Happy Feast day, Maximilian Kolbe! Ora pro nobis!!!
Happy Feast day, Maximilian Kolbe! Ora pro nobis!!!
Every event in life has its purpose. Nothing happens on accident. Every event, every word, every action was carefully crafted by the hands of God.
I often think about that before I go to the monastery. I always seem to go before something important in my life happens. My first visit to the monastery was just before my confirmation. My second trip was right after my husband and I got engaged. I remember, my priest friend would tease me and say, “it’s not too late, I know a convent right down the road.” My third milestone visit to the monastery was right after I had gotten married. Finally, the last time I visited was the summer before I went to the Holy Land. Now that I’ve visited again…I have no idea what to expect…what moment or what healing, but I put whatever it may be in the steady hands of God.
I’d forgotten the peace I find there. The love, the community, the tradition, and the brotherhood. All of our paths have intertwined for a reason…one in which at this time is a mystery to me, but I recognize that it started long before us…long before our grandparents and great grandparents. We’ve all been connected and intertwined by the careful handiwork of God. We’re all part of the redemptive story…all the lives we touch and our daily interactions aid only in the slightest way. It’s all about finding God in the ordinary.
**Quick edit: I have a sneaking suspicion as to what it may be**
I have such a difficult time navigating my feelings around the anniversary of my father’s death and Father’s Day. As time passes, it becomes easier to handle. When I feel as if I’m starting to “get over it” my heart aches for his missing presence in my life. I remember a conversation I had with a friend of mine and he reminded me that when you lose someone very special too you, you never stop grieving because the love for them never goes away. As I reflected on his words, I’ve come to realize it’s true. I’m always going to miss my dad, but that doesn’t mean I have to be sad forever. I can be happy and look forward still on days like Father’s Day.
“This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him.” – Lamentations 3:21-25
So, with that being said, this year I decided to do a special project for my father-in-law! I made a really cool matchstick cross with abstract shades of blue and a slight dash of orange and white. It was a lot of fun to make! I asked my best friend to come over and help me burn matchsticks to create the cross.
I was really inspired by a few different images I happened to come across on Pinterest. I knew I wanted to do something a bit different and a combination of these two things (the background and cross) really worked out well for my first time. I just couldnt figure out how to make it feel like the cross was coming out more.
I choose a more abstract background for the cross to create a more dazed and dreamy effect. The color idea is from the first image and I did my own special twist with it. I love the blurred lines that were created. I’m fascinated with the idea of not knowing where lines begin or end, I enjoy the exerpience of just being placed in an unknown part of it. In regards to the cross, I wanted it to feel like it was floating above the abstract piece. Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite figure out just how to create that effect. There can always be more work done to it, but overall I’m pretty pleased with it.
It was probably the hottest day of the summer. The air was so humid and dense it felt like summertime back home. Inspite the weather, the Dizengoff Shopping Center was buzzing with life. I could hear the voices of my husband and our friend Yaron behind me. They were talking about work, but the only thing I could focus on was the elderly man with a grey beard dressed in all black and adorned with curly sideburns rollerblading down Yaffo holding a yellow flag emblazed with a blue crown! Noticing my bewilderment, Yaron paused from his conversation and said, “He’s a rabbi and he’s holding a Chabad messianist flag.” It turns out, that the man was part of a Jewish Hassidic movement to warn others about the return of the Mashiach.
A few blocks later, I snapped back into the world again when I heard my husband ask our friend, “how are you able to live as if nothing happened? There was a terrorist attack two weeks before just blocks from here. This was the third incident in the past month!” Yaron smiled and said “just be Israeli.”
It had been nearly two months sense my husband and I arrived in Israel. My husband was preoccupied with clerking for the Supreme Court, leaving me plenty of time to explore and worry about the news. While I explored the Old City and the holy sites, the constant threat of attack all around only ever seemed to bother us visitors. Living in a country where you’re surrounded by its enemies on all sides is difficult to describe. Hezbollah is to the North and Hamas to the South. Within, Israel is rife with the religious tension that permeates throughout the entire country. Yet, it was that simple piece of advice, “just be Israeli,” that made the last month of the trip the best we had and spending my time chasing the meaning of that advice taught me more about Israel and its people then all the guidebooks, tours, and exploration combined. What it means to be Israeli is to be yourself, fight by persevering and by existing in the face of adversity, and finding your roots so nothing can take you away from them. It means growth both upwards and inwards.
For me, that growth came in several different ways. This growth was difficult and came with its own set of pains and challenges. The language barrier was always a constant issue and never knowing exactly which parts of the city was safe occurred often. The culture is far more aggressive than I’m used too. The atmosphere in the Mahane Yehuda Market or the Shuk is a good example. The Shuk is a huge open air market filled with a variety of colorful spices, dried fruits, kosher meats, and restaurants. The Shuk is a busy bustling place filled with vendors yelling out in Hebrew and customers haggling. I’ll never forget buying fruit and veggies from the Iraqi vendor or the grumpy pita guy around the corner from him. Oh and eating the fresh baked chocolate rugelach from Marzipan Bakery. My favorite way to end the day was to walk around the Shuk at sunset. It was just so different and peaceful at night. It’s funny, the Shuk intimidated me in the beginning because it can be very intense with the crowds. However, by the end of our trip we could haggle and navigate the crowds with ease. Well, my husband was more comfortable with haggling than me, but even I got into it by the end. These almost daily excursions into the Shuk and forced interaction with locals and tourists alike, surrounded by great diversity, made me more comfortable in crowds, with difference, and by dealing with the merchants, with standing up for myself.
However, I also came more alive as the city quieted down each evening. I became more outgoing by exploring the city at sundown but had a difficult time during the day because of the heat. When I did explore during day I loved discovering all of the local street art and cute little coffee shops nestled in hidden stone alleyways. Jerusalem is a really cool mesh of modern and ancient. A favorite memory would be spending Shabbat dinner with friends and visiting the Wailing Wall (kotel) on Shabbat. The crowds of people were praying, singing, and dancing the hora. I was nervous at first because I didn’t want to be in the way, but I eventually summed up enough courage and went to the wall and prayed.
I also learned how to be brave. The Old City is a very interesting place to explore. I loved hearing the call to prayer echo off the yellow stone walls of the Old City, but along with the beauty there is ugliness to be found. After a tour, we were so lost in the Muslim quarter that the street we were on wasn’t even on our map and we found ourselves surrounded by pictures of “martyrs” plastered all over the walls. They were pictures of mostly suicide bombers and political prisoners. I’ve heard of this, but I never expected to see it with my own eyes. We had just walked past a group of children playing a block before and I couldn’t stop thinking about them. Just thinking about the children in the area that are growing up in oppression and poverty, knowing that they’re playing in these alley ways and looking up at those figures as heroes. It’s heartbreaking to see the brokenness of this city. Every child deserves more.
Overall, the three months in Israel were a complete love and hate experience and I don’t regret any of it. I learned to not be afraid to speak my mind or speak up when something is bothering me. I learned how to haggle. I learned how to be more trusting of strangers. Yaron, once told us that “no matter what happens, life keeps going and the moment you stop celebrating life that’s allowing your enemy to win.” It was confusing to hear this at first, but then I realized he was alluding to the fact that life is about conquering your fears. So, remember the next time you’re abroad “Just be Israeli.”
Day Twenty-Two: Thursday
Today was spent mostly prepping for our upcoming weekend adventure.
Day Twenty-Three: Friday
We finally made it to Tel Aviv! I remember passing through it on my first day in Israel, but it was kind of a blur. Once we were actually inside the city it reminded me a lot of Florida, except everything is in Hebrew. Once we arrived at Yaron’s apartment we changed clothes and headed straight for the beach! On our way, Yaron told us about the history of the city and talked about the various memorials (both historical and for victims of terror attacks) we passed along the way. He wasn’t telling us this so we would be afraid, but he told us this to teach us that this is just life within the conflict. You just have to keep going.
After a twenty minute walk in the hot sun we finally arrived at the beach. Yep, it was our first time swimming in the Mediterranean Sea! It felt saltier than the Atlantic or maybe it’s just been so long since I’ve been the beach that I just don’t remember. It was so strange; I remember seeing the water when the plane was coming in for our landing, but I never thought I’d be swimming in it. Anyways, it was fun playing in the waves and laying out to tan. I swear, everyone in this country has a perfect body. I was definitely feeling the “I just ate don’t look at me!!” feel when we were sitting on the beach.
After a few hours we left and went back to our friends house to settle in. For dinner we went to this BBQ place nearby and it was awesome! The sauce was a bit different, but overall it was awesome! In fact, we got a special off menu rack of ribs designed for Americans! Oh! I mentioned before about how there are start cats everywhere in this place, but we found the cutest kitten! Kurtis taught him how to play with the hanging plant that draped over his little hide out. He was so close to taking him home too!
Day Twenty-Four: Saturday
We caught up on some much needed sleep that day. We didn’t realize how tired we were from going to the beach until we woke up the next day around 1! After finally waking up, Yaron, Kurtis, and I went to Moses for lunch, and Kurtis got a fried cheese burger with bacon and cheese. Yeah, it was horrible for the body, but it looked and smelled amazing. After lunch we walked along the boulevard and stopped by the Israeli Independence Hall. It was cool learning about its historical significance from a local. It was really hot in Tel Aviv that weekend (the weather reminded us of Florida), but getting a chance to sit and enjoy the breeze with nice cup of iced coffee made in bearable.
On our way back to the apartment, we stopped by a chocolate shop (Max Brenner) and Kurtis and I shared an Italian hot chocolate. You can’t get it in the States, but it was so good! Just imagine hot chocolate so thick it reminds you of chocolate cake batter. Once we arrived home, we changed and went to the beach. It was a lot of fun until the blister on the bottom of my foot popped when I was in the water (I completely forgot to pack my walking shoes and my sandals gave me a blister the size of a quarter). We left the beach shortly after. I tended to my foot and finished packing to head back home. On Saturdays the buses don’t start running again until an hour after Shabbat ends. We made it back home by 10:00.
Day Twenty-Five: Sunday
Our friend Mike came to visit us this week! It’s nice having a familiar face from home.We started off our tourist time week by revisiting the Holy Seplechure. It was nice getting to actually take my time and look around. I saw so much more the second time around!
The Seplechure doesn’t look like much from the outside, but on the inside it is absolutely beautiful. As I described before, when you enter the Seplecure the dressing stone is the first thing you see. To the right of that you will see the stairway to Gogoltha. Once you’ve reached the top of the very steep stairs you will see the mosaics all over the ceiling and the alter where Mass is held. To the left of the alter sits Our Lady of Sorrows (beautifully light with candles btw). If you continue left you will see Calvary. It really is impossible to miss.
Once we made it back downstairs we explored some of the little chapels that are on the first floor. We eventually made it to the Tomb. The skylight is absolutely stunning. We went inside of the tomb and waited in line to see the alter. There was this group of Orthodox nuns that took forever! It was awful. They were literally just talking. We barely got a chance to kneel down and the Orthodox monk started yelling at us. He said,”leave, you’re taking too long. Kiss the stone and go, allonzy!” He was really rude. I understand that people need to be ushered along sometimes, but there are nicer ways to do that. After our tour of the Seplecure we took Mike and his dad to Mahane Yehuda Market (The Shuk). They wanted to see how different the markets were here in comparison to the ones in Abu Dabi. After a bit of shopping we went to Bardock for some pizza and finished the day there.
Day Twenty-Six: Monday
Monday was our longest tour date. That morning we met at the Damascus gate and set off to see the Wailing Wall. The security at near the Wailing Wall was intense (pretty much expected), but when we made it through the courtyard of the wall was filled with so many people. It was fun getting to see Mike and Kurtis in their kipas.
There were so many bar mitzvah’s happening that day! It was super cute, since the men and women have separate sections at the wall, the female family members of the boys were peeping over the wall to see the festivities. Most of the women were standing on their tip toes to see everything.
The closer I got to the wall the joyous atmosphere changed and it turned into one of more fervent prayer. It was really beautiful to see people of all ages gathered around. On my husband’s side of the wall there was a man wailing in prayer. I didn’t leave a prayer in the wall during my visit, but I did take a moment to touch it and say a prayer.
This place holds a special memory for me. It was a few weeks after my dad’s funeral, I received a card in the mail from a Jewish man who went to our church. He was always very kind to us, and I remember him visiting dad in the hospital. In his letter he sent his condolences, but he also wrote to let me know that a prayer for my father was placed in the Wall. In Judaism, if you pray before the Wall for forty days your prayer will be heard. I just remember that meaning so much to me. The prayers that are left in the wall are never thrown away. They are carefully buried in Jewish cemeteries. I never thought I’d ever see and pray there at the Wall six years later.
After our visit to the Wailing Wall we got in line to go through the gate to enter the Temple Mount. Unfortunately, an incident occurred earlier that day and they closed off Temple Mount until after Ramadan. So, we decide to explore more of the Jewish quarter. We went up this flight of stairs and we were giving a blessing by a rabbi on our way by. He wrapped a ribbon around our wrists asked our names and tapped us on the head with something. That was the priciest and most unexpected blessing I’ve received, lol.
During our unexpected trip re-calibration we decided to do the Wall Rampart tour. This is a tour designed to walk on top of the wall surrounding the old city. Yeah, I’m not going to say it was a waste of time, but it wasn’t the greatest. It was so hot outside and there is little to no shade on the wall. The tour started at Jaffa gate and ended the Lions Gate. It was supposed to stretch around the entire old city, but it stopped in the Muslim quarter. This led to a very distressing situation. Somehow we ended up on roads that weren’t even on the old city maps and it was really distressing because we ended up going deeper into the old city. We were stopped by a small group of giggling and smiling 4-5 year olds who set up a plastic chair barricade and asked for 1 sheckle for passage. We played along because it was adorable. Unfortunately, the cute quickly ended when we turned another corner into another alley way and found pictures of “martyrs” plastered all over the walls (mostly suicide bombers and political prisoners). I’ve heard of this, but I never expected to see it with my own eyes. Thinking about my young “toll rode” friends a block away who are growing up in poverty and knowing that they’re playing in these alley ways and looking up at those figures as heroes. It’s heartbreaking to see the brokenness of this city.
After about thirty minutes, we finally found our way back to a main road and we began our walk down the Via Dolorosa. It’s a very contemplative path to take. Well, kind of. It’s not exactly how I imagined it. The Via Dolorosa winds in and out of busy streets and churches. After we walked the Via Dolorosa we made it back into the Jewish Quarter just in time for our Under the Western Wall tour.
Day Twenty-Seven: Tuesday & Day Twenty-Eight: Wednesday
Kurtis and I both were recovering from food poisoning and took these two days off. At first I thought it was just a stomach bug. I ruled out dehydration or heat exhaustion because we both drank about four liters of water that day. It wasn’t until Kurtis spiked a high fever that made me think it might be E. coli poisoning. That’s the second time that’s happened to me here.