A marvelous day in the Galilee. We took an early bus north to Tiberius–a 2 1/2 hour ride through the agricultural heart of Israel. Our main goal was to see the newly excavated site at Magdala, the ancient home of Mary Magdalene, about a 15 minute bus ride north of Tiberius on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. They have excavated a first century synagogue, the only one in the Galilee discovered so far and only one of seven in Israel to date. There is also a new Catholic Church with a boat for an altar and an infinity pool outside behind it, all with a glass front overlooking  a very much lower Sea of Galilee than when Magdala was a port town! There is also a chapel underneath with the floor being the street from the first century town and a magnificent painting of the story of the woman with the 12 year hemorrhage. Very powerful. Jesus was in that town and that synagogue as was Mary Magdalene and many of the other disciples. I found it very moving.

We have observed this area since 1993 but it has only recently been excavated and developed by the Catholic Church.

We then went to Tiberius and walked along the lake front. A lot of litter, as with so many places here, but we love the views. It really is a “beach” town in so many ways. Think: Santa Cruz.

Many of the same harbor restaurants have been there since 1993  but the grocery store we have shopped in on many trips is gone. As with all things, familiar and yet, changes.


While  standing at the lake, we heard “booms” as we looked across to the Golan. Fighting with Syria?






Another 2 1/2 hour bus ride brought us home to an unseasonably cold, windy Jerusalem. The Damascus Gate was nuts! The Muslims are celebrating the night ride of Mohammed from Mecca to Jerusalem. That started on Saturday with drum and bugle or bagpipe groups marching through the Damascus Gate to the Dome of the Rock. Seeing  young people in keffiyehs and playing bagpipes was a new experience, to say the least. Apparently though, bagpipes have an ancient tradition in the Middle East! Who knew?

Today, the Jews have Holocaust Memorial Day. At 10 AM, a siren sounded and many people stopped, including the bus driver, to stand at attention for one minute. Even on the highway, people pulled to the side of the road and got out of their cars to stand at attention. Not everyone and especially, we noticed that the Orthodox Jews, of which there were a number on the bus, didn’t participate but it was a moving moment. And if that isn’t enough, today the tiny Armenian community remembers their genocide at the hands of the Turks and have had a couple of days of prayers and marches to the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv or the consulate here in Jerusalem. Did I ever mention that this can be an intense, passionate place to live?

Shalom and good night.

What a different week this has been! After Easter Monday, a holiday for many Christians, and the end of Passover, also on Monday and a national holiday in Israel, this town got comparatively quiet. We have heard occasional pilgrim groups these past days instead of the steady stream we had been hearing. There are fewer people in the streets, as well, as we navigate the Via Dolorosa for me to practice the organ each day. Our focus has shifted as well, from all that Lent, Holy Week, and Easter meant to things we want to see and do before we leave in a month.

An exception was today at the end of Friday prayers at the Dome of the Rock mosque. It took some time to get out the Damascus Gate! Fortunately,we were going with the predominant flow.

I am beginning to realize how much I will miss the Redeemer Lutheran church community as well as the physical compound. Playing the wonderful Schuke organ in the Romanesque-style Sanctuary has been soul-feeding and defining. Many from both the English and German speaking congregations have become dear to us. It will be hard to say good-bye.

We continue to attend lectures, going, for example, to two of three possible options last night. The one at the Albright institute was on Jeremiah and his view of King Nebuchadnezzar. The Albright really does have the best receptions before their lectures: delicious Middle Eastern style heavy hors d’oeurves, fruit and desserts with good wine and beer.

We then heard a journalist speak at the Swedish Study Center. She was one of a select few who saw the Tomb of Christ when it was uncovered for 60 hours during the restorations of the Edicule last fall. Very interesting and even moving! We went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre afterwards to look at some of the things she talked about, like the realization that these pillars and the wall behind them are from the Constantinian basilica of the 4th century! As with so many churches here, the Holy Sepulchre has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times.

We also attend presentations at Tantur Ecumenical Center and less often at Eccole Biblioque, if they are in English there. Each institution offers wonderful opportunities to hear world class scholars in very different settings, atmospheres, and with different audiences and levels of hospitality. We have thoroughly enjoyed the broad range of speakers, topics, and treats.

Among non-native English speakers, the word “welcome” is used a lot. Twice, we have had strangers stop us on the street, ask where we were from and say, “Welcome!” In that context, it means what you would expect it to mean. It had also been used to mean “thank you,” “I understand,” and “ha, ha,  I nderstand your joke.” We love hearing it.

A few more random pictures from our walks and wanderings: Bougenvia from the Yemen Moshe neighborhood, Golda Meir’s building where she had an apartment on the top floor, and flowers in the Imbal Hotel for Shabbat.


Shalom and good night.


The final segment in the Holy Week/Easter sharing: after the intensity of Good Friday, we had a more leisurely Holy Saturday. We walked over to the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane and then through the Kidron Valley, up the steep path, to the Christian Quarter. There, we encountered barricades related to the Holy Fire service beginning at 1 PM at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. So many people try to cram the Church, they limit access to it with major crowd control corridors and heavy security. Some people wait in crowd-controlled areas by the Jaffa Gate or New Gate, or even in West Bank towns for “runners” to come with candles lit from the fire from the Tomb. From those traveling candles, the candles of the faithful who can’t get near the Church are lit. This is a big deal for many people. They come from far away and wait for hours to get some of this “first fire.” (The picture is from the Internet and shows the Tomb before all of the repairs; there is no scaffolding around it now.)Image result for free photos Holy fire church of the holy sepulchre

As the fire came out of the Tomb, carried by the Greek or Armenian patriarch, the bells began to ring. They rang for over an hour!

We stopped by the Church last evening on our way to Easter Vigil. The building looked like the aftermath of a major stadium event: trash everywhere, people moving the barricades that had been inside and outside, crowds still lingering in large numbers with a long line to get into the Tomb itself. There were many Ethiopians in the church and on the streets, dressed in their beautifully decorated white outfits. Families even had matching  ones: father down to baby. They had an all-night service in their small Chapel inside the Holy Sepulchre and up on the roof, the areas that constitute their “territory” within the Status Quo.

At 8:30 PM, we joined the throng at St. Anne’s, the gorgeous Romanesque church at the traditional site of the Virgin Mary’s birth and childhood home, just inside the Lion’s Gate. It was mostly in French with about a third in English but French African as it is run by the White Fathers, who have a strong presence in Africa. The music was post-Vatican II with an African twist, including drums for accompaniment, and, of course, the acoustics were fabulous. It began in the entrance courtyard with the lighting of the Paschal candle, a real trick in the wind. A wonderful two-and-a-half hours!

Seven o’clock this morning found us on the upper terrace at the Ecce homo convent for a just-after-sunrise service. That was also mostly in French with some English. We then zipped across to the joint Lutheran English/Arabic service at Redeemer Lutheran. Again, a mix of languages, which makes worship more “work.” The Bishop for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) preached, once in Arabic and once in English. The Arabic Lutheran organist played.

We then strolled through the Christian Quarter, aware that for Muslims, this was just another “Monday” morning. For the Jews, it is the day after Shabbat but still in Passover (which ends Monday at sundown in Israel, Tuesday night in other places). Even for the Christians, Easter is centered around food and family. We saw very few decorations and no commercialism, though people definitely dye eggs and egg hunts for kids are common. As we left church at Redeemer, there was a big basket of dyed hard-boiled eggs for worshippers to take with them.

The celebration ended tonight with Easter dinner at the Ecce homo convent as guests of Sr. Rita. Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed. Alleluia!

Shalom and good night.

Good Friday: what a circus. I continue to think that it must have been very similar to the Passover when Jesus was crucified: crowds, unfriendly police, barricades, the faithful trying to get to worship, chaos…

Another thought I had today was that it takes a strong faith at times to maintain faith here in the guts of the pluralistic religious fervor. “Rooted in faith and up to our necks in religious sight-seeing,” as John put it.

I had agreed to play for the choir during the German Good Friday service this morning. With Gunther in Germany for three days, his normal substitute was concerned that the choir would be fewer in number and would need support from the organ on their normally a capella pieces. The service was scheduled to begin at 10:30 AM with choir rehearsal scheduled for 9:30. Since we had been hearing pilgrim processions before 6 AM and since pilgrims were lining the Via Dolorosa starting at 8:30, I began to realize I would need to allow even more time than I anticipated to make the normally comfortable ten minute walk from our room near Station 3 to the Lutheran church compound in the Muristan, one block from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

About 8:50, police and soldiers began setting up barricades near the front door to the guest house; I headed out five minutes later. I made it down the street, turned left at Station 3, right at Station 5, left again at Station 7, and was safely past the steps up to Station 9 with very few people. Just as I was going to make the quick right turn/left turn that runs along the east side of Redeemer Lutheran church, I hit my first barricade. The policeman said, “closed” and turned his head away. I told him I needed to get to the church. He pointed further down the street and told me to go that way. A great tactic for passing me off to another checkpoint.

I hit about four more of these stopping points. I pulled out the music. “Closed!” I pointed to the church which was now in sight, a mere half block away. “Closed!” I talked to the next level up guy. “Closed!” I was so frustrated and angry but knew enough not to push these people. I was about to turn back and go home when I remembered the roof top walkway between the Lutheran guest house and the kitchen area in the church compound. I found my way to the guest house and tracked down someone at reception. They called the church to unlock the back gate and then took me out to their back gate, unlocked it, and pointed me in the right direction. The young man working reception at the church waved at me to show me the rest of the way and got me through the back door to the church.I was only five minutes late to rehearsal.

The church staff was in an uproar. They own the road in front of the church which was now illegally blocked off! They were wondering how anyone would get to church. The head German pastor was on the phone trying to sort it out. Amazingly, about fifteen choir members got in and a nice sized crowd made it into the service.

When the hour and a half Communion service ended, a bit unusual in traditional liturgical practice in America, I again waded out into the crowds. I was let through the barricade at the end of the street by the church into the most crushing crowd I have ever been in. I had a few moments of fear as I was being pushed from behind and sideways; I understood that if I fell, it would be unpleasant. I finally peeled off on to a side street, found my bearings in the Jewish quarter and was almost home when I was stopped at another barricade with a crush of people pressed up against it. Some big-deal procession was going through. One very upset man got in a verbal fight with a police officer (I thought they were going to arrest him), adding to the tension of the scene. Friday prayer Muslims and Passover Wall-praying Jews were shoved together with the rest of us in a tight ball. Fortunately, after 15 minutes or so, the procession ended and I got back to the room three minutes ahead of John, who had hoped to come to the service but got caught up in his own series of barricades. It had been 50 minutes since I had left the church. What a mess!

At five, with the barricades down and the streets back to a more normal tourist/pilgrim density, I played for the English congregation’s service. Afterward, we had an impromptu dinner with a friend. She knew of a hotel, one of those non- descript doorways that open to magic. This door led to a rooftop garden with a stunning view. The lit church in the background is the Armenian one that our guest house is attached to. A calming way to end a very memorable Good Friday.

Shalom and good night.

The first reading for the Church on Maundy Thursday is from Exodus 12, where God instructs Israel on how to prepare the lamb for the Passover. This morning, on a warm, sunny day with a lovely Mediterranean breeze blowing, we stood overlooking the Western Wall as the various rabbis led the people in prayer on the second day of Passover. The highlight was the ending, which was the High Priestly blessing, in which all the people responded with an emotional “Amin” (amen, in Hebrew) as  the Kohanim (traditional descendants of the priest, Aaron, who first recited it as recorded in Numbers) covered their heads with their white prayer shawls. Deeply moving.

The Ethiopian community carry umbrellas, whether they are Jewish or Christian, some of which you can see in the Wall picture.  The Christian community that is based on the roof of the Holy Sepulchre had beautiful ones, even made out of velvet, during their midday Divine Liturgy.

At 4:30 PM, I played for the combined English, German, and Arabic service at Redeemer Lutheran church. I substituted for the main organist, who is in Germany to hear the premier of his Passion oratorio there tomorrow.

Being 30 some feet above the congregation, who were singing the same hymns but in three different languages and with a four second delay due to the live acoustics, made for a challenge in hymn accompaniment, one I hadn’t had since graduate school days at Valparaiso University. The prayer petitions were in German, Arabic, English, Danish, Finnish, Swedish, Dutch, and Swahili. It makes it a bit hard to worship when sections of the service are in languages you don’t understand but it does give one a sense of the global unity of the Church.

After the service, we processed through the Via Dolorosa, out the Lion’s Gate, and down and around to the Russian Orthodox compound at Gethsemane for a three language prayer service with candles. We sang  as police stopped traffic for the hundred or so of us to cross the Kidron Valley and over to Gethsemane. (This is the place John goes every Wednesday morning to stack wood or to pull nettles.)

Walking back in the gathering dusk of Triduum looking at the Golden Gate and the lights coming on over the Temple Mount, was almost too much to take in. This, as John said, has been one of the top 100 days in our lives as a couple.

Shalom and good night!

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