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Takeaways from an Okie's trip to the Holy Land

Mejdi Tours guide Adam Nerk reads a biblical passage during the Oklahoma Religions United group's visit to the Mount of Olives on a tour of Israel in January. [Photo by Carla Hinton, The Oklahoman]
Mejdi Tours guide Adam Nerk reads a biblical passage during the Oklahoma Religions United group's visit to the Mount of Olives on a tour of Israel in January. [Photo by Carla Hinton, The Oklahoman]
ISRAEL -- Standing on the Mount of Olives, I looked out over the Old City of Jerusalem and couldn't believe I was standing in the place where Jesus made his triumphant entry in Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday.

Two years ago, Rabbi Vered Harris, spiritual leader of Temple B'nai Israel, had called me and told me about plans to take an interfaith group from Oklahoma to tour the Holy Land in 2017. She said efforts were being made to secure grant funding to help pay for the trip (In the end, the trip was partially underwritten by a grant from the Zarrow Foundation) and she wanted to know if I was interested in being part of the tour group.

I had said yes so now I was looking out on a scene that had never thought to see in person. There were 22 of us, including three Jewish rabbis,  a Muslim imam and four Christian ministers. We all walked around for awhile, talking and taking pictures. Then we sat and listened as one of our tour guides, Adam Nerk, opened the Bible and read a portion of the Gospels that chronicled Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday.

It was a surreal and beautiful moment on so many levels and the first of many for me on the Oklahoma Religions United trip to Israel.

In a way, the trip was a whirlwind.

I'd read our itinerary a couple of times beforehand and couldn't believe we would be doing everything on the extensive list. Turns out we did.

In addition to the Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock (which I describe in my story in the Feb. 12 Sunday Oklahoman), we also visited other sites in the Old City, including the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which Christians believe encompasses the site of Christ’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

The tour also included visits to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum, Masada National Park, the Dead Sea, Bethany (now a city called Eizariya), Israeli settlements in the West Bank (an area they call Judea and Samaria), the Mahmoud Darwish Museum in Ramallah; and the Separation Wall in Bethlehem.

We also went to Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Tent of Nations in the West Bank, Neve Shalom/Oasis of Peace, the Arab-Jewish Community Center in Jaffa, Baha’i Gardens in Haifa, Rabin Square in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Aida Palestinian refugee camp near Bethlehem and Friends of the Middle Earth-Middle East in Jericho.

There were a couple of things that stood out to me.

First, as a Christian, I thought it was so special that each traveler wanted his fellow Oklahomans to have the best experience of the the holy sites important to their individual faith traditions. Questions about different faith beliefs were asked and answered among the group and I think everyone came back with knowledge they didn't have before the trip. Everyone seemed genuinely interested in the sacred sites that weren't part of their own faith tradition. And they were just thrilled to be in the Holy Land.

Second, as a journalist, I was able to understand some of what I had been reading about for years in news accounts about Israel and the Palestinian Territories. About a week before the trip, then Secretary of State John Kerry gave a speech criticizing the Israeli government for proposing more Israeli settlements in disputed territories, arguing that more settlements would decrease the chance for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The news headlines seemed to come to life as our tour group talked with people on both sides of the conflict.

Near the beach at Tel Aviv-Jaffa
Near the beach at Tel Aviv-Jaffa

Many of my fellow travelers said they came away with the sense that most of the ordinary folk living in Israel and the Palestinian Territories can get along and live in peace but the politicians who have been charged with negotiating peace are not as interested in it as the citizens they serve.

Yes, it's all very complicated.

Third, after listening to the testimony of Holocaust survivor Rena Quint and walking through the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Jerusalem, I couldn't help feeling an overwhelming feeling of sadness for what the Jewish people suffered in the Holocaust. And Rabbi Harris said something that I will never forget. In discussing the importance of the state of Israel remaining a Jewish state, she said that for Jews, it's not if there will be another wave of persecution, but when. The state of Israel, for them then is a refuge, , a place where they may always be assured of a welcome and safe haven.         

Fourth, I came away from the Holy Land with a positive perspective. Despite the complexities of the situation there, it is a beautiful place, remarkable for the holy sites important to the Abrahamic faiths, but also for the people who were friendly and engaging.

I won't ever forget dancing to the lively tunes of a Israeli-Palestinian band in the home of a Palestinian family in Bethany (and I can't dance). I won't forget the eloquent words from the Israeli father and Palestinian father with the Parents Circle-Families Forum, both of whom have lost a child in the conflict.  

Now, when I close my eyes and pray for "peace in the Middle East," it is their faces that I see and their voices that I hear.

They deserve peace.

       

Carla Hinton and Holocaust survivor Rena Quint pose for a photo at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Jerusalem.
Carla Hinton and Holocaust survivor Rena Quint pose for a photo at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Jerusalem.

**I will be writing more stories about the Oklahoma Religions United trip to the Holy Land in the coming days, leading up to the two forums in which members of the tour group will be sharing their experiences. 

Carla Hinton

Religion Editor 

  

 

 

 

Related Photos
Mejdi Tours guide Adam Nerk reads a biblical passage during the Oklahoma Religions United group's visit to the Mount of Olives on a tour of Israel in January. [Photo by Carla Hinton, The Oklahoman]

Mejdi Tours guide Adam Nerk reads a biblical passage during the Oklahoma Religions United group's visit to the Mount of Olives on a tour of Israel in January. [Photo by Carla Hinton, The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-19036f311391c02da7bd90d3cd6ac266.jpg" alt="Photo - Mejdi Tours guide Adam Nerk reads a biblical passage during the Oklahoma Religions United group's visit to the Mount of Olives on a tour of Israel in January. [Photo by Carla Hinton, The Oklahoman] " title="Mejdi Tours guide Adam Nerk reads a biblical passage during the Oklahoma Religions United group's visit to the Mount of Olives on a tour of Israel in January. [Photo by Carla Hinton, The Oklahoman] "><figcaption>Mejdi Tours guide Adam Nerk reads a biblical passage during the Oklahoma Religions United group's visit to the Mount of Olives on a tour of Israel in January. [Photo by Carla Hinton, The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-19036f311391c02da7bd90d3cd6ac266.jpg" alt="Photo - " title=""><figcaption></figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-384f64c60113dbe16a330326a55fb0a0.jpg" alt="Photo - Near the beach at Tel Aviv-Jaffa " title="Near the beach at Tel Aviv-Jaffa "><figcaption>Near the beach at Tel Aviv-Jaffa </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6464bf21a7ce75b2b35a9f01394ef21d.jpg" alt="Photo - Carla Hinton and Holocaust survivor Rena Quint pose for a photo at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Jerusalem. " title="Carla Hinton and Holocaust survivor Rena Quint pose for a photo at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Jerusalem. "><figcaption>Carla Hinton and Holocaust survivor Rena Quint pose for a photo at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Jerusalem. </figcaption></figure>
Carla Hinton

Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide... Read more ›

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