Friday, December 24, 2010

Countdown to Christmas

Fred & Gloria Strickert

It's December 23rd in Bethlehem and the last touches are being made for Christmas celebrations at Bethlehem's Manger Square.

In between children's Christmas programs, I found time for a short visit to Nativity Church.  If there is a perfect day to visit this historic shrine representing the place of Jesus' birth, it is the day before Christmas Eve.  Our visits this fall were always chaotic with scaffolding occupying center place, repairing a leaking roof, and with record breaking crowds of visitors lining up to see the birth grotto.  Surprise of surprises, on Dec, 23 I walked into a totally empty Nativity church with the scaffolding removed for Christmas and no tourists in sight.  In need of a quiet place away  from the hustle and bustle of the season, I made my way to Jerome's grotto, the cave where the Biblical Scholar from Rome found home when coming to Bethlehem later in his life (I have a personal attachment there).  There were no interuptions because, as I would discover, the caretakers of St Catherines Church had closed the gates and chained off the grottos as they were completing a final church cleaning for tomorrow's midnight mass.  So there is nothing like having the historic grottos to oneself for quiet meditation the day before Christmas Eve.

Later I returned to Nativity Church, still empty of visitors--though this photo was taken a bit later when several men had congregated near the sanctuary just above the nativity grotto.

The most memorable photo I didn't take
If you want to see photos of adorable children from Christmas programs, scroll down to end.  I could not stop myself from taking dozens-- maybe hundreds of snapshots of Palestinian children who embody the hope of Christmases future.

Yet sometimes the most meaningful photo is the one not taken.  The moment seems so sacred, that it would be an act of idolatry to capture such a visual image in a photograph. 

When I returned upstairs to the 1500 year old Nativity church, I found myself sharing that sacred space with four young women, probably in their late teens.  One sat on the empty steps leading up to the sanctuary while another snapped her photo and then a second moved into place.  Then a sudden pause as they spied me standing among the columns on the perimeter-- me, just another visitor, but me wearing my black suit and clerical collar, me, as far as they were concerned, a representative of the religious establishment.  After they offered an "Are we going to be in trouble for this?" look, I responded with a smile and nodded for them to continue.  Quickly, the third young woman took her place sitting on the step, posing for the camera, but looking my way hestitating.  I nodded to continue. Then the fourth followed suit.

I decided to walk over to the photographer.  Four figures froze where they stood, offering a worried look.

"If the four of you like, I can take your photo with all four of you together," I volunteered. 

A sign of relief. Then the four of them took a pose before the altar, the cross, the sacred space recognized through the ages by Christians, while I captured a digital memory for their visit on this Dec. 23, when my visit just happened to intersect with theirs.

Did I mention that the four young women were Muslim?  Dressed in bluejeans and headscarfs they thanked me.  "Merry Christmas!" each one said in turn. 

"And Merry Christmas to you!" I said knowing the importance of the Prophet Isa to their faith and the significance of the virgin birth for them.  Then I added, "You are always welcome here!"

If I were quicker with my wit, I might have said, "There's always room in the inn." or something like that.  But a simple welcome sufficed.  Their smiles and nods of appreciation confirmed for me that this is what Christian witness is all about in the 21st century. 

I had been tempted for a moment to reach into my pocket for my own camera to take one more photo.  Yet I sensed that would have transgressed the boundaries of sacred and profane.  The ancients had this notion that sacred encounters are not to be trivialized by images that were only limiting in scope.  In our brief encounter in the Church of the Nativity, these four young women and I shared a sacred moment--a recognition of God in the other.  A photograph could never capture that.  But memories are another thing.

Leaving Nativity Church, a group of Muslim school girls prepare to enter.  Two young Muslim women pause for the camera.  "We feel welcome here!"
December 18 simulcast
Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and the National Cathedral in Washington D.C.
Bishop Munib Younan reading Gospel from Luke 2 from Bethlehem.
Member of Bethlehem children's choir below watching Anglican Bishop in Washington D.C.

Jerusalem Christmas Traditions
Living in a multicultural context, the preparations for Christmas are an adventure in a smorgasbord of traditions. 

The Swedish Theological Institute in West Jerusalem is one of the nineteenth-century architectural gems.  Swedish Lutherans come for short courses.  Most Sundays we have visitors from Sweden at our English-language worship.

The Swedish Institute hosted their annual Santa Lucia Day Celebration on December 13.
Santa Lucia Day

On the Saturday before Santa Lucia day, our Danish close friend and neighbor, Susanne Brown, hosted a day of Scandanavian baking, beginning with a festive breakfast.

A Full day of baking.

Delicious and

a Feast for the eyes.

St. Barbara's Day
Among Arab Christians a popular celebration is St. Barbara's Day-- December 4.
Barbara was a third century martyr from Lebanon.

Its's common in Lebanon, and to some degree in Jerusalem, for children to dress up and go to their neighbors asking for sweets.

In Jerusalem it's common to visit the elderly. 

Usually the highlight is to share together a cup of Burbara, a sweet dish of boiled wheat grains covered with pomegranate seeds, almonds, and spices.

Our Arab Pastor, Ibrahim Azar, his wife Nahila, three daughters invited us to their home for the celebrations.

Christmas Programs

Lutheran Kindergarten -- Mount of Olives

Hope Lutheran School in Ramallah

 Of our students in the Ramallah Lutheran School, 80 % are Muslim

Proud Parents!

Merry Christmas

Fred & Gloria Strickert

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Advent in Jerusalem

by Fred & Gloria Strickert

Advent is a time for waiting.
We are all waiting for the celebration of Jesus' birth.

On the First Sunday of Advent, our colleague here at Redeemer, Rev. Ibrahim Azar, helps the children of the Arabic congregation light the first candle on the Advent Wreath.

The Redeemer annual Advent Bazaar

Our congregation in Beit Sahour held church at 5:30 in the afternoon on the first Sunday of Advent to encourage more young people to attend. Since we can't get away on Sunday mornings, this was a perfect opportunity to visit with Pastor Imad Haddad and his congregation.

The name Beit Sahour means the "House of Watching" -- a reference to the shepherds staying up all night to keep watch over their flocks.  This is the traditional village of the Christmas shepherds.

The congregation has a vibrant school with children active in scouts, vocal music, and depka dance.  Several years ago the children made this mosaic of the Holy Family that today greets visitors by the outside door of the church.

A year ago a visiting church group from Sweden was so impressed with the Beit Sahour youth living "Behind the Wall" that they put together an Advent Calendar with Youtube greetings from youth in their two congregations.  Click on this link Fear builds walls, hope builds bridges to see the calendar.

Our English speaking congregation celebrated with a common mid-week soup supper in our home with Advent Devotions.  Tonight we attended a candlelight interfaith service for those killed at Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad.  Here in Jerusalem the Psalm for Advent 1 was "Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem."  We still wait patiently, hopefully.

Jerusalem is also waiting for rain. In the Middle East where water is scarce and rains are seasonal, coming entirely in the late fall and winter months, the beginning of the "rainy season." Today is December 2 and eight months have now passed since the last rainfall.  Usually the olive harvest in October and November is marked by a couple of inches of rain to wash the dust from the trees and to make the olives plump.  Not this year.  With unseasonably warm temperatures in the upper 70s, cisterns are empty and no rain is in site.

One final advent video from our Beit Jala congregation:
Advent at Lutheran Church of the Reformation, Beit Jala

Fred & Gloria Strickert

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ecumenical Accompaniers

by Fred & Gloria Strickert

Living in Jerusalem, we participate in a lot of worship services. Perhaps  most meaningful has been a Handing Over Service for the Ecumenical Accompaniers.  These volunteers come from all over the world for three months at a time.  When one group's time ends, the torch is passed to the next group of 27.

Since the Ecumenical Accompaniment program was started in 2001 there have been 37 groups. 

Group 36
sits in a
number 37.

Darkness clouded this land when the accompaniment program began in 2001-- in the midst of the second Intifadah.  Proposals from around the world suggested that UN Peacekeepers were the answer to put a check on violence. Yet politically motivated vetoes have a way of blocking peacemaking plans. So the Jerusalem churches stepped in requesting the World Council of Churches to send peacemakers.  And the EAPPI volunteers have been a light in this difficult situation.

Candles lit by those retiring pass on the light to the newly arrived.

Ecumenical accompaniers belong to all denominations.  As you can see from the photos, a good number are retirement age and may well provide the most effective witness.  The accompaniers are most effective when they are noticed.  So they all wear a tan-colored vest with a yellow dove and the letters EAPPI-- Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.

Currently we have one ELCA Accompanier.  We are privileged to have as a colleague these three months Donna Matteis from the Southeast Michigan Synod, a companion synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.  Donna has visited in the past with companion synod delegations.  This time she committed herself to the frontlines of peace.  Read Donna's blog:

Last week Tuesday, Gloria went with Donna at 5:00 a.m. to the Qalandia Checkpoint where residents have to cross into Jerusalem.  Palestinians begin lining up at 4:00 a.m. in hopes of getting through more quickly to work, school, or the hospital.  These are the lucky few who can get permits, the ones whose reputations have proven them to be no risk to Israel.  Still it is a humiliating and time-consuming ordeal that these Palestinians have to go through two times each day, six days a week, 52 weeks every year.

Ashraf Tannous is the Vicar of our Arabic congregation at Redeemer in Jerusalem.  Here he is last September as he begins his twice-daily two hour commute from his home in Ramallah, what used to be a 15-minute drive.  And Ashraf has a VIP pass. 

We are privileged with our U.S. Passports to drive through with somewhat limited questioning, still usually a wait of a half hour.
Donna has a sophisticated counter, that keeps track of how many individuals are allowed through the maze of "cattle stalls" each hour, how many men, women, and children--every possible category.  This way they know when soldiers are unnecessarily delaying the process-- whether by orders from above, or by personal whim.  Reports are filed with the authorites.  Sometimes the accompanier makes a phone call to the authorities to ask why. 

On Tuesday, the humanitarian lane was closed for no reason at all.  People were turned back, right and left.  A woman with a permit to bring her child for dialysis at August Victoria Hospital was denied passage without explanation.  She came to Donna in tears and Donna filed her report, while the soldier stood by laughing.  The mission of the ecumenical accompanier can be frustrating, but heed the words of Paul's epistle lesson this morning, "Do not grow weary in doing what is right!"  Sometimes there are even minor victories.  This morning at church Donna reported that the humanitarian lane was once again open--thanks to those 5:00 a.m. visits to Qalandia to accompany Palestinians through this daily ordeal.
So you'd like to learn more about how you can be an Ecumenical Accompanier?
Fred & Gloria Strickert

Monday, October 25, 2010

Olive Harvest

by Fred & Gloria Strickert

If your house is located on the top of the Mount of Olives, eventually you will find yourself picking olives. So yesterday we participated in the olive harvest.

The Lutheran World Federation Compound has 800 olive trees that are harvested each October and November to raise money for "The Poor Fund" to assist Palestinian families who cannot pay their medical bills at Augusta Victoria Hospital.  All the olive picking is carried out by volunteers:  Classes from various schools, tourist groups, and individuals who are willing to get a little dirty for a good cause.  Our congregation spent all of Saturday picking olives.  Today a group from the American Consulate is here.  Next week Swedish and Finnish groups will lend a hand. 

Two recent college grads supervise the project.  Brit is here serving a two-year internship with the LWF and organizes groups for the olive harvest.  Warren has come for three months this fall to prepare the grove, to trim the trees, and to haul the olives to the olive press, all before he heads off to grad school next January.  From the photo below on the right, you can see from the smiles of Brit and Warren how satisfying it is to take on such a venture.
As you can see from pictures below, the process involves laying out large tarps underneath the branches and then pulling the olives off the tree with a plastic rake.  Often six people are needed per tree, each one planting feet in one spot and allowing the olives to fall to the ground.

When all the olives are picked from a tree, the twigs and leaves are removed.  Below Ann, Emily, and Jill are cleaning the olives.  Then the olives are stored in burlap bags.  Here are the 17 bags of olives our group filled from 39 trees.  A good day's work.

On Tuesday, we'll drive the olives to the Latrun Monastery, some twenty miles west of here, where the olives will be pressed into oil and poured into bottles especially made by a glass maker in Hebron.  Up until last year, the olives were pressed just five miles away in Beit Jala.  However, the Israeli government has added an 18 % Value Added Tax, since the pessing takes place in the West Bank.  So it's one of those tough decisions:  Support the Palestinian economy or keep that 18 % for those in need of medical care?
If you would like to donate to the AVH poor fund and receive a gift of Mount of Olives olive oil, see

Congregation Group Photo

Olives are a staple for every Palestinian family.  Trees normally survive for centuries, so they are passed down from one generation to another like family heirlooms.  They are planted, cultivated, watered, pruned, and cared for as if they were a member of the family.  The olive provides food, as also oil for cooking, medicinal purposes, and fuel for lamps. The wood and pits are used for fuel.  No wonder that the olive branch is a symbol for peace.  No wonder in earlier years, olive oil was poured over the head in blessing.

Ten million olive trees dot the terraced hillsides of the West Bank, making up 45 % of cultivated land.  The annual income for processed olive oil alone is over one hundred million dollars.  The future of the Palestinian economy is tied directly to those twisted roots seeking moisture in the shallow, rocky soil.  The harvest is nothing but labor intensive.  Once Palestinian farmers passed the time with songs about olive trees and celebrated as families joined hands in this common task.

Yet the political situation has turned olive harvest songs to a minor chord.  Bull dozers do not hestitate to uproot these family heirlooms when it is in the occupiers' interest or convenience.  In other cases, West Bank Palestinians frequently find themselves harrassed by settlers when they attempt to harvest their own trees or they find the trees already picked under the cover of night.  Occasionally shots are fired.  The newspapers report plenty of episodes, but enforcement of law is not a priority when settlers are involved.  An article in this mornings paper noted that there have been 27 official complaints to the border police already this season.  Yet it noted that Palestinians no longer bother to file complaintes since there is rarely any follow-up.  Settlers have their own standard of law and order. 

So it was that eighty-year old Rasmia Awase found her forty trees near Luban a-Shariqa chopped down near the the stumps several days ago.  She had planted them herself, and cared for them throughout her lifetime, hoping to leave them as a legacy for her grandchildren.  Now she can only water the stumps with her tears.

Rabbis for Human Rights reports that six hundred trees near another settlement in the south were picked clean before the Palestinian owners could get to their fields.

And so the story goes.  One newspaper writer suggested that the settlers were angry at the peace talks and the settlement expansion moratorium, so they wanted to send a lesson-- no different than the school set on fire near Nablus or the mosque burnt near Bethlehem, with graffiti signed by settler vandals.

The olive branch is supposed to be a symbol of peace.  Here it has been turned into a token of racial hatred and extremism by people claiming to act in the name of God.

Donna, pictured above, is a fellow Lutheran from the Southeast Michigan Synod-ELCA (wearing her distinctive EAPPI vest) who is one of 27 World Council of Churches "Ecumenical Accompaniers" spending three months here this fall, walking with Palestinians, often helping with the West Bank harvest as a matter of justice and security for Palestinians.  Donna and others will harvest a few olives in the process.  However, her presence will provide hope for Palestinian farmers feeling harrassed by those nearby and disheartened by a world with no resolve to bring about peace.  Her presence may even deter a few acts of vandalism, and her witness may even bring some criminals to justice.  Donna is here for the olive harvest out of her deep faith.

Bishop Burnside from Wisconsin also arrived this week with a group who will spend several days in accompaniment through the olive harvest.  Similarly a Sabeel group picked olives last week in the northern West Bank.  Oxfam and Rabbis for Human Rights are also active in safeguarding this ritual followed for thousands of years in these rugged hills.

Our prayer request is simple.
Pray for a safe and productive olive harvest.
Pray that the olive branch once more becomes a sign of peace.

Fred & Gloria Strickert

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Our Servant Congregation

From Fred & Gloria Strickert

Early in September we shared with you photos of our installation service at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in old city Jerusalem.  So you had a glimpse of our congregation: Individuals and families from all over the world who are serving the church in various capacities. 

Our Sunday worship can vary in size depending on visiting tour groups.  We have a core group of about 50 persons from many denominations, including a large number of young adults who are here in various volunteer capacities, serving from three months to a year or longer.  A few Sundays ago we commissioned for service 14 individuals who had newly arrived and hosted them at our house for Sunday brunch. The following photos are but a sampling of these dedicated servants.

                                 Clayton (Sabeel)   Emily (ELCJHL Schools)    
               Margriet (Sabeel)                                                 Brit (LWF)

                                                  Sunday Brunch at Our House
Mike (Hebrew Univ.); Martin & Suzanne (ELCA);  Ian (Sabeel); Katie (Edward Said School of Music)

                                David, Janelle, Luke (YAGMs)
    Brian (World Vision)                Ingrid (Mennonite Central Committee)

ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission
David (Ramallah); Janelle  (Beit Sahour); Luke  (Beit Jala)
Trena  (Beit Sahour); Sarah (Bethlehem); Abby  (Jerusalem)

.On Wednesday nights, our congregation hosts an evening of volleyball and potluck fellowship at our neighbors the Brown's house here on the Mount of Olives.

Ministry is a real joy in such a setting.  There is never a need to motivate the congregation for service.  That's why they are here.  Yet in a high-stress, politicized, and challenging climate our members need to come together for a respite, community, and spiritual nourishment.  And many of them operating on a shoestring budget appreciate the fellowship of a home-cooked meal.  We provide a bit of stability in an ever-changing environment

Fred & Gloria Strickert

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Fred & Gloria Strickert    

“So what’s the biggest change since your year here fifteen years ago?” That’s the question everyone seems to ask. The answer is simple, in one word, “Settlements.” Of course one-word answers are never simple, and they can never really be explained in just one word.

If you’ve paid any attention to news about the stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, you know that settlements have become the most serious obstacle to peace.

The settlement problem has been around for forty years now. And everywhere in the world people agree it’s a problem. Every day in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, there are articles and editorials that argue for a cessation of the settlements. The Israeli human rights organization B’tselem recently produced a study on Israeli settlement policy and they titled it By Hook and by Crook, if that gives you an idea of what many Israelis feel about settlements. But settlement expansion has been official Israeli policy for four decades so that half a million people now live in settlements.

Settlements are Israeli housing developments built on Palestinian land—and therefore obstacles to peace. They should not be viewed as economic opportunities, like an American family farm succumbing to urban sprawl. Settlements fall under the ministry of defense. They are a problem because this “settled” land constantly creates new “facts on the ground” and becomes more difficult (or impossible) to negotiate over. The strategic placement of settlements divides up the West Bank like Swiss cheese so that the viability of a possible future Palestinian state becomes a major challenge. As far as present and future security, it doesn’t make sense because Israeli soldiers are stationed to “protect” settlers and thus control the entire West Bank while becoming flashpoints for violence. And in many cases, settlers themselves are the violent ones harassing their Palestinian neighbors.

Two necessary clarifications are in order. “Settlements” might imply that this is merely the development of unused land. In many cases, Palestinian homes are removed to make room for settlements, also olive groves uprooted and farms destroyed. Also some play with the term “illegal settlements.” By international law, all settlements—building on occupied lands—are illegal. The Israeli government argues that settlements are legal because they are built for “security” purposes—while ironically making Israel less secure. The government sometimes refers to renegade settlers as “illegal” suggesting incorrectly that government sponsored settlements are “legal.” They are all illegal.

The official U.S. government policy for all these years—one administration after another—has opposed Israeli settlements. Yet American diplomats, one after another, have winked at public declarations of building slowdowns (while settlement expansion moves full speed ahead). In schizophrenic fashion, Democrats and Republicans alike in congress tend to vote 95 % in favor of the settlements. But American foreign policy under Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama has generally opposed Israeli settlements. Financially Americans make all this possible, by billions of dollars in annual foreign aid to Israel (that frees up Israeli budgets to fund settlements), by U.S. backed loan guarantees, and by IRS tax-exempt status for American donations to settlements.

So settlements are illegal. Settlements are a provocation. Settlements are the biggest obstacle to peace. But the U.S. government has remained timid and painted itself in a corner so that they are powerless to do anything but to say as they did this last week, “We are disappointed.”

Settlement expansion has gone unchecked for forty years. So what’s new? How is this a change from fifteen years ago when we were here?

What’s new is the proliferation of settlements in East Jerusalem. That’s Arab East Jerusalem. That’s East Jerusalem where we live and where we work. I walk by settlements on the way to the old city, we drive by them when we go to the grocery store. They’re everywhere. They are like armed camps in the midst of civilian neighborhoods. Or as one Israeli writer put it last week, they’re an excuse for independent militias to run free and unchecked.

And over the next few weeks and months there will be more and more of them. That is the significance of Sunday’s diplomatic failure.

In 1995, when looking north from Bethlehem,we viewed a beautiful forested hillside named in Arabic Abu Ghneim. The property was once considered part of greater Bethlehem & owned by families from Beit Sahour, Bethlehem, and also a few Jewish families. But following the 1967 war, Israel annexed this area to Jerusalem and made plans to build a settlement. Ironically, when the UN tried to stop construction, it was the Clinton administration that voted along with Israel and Micronesia against 135 nations and then used its veto power to override UN opposition. So because of a failure or American resolve, today this Jewish settlement now called Har Homa numbers 12-15,000 residents standing within the Jerusalem municipality.

According to Israeli law there is no opportunity for Palestinians to build on such land because this land has been declared “Israeli state land.” According to Peace Now (an organization founded by former Israeli generals & now very critical of Israeli government settlement policies) 93 % of land in Israel (and one third of Arab East Jerusalem) has been declared “state land” which is available only for full Israeli citizens to purchase and build upon. So it’s off limits for Palestinians, including 200,000 Arab residents of East Jerusalem. That probably does not make any sense for people who are used to property transactions as being economic. Israelis can live anywhere they want. Palestinians are highly restricted.

It is not unusual for Israel to declare as “state land” East Jerusalem property where Arabs are currently living, paving the way for the expulsion of these residents and for settlers to buy the land from the government and to move in. So in the Silwan area on the eastern slopes of the Kidron Valley & south east of the old city, hundreds of Palestinians have been evicted in the last decade & replaced by Jewish settlers. Knowing they are not welcome, the settlers hire armed guards (often untrained) which results in a recipe for disaster—such as the shooting several nights ago of a Palestinian by an off-duty guard and the subsequent demonstrations (and such clashes will only cause more harm and solve nothing).

On Sunday, with attention on Washington and the peace talks, dozens of buses headed to the West Bank in support of the settlements, and demonstrations were held to support East Jerusalem settlements. Police were barricading various streets in East Jerusalem where we normally drive. Over the next weeks and months, it has been suggested that there will be a major land grab. The more Jewish residents in East Jerusalem, the more difficult it will be for peace negotiators to establish East Jerusalem as part of the proposed Palestinian state, let alone be its capital. So the longer the delays, the greater the obstacles to peace.

If you want to follow one story, remember the name Sheik Jarrah. You’ll be hearing a lot about it in the coming months. Sheik Jarrah is an area north of the old city that was home to high Palestinian society in the 1940s and 1950s. A proposed settlement here has been disputed for some time. This morning’s paper announced—interesting timing !--an Israeli Supreme Court ruling that opens the door for new settlers. The ruling centers on the fact that there were Jews living in several houses in Sheik Jarrah in the early twentieth century—living side by side with Arabs peacefully. In the 1948 war, as in all wars, people get out of the way of the violence. These Jewish residents fled to west Jerusalem while many Arab residents of west Jerusalem fled to east Jerusalem. From 1948 to 1967, a divided Jerusalem kept Jews in the west and Arabs in the east.

The UN refuge commission resettled Arab families from west Jerusalem in the then vacant East Jerusalem buildings, and now sixty years have passed. Although the pre-1948 Jewish residents are no longer involved, these houses have been declared as “state property” and a wealthy American who has never lived in Israel has bought the property for the settler movement. The case has been held up in court because of disputes about whether the houses were owned or merely rented in the pre-1948 period. According to the morning paper, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the settlers and these Palestinian families will now have to leave to make room for the settlers. Of course by Israeli law, these Arab families have no recourse to their families’ pre-1948 property in west Jerusalem, nor any compensation. But they are to be evicted for other Israelis whose families were not even around in 1948.

The goal is not just for a house or two, but, once the foot is in the door, for a large housing complex of over one hundred units.

The bottom line is that such settlement activity leads neither to peace nor the security of Israel.

Once again, it is important to stress that a stance exposing the problems of Israeli settlements is consistent with official U.S. policy, international law, and world opinion. It is consistent with President Bush’s 2003 Road Map. It is consistent with the Obama administration’s approach to the peace talks. It is also listed as one of the basic issues needing to be resolved for a just and secure peace between Palestinians and Israelis according to the ELCA Peace Not Walls Campaign.


For Israeli opinion critical of the settlements see:

For an American Jewish view see:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Yom Kippur

From Fred & Gloria Strickert           

Silence. Rest. Peace. That’s Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. A time to end quarrels. A time to make amends. A time for fasting and asking forgiveness at the beginning of the Jewish year, now ten days old after Rosh Hashanah.

This year Yom Kippur falls on a Saturday, Shabbat. So it’s a day of rest squared, or, more likely, the day of rest to the seventh power. Though a poll taken last week by Haaertz newspaper confirms that by far the majority of Israeli Jews are secular, Israelis take this day seriously, for many the one day of the year to attend synagogue, to hear the blowing of the Shofar, and to recite the Kol Nidre. For the die-hard secularists, the long weekend provides a good excuse to get out of town for a trip to the Mediterranean seacoast.

In Jerusalem, the significance of the day is obvious for all—Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike. No TV. No radio. Driving is forbidden. The streets are barricaded. Even where we are in East Jerusalem, shops are closed and only an occasional taxi passes by. In the more secular coastal city Acre a riot broke out two years ago when an Arab drove his car through a Jewish neighborhood. So for us, it’s a quiet day at home alone reading.

In the traditional spirit of “building a fence around the law” buses stopped running at mid-afternoon Friday, shopkeepers closed up at noon, tour groups made the rounds on Thursday to head north to Galilee, and check-points from the West Bank were closed already the previous midnight. One of our church staff traveled an extra ten miles out of his way to reach work on Friday, others could not make it at all.

The sun set at 5:38 p.m. Friday night, beginning the fast--now that daylight savings time has ended—seeming so early for mid-September. Sitting outside and observing the city from our Mount of Olives perch, we noticed the high-rise office buildings of West Jerusalem off in the distance shrouded in darkness. Closer down the valley, we spotted red and green traffic signals now flashing amber. Gazing to the northwest, and down upon “Settler highway # 1” that tunnels under the Mount of Olives to the mega-settlement Ma'ale Adumim, not a car or truck was in sight. And looking southwest toward the old city below and the lighted Dome of the Rock upon the mammoth remains of the Herodian temple platform, we could only imagine what it must have been like two thousand years ago, and earlier, when the high priest donned his special robes, and, for that one day only, entered the Holy of Holies, while the crowds filled with awe stood by in sacred silence.

24 hours of silence, 24 hours of rest, 24 hours of peace.
So why not peace for the entire year?

Fred & Gloria Strickert