After Easter, we had wondered a bit what our focus might be after the intensity of Lent and Holy Week. We need not have been concerned. We find ourselves in a form of meditative prayer, soaking in the rich density of life here. Last week was again wonderfully full, so much so we never once made it to the library at the Rockefeller Museum for reading time!

Wednesday found us enjoying a long and leisurely lunch at the American Colony Hotel. The American Colony is my favorite luxury hotel here. It is elegant in an understated way. The gardens on the compound are a riot of color and variety. The service is attentive but not obtrusive. The decor is Middle Eastern beauty. I even love the “old bazaar” style gift shop next door to a wonderful book store with many titles in English. We go there at least once a week to read the New York Times, Middle East version, as well as The Jerusalem Post, and Ha’aretz. The news is discouraging everywhere but the comfortable chairs and view of the courtyard garden helps me keep perspective. Being in a city that has been destroyed and rebuilt countless times is also helpful in understanding that there are larger forces at work in the world than current history and politics seem to indicate.

On Thursday, after our morning time in the organ loft at Redeemer Lutheran Church, we went grocery shopping. We discovered an amazing Russian grocery store near our regular loop of shops and markets. We will be checking it out again before we leave!

Next, we decided to check out the Print Workshop, a building we had walked by numerous times but had never actually made it into. What a delightful surprise! The owner of the building told us the history, everything from the printing press they had that had published the first ever newspaper in Hebrew to being a home with a synagogue in it to housing Italian prisoners of war (as it is just down from what used to be an Italian church, now the Israeli Ministry of Education). It turns out the man was a student of Jacob Pins, whose prints we had just seen at the Ticho House museum (now part of the Israel Musuem).

Study for a chicken

We will be going back, as they were closing and we were on our way to the weekly lecture at the Albright Archeological Institute.

On our way, we finally located where the Mandelbaum Gate had been, a crossing between east and west Jerusalem. John had read the book by Kai Bird on his childhood in Jerusalem and his daily crossing of that checkpoint to go to school. The Gate was eventually torn down and a tall stone sundial now stands where it was but with no plaque indicating the history of the spot. Also, the marker is between the light rail tracks in the middle of a highway! Not easy to find.

View from former Mandelbaum Gate















After the lecture, I suggested we go home via the Damascus Gate vs. the Herod Gate. That nudging meant we stumbled into the three-day Nablus Road street fair unexpectedly. Most of the institutions on the road opened their gates and housed face painting, craft booths, and food vendors. The British Council was passing out British scones and the American Colony Hotel had its heritage room open, a space we didn’t know existed. (The American Colony Hotel was started by the Spaffords of the hymn “It is Well With My Soul” fame. It morphed into a bizarre cult. Descendants still own it but it is now managed by a Swiss hotel chain.) We ran into people we have met here who told us about a book signing at the Palestinian Cultural Center. Of course, we headed in to hear Stephanie Saldana, an American, speak about living on the Nablus Road for seven years. Her book, “A Country Between,” is the Nablus Road equivalent to “Married to a Bedouin.” Both books are recommended reading along with Elinor Burckett’s insightful book, “Golda.” Consider these for your summer reading list.

Last night, we went to a Reformed synagogue service near the German colony.

Kehilat Kol HaNeshama synagogue

Sr. Rita of Ecce homo takes each round of volunteers here and she invited us to join this group. It was my first Shabbat service ever. Sr. Maureena, who is 91 and still runs Ecce homo’s Biblical studies from a Jewish perspective programs, met us there and gave us a useful tutorial through the service book ahead of time. The book, of course read right to left, was in English and Hebrew with the Hebrew also in transliteration. I love that the Friday night service is mostly singing and welcoming in the Sabbath. It begins with passages from the Song of Solomon, reminding us that our faith is first and foremost a love relationship with God. Thanks to Sr. Maureena and the rabbi’s occasional page number call-out in English, we kept up pretty well. Sr. Maureena believes that is the keeping of the Sabbath, as laid out by God in Genesis 2, that has allowed the Jewish people to outlive all other cultures and people groups. Considering that a volunteer pointed out in the post-service dinner discussion that all dynasties (familial, cultural, industrial) seem to last only 200 years, I found Sr. Maureena ‘s assessment compelling. Sr. Maureena emphasized that Sunday is “the Lord’s day,” not the seventh day of the week Sabbath. Also, the Sabbath, as outlined in Genesis and confirmed by several rabbis she consulted with is meant to bless all people, not just the Jews. Lessons from this unique place to ponder.

One other touching moment was when Sr. Maureena pointed out that the words of the Shema (Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one…) are words Jesus would have said in worship when he lived on earth. Saying them in a suburb of Jerusalem was very powerful, indeed.

Shalom and good night!


Last Thursday, most Palestinian schools and businesses closed in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners’ strike. On Friday, the day of prayer for Muslims, more businesses than usual stayed shut. Violence did erupt in some areas, sadly. There were a lot of soldiers at the end of our street as that area, where the roads for the Damascus Gate and Lion’s Gate meet, can be a flashpoint. Mercifully, all was calm there.

Beginning Sunday night, Israel observed Memorial Day; May 1st was Labor Day for the Palestinians. Many Israelis observed a minute of silence when the air raid siren went off at 11 AM Monday morning. Beginning Monday night, through sundown Tuesday, it is Independence Day, the 69th anniversary of Israeli statehood. Most Jewish businesses are closed today and parks are full of grilling meat kebabs and playing children. The Israeli Air Force did two fly-overs midday and Israeli  flags are everywhere.

The Tomb of Herod’s family in the park.













Yesterday, we took the light rail along with a lot of Israeli citizens and soldiers on their way to Memorial Day ceremonies at Mount Hertzl. We went the other direction from that point and bussed over to the synagogue at Hadassah hospital. While waiting for the ceremony in there to end so we could see the Chagall windows, we explored the shopping center, complete with grocery store, inside the hospital! That was a first, for sure.

The Chagall windows are stunning. There are twelve of them, each one representing one of the Tribes of ancient Israel.

Hadassah hospital synagogue: Chagall windows

What a treat it was to see them in context and we had the place to ourselves after a group from Argentina left.
















Hadassah hospital in the background

We then hiked from the hospital on the top of the ridge down the valley into Ein Kerem, the traditional home of John the Baptist. Ein Kerem is a cross between Davenport, CA and Eldorado Springs, CO minus the water. Lots of flowers and some lovely ceramicists live in houses along narrow streets and alleys. 













































We also visited the Church of St. John the Baptist that includes the grotto marking his traditional birthplace.

X marks the spot of John’s birth!


All blue-and-white tiles.












Tiles in many language of the Benedicamus.











Riding home in another full train along Jaffa Street, we saw lots of flags and banners, and throngs of people preparing to party. We heard music and fireworks later in the evening from the guest house courtyard.  Around midnight, Israeli youth under armed guard, came marching down the Via Dolorosa and through the Muslim quarter chanting loudly. These are provocative marches that imply ownership and dominance. As I mentioned above, today things are more “family cook-out” focused and the streets have a Shabbat emptiness to them.

An Orthodox Jewish man and Jaffa Street decorations

All the Palestinians are having a normal work day. It is interesting to be in a “two state” holiday situation, one group celebrating and the other mourning while working a regular shift. We have learned a lot in our time here, to say the least.

Two Men Arguing by Jakob Pins













Shalom and good night!

Last night, we went to try a new restaurant in Beit Jala, in the West Bank, adjacent to Bethlehem. Qabar had been recommended to us by locals as the best chicken around. Four of us climbed in the car and headed over. Our friend who was driving also speaks Arabic and so we were able to navigate to this tiny off-the-beaten-path restaurant in a fairly straightforward manner. This is a very  local place: paper on the tables and only one item on the menu. Napkins were torn sheets of the same paper on the table.

Qabar chicken dinner

Before we had even sat down, the table was full of Arab salads and four plates, each holding half a chicken, including the neck bone with its thin layer of meat. There was an amazing garlic sauce to dip the chicken in.





Next, we went to a little place in a more rural area for coffee. It is in Area C, which means they cannot get permission to build or expand. It is an old building but mostly, you sit outside.
They build a bonfire for warmth. They allow camping there and offer it as a place for people to experience nature who don’t have much access to it. Our waiter cannot get a Jerusalem ID card even though he was born in Jerusalem and his mother has one. He was raised in one of the nearby refugee camps. That means he can’t easily travel outside of the West Bank, even to visit relatives. He had been to Europe recently and enjoyed the freedom to travel to various countries without being stopped.








On our way back to Jerusalem, we stopped at Banksy’s “Walled-Off Hotel.” The pictures say it all.


At the checkpoint, our driver showed her American passport and all of us were waved through with no further checking. Is this wall for security or intimidation?

I suspect both. Lord, in your mercy…











Today, most Muslim businesses and schools are shut down in solidarity with the hunger strike going on in the Palestinian prisons, now in its 11th day. It was eerie walking the dark and shuttered Via Dolorosa to practice. Tomorrow, the Palestinian Authority has called for “a day of rage,” which could lead to disruption and even violence.

Banksy art inside Walled-Off Hotel

Rumor is the Old City will shut down at some point tonight. We did our usual pre-Shabbat grocery shopping so we are all stocked up. We had hoped to go back to Ein Kerem tomorrow but that may not happen. Stay tuned!

Shalom and good night.

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.


« Previous PageNext Page »