Sunday, February 22, 2004

Today is windy but sunny at the Sea of Galilee in Tiberius, a hot springs once the home of holidaying Romans, Greeks and anyone else who could make their way here. It's the off season, so that means we have the town almost to ourselves.

Yesterday we biked 30 miles to Capernaum and, along the way, visited Tabgua, a popular pilgrim stop, to find a small, unassuming church to comemmorate Christ's "loaves and fishes" sermon. About 30 German Lutherans sang hymns that echoed up into the high vaulted ceilings of this small church, built in 1936, but constructed over the site of a Byzantine church in the 5th Century. It felt like a desecration to walk on the floors with their beautiful mosaics from the 5th Century) were covered with birds eating seeds and leaves. At the altar, the loaves and fishes were represented in mosaic as well. We were told that few religious symbols were used on floors at this time because the priests and rabbis didn't want people walking on them. Makes sense.

As we made our way to Capernaum, past kibbutzim and large banana fields, we had to stop a few times to walk our bikes up steep hills, but the view was breathtaking. We saw many beautiful birds, including a brilliantly colored pheasant (?) with black and white tail and orange body. Capernaum was a surprise, for despite the guidebook, we didn't really know what to expect, perhaps pilgrims visiting the site of Peter's home, where apparently Jesus moved after he began his ministry. We found a very large synagogue there as well, built, archaeologists say, about 150 AD. The synagogue was beautiful, large, three entrance doors, Roman style columns soaring up in the main hall. Being there gave me a sense that people of different faiths could live together peacefully.

We suffered a little on the bike ride back to Tiberius. Remember these old bones have not travelled on a bike for a while. But we safely made it back, before the rain, but not before just a few sprinkles.

Tomorrow we leave Tiberius for Haifa and then Thursday, Feb 26, we leave Israel for Turkey. This morning, we heard on CNN about another bus bombing in Jerusalem, just 5 miles from Bethlehem, a violent protest to the Israeli's building of more walls. But the bombing just makes a stronger case for such walls. Who wants to live with the threat of bombs? Most of the people we have talked to hope of peace, but no one seems to see a solution that is acceptable to everyone. Not even a compromise seems possible.

So, as we get ready to leave Israel, I could ask: What have I learned here? Back in the United States, I'm overwhelmed by a sense of history for dates older than about 100 years. Here, history is measured in thousands of years. The cross influence of Mesopotamia (Syria), Greece, and Egypt is very strong in the culture here. Cities arise and are destroyed over and over again. Today's victor is tomorrow's vanquished. National borders shift with each war. Each religion offers hope, but tolerance is not widely practiced. I leave Israel with more understanding of her importance as a nation, but with less hope for her future.

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