Category Archives: Holidays

The Sunday Seven: Episode 20

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Eid Mubarak to the Muslim world! Today is the end of Ramadan, when a holy month of fasting ends with a grand feast and fireworks, and everyone wears new clothes! View a slideshow of Muslims celebrating Eid al Fitr in various ways around the world here.

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We hiked to Mass yesterday evening for the first time since we got back from the States. We were very happily surprised to meet two of our favorite local families at Mass; one the Armenian family who taught us about Armenian pizza and the proper way to handle scissors among Armenians, and an absolutely lovely family where the wife is descended from first-century Holy Land Christians and the husband, who owns a print shop, is a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre. Both ladies are members of my ladies’ Bible study group, which is currently on hiatus while our usual hostess is visiting family in Mexico for the summer. We all sat down to dinner in our hotel-church’s restaurant after Mass, and the three adorable preteen daughters of our friends amused themselves with a popular game similar to Scattergories, in which everyone has a grid with spaces for plants, objects, places, food, etc., and a letter is called out and the first person to fill all their categories wins. It took me a while to realize what they were doing, because they were playing in Arabic! When Rodolfo and I took interest in their game and told them we both played it as kids, they began to play in English. While I was incredibly impressed by the vast scope of their English vocabularies (I’m not sure I could play even half as well in Spanish, and I’m at least twice their age!), they all got hung up trying to think of a plant that begins with a “z,” so they asked me for one. “How about a zinnia?” I asked. They all gave me blank looks. “What’s a zinnia?” I tried to explain that it’s a type of flower, but since there are so many different typical colors and shapes, I couldn’t explain it very well. Even the adults, who speak wonderful English and have mostly spent extensive time in the U.S. and U.K., had never heard of it. The girls asked me how to spell it and all dutifully copied it onto their sheets. When trying to look up the Arabic word for “zinnia” today, I realized it’s a plant that we only have in the New World, from the Southwestern U.S. to South America. Well, that explains that.

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Speaking of regional plants, while in Scandinavia, I was particularly interested in the local “Nordic” berries that only exist in that part of the world. Though my sister lamented the fact that we were too late in the season for the cloudberries she fell in love with while studying abroad in Finland last summer, we still had plenty of opportunities to try lingonberries and sea buckthorns (both of which we don’t have in the U.S.), in addition to delicious local strawberries and Nordic berry chocolates and ice cream. I bought some sea buckthorn tea in Sweden, but I didn’t get the chance to try it until I got back to Jerusalem. And now I am wishing I had bought boxes and boxes of it! It’s delicious!

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Speaking of tea, those of you who knew us in Austin were probably familiar with our infamous tea collection, with over 100 teas from six continents.

My dear friends of Schoenstatt inherited the tea collection when I moved here. But fans of the tea collection will be happy to know that I have started to build a Tea Collection 2.0 here, which is so far much more modest than the Austin version. But there is still time! Most of the tea comes from swapping on a swap site called Swap-Bot, which is also great for swapping postcards, books, recipes, Artists Trading Cards, and anything under the sun, really. (The oddest thing I ever got from swapping was a pair of WWII-era aviator’s goggles, which earned a place of honor in our Cabinet of Curiosities.) And, as Rodolfo recently discovered, people also swap postage stamps on Swap-Bot. Rodolfo, who has collected stamps since he was a kid, recently got interested in it again. So he joined Swap-Bot! I can count the number of men I’m aware of on Swap-Bot on one hand. But he’s really enjoying swapping stamps with other collectors all over the world! I enjoy helping him organize the stamps; as a graphic designer, I love to see the evolution of design, national attitudes and printing processes unfolding over a few decades worth of stamps. Our newest project is to collect a stamp from every country in the world! Rodolfo also collects a few special subjects, including space and astronomy (of course), sports and Olympics, art, flowers, animals and Popes. So if you have any interesting old stamps lying around, even if they’re still attached to old letters, let us know!

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We are gearing up for a trip to Spain this fall in which we will be attempting the Camino Santiago, or Way of St. James, a medieval pilgrims’ trail through northern Spain. In order to qualify as having completed the pilgrimage, you must walk at least 100 kilometers (62 miles) to arrive at the church of St. James in Compostela. So we’re working our way up to that. Our most recent undertaking was a hike to the nearby village of Ein Karem and back, about 8.5 km. This village is famous for being the birthplace of St. John the Baptist, and there is a lovely church commemorating the visitation of the Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth’s house. The hike was beautiful, much of it through the Jerusalem forest, but since Ein Karem is in a valley, the hike home (uphill) was pretty brutal! But we need to get up to at least twice that in one go, so bring it on! Here is a photo of us at the church of the Visitation.

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Earlier this week, Rodolfo’s work had a scheduled power outage, so we took the day off to go to Frishman Beach in Tel Aviv! The weather has been beautiful lately! We rented a beach umbrella for 6 shekels and sat on the beach reading and enjoying the beautiful weather.

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You might not know that Tel Aviv itself, the de facto capital of Israel and one of its biggest cities, is only about 100 years old. When you look at old maps of the region, there is no Tel Aviv. However, greater Tel Aviv includes, and encompasses, the ancient town of “Yafo,” or “Jaffa,” which is the town from which Jonah left the Holy Land running away from God on the fated journey in which he ended up in the belly of a fish. Jaffa is also one of the only sites in Israel that appears in Greek mythology! (The only other one I’m aware of is Akko, or Acre, which gets its name from the Greek word for “cure,” based on a Greek myth stating that an injured Hercules found curative herbs there when he took refuge there to heal his battle wounds.) Read more about the Jaffa myth here. It includes a naked maiden chained to a rock. Worth a read. :)

(PS. Visit Conversion Diary for a list of other blogs with Quick Takes.)

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Filed under Culture Shock, Europe, Holidays, Playing Tourist, Quick Takes

The Sunday Seven: Episode 17

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Earlier this week was Israeli Independence Day, which is kind of like the Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day all rolled into one. The festive day kicked off with fireworks the night before, because, apparently, even purely secular holidays begin at sundown the day before in Israel. Our apartment is not far from the Israeli military cemetery in Jerusalem, and we had a beautiful view of the fireworks from our home windows! Then, the following day, we were invited to a barbecue at Rodolfo’s boss’ house near Tel Aviv, and we really enjoyed the socializing, the delicious food, the festive atmosphere and the gorgeous weather! Also, it’s amazing how the whole country erupted into white and blue (the colors of Israel’s flag) for the occasion!

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My friend Anh pointed me toward this great video, a “60 Minutes” segment (it’s a partial segment, so it only lasts about 14 minutes) on Christians in the Holy Land. If you don’t know much about the issue, this piece is a great place to start. The situation here is extremely complicated, but this story does a good job of distilling its many facets down to the basics. I am so happy that the American media is finally taking notice of this issue, and reporting it even in the face of pressure to shut down the story. I do have just one complaint, though, as a Catholic. They refer to the Holy Sepulchre as the Greek Orthodox Patriarch’s church, while technically, only a sixth of it is his, since he shares it with five other Christian denominations, including the Roman Catholics. (Read more about that here.) But that’s even more complicated, and maybe a story that should be saved for another day.

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As a bonus feature to go with the “60 Minutes” story, they also had a short segment on the Christian village of Taybeh. We have not been there, but we know the name because the only beer brewed in Palestine is called Taybeh. This actually makes perfect sense, because Muslim religious laws prohibit drinking alcohol, so the only village with a brewery is a Christian village. In the story, they cite the fact that more people from the city of Taybeh now live in Detroit, Michigan, than in Taybeh itself. That, to me, was astounding. And heartbreaking.

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Rodolfo and I are going back to visit the U.S. soon, because my kid sister is graduating from college! We’re very excited to see our family and friends… and I also have a long shopping list of things that are difficult to find or horribly expensive in Jerusalem. For instance, a tube of A&D ointment (actually, a knockoff version!) is 120 NIS, or $32 USD! Also, I completely ruined my tennis shoes on the Jesus Trail (pieces literally started falling off on the last day), so I’ve been walking everywhere in Converse (because I’m that cool). And don’t worry; the Jesus Trail post will be coming soon!

And one of the first things on my list to buy is a weekly calendar. I bought one here, but there are several things that bug me about it. You know how Hebrew is read from right to left? That also goes for stuff besides words. In fact, those of you familiar with the Israeli teas that were part of the famous tea collection I had in Austin know that even the pictorial instructions on the back of the teabag are read from right to left. Which means that the images read something to the effect of “Enjoy your tea… steep for two minutes… heat water.” Imagine the problems this could cause with a weekly calendar book. The days of the week are in the wrong order, and the book pages turn backward. Which means if someone asks me if I’m free next week, I will most likely turn to last week and check there. It hasn’t actually happened yet, but honestly, it’s only a matter of time. Not to mention that the Israeli year ends at Rosh Hashanah, which falls on September 16 this year. So essentially, the year (and the book) stop in September.

The good news is that it contains sunrise and sunset times for every single day in the year (and for this reason, the calendar is only authorized for use in Jerusalem, according to the inscription), as well as the dates of the Jewish calendar and lots of interesting Jewish holidays I never even heard of before coming here. Except they’re all in Hebrew. But anyway.

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Last week at Mass, we had a visiting concelebrating priest; a Franciscan from Oregon who currently serves with a mission in Russia. When he stood up and began to read the Gospel, I was thinking what a lovely and soothing voice he had. Then I realized that it wasn’t exactly his voice that was soothing, but rather the fact that he was literally the first male native speaker of American English that I had heard speak in person since arriving in the Holy Land. It wasn’t that he had that great of a voice, it was just that he sounded like home. I guess that’s how you know it’s time to go back (even if just for a visit).

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When we return from the States, we are expecting our very first houseguests in Jerusalem, Beth and Bram! Beth was a great friend of ours back in Austin and she and her husband are now living and working in France, where they are apparently dealing with the same kind of culture shock issues that we are. For instance, Beth recently updated her Facebook status to read: “Dealing with French bureaucracy is like trying to reassemble a clock that was destroyed in a nuclear blast using nothing but a peanut shell and no hands, while being prodded by crazed monkeys.” I nearly died laughing. All I have to say is, Beth, I feel you. And just wait until you get to Israel!

We specifically rented a two-bedroom apartment to allow for lots of guests while we’re here, so each one of our friends should consider coming! If you need more convincing, here is a vintage poster (designed by Eliezer Weishoff, circa 1966) promoting tourism to Jerusalem. In Hebrew, it says, “Jerusalem: All Atmosphere.”

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And here’s a fun song I want to share with you, called “Israel by Bus” by 71-year-old Trinidadian ska singer Calypso Rose. (Thanks to my friend Ana L. for sharing this song with me!) I feel like I’ve been spending a lot of time seeing Israel by bus in the past few weeks, so this is my current theme song… Enjoy!

Have a wonderful week!

(PS. Visit Conversion Diary for a list of other blogs with Quick Takes.)

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Filed under A New (Complicated) Way to Do Something Simple, Culture Shock, Holidays, Holy Sepulchre, Music, Quick Takes, Walking Where Jesus Walked

Holy Week in the Holy Land

From the joyful waving of branches in the sun on Palm Sunday to silent contemplation in the ancient dark of the Holy Sepulchre. From the Last Supper’s upper room to the garden of Gethsemane to the jail of Jesus on the night he was arrested. From the foreboding of Holy Thursday, to the sorrow of Good Friday, to the joy of Resurrection Sunday, we have lived it all.

We have walked thousands of steps and shared small spaces with thousands of people. We have mourned our Lord’s death and rejoiced at his Resurrection in the places where it all happened. We will never forget it.

And now we want to share it with you.

A few interesting points: Did you know that the Upper Room is actually a decommissioned mosque? Mass is not permitted there, except perhaps in very special circumstances, like the visit of the Pope to the Holy Land. In the video you can see the Muslim mihrab niche facing Mecca when they remove the banner.

And yes, you read that right: the doorkeepers of the Holy Sepulchre are a local Muslim family that has been doing this for generations. Because of the politics of the church and the way it is shared between six Christian denominations, the Muslims are seen as fair and impartial stewards without any stake in the matter. So they open the door every morning and close it every evening.

Also, because of the politics of the Church, all Catholic masses in the Holy Sepulchre are held first thing in the morning, around 7:30am or 8am. Including the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday!

Also, you probably know that on Good Friday across the world, Catholics venerate some version of the cross. Normally it is a large wooden reconstruction of the cross. Here in Jerusalem, however, they have two very small wood slivers, just the size of large splinters, that are believed to be part of Jesus’ actual cross. They are preserved in glass and housed in the beautiful golden cross you see people venerating in the video.

The tomb is indeed empty, and you can see that for yourself here in Jerusalem. He is risen! Happy Easter! Alleluia, alleluia!

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Filed under Catholic Life, Holidays, Holy Sepulchre, Walking Where Jesus Walked

The Sunday Seven: Episode 15

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Happy Easter from the Holy Land! Jesus Christ is risen today! Rodolfo and I have been very blessed this week to celebrate Triduum and Easter in the places where it all happened. We attended Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday) Mass at the Holy Sepulchre (the most famous church in Jerusalem, the large Crusader-era church that contains the entire hill of Calvary and Jesus’ empty tomb), followed by a walk to the Cenacle, the “upper room” where the Last Supper actually happened. Then, in the evening of Holy Thursday, we attended a Holy Hour in Gethsemane, the garden where Jesus prayed so hard that he sweated blood. Then we, along with hundreds of other pilgrims, walked in a candlelight procession from Gethsemane through the Kidron Valley to the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, the church that commemorates Peter’s three denials of Jesus before the rooster’s crow. In the catacombs of this church is the first century jail where Jesus was imprisoned on that night, as well as the ruins of the house of the high priest Caiphas and a set of first century steps that Jesus almost certainly walked up on his way to the jail. Then we attended Good Friday service at the Holy Sepulchre and then walked and prayed the Stations of the Cross along the actual Via Dolorosa. Then, this morning, we attended Easter Sunday Mass again at the Holy Sepulchre. It’s so amazing to not only be able to celebrate these events in the correct places, but also the correct days. Every single event was completely packed to the brim with people. In some cases, it was so full and so chaotic that it was hard to follow or even hear the Mass. Today was especially chaotic because it’s Palm Sunday for the Eastern Orthodox denominations, and several large processions of Armenian, Coptic and Greek Orthodox pilgrims arrived at the Holy Sepulchre in the midst of our Easter Mass. Also, because of the politics of the church and the way that it’s shared among six Christian denominations that are constantly at odds with one another, every Catholic Mass we attended at the Holy Sepulchre was held first thing in the morning; 7:30 am, 8 am… including the Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper! At 8 am! Perhaps instead they should call it the Mass of the Lord’s Breakfast! Photos to follow later this week.

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Backing up for a moment to Palm Sunday last week… Rodolfo and I were interviewed while participating in the procession and featured in this video about the procession by the Franciscan Media Center!

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Also, this week is Passover (Pesach, in Hebrew) for our Jewish friends, and Rodolfo and I were exceedingly blessed to be invited to a real Passover Seder meal at the home of one of Rodolfo’s Jewish work friends!

The whole point of a Passover Seder is for the benefit of the children; Jews are required to teach their children about their ancestors’ escape from Egypt in the time of Moses, and how the Lord miraculously delivered them from slavery with miracles like plagues on the Egyptians and the parting of the Red Sea for their escape. There are six special foods that are eaten in a certain order as part of the ritual meal that aid in the telling of the story: two types of bitter herbs (romaine lettuce or horseradish), charoset (a sweet apple jam), karpas (celery), a meat shankbone or chicken wing, a hard-boiled egg and matzah (unleavened bread). There is also a bowl of salt water used for dipping for part of the story.

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This particular family that we celebrated with are Persian Jews, with roots in Iran, and their culture has a fun and silly tradition of beating each other with long green onions at a certain point in the story, during the singing of the popular Passover song “Dayenu.” According to David, our friend’s father-in-law and our host for the evening (and the man in the video below), this is both to symbolize the whips of slavery and also to celebrate freedom, because the children, who are always required to treat their elders with respect, are allowed to joyfully beat them with spring onions this one time all year. Their family has many small children, and because of their young age, I’m not sure they got everything out of the seder story that they were supposed to. However, they REALLY liked the part where they get to beat grandpa with an onion! It was hilarious!

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Passover brings a whole new meaning to the concept of spring cleaning. Did you know that, before Passover, Jews have to completely clean their houses to get rid of every single speck of “chametz,” or flour and leaven, in the house? Kosher laws prohibit having any leaven in the house during Passover. Our whole neighborhood was in a cleaning frenzy all last week. In fact, the week before Passover can be an incredibly stressful time for Jews that need to do a lot of cooking and cleaning. And even though they really are only required to get rid of the crumbs in the house, many Jews use this time to clean the whole house, donate things to charity and give the whole house a good spring cleaning. Read more.

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Rodolfo and I are going to the Galilee for a day or two this week to help on an archaeological dig! I have mentioned that we attend church at a hotel in Jerusalem. They are building a similar hotel-church in the Galilee, in Migdal, or Magdala, the hometown of Mary Magdalene of the gospels. While surveying the area and digging the foundations for the hotel, they happened upon an amazing discovery: a beautifully preserved first century synagogue buried in centuries of rubble! This synagogue was, without a doubt, one of the places that Jesus taught throughout the Galilee during his life. The synagogue will be incorporated into the pilgrims’ center, which is now under construction, but there is still much work to be done in digging out the synagogue and cataloging the many coins, pottery shards and artifacts found in the rubble. Learn more about the Magdala Project, including how you can support it, here.

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All next week I will be in Bethlehem at an icon school! I will be learning how to “write,” or paint, icons at a weeklong immersion workshop at a Greek Catholic monastery. Rodolfo and I really love icons and, in fact, we collect them. We have two large ones, a Pantocrator that Rodolfo’s parents commissioned during their own pilgrimage to the Holy Land 20 years ago and gave to us as a wedding gift, and an antique feast day calendar of the month of August (our anniversary month) that we bought here in Jerusalem as our Christmas gift to one another. Also, this week we visited an art exhibition of icons done in aquarelle watercolors by a Russian iconographer named Irena Yureevna Rofa. The technique seems quite difficult; there is no white pigment and so the artist has to work with the white of the paper to get white shades in the artwork. The technique I will be learning is more traditional, with natural pigments and egg tempura on wood. Learn more about the icon school.

Since I will be in Bethlehem next week, the Sunday Seven will return two weeks from now. Have a wonderful week and Happy Easter!

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Filed under Catholic Life, Charities, Culture Shock, Holidays, Holy Sepulchre, Quick Takes, Walking Where Jesus Walked

The Sunday Seven: Episode 14

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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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?

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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!

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Filed under Catholic Life, Creativity, Holidays, Music, Quick Takes, Walking Where Jesus Walked

The Sunday Seven: Episode 13

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I think I have mentioned that we live right in front of a stop of the Jerusalem Light Rail. We can see the tracks from our window. Here is a picture of the tracks on Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath.

Yep, since the train doesn’t run on the Day of Rest, people park their cars on the tracks! Also, kids play soccer on the tracks, people walk on the tracks, and some non-observant people who drive on Saturdays actually drive on the tracks!

On a related topic, I wrote another post for YoungCatholicWomen.com this week about what Christians can learn from Shabbat-observant Jews. It’s called “I’m Bringing Sabbath Back.” Read the post.

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Also, if you missed it this week, I created a video with some of the best moments from the Purim festival we attended last weekend. Watch closely and you’ll see one of the lovely ladies from Wordless Wednesday nearly take a tumble from her stilts!

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This week’s recipe comes from the new cookbook I mentioned last week: the The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden. This is our first time trying a recipe from the book and it was amazing! It’s Sheikh el Mahshi Banadoura, or Tomatoes Stuffed with Ground Meat, Raisins and Pine Nuts, from page 319.

1. Chop the onion, the raisins and the parsley. Cut a circle around the stalk end of the tomatoes and cut out a cap from each.

2. Remove the seeds and pulp* with a small spoon.
(*Save the tomato guts in a jar in the refrigerator, because we’re going to use them in next week’s recipe!)

3. Fry the chopped onion in oil until golden. Add the meat, salt and pepper. Stir and mash the meat until it turns gray, then brown.

4. Stir in the raisins (or currants) and the pine nuts (or walnuts), and add cinnamon, allspice, and chopped parsley.

5. Fill the tomatoes with this mixture and cover with their tops. Put them close to each other in an oven-safe dish.

6. Bake in a preheated 350° F oven for about 30 minutes, or until the tomatoes are soft, being careful that they do not fall apart. Serve hot. Serves 4-8. Enjoy!

— 4 —

A Spanish priest that I sometimes tutor in English has lent me a book by Archbishop Fulton Sheen called The Eternal Galilean. Archbishop Sheen, a religious leader with a refreshingly modern take on the Catholic faith, who was in the public eye as a radio and television personality in the 60s and 70s, is now a Servant of God, which is the first stop on the road to sainthood. The book is beautiful; it tells the story of the life of Christ in a series of essays talking about different aspects of his life: “The Artisan of Nazareth,” “The Light of the World, “The Cross and the Crucifix,” “Eternal Life.” View the book on Amazon. I’m only about halfway through it, but I’m really enjoying it so far. It’s a pretty easy read, with a lot of good things to think about, and the essays are just the right length to sit and read in one sitting. Here’s an interesting bit to ponder, from Chapter V, “The Way, The Truth and The Life:”

“There is a general tendency in our day to frown upon those who believe that Our Blessed Lord is different from other religious leaders and reformers. It is even considered a work of intelligence to rank Him along with the founders of world religions. Hence it is not uncommon to hear one who prides himself on his broad-mindedness — which gives offense to no religion, and a defense of none — fling out a phrase in which Buddha, Confucius, Lao-tsze, Socrates and Christ are all mentioned in one and the same breath; as if Our Lord were just another religious teacher instead of religion itself…Take any of them, Buddha, Confucius, Lao-tsze, Socrates, Mohammed — it makes no difference which… They all said: ‘I will point out the way'; but Our Lord said ‘I am the Way.'”

Our house is filling up with books lent to us by the various Legionaries of Christ that work at our church. I volunteer with a lot of projects there, and this is one of the ways they thank me: by lending us books. Also, our church has a very cool exhibition on the Shroud of Turin, and Rodolfo has taken a very particular interest in the exhibition. One of the fathers encouraged this interest by lending Rodolfo four books on the Shroud’s history in German and Italian (two languages Rodolfo speaks fairly, but not fluently). Another good one, which Rodolfo is working through this Lent, is called The Better Part, by Father John Bartunek, also a Legionary. View the book on Amazon. The priests at our church here are all very intelligent, very well-read, and very international. They each speak several languages and come from all over the world. I think it’s very nice of them to lend us all these books; it’s kind of like they’re inviting us to be a part of their circle, to learn the things they know. But we have a lot of homework and a lot of reading to do!

— 5 —

Some readers out there will be very excited to hear that we have decided to embark on the Jesus Trail journey this coming weekend! We will be walking from Nazareth to Magdala, around 40 km or 25 miles, in three days with a group of friends from our church, including the priest featured in the video from last time. So it’s not quite the whole thing, but a very good introductory pass. Please pray for us!

— 6 —

Apparently, spring has sprung in the Holy Land (even though it got cold again after last week’s glorious weather). The way that you can tell that spring has returned, apparently, is because the swifts, large birds with split tails similar to barn swallows, have returned in a large migration from their winter home in Africa. And they have made their nesting home, as they do every year, in between the stones of the Western Wall!  Read an article about this phenomenon.

— 7 —

I wrote this to all of you in my first post on this blog: “This is my love letter, my epistle, my open book for all of you. I am your eyes, your ears, your nose, your mouth, and your hands and feet on the ground in the Holy Land. Tell me what you want to see, to feel, to hear, to taste, to touch, and to learn, and I will bring it to you here.” So now it’s your turn! Please tell me in the comments or by email what you would like to see, hear or learn more about in the Holy Land and I will try my best to find it for you!

Have a wonderful week!

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Filed under Catholic Life, Culture Shock, Holidays, Playing Tourist, Quick Takes, Walking Where Jesus Walked, What's Cookin'?

More Purim Fun (Video)

High stilts, high spirits and high “simcha” (joy and celebration) rule the streets of the Ben Yehuda district in Jerusalem at Purim! Unicorns, wood sprites, elephants and zebras, oh my! See the lovely ten-feet-tall ladies from Wordless Wednesday in living color– and watch one of them nearly take a tumble! Enjoy the beautiful chaos of this happy holiday!

The song is a traditional Purim song: “Mishe Nichnas Adar.” The lyrics literally mean, “In the month of Adar, our joy increases.” (Adar is the Jewish month in which Purim occurs.)

Purim Sameach! Happy Purim from Jerusalem!

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Filed under Culture Shock, Holidays