Pilgrimage of Penitence

Greetings of peace from Mary and Howard Wideman from Waters Mennonite Church. We are now staying in Jerusalem at the Ecco Homo Convent on the Via Dolorosa in the Muslim Quarter. We are situated right next to the local mosque, so the call to prayer is clear and commanding. The food is great, but more varied than the mid-eastern focus found in Nazareth and Beit Sahour. I especially miss my morning hummus–food for the mid-eastern soul!

On our bus route to Canada Park (Would you believe?), we saw Jewish children on route to school, even kindergarten boys wearing kipas, or in Yiddish, yarlmukas. Adults were going to work in varying Jewish garb, wide-brimmed hats and long beards, some with long sionims (sidelocks), following the teaching of the Torah “to not round off the hair on the edges of your head.” We passed a Palestinian village that was depopulated, but the buildings were still intact–a rarity.

We finally arrived at Ayalon Canada Park, funded by the Jewish National Fund. There we met Umar Al-Ghubari from Zochrot, an Israeli organization which means “remembering”, a Palestinian resistance activist who introduced us to the Palestinian layer beneath the Jewish Park. He explained that the Jewish settlements already started in the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s when land was bought from a rich landowner who employed and rented homes to Palestinians. The seller did not realize that his tenants and labourers would be evicted as a result of the Zionist convictions of the purchaser. He explained that the Israelis do not acknowledge the Nakba, or catastrophe of 1948, when Israel expelled 3/4 of a million Palestinians. Zochrot wants Israelis to take responsibility for what happened in 1948, relating to Israeli Jews in Hebrew, so that they might be more shocked and challenged by hearing of these evictions in their own language, accompanied by videos and maps that vividly demonstrate these events on Zochrot’s website.

The purpose of our tour was to “see what is unseen”, to tell the story of the demolished Palestinian villages.  Hidden in plain sight are the beautiful cut stones lining the walking paths throughout the park, stones that once shaped Palestinian homes in three villages which once stood in this West Bank park, located ten kilometres inside Palestine: Emmaus, Yalu and Bayt Nuba.  The Israelis claim that the ruins are Roman baths; however, the baths predate the Palestinian mosque which was situated over the baths and were revealed by archeological digs which attempted to obliterate the Palestinian presence. These bath ruins are surrounded by stones marking the Palestinian cemetery surrounding the mosque. The niche that indicates the Muslim direction for prayer is still clearly evident. Two dessicrated  graves and markers in particular were very visible.

The Jewish purpose for the park is to fulfill the Biblical prophesy of Isaiah 35, to make the thirsty desert bloom and to develop and shape Jewish identity to the land. However, the park was never a desert, but three established Palestinian villages. Pieces of their houses repeatedly emerge whenever archeological digging occurs. The “Prickly Pear Proof” also dominates the land.  Palestinians used this cactus as a hedge to delineate boundaries between plots and to produce a sweet fruit within arm’s reach. It is especially resilient and cannot be eradicated, despite Israeli attempts to remove it.

CactusUnfortunately, the Zionists’ effort to make the desert bloom has included planting colonial pines from Europe for two purposes: to make the European settlers feel at home and to provide year round evergreen camouflage of any Palestinian ruins. Ironically, these pines are very dry and frequent forest fires result. Catastrophically, the pines acidify the land, so that native almond, olive, date, apricot and fig trees can no longer grow, ensuring that Palestinians could not thrive if they ever did achieve a “right of return” to their villages.

In 1958, a Kibbutz’ farmer was looking for stray cattle. Instead, he found Israeli soldiers evicting Palestinian villagers from their homes and herding them towards Jordan. Some escaped to the Latrun monastery, but they were rounded up a few days later, and their homes were bulldozed. The Jewish farmer took several pictures which, fearing for his safety, he kept hidden for 18 years. In the 1980’s, he published them in East Jerusalem, thinking he would be starting a revolution. Nothing happened. These photos are available on the Zochrot website. The unseen lives of the evicted Palestinians can surely be seen in the layers beneath the surface of Ayalon Canada Park. “He who has ears, let him hear. He who has eyes, let him see.”

Our day took us from the eviction of the Palestinians by the Jews to the eviction of the Jews by the Nazis.  We experienced the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem in the afternoon. Evidence of raw suffering and death, both of which are being repeated today in Gaza in The Great March of Return, permeated our senses and overwhelmed our beings. Unacknowledged Jewish culpability of the Palestinian Nakba (The Great Catastrophe) aligns itself with European and Western culpability for ignoring the plight of the Jews in the 30’s and 40’s, following centuries of severe anti-semitism throughout Christian countries.

May all of us walk a pilgrimage of penitence together.

From Beit Sahour to Jerusalem — a world apart

Hello! Leah from Elmira here again writing about our transition day from Beit Sa’hour to Jerusalm to begin the last leg of our trip. Sunday was an emotional day. It started off with saying goodbye to our host families, and after such an emotional, influential week, we were so moved and grateful for their hospitality, which made the goodbyes so much harder.

We spend the morning at Beit Sa’hour Evangelical Luthern church. Without our group and and the friendly Swedish group who came to the service, the church would have had about 10 people in it. It was Pentecost Sunday, and I had the privilege of reading to the church Acts 2: 2-18 about the coming of the Holy Spirit. We were invited for a coffee and conversation after the service in which Riley and I gave a nice lady from Sweden the SparkNotes version of Mennonites.

In order to get to Jerusalem, We had to leave the West Bank, which involved crossing through a checkpoint. We did this on foot, and it went fairly quickly; not a big deal, unless you have to do this everyday to get to work, which is what any Palestinan that works in Jerusalem must do. Our leader Seth said some have to wake up as early as 3 am to get in line, to ensure they will get across the checkpoint in time for work.

Once in Jerusalem, we checked into our home for the next week, Ecce Homo. We met a guest speaker Sahar Vardi who was a member of the American Friends Service Committee. She talked a lot about how the military is built into the Israeli economy, as well as the entire mindset of the citizens. One thing she mentioned was the image of a gun means different things for people. For Israelis, it is an image of security, but for Palestinians guns are seen as a threat. She touched on a lot on interesting topics, and she will be speaking in Ontario through MCC this coming fall. (I highly recommend going! She was a great speaker).

The afternoon was more low key. Some of us walked around to get a feel for the Old City which consists of a Muslim, Jewish and Christian Quarters. I quickly learned the strong culture of bartering when I asked how much a pair of shorts were. The man first said 50 sheckels, and I said no thank you and begun walking away, and by the time I had walked 20 metres he had knocked the price down to 10 shekels.

We had a great dinner at the convent and went as a group up the roof to debrief.
There were a number of very strong emotions that came up as we talked, a lot of which I think stemmed from the fact that along leaving behind the hospitality and kindness of our host families, we were leaving their stories, and their struggles behind. This was hard for a lot of us. It is a fact that as forenigers in this country, we have more freedom to travel around than they do, and for me, walking through the checkpoint into Jerusalem, this hit me very hard. Although I am determined to tell my family’s story to as many of you who will listen, I left with a weight on my shoulders, knowing their struggle of feeling imprisoned in their country and abandoned by God is not going to go away anytime soon.

Judging by the many tears that were shed in other groups, I can guess that many people were feeling this weight, although for different reasons.

To end on a bit of a happier note, I’ll offer you this: as our trip is winding down, it’s becoming more and more apparent that the way we can help the situation we are leaving is to tell stories and perspectives we heard to the people who will listen. I hope I can speak for everyone on this trip when I say that we each have many stories to tell, and so know that when we are asked how our trip went, we won’t respond with a generic: “it was great, so much fun, the weather was very hot!”. If you ask, and are genuinely interested, the conversations will last for hours because telling others what we learned, and sending prayers to Israel and Palestine, is what we can give back to our host families.

My prayer

The New Moon came and passed on the May 15th and with it Ramadan
arrived. If you didn’t know, and I didn’t until I Googled it now, the
Ramadan fast is a time to draw closer to God and to remember the
suffering of those less fortunate. Going without food and most
especially water in this very hot and dry place is definitely a trial.
I have felt silly more than a few times for being hungry or needing
water when our tour guides or speakers are capable of going all day
with the thirst and the hunger pains.

With this awareness of the few Muslims we have spent time with my mind
keeps circling back to the same question. Why have we missed hearing
the spiritual connection for those of Islamic faith in this land?

So much stigma and fear is attached to the Islamic faith and yet I
still feel so unaware of what it means to be Muslim in Israel. That
fear is in our movies and on the news as terrorists in countries we
can’t find on maps. Where are their voices? What does it mean to
worship God for them? How do they approach finding peace, from a faith

Many have spoken to us about their connection to the land via their
biblical connection, whether it is a Christian or Jewish narrative from
a couple of different perspectives. These perspectives are helping to
flesh out a picture of what it means to live and love the land they
call Holy. In my mind that picture has a glaring hole, a blank spot
without the narrative of the Muslims of faith in this community, this

I celebrate the devotion it takes to fast during Ramadan. I honor the
integrity it would build to be called to pray five times a day. I too
follow the moon and it’s cycles. I love that they have a whole month
to recognize the suffering of so many, to build others up, and to
honor the holiness of the body by possibly changing what foods you put
into it. So much of the division here could possibly be remedied by
respecting and even celebrating the traditions of others.

As a person who often feels like an outsider, I possibly feel the
desire to embrace other faiths and walks of life more keenly as I want
to be given the same courtesy. I am so grateful to all the members of
this trip. They have made me feel respected and loved, not an outsider
at all. Even though I have been open about my non-Christian status, I
feel I have been heard and respected. I am so grateful to have been

My prayer then is: God, Goddess or ‘All That Is’, please bring us all
closer as the best kind of family, one that loves and cares about one
another. One that wishes each other well regardless of ideology,
faith, lifestyle, gender, sexuality, age, intelligence, demographic. A
family that builds each other up and honors all our back stories,
warts and all. Help us to see each other as humans trying to live as
best we can. Remind us that holiness is where we are, not in the past.
Thank you for this gorgeous planet we call home, I will try harder to
celebrate and honor it. It is a gift.

By Stephanie Bell

Stephanie Bell, 28 lives in Picton, Ontario and works as a gardener and bartender. She is passionate about politics, bicycles and spirituality. She is considering running in this fall’s municipal election. 


Tonight there are a million thoughts racing through my mind; I am filled with sadness, and anger and frustration, but also hope and love and compassion. This blog post is going to take a bit of a personal turn, because if I take one thing away from this trip it is going to be how important it is to speak up when something needs to be said.

As was mentioned in previous blog posts, this week our attention has shifted to the ongoing crisis in Israel and Palestine. It has been more eye opening then I can even explain in one blog post but today was an emotional rollercoaster ride. A common theme no matter which side of the story you listen to is that there is extreme extreme pain. There is a wall dividing humanity and both sides are hurting, but this hurt has transformed itself into a scene from a world war two movie.

Today we went to Hebron. If you are unaware, Hebron is at the centre of a very complicated struggle and there is no denying that the Palestinians are suffering. Walking up to the Israeli controlled side of Hebron I could see tear-gas canisters littered where earlier this week citizens protested the ongoing struggle in Jerusalem. Walking through the checkpoint few of us were in good spirits. We weren’t scared, but a military checkpoint is an overwhelming sight (and as a Canadian I admit I take for granted the lack of security measures I have to endure on a daily basis). The soldiers could clearly tell we were all slightly uncomfortable and so he pulled aside one of our leaders told him to let us know to be happy, enjoy Israel and we are not in danger. And I truly have not felt in danger this entire trip, but walking through physical reminders of such an occupation does not invoke feelings of happiness. The tone shifted a bit as we had the opportunity to visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs but all around us soldiers patrolled what seemed like a ghost town that used to be filled with vibrant shops and families.

From the beginning of the day our tour guide had to take the occasional detour and catch up with us (as Palestinians are not allowed to use the same checkpoints or walkways as the rest of us). Although upsetting, this was nothing different then what we have been witnessing during this trip- but one moment hit me hard. Walking through the streets while discussing the implications of occupation on local residents of Hebron a literal fence divided us from the tour guide. The wartime scene really kicked in for me when a small girl, maybe three years old approached us- gave a little smile as her hands held unto the fence that divided us. I have never felt such a range of emotions in my life. What in the world did a three year old know about such segregation? But there she stood, knowing at such an innocent young age that she had to stay behind the fence. But then I looked around, and there stood a soldier at his post, who didn’t look a day older then myself at 20. He approached us, genuinely undone by what our tour guide was saying to us. He asked if we thought they were wrong. What have they done wrong he asked? And truly what has this young man done wrong? He was just fulfilling his mandatory military service- his obligation to his state- and yet it was as if this young girl was invisible to him. We learned today about the checkpoint system and the constant rotations of soldiers. There are always on the move, not allowed to develop any sort of relationship with the locals- another mechanism working to remove the humanity from both sides- and everyone loses.

After this short tour, we had coffee and tea in a local Palestinian shop- one of the few who still remains open in what was once a thriving market street. He told the story of his grandfather and the resilience it took to appeal over 20 times to remain open for business. It was yet again another story of loss and sadness but also resilience and hope. Later in the day we travelled to Tent of Nations- where once again we heard stories of resilience and loss and intense struggle. They spoke to us about their struggle to hold unto their land (27 years of appeals and legal action to be exact). From sabotage by local settlers, to physical and political roadblocks from the occupation (the end of the driveway is literally blocked and has been for over a decade)- even a blank cheque would not convince this family to give in and relinquish their rightful land. They continue to fight for their rights, while promoting peace, tolerance and hope to Palestinians.

Personally, days here have been profound, but my highlight has definitely been getting to know my host family here in Beit Sahur. They are such welcoming and caring and talented people, yet they lived defined by conflict and face so many obstacles that I can not even imagine. It is nothing short of heartbreaking to know that so many people are suffering, and so much pain and loss is occurring everyday- to people all over Palestine and this very family that has gracefully taken us in. They have dreams and desires but are reaching for them out of this wreckage all around them. But in the wreckage remains hope- and there are so many stories of hope I have heard this week that I hope I can share with you all someday- and that is what I hold on to tonight.

By Brooklyn Lester.

Brooklyn is entering her fourth year at the University of Waterloo studying International Development.

Ramallah and the wall

My name is Jocelyn Martin and I am one of the many young adults on this trip who has their minds spinning from all the culture, politics and narratives we have experienced in the last days.

We have all settled in with our amazing host families and continue to learn from them every day. Yesterday (May 16), we headed to Ramallah and started our day with a lecture from Military Court Watch. This organization is made up of lawyers who focus on child imprisonment. We learned about the tactics used by the Israeli Defence Forces that are based off of intimidation and control. These tactics have psychological effects that hurt not only the child arrested but also the families and the communities around them. Our second speaker, an American Palestinian shared his struggles with developing the West Bank from a business and economic perspective, while an occupier is holding the resources. Our afternoon was spent on a bus tour hosted by Stop The Wall. This organization is working to stop the divide between the people in the land. We stopped by various sites that portrayed what division can do to an area. We were told stories of economic deprivation, travel restrictions between areas and people being separated from their own land. We stood near an olive grove which grew long before the arrival of the fence, which could only be harvested if the farmer held a permit from the Israeli government saying he could be within 200m of the fence, labelled as a security zone. Our last group experience of the day was our long, slow travels out of the city of Ramallah. Our supposed hour and a half drive took much longer as traffic slowly moved through the check point. However, our ride was hardly without entertainment as we watched the crowded streets of people, cars, motorcycles and just about anything else, maneuvering throughout each other.

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Voices from over the wall

Hello, Yella blog readers! My name is Riley Bauman and I am a spry little gap year student fresh from the congregation of Elmira Mennonite in Southern Ontario. Already, my highest hopes for our adventure have been achieved through our historic and cultural learning. Yesterday, however, the team flipped over a new page in the reality of the conflict, as we began staying with our Palestinian host families.

After a long drive (and surviving more than a few crazy local drivers), our massive tour bus was waved swiftly through the check point and safely into the West Bank. We were then whisked away in small groups to our incredibly hospitable host families throughout Beit Sahur, a village of Bethlehem. Though each family is Palestinian Christian and living in the same general radius, we soon discovered that there is quite a spectrum. One family has an indoor swimming pool while another goes without water for days. One family consists of young children and a single mom while another is elderly and alone. One family has roots in Beit Sahur centuries deep while another arrived as a result of recent displacement.

Nevertheless, each home is feeling the effects of Israeli occupation and has far too many stories of suffering to prove it. We hear of women who fear that reaching down to calm her children before crossing a checkpoint invites gunfire. We hear of teenage boys’ cars being unfairly impounded for supposedly crossing a white line. Yet we remember that we are visiting and we can leave whenever we please. This is the reality for our host families. We are filled with an intense cocktail of emotions but are inspired by the sense of hope that seems to prevail. We have already laughed along to some universally hilarious “dad” jokes, played wild games with the children and drank way too much tea. Indescribable gratitude.

Today (May 15), businesses, schools and attractions are all closed due to the local Palestinian strike. The streets are eerily quiet as the community commemorates 70 years of occupation and watches as the US embassy is moved to Jerusalem. It is incomprehensible that we are witnessing history being made. What social implications are to follow?

Though we practiced our flexibility a little with the closures, the team still got some great sight-seeing in as we visited Bethlehem, the Nativity Church and Herodion. We have yet to lose interest in seeing good ol’ first century cisterns or impressively bedazzled churches. It always goes down well with a healthy dose of wise words from Derek!

Finally, our minds and hearts were thoroughly challenged as we were presented with two very contrasting views of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Both individuals were evidently passionate, well-educated leaders. Already we have more questions than answers, but, together we are trying our best to unpack the perspectives.

Thank you for following along! We are so thankful for your continual support, prayer and conversation!Riley

Goodbye to Nazareth

May 13

We packed up early and had one last breakfast before saying good-bye to our hosts at Antique Hostel. We drove to Haifa, on the Mediterranean coast, to Oranim, an educational college, for a day of listening and learning. After some ice breaker activities, in which we explored impressions of Israeli society through commercials, we heard an Israeli man tell a very sad story. His 15 year old daughter was killed by a suicide bomber from Gaza. After her death, they found her diaries, filled with heartfelt writings about her desire for peace. He and his wife published her writings, and travel around the country sharing her story. They also started an organization for bereaved family members on all sides of the conflict who have lost loved ones to the violence.

We also had the opportunity to participate in a mifgash, a face to face conversation with Oranim students (Arab and Jewish), that included looking in the mirror at ourselves, and looking through a window into the experience of others. We also heard from a history professor, who described the history of Israel from a Jewish perspective. While he was hopeful that tensions can be reduced here, he was also somewhat resigned that there is no perfect solution. His straightforward, direct style and opinions left us with lots to talk about on the bus ride later. After unpacking at the Molada Guest House in Haifa, we drove to a Druze community where we learned the history of this somewhat mysterious religious and cultural group, and then were treated to a traditional, delicious supper served in a Druze home.


Heading North

May 12

We travelled to the northern border where Israel meets Lebanon, to an historical site called Tel Dan. We toured ruins from the Canaanite period, including a gate that Abraham very likely walked through! Tel Dan is also the location of the head waters of the Jordan River system, which means it is lush and green. The sound of rushing water was startling in a relatively dry land. We drove on a littler farther to Caesarea Philippi, the site where Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” This conversation very likely took place in view of an array of temples and shrines to other gods. This led to an interesting conversation about monotheism, and when it began in the Israelite tradition.

We drove back toward the Nazareth area, stopping in Cana for lunch. A typical lunch includes falafel or schwarma in a pita, and a drink. Our bus driver is great at suggesting places that can serve a busload of people quickly! After lunch we went to Zippori, the sight of Roman ruins. Here you can actually see the cart and chariot ruts worn into the remains of the Roman road! There are many remarkably well preserved stone tile mosaics at this sight, including in the synagogue floor. Zippori was constructed in the first century, so there is a distinct possibility that Jesus’ father Joseph, may have worked on this site as a builder.

At the sight of the synagogue we stopped to discuss the Pharisees, and how they are portrayed in the gospels. Modern Judaism traces its origins back to the Pharisees, who preserved Judaism after the destruction of the temple, by teaching the Torah and establishing synagogues. As Derek explained to us, the Christian perspective of Pharisees in scriptures is kind of like the history of the Toronto Maples Leafs written by a Habs fan!

We had a feast for our last night at the Antique Hostel in Nazareth. The food has been so generous and flavourful. We have thoroughly enjoyed it!

Channeling our inner mountain goat

Hi everyone! My name is Jessica and my home church is Markham Chinese Mennonite Church. I am currently a second year student at York University, majoring in Social Work. A big part of the reason why I chose to attend YELLA 2018 was because I wanted to physically and mentally challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone. This is my first over-seas trip, so I’m very excited that I get to have these new experiences to listen, observe, and learn.

Today was an exciting day, as we continued with our journey on the Jesus Trail for a second day. The group was dropped off near the area where we left off on the Jesus Trail yesterday and we began climbing toward the Horns of Hattin, a major hill. The hike on the trail today was definitely tougher than yesterday, as the hills were slightly steeper and there was less shade, so it became fairly hot quite quickly. When we reached the top of the hill, we sat on the rocky steps and had a snack and water break to replenish our energy. While we sat and ate our snacks, Derek gave us a little history lesson about the different groups of people who took occupation of the land over time. After our break and hike down the hill, our tour bus took us near the top of Mt. Arbel where we had lunch. Mt. Arbel was definitely the group’s favourite part of the trail. The view that we had while the group hiked down the hill was breath-taking. We were able to see the Sea of Galilee and all of the surrounding towns and communities near it from a distance away. We were also able to see cows in the pasture, and many caves and fortresses in the mountains. Today’s hike was a big group bonding moment because despite the heat and the difficult trail that we were hiking on, everyone was very encouraging of each other and always there to give a hand to another person, if they ever needed it. To top off our adventurous day, we went to a little shop to get ice cream, before we went back to our hostel, which everyone was exceptionally happy about!

Walking in the footsteps of Jesus

Today we walked in the footsteps of Jesus along the Jesus trail.

The Jesus Trail is a 65-kilometer hiking trail in the Galilee region of Israel. It connects important sites from the life of Jesus and other historical and religious sites. It is a way  for travellers and pilgrims to experience the steps of Jesus in an authentic, adventurous and educational manner by hiking through the rugged and beautiful landscape of the Galilee in Israel.

Today we started in Cana and walked for several hours. We passed pastoral scenes, livestock and military vehicles and finished with a stroll down a Roman road.

We finished the day with a visit to Gan Hoshlosha. Some believe Gan Hashlosha is the location of the garden of Eden. It has beautiful spring fed pools shaded by lush palm trees and we took full advantage of the beautiful location and enjoyed some down time in the water.

Tomorrow we will be continuing our walk along the Jesus Trail and descending Mount Arbel (see the photo above). It will be another day of expanding our horizons and testing our limits.