Today, all except one of our St. Marks group arrived and took the morning for their own exploration of the Holy City. While some visited the Israel Museum, another contingent headed for the Old City, winding their way through the crowded bazaar-like souks of the Arab Quarter to the Jewish Quarter where they were confronted with a crush of Jewish celebrants on the last day of Sukkoth, wearing a variety of elegant prayer shawls and impressive hats.
In the afternoon, our group received greetings from Bishop Suheil Dawani, Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Jerusalem, who had just returned from the US Conference of Bishops and was able to share our jet lag. The Bishop spoke passionately about the role of Christians in the region, the tragedy in Syria and displacement of a generation of Syrian children, and the potential loss of the oldest Christian community in the world that still speak Aramaic. He also pointed to the extensive work of the Diocese providing medical clinics and schools throughout the region. With the help of the Episcopal Church in America, the Diocese hopes to develop a cancer treatment center in Gaza, where there are no treatment facilities for cancer. Gazans are particularly at risk since permits for travel are difficult to impossible to get. The Rev. Justi Schunior thanked the Bishop for his hospitality and presented him with a check from the St. Mark’s Maundy Thursday and Good Friday Offerings designated for the work of the Diocese of Jerusalem. She also carried a letter of greeting from our rector, The Rev. Paul Abernathy, and expressed a continued commitment to support for the efforts of the Diocese.
Later, we met with the MEJDI team and were introduced to our guides, their backgrounds and some logistical details of the tour. The guides are remarkable with a wealth of experience. Yuval, our young Jewish guide lived in the Washington area as a child, and has a long history of working to acquaint young Jews and Palestinians with one another, hosts a weekly radio program, and acts as a guide for groups interested in hearing both the Jewish narrative and the Palestinian one as well. Our Palestinian guide, Faraj, brings a more mature experience. He has retired after teaching as a Lutheran Deacon for 32 years in Palestine. He studied theology in Germany, speaks German, English, Hebrew and Arabic, that I heard and promises to be a wealth of information. After an informative session we all went to dinner together and had a wonderful meal at St. Georges.