of my comfort zone and letting myself and God dictate my success. From this experience, I have grown by leaps and bounds as a Christian, as a man, and as a human being. I am changed for the better.
Reflections from the Rev. Jay Gamelin, Director of Jacob's Porch:
We walked through three checkpoints in order to enter the mosque of the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, a part of the occupied West Bank. Each checkpoint required us to show our passports to Israeli Defense Force soldiers, to walk through metal detectors, and answer questions. In the mosque, a class filled with five-year-old children attended Islamic school learning about Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Sarah, and the other patriarchs, buried beneath the mosque. It seems that through this place, the holy land experience can be understood. Inside the walls of the mosque all three of the Abrahamic faiths find their beginning. It shares history is as a palace and synagogue established by Herod the Great, a church, covered by Justinian's mother, and now partly a mosque still housing a stairway given by Sal Al Din. It is a place of incomprehensible antiquity.
When you stand in the place of Abraham's tomb you are moved to feel tangibly connected to your faith. Suddenly scripture comes alive as you view the waling wall, the last vestige of the Second Temple, the old walls erected over Golden Gate, or the gnarled beauty of the walled Gethsemane Garden Olive trees. It is a holy land with walls of ancient stones and in your visit the footsteps of Jesus seem to mean more. Surrounded by such history, you are wrapped in you must surrender to the joy of being in the places prophets, patriarchs, kings, leaders, and most of all, your Lord has walked.
In this moment of faith you should be blessed by peace. Unfortunately, just as this holy land has been a place of strife and conflict then it is now. It is both the scene of violence and atrocity and a school for children. Walls are erected between men and women, people and their homes, between justice and righteousness. The Palestinians face horrible economic, social, verbal, and physical violence. Soldiers humiliate travelers through checkpoints. They move beyond walls into Palestinian homes and onto walled settlements on lands that do not belong to them because they can. Words like "apartheid" and "ghettoization" cannot help but escape your lips. Then you pass the pizza parlor where a suicide bomber blew himself up and killed 29 Israelis. You visit Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial museum and remember the Jews are a people who have been persecuted for more than 1000 years as well, often at the hands of Christians. It is just not a simple problem with a simple solution. Both sides of this tragic conflict are seemingly simultaneously oppressed and oppressors. Both sides exist on both sides of the walls of justice. Walls in synagogues, walls in mosques, walls in streets, old walls filled with history, new walls further separating people from their homeland -- the walls that need to come down are the walls of hostility. How long must we sing this song?
My worldview is different for me now. I will never read scripture nor watch CNN in the same way. I now understand my history and present with a new vocabulary. I can taste the hospitality and vitriol of both the Israeli and Palestinian people we have met. I leave blessed and yet praying for a peace that passes understanding.