General News


know nothing about borders

or immigration fences.

They ignore visa requirements

and nationalities.

Sand from the Sinai

blows into Israel,

with no checkpoint to stop it,

no papers to show.

The migrating sand,

which spoke another language when it became airborne,

swirls pollen into pregnancy-inducing dances

and cleanses the budding fruit trees

from harmful bacteria.

It scours the ancient fortresses

wearing them down,



Sand blows in unbidden,

without permission,

covering the sun,

whipping laundry to a frenzy,

stopping landings

of planes full of foreigners

trying to enter this country,

arriving on engine-generated winds

under great control.


Sandstorms care not for nationalities

or religious nuances.

They care not for tourist plans

or pilgrims kneeling in the street

on holy stones

praying for peace

of some kind.


Refugees flee again as

the sand bears down on them,

wishing they could ride the wind to new lands

of cleansing and life for themselves,

past checkpoints that say no

and elusive visas,

and risky boat rides;

blow to a new life

on a cloud of sand

that obliterates

national identities that frighten others

and terror-filled pasts that frighten themselves.


When we bring friends to the Holy Land, we always stress that few of the sites will look like “Sunday school art.” Most of the sites have been preserved under churches which, over the centuries, have been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times.

In response to some questions and comments we have been receiving, I want to show you some pictures. I have used free ones from the Internet this time along with a couple of my own. (Some computers have been showing my photos sideways so I am hoping they stay upright for everyone!)

The Western, or Wailing, Wall is all that remains of Herod’s Second Century AD Temple, the one Jesus would have known. Where the Temple once was, one now sees the gold dome of the Muslim mosque, the Dome of the Rock, the third most holy site in Islam, where Mohammad supposedly landed when he made his night ride.Image result for photo western wall jerusalem

The group of Jewish men praying in the corner below shows an opening that only men can go into that goes further along the wall but underneath modern buildings. Image result for photo western wall jerusalem

There is a tour that one can take down underneath the street and see the huge stones, some the size of a school bus that may have been the ones the disciples were so impressed with.

The end of the tunnel tour dead-ends into the street we live on in the Muslim quarter, at Ecce homo on the Via Dolorosa, but because many Jews perpetuate the myth that all Muslims are “dangerous,” the tunnel tour either turns around and walks back or has an armed escort to “safer” areas.

The Muslim mosque sits over the top of Mount Moriah, where it is believed Abraham was called to sacrifice his son, Isaac, and which Herod leveled off to create a flat space that covers about 36 acres.Image result for free photo aerial of temple mount jerusalem

The next picture is the highest corner of the Temple wall. The Mount of Olives is in the background. The building on top is the Seven Arches hotel, where we stayed on our first trip in 1993.

Below the wall are excavations related to the Temple Mount and stones from when the Romans pushed the walls down in 70 AD including one that indicated where the trumpeter should stand when blowing the ram’s horn (shofar). The current walls of the Old City were built and re-built by various conquerors over the centuries and are not quite in the same place as when Jesus walked and taught here.

Moving around the Temple Mount, outside the Dung Gate (it leads to Gehenna, which was the garbage dump area), we find the “Pentecost” steps, where it is believed that Peter preached to the 3000 on the day of Pentecost.Image result for free photo Pentecost steps jerusalem

The original City of David is undergoing extensive archeological digging. It is past the Pentecost steps and down the hill a bit.






Across the valley is the Mount of Olives. At the bottom is the Church of All Nations that has the rock on which Jesus supposedly prayed before being betrayed by Judas. The olive trees near the church are 2000 years old and so are pretty authentic. Image result for free photo gethsemane trees

The rock inside the Church of All Nations.Image result for free photo church of all nations rock

Image result for free photos church of all nationsThe church with snow on it (from the Internet–despite how cold it has been, we never had snow and I am happy to say, it is slowly warming up).

Another place that can be disappointing if you come with a Sunday school art expectation is the Church of the Hole Sepulchre. A pretty authentic site of where Calvary and Jesus’s tomb were located, it was altered by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century so that a massive church for worship could be built and the tomb itself was put under a smaller building. (Google a map of how Golgotha looked before Constantine had the hill cut in two to make his worship complex. It is helpful to understand what you are looking at in this overwhelming but incredible building.)

Over the centuries, the Church and Tomb area have been destroyed and rebuilt, the latest time by the Crusaders.

The entrance:Image result for free photos church of the holy sepulchre
he current church rebuilt by the Crusaders: Image result for free photos church of the holy sepulchre

The building over the Tomb inside the Church: Image result for free photos church of the holy sepulchre

I hope this gives you an idea that one has to come with a very open mind when traveling to these holy sites.

Shalom and good night!

While we have only been here three and a half weeks, it feels like longer as we have heard and seen and done so much! I thought I would share some of the highlights of the last several days.

On Sunday, I again played for the English-speaking service at Redeemer Lutheran church. We are finding ourselves well-fed spiritually there with people from all over the world, many of whom use English as a second or third language. The compound is lovely. This is the courtyard where we have tea after church, on the second level:

We continue to connect with some of them more deeply and the outcome of one such connection resulted in an invitation to tea on the roof of the Ecce homo convent. This is built on the Via Dolorosa, just up the street from where we stay. It is a huge, multi-story property with an active convent, a guest house, a Biblical formation study program that looks at the Bible from a Jewish perspective, and a “terra sancta” site (holy land) in their basement containing remains of the second century AD market street and a stone on which Roman soldiers had carved game boards to entertain themselves while waiting to crucify prisoners.

We arrived for tea at 3 PM just as a sandstorm was blowing in sand from the Sinai. Normally the view is clear over into Jordan but the haze in the background is sand. We could still see the rooftops of the Old City, though. Later, we found out a plane coming into Tel Aviv from Europe had to land elsewhere as the storm closed the airport.

Later that night, Purim started in Jerusalem. (In walled cities, Purim starts a day later as in the Book o Esther, we are told the Jews fought their enemies for two days instead of one and so the victory celebrations were delayed a day.) As the weather continues to be unseasonably cold with rain at times, Purim festivities were more muted than they might otherwise have been.

Monday afternoon, we hiked all the way to the top of the Mount of Olives and the Augusta Victoria hospital area, a Lutheran supported compound that works heavily in the West Bank with mobile clinics as well as the Palestinian patients they treat on site. Across the street is the Jerusalem office of the Lutheran World Federation. With my continued interest in the Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture, I was pleased to connect with Pr. Mark Brown. We are planning to go to some of their events in the future. The view is from the Mount of Olives towards the Lion’s Gate into the Old City:

Tuesday, we took the light rail all the way to the opposite end and discovered a fabulous Russian deli. We also went to the lecture at Tantur Ecumenical Center on the 700 year old family tradition of pilgrim tattoos. The Razzouk family has been doing these, originally in Egypt and for the last three or four generations here in Jerusalem, for 25 or 26 generations. Go to to see pictures and read their history. Who would  have ever known?! They even did a live demonstration on a previously chosen volunteer.

Last night, we continued the mid-week Lenten supper and study on the Stations of the Cross with the Redeemer community. It is interesting to talk about “The Way of Suffering” (Via Dolorosa) with people from around the English-speaking world. Tonight, we are going to the Albright archeology institute to hear a Czech Egyptologist talk about the Book of the Dead, or how to mummify someone. I won’t be volunteering for that one if they do a demonstration.

In between, we shop and explore new grocery stores and bakeries. We spend time reading in libraries, the Rockefeller being our favorite. We do laundry in the sink to put on the drying rack between rainstorms. We do Internet research on things we have seen or read about.  We continue looking for the best falafel stand. Life is good. Here are some random pictures from our explorations:










Shalom and good-night!

Songs From the Places In Between

(after Rory Stewart)

by Valerie E. Hess

Part II

In this holy land,

every purchase,

large or small,

assumes a plastic bag.

We collect these containers

of various sizes and colors,

not wanting ours to

join the forlorn remnants of

other hopeful purchases

that now litter the ground,

or blow down the street

in the south wind,

harbinger of change.


The bag that once contained my days

is blowing in a changing wind

somewhere far away.

If the wind blows it back to me,

would my life still fit in it?











A full week for us! Last night, a group from Germany did a concert and I turned pages/ pulled stops for the organist, Misty Schaeffert. She is American, married to a German and so has been living in Darmstadt for the last twenty years. We had an instant connection and she is an excellent organist. The piece, called “Weg-Farben,” written by the conductor and using texts from the Torah, Bible, and Koran, was very contemporary (translate: hellacious to perform). She handled it beautifully. Her mother lives in Shell, WY and so there is the possibility we may see her when she flies in for her annual visit sometime.

Speaking of difficult, I discovered the Arabic hymnal the Lutheran congregation uses in the organ loft the other day. The picture is of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” which must be read from right to left!


I did OK until I got to the quarter note passing notes at which point, I kept trying to read left to right. I am glad the Arabic-speaking Lutheran congregation has their own organist!


Another thing we did this week was take the light-rail out to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. We have been there before but the place is extensive and there is always something new to learn. Recent research has been into a little known aspect of Holocaust history that centers around Jews who fled Europe for Shanghai, China. With the USA and Europe closing their borders in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the only place in the world that didn’t require a visa was Shanghai. At first, the Jews were fine but after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, they were confined to a ghetto in Shanghai. All new information to us! The picture is from Yad Vashem looking over to Ein Kerem, the traditional home of John the Baptist. We were also touched by the art work done in concentration camps.  

One of the things we are getting used to is the constant smoking and plastic bags. ANY purchase made requires a bag, which contributes to the litter discussed in the last blog. I watched a young woman buy a small can of Coke, which is always served with a straw, and it went into a plastic bag! We are saving them and trying to reuse them as much as possible.

Sunday is Purim. This is the yearly Jewish festival based on the Book of Esther. It is a cross between Halloween and Easter. People, especially kids, dress up in costume (no “evil” themes, more based on Esther). When the Book of Esther is read, everyone shakes their noise-maker, purchased or  homemade, when the bad guy, Haman’s, name is read. We bought a wooden  noise-maker in the market yesterday so as to be ready! When we went to the Israel museum last week, they had a display of whimsical noise-makers for Purim that was delightful. The picture is a children’s parade that went by our window the other day, accompanied by several Israeli soldiers (IDF) since they were in the Muslim quarter. 

The Easter-like part is that beautiful cookies are baked in the shape of a triangle. Based on a legend that Haman wore a triangular-shaped hat, they are vanilla or chocolate dough, plain or filled with dates, chocolate, or other things. The markets also carry Purim baskets wrapped in cellophane and filled with candies, chocolate, wine, and/or small toys to give.

We continue to learn so much! From the mid-week Lenten study with a diverse group of Christ-followers from around the world to a lecture on the Turks continued destruction of Armenian sites today  (no  PC in that discussion!) to people attempting reconciliation and ecumenism, which seems to fail, this is a rich and amazing time. Shalom and good night!

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