Monday, July 2, 2012

Holy Land Travel

For the 1st time in my life, I went on a study tour to Israel last May 16-30.  I am sharing my journal below and in the next blog posts.

May 17, upon awakening after my first night at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, Jerusalem:  It is a nice place with views of Jerusalem & Bethlehem.  It is 5 hours behind Philippine time here.  So I just had an 8 am breakfast.  We had bread, hard-boiled egg, cheddar & cottage cheese & fresh fruits including grapefruit.  I did not try the latter yet because the others were sprinkling sugar on it.

At the 12-hour El Al (Israeli airline) flight from Hong Kong to Tel-Aviv on May 16 in which we arrived at Tel-Aviv at 11 at night, they gave me a middle seat because El Al said that the plane was full.  We were a group of 24 from the Philippines & we noticed that 20 of us were all given middle seats & spread out in the plane, even though most of us asked for aisle seats.  We conjectured that this was a security measure since El Al knew that we knew each other.

I was originally seated between two non-Filipino women, but then the flight attendant requested that I exchange seats with a Filipina & I ended up sitting between two ultra-orthodox (Hasidic) Jewish men who could have been rabbis.  They were big with full beards, curled side burns, prayer shirts under their coats, & black hats.  I was told that they would not sit beside a woman & so their original seatmate had to be moved.  It was interesting to encounter it first-hand.

The two were solicitous especially when they saw that my food seemed delayed.  They called the attention of the flight attendant.  They were served first because they had a special diet.  My Filipino companions had a good time talking about my "fortunate" seating & Pol Repotente took a picture of me sleeping between the "rabbis."  The two would stand up at certain times to find a place where they would pray standing & slightly swaying back & forth.

The weather at Tantur is like Baguio in the summer.  You can go outdoors with just your t-shirt.  It is dry & it can get hot under the sun & so regular drinking is advised.

It was sunny this May 17 afternoon.  We were out 3 hours to have a panoramic view (from the south) of the Old City of Jerusalem.  You could see the golden Dome of the Rock, which is one of the holiest Islamic shrines & which has been off-limits to visitors for some years now.  It is where the holiest section of the Jerusalem temple used to be.

We also saw the Hinnom Valley where ancient Israelites sacrificed to idols including human sacrifices that were condemned by the prophets.  By the time of Jesus, it was already the city dumpsite because it was considered an abominable place.  This was Gehenna, where “the fire always burns & the worm never dies” like Smokey Mountain & Payatas dumpsite.

In the meals at Tantur, there are always fresh greens for salads, luscious cherry tomatoes & bell peppers.  There are 3 choices of dressings: all creamy.  The honeydew & pears are so sweet.  Last night we had lamb & beef rolls with lots of pine nuts.  I initially thought the nuts were garlic, & I was removing them, until somebody corrected me.

Tantur has a huge garden with flowering trees & bushes.  It is a school that promotes mutual understanding between Jews, Muslims & Christians.  The property straddles the original border between Israel & the West Bank, now under the Palestinian National Authority.  The front gate of Tantur is in Israel while the back gate used to be part of the West Bank, so that Israelis and Palestinians can enter separate gates to meet in the institute for dialogues.  Unfortunately, the Israelis moved back the border & set up an 8-meter high wall, which one could see from Tantur.

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