Sunday, March 16, 2014

I had never been up Mount Tabor and wasn't all that interested, either.

Our tour guide made use of a minivan taxi service from the base of the mountain, each car seating about 13 passengers. He had cautioned us that if there was a line, we could forget it. There was no line but the people in charge were expecting a rush that Friday afternoon, so our guide hurried us into the taxi cars.

It was right after a huge lunch at a Lebanese place and the minivans were stuffy. Up a sharp incline and all the road switchbacks, I thought I could become nauseous. It was a longer ride than I expected but I got through.

In an open bit of lawn near the upper parking lot was gathered a crowd of people blaring loud music and dancing. Our tour guide told them they were supposed to be quiet out of respect for the holy place, that they weren't allowed to carry on as they were.

We visited the site. I'm sure our guide told us all about Deborah and Barak and Sisera and Jael from Judges 4 and 5, a fascinating story the first few times you read it. But Transfiguration images predominate inside the church and that story became my focus.

Mass was going on when we arrived, so we were herded into one of the two smaller rooms, the one dedicated to Moses. The other is dedicated to Elijah. Saint Peter got his wish after all! Notice, Moses has horns. The story of Elijah versus the prophets of Baal has become my son's favorite.

Someone in our group got into trouble for picking a sizable branch from an olive tree in a nearby garden. I was appalled that anyone would. Then my son showed me a tiny, tiny lemon he'd plucked. Periodically, he'd scratch the exterior for its refreshing scent. The view was awesome. I must correct my opinion that Israel has no true mountains.

We gathered at the upper taxi stand for the trip down and our guide cautioned us against accepting anything from the Muslims who were near the parking lot handing out free Korans. They were very polite initially but as we walked by ignoring them, they began to shout things I've heard before: that the Bible says nobody can serve two masters, that Jesus never instructs anyone to worship him - that he, in fact, says the opposite - and, that the Gospel tradition has been corrupted over time.

Somehow I was slow getting to the taxis and they all filled up. It was only myself, the tour guide and Deacon Tom. Our tour guide turned back and began shouting at the Muslims, countering what they were saying. I'm not the type of person to get into a confrontation in public but I found the exchange interesting to observe. During the taxi ride down, the guide admitted that he had to say something to them, as they were speaking against Christ. Admirable enough. As we turned onto the main road, I spotted a man on his bicycle just beginning his ascent. I mentally wished him a heartfelt Godspeed.

Back at the hotel, shabbat candles were available in the lobby and the elevator confused us all. After dinner, the monsignor heard my confession.

Shabbat candles

cf. Mount of Transfiguration - Wiki

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sunday Snippets

We suffered a bit from the bus driver's inexperience. The best route was designated "Cars only." Back and forth through Brooklyn - Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst along 86th Street - in the evening rush we traveled, looking for the entrance to the BQE1. The bus driver asked directions of a gas station attendant. He didn't know how to inform his GPS that the Belt Pkwy wasn't an option.

Honestly, I thought we'd miss our flight out of JFK. 90 minutes driving around Brooklyn - how is that even possible? The entire trip wasn't supposed to be much more than that. But we arrived at the gate with thirty minutes to spare. EL AL begins boarding a full hour prior to departure.

I'd planned to kill time at the airport with dinner. Arriving as we did after 9, though, most of the restaurants were closed. Neither of us had eaten since 3, so he grabbed a sandwich and I got a salad from a counter service place.

As we lined up to board the plane, some in our party declared, "We made it. God wouldn't let us miss this flight!" I muttered in reply, "Anything can happen. Really." And it's true, especially when you're dependent upon someone else.

It's a ten-hour flight over and twelve hours back. Most of the time, it felt as if we weren't moving. I sat in the middle of the middle of the 777-200 with my son on my right and an (ultra-)Orthodox man on my left. The man tended to mutter to himself. At times, these were prayers. Generally, he seemed immature for his age. Or naive. Or sheltered. He wondered aloud how he was going to be able to sleep in this arrangement (being seated next to a woman who wasn't his wife). I was sorry for him but I planned to sleep! Honestly, I think he nodded off for a time, also.

About an hour after our first meal, I heard the sound of someone repeatedly vomiting. Just out of view - thankfully - I could make out a commotion by the exit doors four rows up. Plane staff were helping a woman who could not control herself. I suspected that she had morning sickness but it could have been anything.

Towards morning, the men gathered at the back of the plane for prayers. Several men, young and old, urged the man next to me to join them for prayer. He declined. He read several pages of his Talmud which lead me to believe he was merely skimming. Then he pulled out another oversized book, the Schottenstein edition of the psalms (Tehillim). He prayed several of them. When the men returned from the back of the plane, from their prayer, the younger men ribbed the man next to me for the size of his books. They advocated the travel-sized ones, but he defended his large ones because they had belonged to his father.

An hour before landing, a woman collapsed in the vicinity of where the vomiting had occurred the night before. I thought she had broken her leg. Her age, as well as her attire, indicated to me that she was a Christian pilgrim and I thought, "How unfortunate!" As it became clear to her that she would miss her pilgrimage, she began to sob. In fact, I learned later that she was a member of our group of 40 people and that she was hospitalized for an apparent stroke. She was not even released in time to fly back with us and, even though her doctor cleared her to make this trip, she should not have.

The sun was setting when we landed and was down completely by the time we left the airport. So unlike June. Our hotel that first night was in Netanya on the Mediterranean Sea. After dinner, Kenny and I walked down to the sea. It was out of season, of course, but nothing prevented us from going down to the water. Most of these photos were taken the next morning before leaving, driving up the coast.

Looking up from the beach at our hotel

Views from hotel balcony

View from street level

1 There was no reason to exit Route 278 after crossing the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Sunday Snippets

I've still got the taste for olives and cheese in the mornings.

See, breakfast is dairy and dinner is meat. So breakfast is cheese and milk, even hot, chocolate cake. Olives accompany every meal.

I was concerned for my son's table manners, because he doesn't sit up straight. For the first few meals, though, we sat two to a table. Only in Jerusalem were we seated at larger tables. By then, I'd already seen such poor manners from the adults to not worry about my teenager. First night, a woman bent over the buffet chafing dish to sniff the fish.

"It's fish," she declared to us in line behind her.

Another woman ladled out some soup, frowning. "Lentil," she observed. I would have preferred them to move along and let me make up my own mind about the food. By the last night, some ladies were done with the local fare, waiting to grab something at the airport.

The Church of the Pater Noster was new to me. It's situated on the Mount of Olives, just up from Dominus Flevit.

As it's a French church, the various languages in which the Lord's Prayer appears - over 150 of them - are labeled in French. Pilgrims scurried about looking for the English version.

In haste, they hustled by it, not recognizing the designation "Anglais" or the Blackletter font it's written in.

Even when I called them back, they could not decipher.

I'm familiar with the font because I used to scan old German Bibles in the undergraduate library between classes. Cf. Chronology of German Typeface Development,

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Sunday Snippets

It was to be our earliest day, to stand near the head of the line at the security gate leading to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The day before, we'd visited the Western Wall and noted that the line was almost out the city gate, three hours deep.

"I'm not spending your time in that line," our guide insisted. "We come early tomorrow." We were in line by dawn.

View to the south east

Right before 7:30 local time, a number of armed police passed us. I assumed they were reporting to work inside the Kotel area. Then my oldest son, Kenny, noticed another batch of police carrying riot helmets. Still the security gate did not open to us and I grew impatient. Shortly after, we heard what sounded like gunfire from the Temple Mount area. Birds flew away, startled by the noise.

Near-deserted Western Wall

I muttered casually to myself, "If that's going on up there, I don't think I want to go." The sounds of gunfire were prolonged, lasting maybe 20 or 30 seconds. After a minute or two of silence, our tour guide gathered us and hurried us through the Kotel area, to an arch leading to the Old City.

Old City - children walking to school

We found ourselves on the Via Dolorosa and, after seeing ambulances in the streets, we hurried into the Convent of the Sisters of Zion. Our guide took some time on his cell phone to assess the situation. He said the word on the street was that settlers were bringing an Israeli flag onto the Temple Mount and that Jordan is pulling out from Temple Mount custody. In the absence of any facts, that's the classic scenario, serving as a shorthand for ultra-Orthodox aggression. Every Arab's worst nightmare and every Dispensationalist Christian's wet dream. It proved too good to be true.

We managed to remain in the Old City when many other guides took their people out. However, we did not go to St. Anne's as planned because of its location on the eastern side and its proximity to the Temple Mount. Instead, we literally picked up a cross and, taking turns, walked the Via Dolorosa to the Holy Sepulchre Church.

My son passing Ecce Homo Convent on Via Dolorosa

Shops in the Old City were slow to open Tuesday morning and a police presence was noted on nearly every corner. Our guide said that so long as school children remain in school, things are alright. They are the canaries in the coal mine.

"The pictures used to seem exaggerations--they seemed too weird and fanciful for reality. But behold, they were not wild enough--they were not fanciful enough--they have not told half the story." - Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

"Police, Palestinians clash on Temple Mount" - Jerusalem Post, 2/25/14
"Israeli police and Palestians clash on Temple Mount" - BBC News, 2/25/14
"Israeli Police and Palestinians Clash at Temple Mount" - NBC News
"Officers injured, three arrested in Temple Mount clashes" - UPI, 2/25/14
"Israeli police, Palestinians clash on Temple Mount" - National Israel News, Haaretz, 2/25/14
"Police to Limit Muslim Access to Temple Mount" - Israel National News, 2/28/14
"Netanyahu defends status quo on Temple Mount" - WND