There is no doubt that the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem was arduous, risky, and very long. I did not realize that both Jerusalem and Bethlehem are up high in a mountainous region. The road up to Jerusalem looks like some of the beautiful areas in Southern California as we wind our way to the summits of our local mountains. this terrain is more rocky, with lots of beige stone, but many of the trees and plants are very similar to those at home.
We arrived in Bethlehem yesterday after visiting the Mediterranean Coast of Caesarea - built by the Ancient Romans under the rule of Herod at the end of the BCE through the common era and on into the Crusades. there is an amphitheater there called the "human Theater" which was not for some of the more grisly performances but a place where plays were presented. Along the oceanfront are the ruins of a palace which had at one time been inhabited by Pontius Pilate.
The Mediterranean is actually an incredible shade of blue - and the water was cool but not cold. We walked along the beach and all of us found small shards of clay pottery that have continued to wash up on shore throughout the centuries as there had once been a clay pottery factory in Caesarea which had been destroyed by an earthquake centuries ago.
When we arrived in Bethlehem, we went through the checkpoint past the Separation Wall. it is covered with graffiti - much of it very artistic. I tried to capture photos, but we were moving quickly. Our hotel was built by the Russian Orthodox Church for pilgrims coming to the Holy Land. It is a definite upgrade from the kibbutz. One night at the kibbutz and four nights here would have been perfect! We walked from here to the Church of the Nativity. To enter it one stoops down to make passage through a very low, narrow doorway into the church. the theory is that one had to become humble to enter the place where Jesus was believed to have been born. The building is very ornately decorated with thousands of lanterns and chandeliers. Simplicity is obviously not a word held in value by the Orthodox.
The location of the manger is down some stairs in a very small room where in a small cave-like space, one kneels down to touch a glass window over the place where the manger once existed. I was surprised at my sudden flow of tears, feeling both the grace of this place, the great possibilities that were born here, and the millions of pilgrims thoughout the ages who had also come here to touch this spot. it is still a place for the hopeful, given that we are recognizing the Prince of Peace in a place where peace has seemed so remote for so long.
That evening we saw a film called Budros produced by a Palestinian women about the non-violent movement in Palestine. The people of Budros began a non-violent protest against the placement of the separation wall. The Israelis were uprooting their olive trees, which for centuries had been the source of their livelihood, in order to build the wall on their land. After 51 demonstrations, including sitting in front of bulldozers, being shot at with live ammunition and enduring months of hardship. they succeeded in moving the border fence back closer to the actual 1967 green line. other villages also demonstrated and without violence saved their own land.
Today we are off to a yeshiva here, to Hebron, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and then to the Palace of Herod. The pace continues! There is so much to see - and although we will be here for a total of twelve days, it is amazing how much we will not see.
Dr. Eisen is not "tuned in" to the way we women like to shop makes it difficult to pick up little gift items. Dr. Shafiq is more easygoing and Susan Novak. our Christian educator, is our only shopping advocate. She has guaranteed us "sacred shopping time" in the Old City of Jerusalem, and at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
I must say that eating lots of shawarma, pita, and every kind of hummus, dip and spread concocted in this part of the world, my waistline is disappearing. the food is very good, but I am beginning to crave a big, green, tossed salad, and a lot of fresh fruit, which is available on the street, but not often in restaurants.
We are about to board the bus- so more later.
Shalom, As sallaam alaikum, blessings,