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Passover Reflections

Alison Glick

In the Passover Haggadah — a kind of “roadmap” through the Passover story recited at the Seder meal — there is a handwashing ritual at the beginning before the eating of the saltwater-laden greens and the matzah, often referred to as the “bread of affliction.”

At this year’s Seder table, that ritual hand washing will certainly take on new meaning: In this time of pandemic, the entire world now sees such a quotidian act as one that can literally save lives. But even before this year, the act of pouring water over your neighbor’s hands has always been very meaningful to me. Like many of the small acts and Haggadah recitations performed during the Seder, the handwashing ritual reminds me of why this Jewish tradition is the one I find most meaningful. Whether it’s the caring intimacy of washing another’s hands or the reminder that — as the water trickles into the bowl on our bountifully-laden table — limited access to clean water has lead to death in places like Gaza or Flint, on this one night I will be ritually connected with a community that shares my values and vision of the future. Read more

Prayer for Christian Unity

Two weeks ago, the Christian community in the Jerusalem and Bethlehem area gathered together for the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Services were held at many of the different denominations’ churches, including at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem/West Bank Young Adults in Global Mission (JWB YAGMs) helped to lead the service, in our debut as the “Young Adults in Global Mission Choir.”

Now, to be completely honest, I haven’t thought a whole lot about “Christian Unity” before coming here and serving as a part of YAGM. Before this year, my focus was decidedly more interfaith than ecumenical. As the vice president of the interfaith council at Vanderbilt University, I worked hard to foster dialogue between people of all sorts of different religious and ethical persuasions. My interest in intra-Christian relations, however, extended about as far as my education at a Catholic school and basic understanding of Catholicism. Read more

The Forty Days

You might not believe it, since the image of the Middle East most people have in their heads involves sweltering heat and rolling sand, but it gets quite cold here. Not as cold, perhaps, as the -66 windchill the Midwestern United States is experiencing right now, but cold enough. With houses designed to draw heat out during the summer and no indoor heating, the temperature is often the same chilly 50 degrees inside that it is outside, if not cooler.

We’ve entered what Palestinians call “al-muraba’ia,” “the forty days,” the coldest days of the year. Thunderstorms blow in from the Mediterranean, dumping rain and sleet and hail on the hills of Jerusalem before pacifying in the Jordan River Valley. Wind sneaks in through the windows, making candles and electricity alike flicker. From Christmas until the middle of February, we will wear extra layers and huddle around space heaters for warmth, piling thick fleece blankets on our beds. Then, the warmth will return, spring will break out, and we will move on.

It seems particularly fitting that these days number forty, and that they are coming now, of all times. Read more

Advent: Christmas Day

This is the final entry in our Advent 2019 devotional series. For the four Sundays of Advent and Christmas Day, we released Advent reflections from voices in the Holy Land. Catch up now: Advent I: Hope, Advent II: Peace, Advent III: Joy, and Advent IV: Love.


Christ is Born

As the Christmas season winds to a close my thoughts on my experiences here are finally beginning to settle. Christmas in the Holy Land, especially in the Bethlehem area, is an incredibly busy time, full of old traditions and new. Over the past month, I’ve attended countless parties, decorated Christmas trees, taken pictures with Santa, eaten chestnuts roasted on an open fire (or in a toaster oven) while sipping red wine, gone to parades, and, of course, worshiped at numerous local churches.

I’ve lost count of the number of times that people have exclaimed to me about how amazing  it must be to be spending Christmas in Bethlehem. And there are parts of it that certainly have been amazing, though definitely not what I expected. In many ways, I was surprised at how familiar Christmas was here. Read more

Women behind the Wall Episode 8: Generational Separation

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 Born and raised in a Muslim family in Galilee, Hanan was 23 years old when she converted to Christianity. In this episode of the Women behind the Wall podcast, listeners get an inside look into the life of a religious convert, and the conversations that happen behind closed doors among family members after this type of cultural taboo becomes known. Religion is more than a belief here, it dictates one’s social interactions, and Hanan embraces that her family name and background is Islamic. “It is not something that I can run from, or delete from my life, and I don’t want [to].”  Read more

Women behind the Wall: Episode 7: Helping Each Other Heal

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After the 1948 war, what Israel calls the war of independence and what Palestinians called the “Nakba,” or catastrophe, some Palestinians remained in their towns and villages inside the newly established State of Israel. Before the 1967 war, Israel gave this particular group of Palestinians Israeli citizenship, and the state officially refers to them as Israeli Arabs. However, many of them reject this term and refer to themselves as Palestinian-Israelis or Palestinians of ‘48, among other terms. Today, there are about two million Palestinians in Israel who hold Israeli citizenship. Some of them are Christian; the vast majority are Muslim. In episode seven of the Women behind the Wall podcast, listeners hear from Shireen, a Palestinian woman from the Galilee with Israeli citizenship who belongs to the minority community of Christians. She shares about her marriage to a West Banker, her reflections on identity, and the conflict. Read more

Women behind the Wall Episode 6: Two Cities Within One

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“Supporting Israel was actually considered a very social-justice-oriented thing. However, I did not grow up with a great knowledge of the Palestinians.” In the sixth episode of Women behind the Wall, listeners hear from Heather, an American-Israeli who now works on social justice and human rights issues with Palestinian women in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. She explains how her religious upbringing shaped her involvement today.

Heather grew up in North Carolina in a Christian family with Jewish heritage that she considered to be pro-Israel that also focused on social justice. Her first trip to the Holy Land was when she was 16 years old, at the beginning of the Second Intifada, or “uprising” which was a period of intensified Israeli and Palestinian violence. While visiting a family who lived in a settlement, she recalls seeing the building tension but recognized not knowing the context, thinking, “There is more to this that I am not understanding.” Read more

Women behind the Wall: Episode 5: A Barrier to Families

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Some may refer to the wall Israel built as a security fence, but when it segregates people from each other, there is no way to describe it other than by separation; a physical barrier to families, an impediment to freedom of movement. In episode five of Women behind the Wall podcast, listeners are introduced to some of the legal status issues facing Palestinians in East Jerusalem and those in the West Bank. Sara is a Christian Jerusalemite Palestinian with an Israeli identification card and residency status. Her family house ended up 10 meters from the route of the separation wall but was excluded from its previous designation in Jerusalem. So while she has a Jerusalem ID, her children, all of whom were born in Jerusalem, were not granted the ID cards at birth. Read more

Women behind the Wall: Episode 4: Finding Light in Darkness

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“We all have a sun inside, we all have a light.” The idea of an inner light is reflected in “Beit Ashams,” the appropriately named yoga studio and community center which translates to “House of the Sun.” In episode three, listeners meet co-owner and yoga teacher Eilda Zaghmout, a Palestinian Christian who believes that strengthening the mind-body connection is essential for developing resilience and she pours this belief into her work.  

On this episode, Eilda discusses the shadow of the occupation and how that affects a person. “When you live under constant trauma, you are disconnected from your body, from your emotions, and also your thoughts.” Read more

Women behind the Wall: Episode 3: Cultural Expectations of a Young Woman Under the Occupation

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On March 29, 2002, the Israeli military rolled into northern Bethlehem on a mission inside the occupied West Bank city. Two days prior, a suicide bomber killed 30 Israelis and injured 160 during a Passover Seder dinner nearly 100 kilometers away in the northern Israeli town of Netanya [Times of Israel]. Men fleeing the military invasion took refuge in the Church of the Nativity, joining 46 clergymen and 200 civilians sheltering in the church at the time. Amira, a Christian Palestinian from Bethlehem was in sixth grade when the scenes unfolded during the 40-day siege.

In episode three of Women behind the Wall podcast, Amira, now age 26, recalls how the violence and occupation impacted her daily life. The army incursions were not limited to the church or directed solely at armed militants but reached into her neighborhood and even her own house. At one point, soldiers came in the middle of the night going door-to-door and ordered all of the males, including the young boys, out of their homes, where they were to stay all night outside. Movement restrictions were imposed so strictly that she and other children were unable to go to school regularly during that period. Her mother worked as a nurse and would stay at the hospital for days at a time because, otherwise, she would not be able to get to work. “It wasn’t like a normal life,” Amira remembers. Read more

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