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Holy Land Seminar Day #4

Happy Birthday Angie (my little sister)!

5:00 AM. Awake. In Jerusalem. On purpose – Fr. Charlie Cortinovis, who was part of the first cohort but could not join them for the Jerusalem seminar owing to his being ordained, had arranged to celebrate mass in the holy Sepulchre, with a half dozen of us going with him. He and the three other priests who went actually squeezed into the tiny area on top of the grave itself, while Matthew, Val, and I were joined by a couple of sisters in the tiny chapel just outside, which itself is located within the much larger Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. This is another experience I need more time to receive before I can share it properly!

After walking back to the hotel, we start with an Israeli Breakfast. If you have never had an Israeli breakfast, you have never really had breakfast. It makes the American version look Continental! But, enough about food, I’ll save that for later…

We started our sessions at the Shalom Hartman Institute today, and for the rest of the week our mornings will be spent in seminars offered by a variety of rabbis and scholars from across the Jewish spectrum, and afternoons are spent  touring the holy sites. Evenings are spent at dinners with other guests, getting to know a variety of people.

The first session is with a Conservative Reform Rabbi, Bill Berk, originally from Phoenix and now in Israel, on the “Emergence of Modern Judaism” outlining the encounter with, and reaction to, modernity in rabbinical Judaism, and the shift taking place from rabbinical to (post)modern Judaism. The second presentation is with Liberal Rabbi Rachel Sabbath Beit Halachmi, on “God, Torah, and Israel: The Theologies and Ideolgoies fo the Different Streams of Judaism” outlining the complex world of Jewish realities – Ultra-Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Traditional, Reform, Liberal, Secular and even “post-denominational”.

[As I write this, at about 6:45, I can hear the muezzin call to prayer from the minarets of Jerusalem – haunting, beautiful, prayerful – like hearing the bells of Rome when I am there.]

We took the afternoon to head up to the Mount of Olives, first stopping on Mount Scopus to look out over the Judean dessert and the Jordan valley to the high places of Jordan.

Jewish tradition holds that the resurrection of the dead and the last judgment will occur at the end of time here, where since biblical times there has been what is now the largest Jewish cemetery in the world, on the slope of the Mount of Olives facing Jerusalem.

As we walk down the hill, we stop at the church Dominus Flevit, commemorating Jesus’ weeping at the sight of Jerusalem. Continuing down we come to one of the most reliable, historically accurate sites in the holy land. The Holy land is filled with memorials of memorials, contemporary churches built on the site – and sometimes the very foundations of – older churches: crusader, byzantine, Judeo-Christian. Some are only ever intended as commemorations of events or people, not claiming to be accurate, others are held by tradition to certain locations from at least the time of Helena’s state visit to the region in the 4th century. There are varying degrees of historicity, many being probable, but only three are considered absolutely certain – one of these is the Garden of Gethsemane, with olive trees still standing that date back to the time of Christ (confirmed by DNA and carbon dating, no less).

A stone’s throw from the Church of All Nations and the Garden is Mary’s Tomb, along with the traditional site of the tombs of Joseph, Joachim and Anna.

We returned to the hotel for an hour reflection session with Rabbi Berk and Dr. Adam Afterman, coordinators of the academic program, and then head to dinner at Canela restaurant nearby.


Holy Land Seminar Day #2

Yesterday’s blessing of rain proved to be today’s even greater blessing of a clear crisp sky, perfect for traveling around the country. From Jerusalem we left early toward the Salt Sea (aka Dead Sea) descending from the Holy City’s elevation of 800 meters (2400 feet) above sea level, to 400 meters below – the lowest place on Earth, passing the remains of the crusader’s Good Samaritan Inn along the way.

Turning north, we drive for a couple hours through the badlands near the Dead Sea, the major oasis of Jericho, and desert hills covered in more green than our guide can remember seeing  in more than 20 years. There is even snow visible on the mountains, something one of our native guests, Dr. Adam Afterman, has never seen there.

Our guide for the weekend in the north of the country is led by Yitzhik’s wife, Yessika, who will prove to be a superlative guide, expert in Christian history, and theologian! In fact, we find out later, she does not even give tours any more, instead teaching tour guides, writing, and consulting with the state and archeological finds – we were very fortunate to benefit from her expertise!

As the landscape changes gradually getting more green, more naturally irrigated, and as we continue north along the Jordan river valley, we come to Lake Kinnesseret, the Sea of Galilee. Driving north along the west shore (clockwise), we make a brief stop in the town of Migdala, the home of Mary Magdalen, and site of a very recent discovery of a synagogue dating from the Second Temple period (ie, the time of Christ).

Apparently, the Legionaries of Christ are building a retreat centre there and while breaking ground for an ecumenical chapel (!) the buldozer hit some stone … which turned out to be part of the synagogue, the first discovered in the town after years of searching.

We continued to the Church of the Beatitudes, located on the hill above the Galilee near Capernaum, and then to Kursi, the site of an old Byzantine monastery and a small chapel recalling Jesus’ exorcism of Legion on the site.  Then to Kibbutz Ein Gev for a lunch of St. Peter’s Fish, and then a boat ride across the lake back to Capernaum.

This is beautiful country. If I were God wanting to become Incarnate, this is a pretty nice place to grow up and spend a few years preaching and teaching!

Near Capernaum is a small fishing village with a well preserved synagogue a stone’s throw from the church built over the site of Peter’s house, which had itself been converted to a Domus Ecclesiae early on.

We then moved on to Tabgha (Arabic version of the Greek Heptapegon, meaning Seven Springs), where we checked into Pilgerhaus Tabgha, and got a couple hours to relax overlooking the Sea of Galilee during sunset. I had my first encounter with the hyrax there, munching on dinner outside my room.

At about 7:30 we got on the bus to head to Nabi Shueb, the Tomb of Jethro, and holiest site to the Druze. More about them to come, but this is a religion that separated from Islam about 1000 years ago, and honor Jethro, with Jesus, as the greatest prophets: Mohammad, Abraham, Moses and others honored as well. We were hosted to dinner by their top leaders, the President of the international council, sheikhs from all over, and were invited into the tomb of Jethro itself. I cannot express in a short space how rare an opportunity this was, and how honored we are by it; I am still processing it!

Holy Land Seminar Day #1

Our days are packed, so I am going to post a few brief sketches of our itinerary and activity, and fill out more details when I am able. But I wanted to share what I’ve been up to this week!

Woke up before dawn to get ready and get to Leonardo da Vinici Airport by 8:15, a little more than two hours before our flight is scheduled to leave.

Flying to Israel from Rome took a little over three hours. The Tel Aviv airport is one of the nicest I have seen in the world – the contrast with Fiumicino is on many levels striking. We were met by security officials who streamlined our passport review, and then met our guide, Yitzik, and bus driver, Ezra.

Diving from Tel Aviv on the caost, to Jerusalem in the mountains only takes about 40 minutes, and we get to the hotel a little before sunset. With a little time to check in, unpack and freshen up, we get a brief intro to the Jewish teachings and practices of Sabbath before heading to the home of Rabbi Donniel Hartman for a traditional Shabbat meal.

Oh, The singing!  The Shabbat songs are beautiful! It makes me wish I had not basically failed Hebrew!

What does it mean to be a Jew? What is Jewish Identity? Is it family? Is it faith? A people? A nation? These are the questions affecting life in Israel and Jews in general, and the topic of our dinner conversation. There is no consensus. Even when establishing the state of Israel, a definition could not be found, so the one used for the Right of Return is based on the working definition developed by, of all people, Adolf Hitler. If he would have murdered you, you can claim citizenship in Israel and “come home”. Beyond that, it is an open question.

Our first day in Israel was especially blessed. That is to say, it rained. A fine, soft rain like we get in Seattle, but a genuine blessing in a dessert!

My courses…

Allora… people have asked, and I keep forgetting to answer. This is my fall semester lineup:

The Catholic Church in Ecumenical Dialogue
     Rev. Dr. Frederick Bliss, SM, Professor incaricatus from New Zealand

Hebrew Bible, Human Rights, and Interreligious Dialogue
      Rabbi Jack Bemporad, visiting professor from the Center for Interreligious Studies, USA

Knowing the Christian East: Encounter and Experience
     Rev. Dr. Joseph Ellul, OP, professor incaricatus from Malta

Methodism and its Dialogue with the Catholic Church
     Rev. Dr. Trevor Hoggard, Methodist Representative to the Holy See, from U.K.
     Monsignor Donald Bolen, former staff of Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, from U.K.

Philo of Alexandria and his Influence on Early Christianity
      Dr. Adam Afterman, visiting professor from Hebrew University, Jerusalem

Prophecy and Wisdom
      Rabbi Jack Bemporad, visiting professor from the Center for Interreligious Studies, USA

Reception and Receptive Ecumenism
     Rev. Dr. Frederick Bliss, SM, Professor incaricatus from New Zealand

Russell Berrie Fellowship Seminar in Jerusalem (Feb 5-13)
     Various lecturers, coordinator: Dr. Adam Afterman of Shalom Hartman Center and Hebrew University

Social Teaching in Pope John Paul II
      Various Lecturers, coordinator: Sr. Dr. Helen Alford, OP, Dean of the faculty of Social Sciences, from U.K.

Sociologia della Conoscenza (Sociology of Knowledge, in Italian)
     Dr. Bennie Callebaut, visiting professor from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium

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