Happy Palm Sunday! Today, Rodolfo and I went on a walking pilgrimage from the far side of the Mount of Olives into the Old City along the path on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, waving palm branches and singing Hosannah.
The weather was beautiful and there were thousands upon thousands of Christian pilgrims from all over the world walking with us. There were even Palestinian Christians visiting from many far-flung sequestered parts of the West Bank. They had been given special permission to visit just for the day. Many of these Christians had not been allowed to enter Jerusalem for more than ten years. We are so excited to be celebrating Holy Week in the Holy Land this year! This is a lifelong dream for us! Please send us your prayer requests and petitions and we’ll be praying for you!
Also, Happy April Fools Day! I tried this trick of sewing a banana to pre-slice it (without peeling it) and gave it to Rodolfo. He eats a banana pretty much every morning, but this morning he decided not to and took it with him to work instead to eat later. And apparently, he had already seen this trick somewhere before and just thought I was being super nice for going to the trouble of pre-slicing his banana for him! So not much of an April Fools trick, but I still got some wife points and it was still fun! If you try it, I suggest using a double thread. On some slices, I tried using single thread to save time, and it started slicing the peel around the pilot hole instead.
In terms of holidays on the Jewish side of things, later this week begins the holiday of Pesach, or Passover, a celebration of the time that God saved the Israelite slaves in Egypt. As it tells in the book of Exodus, God sent ten plagues to the people of Egypt, and the final one was a visit from the Angel of Death for every firstborn unless very specific rules were followed regarding sacrificing a lamb and marking the doorjamb with its blood. Of course, only the Jews completed this action, and as a result, all the firstborn Egyptian children died. The pharaoh’s son was among those who died, and this so moved pharaoh that he decided to let the Israelite slaves go free.
You may remember this scene from the 1998 Dreamworks film The Prince of Egypt. It is, of course, an animated and artistic interpretation, but it tells the story rather well.
Also this week, Rodolfo and I were incredibly blessed to be allowed to tag along with a group of girls visiting the Holy Land from the Overbrook Academy for girls in Rhode Island. Most of the girls are from Latin America and are spending a year in the U.S. at this prestigious Catholic school to learn English. We went with the girls on a very special nighttime visit to the Church of All Nations in Gethsemane. We had the whole church to ourselves for a Holy Hour of Adoration, a special hour of silence and prayer that Catholics often observe in response to Jesus’ words in this exact spot on the night of his betrayal: “Could you not watch one hour with me?” (Matthew 26:40). Then we were permitted to walk in the actual olive grove, which is kept fenced off to most visitors to protect the ancient trees, which are at least a millennium old and are quite likely trees from the exact same roots that once heard the voice of Jesus. It was so amazing; so peaceful and quiet. In the dark, you could almost see Jesus crying and praying and sweating blood on that night two thousand years ago. It was a night we will never forget.
During the Holy Hour at Gethsemane, the girls’ group sang this beautiful hymn called Father, I Have Sinned by Fr. Dan Schutte, S.J., a Jesuit. I had never heard this song before, but I am familiar with Fr. Dan Schutte’s work. He is the composer of one of my favorite hymns, Here I Am, Lord. (Listen here.) This song it was so beautiful, especially sung by these sweet young ladies with their beautiful accents. Since everyone is weighing in this week on the best songs to listen to during Lent and Holy Week (see here and here for some suggestions), I am throwing my two cents in. Here is a beautiful rendition. Enjoy! (And remember that, according to St. Augustine, those who sing pray twice!)
You may have seen this story about what has become the grassroots Israel Loves Iran campaign. In response to the heart-chilling murmurings about the possibility of Israel bombing Iran soon, Ronny Edry, a Tel Aviv-based graphic designer, together with his wife and daughter, launched a Facebook campaign featuring posters with their photos and the slogan: “IRANIANS: We will never bomb your country. We ♥ you.” Within hours, hundreds of people both in Iran and Israel were lobbing messages back and forth on Facebook, posting copycat posters and basically engaging in a love-fest that crossed borders, ideologies, religious lines, and what are assumed to be insurmountable cultural differences.
I nearly cried when I first saw this. Although this man and his beautiful daughter, so young and so serious, are actually in no position to promise this beautiful message of peace, it shows you that not everyone wants war. It is more of a message that if it happens, it’s not because all of Israel wants it or because all of “us” hate all of “you.” It is a message that not everyone fits into the categories drawn of them by the media, by society, by the world as a whole.
Also, there are two really interesting threads binding these messages that I find absolutely fascinating. The first is that these messages were shared on Facebook, one of the only ways a person in Israel could ever hope to connect to a person in Iran. It is impossible to send mail to Iran (and a number of other Middle Eastern countries) from Israel, and vice versa. It is impossible to call Iran from an Israeli phone, and vice versa. It is impossible for an Israeli to ever visit Iran, and vice versa. And yet, this message was able to reach potentially all of Iran (or at least all of the Persians on Facebook) because of social media. Also, I find it fascinating that all the messages are being transmitted in English, the new world lingua franca. It’s really the only way for a Hebrew-speaking Israeli populace to send a message of peace to a Farsi-speaking Iran, and vice versa.
We must keep praying for peace in the Middle East and for the safety and unity of all God’s children throughout the world. It may never happen. But when you see something like this, it kind of brings back your faith in the possibility of peace in the Middle East. In fact, it sort of brings back your faith in humankind, doesn’t it?
On the subject of “Shabbat,” the Jewish Sabbath, and what is actually involved in being a Shabbat-observant Jew, here is a really interesting article about the implications of being an observant Jew serving in the Army and having to work as a soldier on the Day of Rest. There are a number of loopholes in observing the Sabbath, and one of them is that the Sabbath may (and, in fact, should) be broken in order to preserve life and safety. Though driving is off limits, you are permitted to drive, say, to take your pregnant laboring wife to the hospital. Though all machines are off limits, you are permitted to use your phone to call an ambulance or police in a real emergency. But this “emergency” loophole apparently puts a lot of stress on observant soldiers, who must in turn weigh every single potential action as to whether it is necessary enough or enough of an “emergency”to justify breaking the Sabbath or not. (And since nearly every single 18-year-old Israeli is drafted to a few years of service in the Israeli Defense Forces, this is a real issue here.) So the Zomet Institute, a nonprofit organization that consists of inventors, scientists and Torah scholars working together, has developed a special “Shabbat-kosher” computer keyboard that operates on an “indirect action” loophole (the same loophole that allows observant Jews to use timers to turn their lights on and off at predetermined hours during the Sabbath, when light switches are off limits). If a piece of the keyboard is moved (apparently a small enough motion that it doesn’t break Shabbat), the movement is registered several seconds later when a pulse cycles through the keyboard looking for changes. Also, judging from the photo in the article, the keyboard appears to be made of some sort of cloth, which I guess disqualifies it as an actual machine. (As you can see, I’m a little fuzzy on the details of why this is kosher when it’s, in essence, the same thing, but it’s still fascinating.) I have heard of other projects from this same foundation; for instance, a motorized scooter for the elderly and infirm that runs on similar loopholes and allows these people to maintain their mobility while still keeping the Sabbath. Sounds like a win to me. Read the article about the Shabbat-kosher keyboard. Learn more about Shabbat, and what Christians can learn from the Jewish day of rest, in this piece I wrote for YoungCatholicWomen.com.
Have a wonderful week!