I’m in Israel for two weeks. At first I considered myself a tourist. Turns out I’m a pilgrim. Until now I thought pilgrimages were Bucket List top ten for the superstitious hyper-religious.
It’s way too early to say how this trip will impact my life, but having spent a week here now, I know one thing for sure. Three of the great world religions and several of the minor ones collide on the same piece of real estate, and it’s extremely complicated.
As a newbie outsider it’s easy to oversimplify. If Israel would just stop confiscating property in occupied land and limit wall building to its own property, violence would likely diminish, and life in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank would improve. But then an incident at dinner last night made me realize just how complicated the solution really is.
We’ve been staying at a lovely guesthouse in east Jerusalem. It’s our home away from home for two weeks. We eat breakfast here before heading out in the morning, and after a long day of touring we come back to a lovely home-cooked dinner. Our first week there we mostly had the place to ourselves.
Mid-trip we packed light bags and headed up to Nazareth. It was a great weekend, but as we made our way back to Jerusalem on Monday, we were looking forward to coming back home. We arrived late afternoon and the place was bustling. There was a small group from China, another from Eastern Europe, and a very large contingent from California. “Nice,” we thought… until we got to dinner.
When it had just been our group, we’d leisurely queue up, mozy down the buffet line, and make our way to the dining room where we had our pick of seats. Not tonight.
When we arrived there was already a long line at the buffet snaking into the dining room where people were shoving their way through to get to the tables, annoyed that we were blocking their path. We were told the first three tables were reserved for our group, but, the Chinese contingent had staked out half of one of them. We made our way to the table of Californians, but they were quite vocal that this was their turf. We wandered around hoping the staff would help us out, but no one seemed to notice.
Eventually we managed to find single seats here and there. We huddled and quietly conversed with those we knew around us, but it was hardly the leisurely meal experience from the week before.
Finally the Chinese contingent at our table got up and came back with cake and coffee. Until tonight, dessert had been fruit. “Was it good,” I asked? “Yes!” they replied in English. We went back for some too, and finally started to talk.