I don't know about you, but I always find transitions stressful. I know the reason for this, of course--I am a high "J" [Google "Myers-Briggs profile"], which means I love structure, order, and patterns [and, conversely, I do not do well with spontaneity, flexibility, or sudden changes]. That means that transitions are always a little unsettling for me--even good ones--and they distract me a little bit: they suck away a little extra energy and enthusiasm out of me as I move from one state of being to another--preparing and planning for a new routine, new schedule, etc. I mention this today in particular, because today was the last full day with the tour group. We will be together all day tomorrow [with some much-needed free-time for wandering in the Old City tomorrow afternoon] through dinner; but then right after dinner, the bus leaves, they go home, and I have to shift gears to begin my own research, and start my own experience in Jerusalem. I am very excited about this, of course: I am going to enjoy having the freedom to plan my own days, and the opportunity to talk to more residents here [mostly Jews--that is the nature & focus of my work this week]. I have some contacts lined up, and some places I want to visit; but, at the same time, it is going to mean a restructuring of my days & schedule, and a transition into being here by myself. It will feel a little funny to say good-bye to everyone, as they prepare to return to their lives back home, and I stay on. I was thinking about that today, and it cast a little shadow over the day. I have stopped trying to fight this quirk of my personality [I wish it were endearing, but I don't think it is.]: I just know those feelings of disorientation and nervousness come anytime there is a transition, so I accept them, name them for what they are, and walk through to the other side, where I typically find good things waiting! [Which is only moderately consoling in the meantime.]
But, we did have a busy day today, so let me run it down. We spent the day in the West Bank, in Palestine, and that fact gives me a chance to correct a careless error I have made now several ties without thinking. I am not just here visiting Israel, I am visiting Israel and Palestine--two nations, even if the latter does not yet have UN recognition. I should know better, because naming is important. To use the category of "Israel" to describe and define this whole area, all these peoples, makes Palestine, and the Palestinians themselves, invisible and subsumes them under an identity that marginalizes and oppresses them. I found out today that there are actually different zones in the West Bank, too, with different oversight by either Palestinians or Israelis, or both--so it is actually even more complicated than either/or; but at least naming both is a start!
So, in Palestine, the first place we went [and the place we spent most of our time] was Bethlehem. Here is an interesting fact about Bethlehem: in Hebrew, "Bethlehem" means "house of bread;" but in Arabic, it means, "house of meat." Someone mentioned that in English, that means a sandwich! Seriously, you know there is an interesting bit of etymology behind that!
We went first to another nice shop, which had the most enormous collection of olive wood carvings that I have ever seen--including one nativity scene that was nearly life-size! They had icons, jewelry, pottery, and various other assorted types of jim-crack, which I resisted without too much will-power. Then we went up to the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church, where Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb is the pastor. It was an Arabic service, but they had printed us English translation bulletins, which was both considerate and practical--we met up with the seminary group from the Lutheran seminary in Chicago, which has about 50 people! That meant that English-speakers made up the bulk of the congregation. But I must say, after my early Broncos morning [Was it worth getting up to watch a 45-10 shellacking? Yes, indeed--it still was!], a sermon in Arabic did not hold my attention. Then we went to lunch, which was really fun: after the food, they invited a few of us up to this raised area & dressed us in traditional Bedouin clothing, and taught us some dances. I loved it!
After lunch, we went to the Church of the Nativity, marking the spot venerated in the Christian tradition as the place where Jesus was born. This, I must confess, was a disappointment--I think the problem was too high of expectations. This is another place dominated by Orthodox bling--you can't even focus on the altar, because your eyes are constantly rocketing from one shiny object to another; and it is the same way right around the doorway going down into the cave that holds the place of the birth, and the place of the manger. [Not kidding. How can they possibly know that, I wonder to myself...] Now again, no one likes bling more than I do, but somehow, today I just found it all a little overwhelming. What was really interesting when we got down to the cave, was that for at least 10 minutes, we couldn't get near the little star on the floor that "marks the spot," so to speak, because there were two Orthodox pilgrims that were busy laying out every holy relic they had purchased--mini icons, rosaries, etc., and laying them on the spot, and taking pictures. My guess was that they were bringing them back as gifts, and wanted proof that the objects themselves had touched the holy place. [An interesting ritual, right? As I said before, people want/need things they can touch and hold that link them to God somehow.] Anyway, while this was intellectually & professionally interesting for me, I was also annoyed--they were holding up the whole line, and trust me, there was a line! I was glad to just finally get out. Just as a point of information, they original church dates back to Constantine, and was dedicated in 339 CE. Even though that church was largely destroyed, you can still see some of the beautiful original mosaic floor. It was rebuilt in the 6th century, and is still very much in that form today. Next to the Church of the Nativity, there is an interesting cave/chapel where St. Jerome is buried--he came to Bethlehem in 384 CE & lived there for around 36 years, dying there in 420 CE. Tradition holds that he lived and wrote the Vulgate [the translation of the Bible from Hebrew & Greek into Latin] from that cave. There is a Roman Catholic church built on the spot today.
Then, after a short stop at the Shepherd's Fields, where the shepherds were keeping their flocks by night, as the story goes, when the angel visited them with the good news of Jesus' birth. And, as the name indicates, they are just that--fields. [There is a little unremarkable church nearby.] Then, our last stop was the Herodium, a fortress constructed by Herod the Great [again, he was the great builder of his age!], and the site of his tomb. [Which, sadly, we couldn't see today, for some reason.] It afforded a nice view of Bethlehem [including a small red-roofed Jewish settlement. Hmmm.], but--do I even need to say it--it was mostly rocks. Enough already!
Dinner in about 20 minutes--I am going to try and bring down my camera: I keep forgetting to take a picture of the wonderful buffets we have at both breakfast and dinner. [Is it an American thing to take pictures of food? We all seem to do it!] The dessert table is truly a sight to behold. Perhaps some Euker tonight, too. [My students taught me a few nights ago--I have no idea if that is how you spell it or not. Apparently, Euker is a big deal in the Midwest. I'm pretty sure it is NOT a big deal in Colorado!]