Tuesday, June 19th, 2001
Last day in Bethlehem and Jerusalem

Tuesday would be my final full day in the Holy Land and was one of tying up loose ends. To my regret, I had not spent very much time with Gil in recent days, nor many of the brothers in the monastery. In their own way, each of them had done something to show me hospitality and spend time with me and I enjoyed many brief and frequent interactions, smiles, and gestures. Each of them have been studying very hard for their final exams, and I just happened into their life during this stressful season. I had spent much more time with Father Severino (who incidentally was giving the Final Exam that had filled all of the students with the most fear) than with most of the others.

I asked Gil if we could hang out together on my final day and having finished his last test of the term, he agreed. Gil had several errands to run in Jerusalem, so it seemed as if it would work out well for both of us. Gil and I began by first stopping briefly at St. Saviors in the Old City before walking down to Gethsemane. I spent another lengthy season in the chapel and grotto at Gethsemane, which is such an emotional spot. After Gethsemane, we went through the Lion's Gate and up to the Pool of Bethsaida. Perhaps it was fatigue, I don't know, but I didn't want to stay there very long. That aside, I found the site very interesting, and much more grand than I had imagined. It was more like a "bathhouse" or Roman fountain area than the simple pool that I had conjured in my head. I recall with similar feel the English city of Bath and the facilities that the Romans had built around its hot springs. The scale was even more impressive here from what I could see and imagine. There were not five porches, but one could imagine the area that used to be there and could see what probably amounted to one such "porch."

  • John 5:2-9 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.

Pool of Bethesda

interior excavations

ancient archway

One of the porticos?

After seeing this area, I wanted to do some shopping; however, not in the Muslim area. At this point in my journey, I don't care to buy anything from the Muslims, due to their outrageous system of squabbling, haggling, and price setting. The only other major purchase I had to make was in the Coptic marketplace in Cairo and if I didn't have Ibrahim with me, I wouldn't have even made that one! So, I had Gil take me to the Jewish Quarter. There, I knew I wouldn't have to squabble and go through turmoil to get cheated, I could just have a price quoted to me and get ripped off without all of the haggling. I definitely preferred that. I picked out a very nice gold necklace, which went well with my amulet from Egypt. I paid around $200, which seemed to be about right. Gil also bought a small gold necklace as a gift for a friend.

We exited the Old City through the Muslim Quarter and Herod's Gate. Across Hatzanchanim Street, which borders the Old City is a little collection of sharut vans. A small collection of men ask you where you are going as you approach and they direct you in which van to go. Gil and I got in a van headed for Bethlehem(the long way around). Let me explain. There are two ways into Bethlehem. One can enter the city the front way (through the checkpoint), or through the desert. Only the front way has Israeli guards. The back way pf Bethlehem is "controlled" by the Palestinians, which in almost every case means its not regulated or controlled at all. Gil told me it would be OK, so I didn't say a word.

The ride was completely different. The van took a route far out into the countryside, along roads that had been washed out and through fields rutted by streams and large vehicles. We went through several remote areas, dropping people off as we went. Some of the areas were more developed, and some of them were not. The remote country areas were the most beautiful and utterly quaint. Many of the people we happened by were shepherds tending their flocks. Just as in the same way shepherds in this very same area were arrested by heavenly hosts two millennia ago. I thought about taking out my camera and filming, but fear kept me from doing so. An expensive video camera in a remote area such as that one may lead to violence.

As we came into the city of Bethlehem from the back end, much of the town had been torn up by warfare. There were HUGE craters in the pavement roads and many of the buildings had gunfire and holes. These were sober reminders of the conflict that is being fought in the Holy Land every day.

In the evening, I joined the Friars for a special party celebrating the conclusion of their second seminary year. The party involved a wonderful dinner and a pool party at the nearby Catholic Action, which I would describe as a "religious YMCA." The outdoor pool was situated on a hill and the wind was fierce and chilly. The water was cold to match. Most of the friars enjoyed a brief swim. I was amused that Ibrahim and his brother couldn't swim and needed help from the others just to stay above water. I teased my friend a bit, bit he explained to me that he and his brother are from Syria and there weren't many places to swim there. I guess if you grew up in a desert village, you wouldn't be a very good swimmer. I'm sure some might laugh at me if they saw me goat herding

Upper Bethlehem at night (click to enlarge)

Lower Bethlehem using my "light-enhanced" lens

e-mail excerpt
. . . A motorist was murdered today in Nablus around the area where we were at, just 50 miles north of where we were driving at around the same time that we were driving. I also just read on the Jerusalm Post website that a terror bombing was narrowly averted today in Haifa, and we were in Haifa yesterday. . .There was also VERY significant bombing between 4AM and 5AM this morning, so severe that it woke me up, and I couldn't get back to sleep until it was over. (It sounded like they were landing right outside my wondow and they made the place shake - They were actually not landing as close as I thought) Please pray for the situation.

Wednesday, June 20th, 2001
Leaving the Holy Land

I was invited by Father Georgio to play tennis with him in the morning at a nearby school run by the Catholic Church. I wasn't going to take him up on the offer, but decided to do so the night before. I was a little worried about the timing of the day, but in the end, I didn't want to miss out on a neat opportunity, so I went along. Father Georgio insisted that we walk to the tennis courts through the heart of Bethlehem. Both of began around 8AM to walk through the marketplaces, which were just beginning to bustle in the early morning haze.

It wasn't long before we began approaching one of the busier intersections of the city and I noticed a few disturbing things. First, Father Georgio was not wearing his Franciscan tunic (which identified him as a friar), and both of us were walking in street clothes (tennis shoes and shorts). Second, each of us was carrying a tennis racquet, which could be mistaken for a weapon. Third, we both were white Americans who looked as if we could be Jewish. Fourth, we were walking through the marketplace around dozens of suspicious looking characters and houses. And Finally, I had left the monastery without my passport.

And yet, Father Georgio strutted onward with the zeal and fearlessness of a man on a holy mission. He always acted intrepidly, as did the other friars. It wasn't long before we arrived at the courts and enjoyed a nice game. George is a decent player and we had a good game.

We walked back by a different way and avoided the crowds. I wish I had known about that way the first time. There wasn't much time for me to tarry after tennis. I had most of my things packed and managed to grab a quick shower before heading out. I left before the morning meal and I didn't get to say my farewells to many of the friars. I did say "thank you" to the guardian and many of the friars that I spent time with. I also wrote a letter (that Gil translated into Italian) to thank all of the Friars. It was posted on the bulletin board.

Father Severino drove me to the airport, made me a wonderful "going-away card," and gave me a really nice coffee table book. The drive seemed lengthy, and felt like a funeral. I knew I would greatly miss Severino and wished I would be seeing him more. I hated to have to say goodbye.

When we got to the airport, I was again accosted by the Israeli Security Police. It was much more severe than when I entered the country. They interrogated and insulted me for nearly two hours, unpacked all of my suitcases, groped me, made me pass through the metal detector, and then non-sealantly moved me onward. They were however kind enough to take me through customs and straight to my gait, which did save me a good deal of hassling. Then again, if they didn't do that, I would have missed my flight.

All in all, it was a horrible experience, and left a bad taste in my mouth on my last day.

You may download my Israel 2001 screensavers at Webshots



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