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Holy Land Seminar Day #4

Happy Birthday Angie (my little sister)!

5:00 AM. Awake. In Jerusalem. On purpose – Fr. Charlie Cortinovis, who was part of the first cohort but could not join them for the Jerusalem seminar owing to his being ordained, had arranged to celebrate mass in the holy Sepulchre, with a half dozen of us going with him. He and the three other priests who went actually squeezed into the tiny area on top of the grave itself, while Matthew, Val, and I were joined by a couple of sisters in the tiny chapel just outside, which itself is located within the much larger Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. This is another experience I need more time to receive before I can share it properly!

After walking back to the hotel, we start with an Israeli Breakfast. If you have never had an Israeli breakfast, you have never really had breakfast. It makes the American version look Continental! But, enough about food, I’ll save that for later…

We started our sessions at the Shalom Hartman Institute today, and for the rest of the week our mornings will be spent in seminars offered by a variety of rabbis and scholars from across the Jewish spectrum, and afternoons are spent  touring the holy sites. Evenings are spent at dinners with other guests, getting to know a variety of people.

The first session is with a Conservative Reform Rabbi, Bill Berk, originally from Phoenix and now in Israel, on the “Emergence of Modern Judaism” outlining the encounter with, and reaction to, modernity in rabbinical Judaism, and the shift taking place from rabbinical to (post)modern Judaism. The second presentation is with Liberal Rabbi Rachel Sabbath Beit Halachmi, on “God, Torah, and Israel: The Theologies and Ideolgoies fo the Different Streams of Judaism” outlining the complex world of Jewish realities – Ultra-Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Traditional, Reform, Liberal, Secular and even “post-denominational”.

[As I write this, at about 6:45, I can hear the muezzin call to prayer from the minarets of Jerusalem – haunting, beautiful, prayerful – like hearing the bells of Rome when I am there.]

We took the afternoon to head up to the Mount of Olives, first stopping on Mount Scopus to look out over the Judean dessert and the Jordan valley to the high places of Jordan.

Jewish tradition holds that the resurrection of the dead and the last judgment will occur at the end of time here, where since biblical times there has been what is now the largest Jewish cemetery in the world, on the slope of the Mount of Olives facing Jerusalem.

As we walk down the hill, we stop at the church Dominus Flevit, commemorating Jesus’ weeping at the sight of Jerusalem. Continuing down we come to one of the most reliable, historically accurate sites in the holy land. The Holy land is filled with memorials of memorials, contemporary churches built on the site – and sometimes the very foundations of – older churches: crusader, byzantine, Judeo-Christian. Some are only ever intended as commemorations of events or people, not claiming to be accurate, others are held by tradition to certain locations from at least the time of Helena’s state visit to the region in the 4th century. There are varying degrees of historicity, many being probable, but only three are considered absolutely certain – one of these is the Garden of Gethsemane, with olive trees still standing that date back to the time of Christ (confirmed by DNA and carbon dating, no less).

A stone’s throw from the Church of All Nations and the Garden is Mary’s Tomb, along with the traditional site of the tombs of Joseph, Joachim and Anna.

We returned to the hotel for an hour reflection session with Rabbi Berk and Dr. Adam Afterman, coordinators of the academic program, and then head to dinner at Canela restaurant nearby.

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