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.

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