Thursday, March 15, 2012

Day 3: March 14

It was a rather depressing day, and the very cold and wet weather did not help. It was rainy, foggy, and windy, about 42 degrees. We left fairly early on the bus for Hebron. The first stop was the Oaks at Mamre where Abraham met the three angels (no angels, the oaks are long gone, and the ruins of a 6th century church are filled with trash). After a fortifying coffee--arab style, strong with lots of sugar, it was back on the bus to the Cave of Machpelah, the (supposed) burial site for the patriarchs and matriarchs. This is very holy site for both Jews and Muslims, but it is located in a bombed out slum with, and looks very much like a war zone. Checkpoints and guns everywhere, wielded by soldiers who look about 15 years old. The Jews are only allowed to use 20% of the building, and their side is cramped, noisy, and disorganized. The Muslim side is a rather nice mosque. The women had to cover up with special garment and walk behind the men once we got in, and we all had to take our shoes off, but otherwise were treated nicely.

Although in tradition the cave (far underground, and you never see the cave itself) is supposed to be the gate of paradise, it struck me more as the gateway to hell, with God's people not even able to share a site which should bring out the best of them. God must have infinite patience. I think I would want to sweep the whole mess down into the cave, cover it up and start over!

My cynical attitude was somewhat improved by the next stop at Bethany at the tomb of Lazarus. It has stronger archeological credentials (although we never actually got to the traditional tomb) and it has a kind of garden setting in the midst of the squalor of the surrounding city. I again thought of the comparison with visiting some of the poorer parts of Mexico, with lots of unemployed young men and trash and ruined buildings everywhere.

Our guide gave us a moving meditation about Jesus and his presence with our loved ones who are sick, and we prayed for all the faithful departed in the hope of the resurrection.

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