Tag Archives: Shabbat

Day Six – Pilgrim Footsteps

Nobody wants to be subjected to sitting down and looking at the holiday snaps album. However, if you would like to look at more images then do go to the Jerusalem Gallery to see the rest of the photos

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Looking toward the Old City of Jerusalem over the Kidron Valley

It is Shabbat and so one of the lifts in the hotel is automatically stopping at every floor so that you don’t have to push any buttons, and the coffee machines are covered up at breakfast. The coach easily travels along the road, which are clear of traffic – that is until we begin to climb up to the Mount of Olives. Here, as we enter the Arab neighbourhood of At-Tor the streets are busy as it is a normal working day and at least it stops raining as we get off of the coach.

The view is pretty spectacular up here, looking down over the Kidron Valley, with the whole of the Old Walled City of Jerusalem on the other side. Of course the golden Dome of the Rock (Qubbat as- Sakhrah) immediately stands out, especially when the sun starts to shine. However, looking down over the wall one is struck not by ancient monuments, but by rows and rows of graves.

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A prime, but expensive burial site, many Jews wished (and still do) to be buried on the Mount of Olives based on the Jewish tradition that when the Messiah comes, the resurrection of the dead will begin there.

On that day his feet shall stand
on the Mount of Olives,
which lies before Jerusalem on the east;
and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two
from east to west by a very wide valley;
so that half of the Mount shall withdraw
northwards, and the other half southwards.
Zechariah 14:4

The Mount of Olives is mentioned frequently in the New Testament, Jesus often going there to teach and prophesy, with his disciples. The Sanctuary of the Dominus Flevit is a little church half way down the rather steep incline that recalls the occasion that Jesus wept over Jerusalem, prophesying her destruction because they would not recognise the Messiah.

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it
Luke 19:41 

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Mature Olive Trees in the Garden of Gethsemane

At the foot of the valley there is a small garden area of approximately 1200m², representative of the cultivated groves that once covered the Mount of Olives. It is within a railed area next to the busy Jericho Road, and any semblance of tranquillity is shattered by the honking of car horns. Here then is the place that constitutes the Sanctuary of Gethsemane.

On this site is also the Church of All Nations, also known as the Church or Basilica of the Agony. It was built in the 1920’s with donations from Christian communities all over the world. It is deliberately kept dark inside, but there is a beautiful piece of artistic fretwork on the entrance representing the tree of life and mosaics and stained glass windows inside.

 

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Two deer stand beside the cross on the tympanum of the Church of All Nations

A small service was being held inside and as the congregation started singing I realised it was Graham Kendrick’s The Servant King and several of us found ourselves joining in. Coming back out into the sunshine though I looked upwards at the tympanum (it’s always good to look up when you go around) and I noticed that there were two bronze deer either side of the cross. I discovered that these allude to the initial verse of Psalm 42.

 

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
    so my soul longs for you, O God
Psalm 42:1

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The Lions’ Gate or St Stephen’s Gate

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Lions or Panthers?

We walk along the Jericho Road to the east in order to enter the city through the Lions’ Gate. The gate is so called because on either side of the entrance there are four lions in bas-relief a reminder that the reason the wall were built was purportedly because of a dream that Suleiman the Magnificent had, in which failure to build the wall around Jerusalem resulted in him being devoured by lions. However, closer inspection reveals that they are probably panthers and not lions!

This is also known as St Stephen’s gate (his church standing nearby) and is the traditional start of the Via Dolorosa, the route believed to have been taken by Christ through Jerusalem to Calvary. For many Christian walking the Via Dolorosa is a significant part of their visit to the Holy Land and I would never deny their sincere devotion in doing so. My logical brain on the other hand tells me that it would be difficult to agree on the ‘exact’ route taken by Jesus as too many different churches and factions have been unable to do just that over the last two thousand years, each one trying to take the route closer to their own particular churches;

However, as in all things historical, there are some sites that can be pinpointed as archaeologically accurate and others that have gained acceptance by the majority of pilgrims. Visiting each of the stations certainly enables you to ‘experience’ the story in an authentic way just knowing that within this city Jesus walked.

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The handprint of Jesus?

There are two stations, however, that sparked my curiosity, both involving hands. The first was at the fifth station, where an unsuspecting bystander, Simon of Cyrene, was roped in to carry the cross. As Jesus stumbled he apparently rested his hand on the wall in order to keep his balance and an imprint was left. The touch of centuries of pilgrims has smoothed out the stone and made the depression deeper.

The second is at the eighth station where Jesus came upon a group of weeping women, and told them not to weep for him, but for themselves and their children. The station is marked by a stone embedded in the wall with the engraving IC-XC NI-KA , which translates as  ‘Jesus Christ conquers’.

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There is a large hole at the bottom of the cross, and as we stood looking and hearing about the station I noticed several women, who appeared to be local, deliberately going over to the stone and placing their fingers into the hole and making the sign of the cross themselves. Perhaps the women of Jerusalem still heed Jesus’ admonition.

The last few stations are actually situated within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; a place where Christ’s crucifixion and burial is said to have taken place. I would think that it should be a place of utter reverence but as always it turns into an ‘unholy scrum’ of people, pushing and shoving, camera’s flashing and fleeting glimpses of these sacred spots. I must admit that this was the place I was most reluctant to visit, for those very same reasons (I had the same feeling about St Peter’s in Rome). However, I cannot be too ‘holier than thou’ as I did take a couple of photographs inside, and a person’s personal response should not be held up against our own reservations. Perhaps I might say that it should not be the commercialism of the sites, and the fact that these things are extravagantly venerated that bother me, but my own expectations of what I want to experience and which I didn’t encounter.

IMG_7496From there we made our way down and through the Jewish Quarter where we found a remnant of the British Mandate of Palestine from the early 20th century on to a remnant of even greater antiquity, the remains of a wall dating from the reign of King Hezekiah (late eighth century BC). It is called the Broad Wall because it is broad and it is a wall… it is a massive defensive structure, measuring some seven metres wide and was approximately eight metres high. No picture because I am sure you can imagine a broad wall.

 

 

Finally, we move down and round to a viewpoint over the Western Wall. The sun is beginning to set and its rays once more hit the Dome of the Rock. They are also reflected off of the wall where prayers continue to ascend and the Jerusalem stone glows as if alive.

The view of Jerusalem is the history of the world;
it is more, it is the history of earth and of heaven.
Benjamin Disraeli

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Day Five – Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat Meal

Coming from a country where the Sabbath is no longer really considered a day of rest, what with shops opening twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and sports events filling the whole weekend, it is strange to find myself in a country where it is almost a compulsory observance.

As part of our course we had been invited to join the Kehillat Yedidya (Friend of God) community in the Baka neighbourhood in Southern Jerusalem at their evening prayers and afterwards to join with members of the community in their homes to celebrate the Shabbat meal.

But the preparations for  Shabbat started a few hours before that with most workers finishing by 2pm. At Yad Vashem we packed up our notes and made our way with the stream of visitors and staff leaving the museum. It was already obvious that things were winding down as the traffic was flowing more freely as the roads emptied.

Yedidya Synagogue

Our arrival by coach was quite conspicuous as all around us people were walking in preparation for the fact that no vehicles are allowed to be driven during Shabbat. We were greeted and welcomed by Dr Ophir Yarden* who had lectured to us earlier in the week. Founded in 1980 The Modern Orthodox congregation of the synagogue is made up of 195 households comprised mainly of immigrants from English-speaking countries, including Britain and America; many European countries, and some native Israelis.

We were led into the main hall where the Qabbalat Shabbat (Welcoming the Sabbath) had already begun with the singing  of the Yedid Nefesh (Opening Hymn) and were divided into men and women’s sections. This gender differentiation is normal for orthodox Jews, however despite this practical inequality, this community do recognise the validity of women’s voices being heard, as the homily was delivered by a woman

I soon realised how very hard it is to follow a service not only in a foreign language but also trying to read the Hebrew Alphabet at speed – something I failed miserably to do with my limited knowledge. I, therefore, just let the melodic sounds and harmonies of the sung psalms wash over me – a real change from plainchant.

After the service we were walked to our hosts homes, about 15 minutes away off of the Hebron Road. Now shared out in pairs, Angie and I were welcomed by Elise and Moshe, both originally from American, and their sons Jacob, David and Noam. Two more friends of the family also joined us.

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The Shabbat candles had already been lit (no later than 18 minutes before sundown) and as we sat down the family sang Shalom Aleichem (Peace be unto you), a welcome and offer of hospitality to the angels who they believe accompany us. Moshe also took the opportunity to bless his children, as he had been away on business overseas and had only arrived home that afternoon. The translated words he used were very familiar… it is the same blessing I would use for those coming up to the Communion rail.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace
Numbers 6:24-26

The Kiddush was then recited over a large cup of organic grape juice, before being divided among us and then we were invited to wash our hands with a two-handled cup, once on the top and once on the bottom of each hand, after which we were to keep silent until the two loaves of Challah bread had also been cut and a piece given to everyone. Now the meal could begin.

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The Challah loaf was delicious, Elise having made it earlier in the day. A fish dish was followed by an orange and vegetable soup and then chicken with rice, prunes and beans. Clear tea (without milk) was then served with a short extemporisation by Moshe concerning his namesake Moses, before prayers ended the meal.

It was a real privilege to join in such an intimate meal with a Elise and Moshe’s family and after we had finished our conversations on the differences between Anglicanism and Methodism (Angie is a Methodist Minister) and the reasons why they chose to come and settle in Israel 29 years ago, the fact that Moshe could not set foot in Hebron or Bethlehem, and the surprise and delight Elise had when two women priests turned up (she was expecting men) we were walked to the Hebron Road to hail a taxi to take us back to the hotel (the taxi driver was non-Jewish).

Somehow these occasions help to break down barriers and mistrust between people of  faith, when people talk first as human beings and then as adherents of different religions with a common root.

Shabbat Shalom
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Please note that none of the images used in this blog were taken on the evening as the use of mobile phones or indeed any technology is prohibited and it would have been considered bad manners to use it as a camera, so it remained off, in my bag.

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*Dr Ophir Yarden is the Director of Education at ADAShA (meaning ‘lens’ in Hebrew and Arabic) The Jerusalem Centre for Interreligious Encounter. He is active is Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.

Come to Me, All Who Are Weary

Come to me all who are weary

Come to me all who are weary

Last week as I started to draft out this blog, I was sitting in a small cafe in the middle of the busy market town of Bradford on Avon. Its patrons were a mixture of tourists and locals, all taking the opportunity to grab a bite to eat; a quick coffee. Outside the roads hummed with cars and lorries performing an intricate and continuous dance punctuated by roundabouts and traffic lights. Tucked away in a window bay,  it gave me the chance to spend precious moments just ‘musing’ amidst all the hustle and bustle

Nowadays,  in this all too brief earthly world, it can often appear that everything needs to be planned to the nth degree. People rush headlong into the next thing they think needed doing yesterday, so that the present moment is never savoured and burnout is experienced not only in the gym but equally in everyday living.

So often we take on too much, trying to knit together all our tasks into a beautiful complex pattern only to despair when it all starts to unravel. We long for a breathing space – sometimes we just simply want a chance to breathe. When was  it that it became necessary  to live life at such a breakneck speed that each day blurs into the next?

No doubt we would all end up in chaos if we all decided tomorrow to lay aside our ‘work’ and rush to the nearest beach/mountaintop/woodland to escape it all…. rules and regulations both written and unspoken keep us on track most of the time; still it makes sense that creating regular moments aside is not only sensible and healthy, but essential for our spiritual well-being – so why not make a rule to create a recreation space for ourselves

St Benedict in the sixth century introduced his rules for the monks in his community. Not only were there set times for prayer, work and private study but time was set aside each day for recreation and fellowship. However, if you’re still thinking you’d find it difficult to do something like this daily even taking a few minutes each day to re-centre yourself can be helpful – for me the time spent in morning prayer seems to set me up each day. Take five minutes to start with a moment of quietness and then gradually extend that time a little bit each day. I was also recently reminded that the Jewish faith uses the evening before their Sabbath (Shabbat) to say their prayers so that their minds and bodies can be prepared whilst resting overnight – why not take those five minutes then, to quietly review the the day, giving thanks for all the good things and gaining strength for the day ahead.

Jesus himself knew the benefits of taking time away from his work in prayer and solitude. Whether he ever fully achieved this is uncertain during his ministry years, but at least he attempted to and undoubtedly did cherish that time. Ultimately though his concern was for others ….

‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ Matthew 11:28-30

…… A welcome invitation. Nevertheless,  for the majority of people the closest thing we get to finding a real space for rest is during an annual holiday – which is exactly what I’ll be doing over the next couple of weeks. This is when we can and should allow ourselves to relax and rediscover our inner self – the self that as children just woke up and made of the day whatever adventure  presented itself to us.

Now where did I put that bucket and spade?