Today I stood where the Temple of Jerusalem once stood. Having just finished a semester’s worth of Old Testament classes in seminary, I knew the stories well. I knew the dates well. I listened to our tour guide describe the history of the place where my feet were actually standing. While reading and studying about these places in seminary, I often felt disconnected, distant. Everything seemed to be happening in a far away land that I could not picture.
Today I stood with my feet planted firmly; thousands of years of history surged beneath them. And yet I did not feel the connection that I thought I would to what I was hearing. Over and over again all I heard and pictured and saw in my mind was bloodshed, death, complete conquest, devastation. The oppressed became the oppressors and the cycle continued. I felt sadness and grief and shame. We continued on the tour walking the Stations of the Cross and I felt more removed with every step. The street that Jesus carried his cross down is now filled with vendors attempting to sell you pashminas and shawarma. The walk ended at the Wailing Wall, part of what is left of the many destructions I had been grappling with throughout the morning.
Today I placed my hands on the wall. It was at that wall that my transformation began. I watched the Jewish women rock back and forth, sobbing. I watched a few join hands and begin to dance and sing. Many were engrossed in prayer with their faces and whole bodies pressed up against the wall. It felt so raw. So real. The Islamic Call to Prayer rang out from the mosque next door, echoing down the narrow city streets until the Western Wall Plaza was a mixture of noise. It was in this chaos that I began to think that this is truly our collective history. We are all human beings. We all feel the heavy emotions of this country and the violent histories that continue to repeat themselves.
Today I found hope. Our evening meeting was with two men who are part of the Bereaved Families Forum, Rami El Hana, an Israeli Jew and Bassam Armin, a Palestinian Muslim. Given what is going on in this country currently, these two men should not want to sit in the same room, much less hug and call each other brothers. But this organization was formed with a different goal in mind: to recognize the great loss that this country is incurring from this conflict and to recognize that first and foremost we are all human beings. Rami lost his fourteen year old daughter to a Palestinian suicide bomber. Bassam lost his ten year old daughter to the Israeli police force. But each stood before us together, saying that violence only creates more grieving families. They are currently “attempting to draw water from the ocean with a spoon full of holes.” But they are trying. It is this spark of hope that makes me want to continue to work day in and day out for justice and social change. As Rami so eloquently said, “we bang our heads against this very high wall of hatred to make cracks that will one day bring it all down.”