Last Friday, 15 Palestinian women from Bethlehem were invited to an Israeli congregation in Netanya. The women from that Messianic Jewish congregation had not been part of Musalaha and had no experience with Palestinian Christians before. I was not worried, though. Not only do I know the Pastor, but I investigated that congregation a bit before saying yes (like a lioness protective of her cubs, I wouldn’t want to bring our ladies to a place that might be disrespectful).
One evening as I was driving home listening to the news on the radio, I heard something unusual in a particular news update. It’s not often that our local media discusses meetings between Israelis and Palestinians. Usually, such gatherings are played down, but this was different, not only due to the fact that it was reported, but also because of what was said in that update:
Last week I had the opportunity to visit Germany and speak at a conference and in churches. Just hours prior to my first speaking engagement, one of my hosts gave me a tour of the city of Eppingen and shared with me a bit of the history during World War II. This city once had a very vibrant Jewish population, where Jews were integrated into the make-up of the city and saw themselves as German. It was striking to see how in just a short amount of time these German citizens, because they were Jewish, soon became a non-existent community. The town has a memorial, remembering those Jews who were once an integral part of this city.
This past April 6-9, we had a special youth desert trip, as the desert itself was in full spring bloom. We were told by some older Bedouins that the desert had not bloomed like this since 1980. We were quite fortunate to see so much vegetation, and the camels accompanying us seemed to enjoy this rare experience the most. After a night of Bedouin hospitality, 35 leaders and participants set off on a trek down some of the old Spice Routes that used to assist thousands of merchants to transport goods all over the world.
When Jesus was crucified, many of his followers abandoned him. Most of those who remained were women who watched from a distance as he died and was buried. Roman guards were stationed outside the tomb to prevent any attempt to steal the body. We can imagine the fear and devastation Jesus’ followers must have felt, particularly the women who remained faithfully watchful and attentive.
After a scheduled, rescheduled, and then rescheduled (again) attempt at holding our National Women’s Conference, we were finally able to meet this past February in Area C between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The aim of this conference was to challenge our ladies to be much more active in our respective communities. We want to give them the tools they need to deal with the differences between us, and then move on – reach out – together.
This evening Jewish people all around the world will begin fasting as they celebrate Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Much has been written about the sacrifices, the high priest, atonement, and the relationship to Jesus and his fulfillment of this holiday. While both the individual and communal aspects are important, Yom Kippur is not simply about individual penitence before God, but communal repentance due to national failures to live up to God’s standard of holiness. This year, I would like us to reflect together on God’s call to be holy and its inextricable link with justice.
“If you asked me one year ago to share a room with a Palestinian, I would have slept outside,” Chaim shared. Yet he came to Musalaha, a first-time Israeli participant, because he decided that the time has come “to love and listen.”
I recently had the opportunity to take part in one of Musalaha’s women’s meetings. In order to meet, we drove into Area C, an Israeli-controlled area of the West Bank. It was the first time that I passed the checkpoint between Israel and Palestine. We drove down a street for both Palestinians and Israelis, but I learned that there are also streets where only Palestinians are allowed to drive, and others exclusively for Israelis. I learned how to differentiate between a Palestinian and an Israeli car by the color of their license plate.
In conflict, violence can take many shapes and expressions. We can see it in thought, word or deed. In Israel and Palestine we often hear violent rhetoric and we can see individuals translate these words into practice as they torch cars, fire bomb homes, and try and burn down holy sites. When it comes to violence, it is just a matter of time before violent individuals move from justifying actions against property to acting violently against people.