Monday, March 28, 2011

Daily walk to the Old City
by Fred & Gloria Strickert

Living atop the Mount of Olives we have a breath-taking view of the city of Jerusalem: Wadi Joz and Sheik Jarah just below us, the old city a bit to the south, and West Jerusalem further to the west.  Our forty minute morning walk to Redeemer Church in the midst of the old city (Fred five days a week & Gloria twice a week) is a daily reminder of Palm Sunday and Good Friday.  The Gospel texts are engraved on the stones and acted out among the people we encounter along the way.
Heading first into the sunrise, we look forward to our Easter Sunrise service on the hillside beyond the Augusta Victoria Church of the Ascension. Through the olive grove we wind our way to the street.

The street, intersecting the LWF campus, heads south along the crest of the hill toward the Orthodox Church of the Ascension in the distance.

The view west across the valley toward the Old City.  The LWF football field is a gathering place for East Jerusalem youth.  Plans & funding are ready for improvements to make this a Class A sports facility, but the municipality must give approval and that doesn't come easy.  Just beyond the field can be seen the white caravan trailers of the newly expanding Jewish settlement. With the passing of each day, the elusive peace seems buried more deeply under concrete and rock.

The same day the settle- ment freeze expired, the Israeli govern- ment okayed 24 new apart- ments.
So settlement construction has gone on non-stop including a visit of public support by Mike Huckabee, laying the cornerstone.
            In the meantime, the years long wait continues for building permits for the Augusta Victoria Housing Project.  In the meantime Palestinian homes demolitions occur on a regular basis.

And so even a downhill walk seems uphill.

Further down the hill we meet dozens of Muslim children with backpacks heading to the  Ibrahim  School and college.  Up the hill and to the left in photo is Hebrew University.

The Kidron Valley separates Mount of Olives from the old city. At the very left, the Dome of the Rock peaks out above the city walls.  Down from it and left of the photo is Gethsemane. The downward journey turns into an uphill climb toward the Rockefeller Museum with its tower rising above the horizon.
                                                                                                                                                                At the top of the hill we reach the Northeast corner of the city walls. 
After a few minutes we come to the main East Jerusalem shopping center with Salahadin Street heading north from the Old City.
Herod's Gate leads us into the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
A welcoming party of two Israeli soldiers stands inside the gate to check IDs of every Palestinian male between ages of 18 to 30.  On Fridays, when noonday prayer brings crowds to Al-Aqsa mosque, men under the age of 50 are not permitted and Fred sometimes has to show his ID. 
In the early morning we en- counter  children on their way to school or boys deliver- ing fresh baked bread to stores from the neighborhood bakery.

Our destination is the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer located on the map by the green marking just under the "er" of "Christian Quarter."  From Herod's Gate (just above the "Q" in "Muslim Quarter") we zigzag our way through narrow streets.

On the map, the red dots all represent Jewish settlements established in the Old City over the last two decades.  As you can see, most are in the highly populated Muslim Quarter.  The building below on the right (just above the small "m" in "Muslim Quarter") was occupied by settlers about five years ago when the Muslim residents were away attending a wedding.  Their own armed guards make sure the previous residents will not return.  The photo on the left shows the area below the capital "M" in Muslim, with an Israeli flag reminding all the neighbors who occupies this house.
So more soldiers

Notice the security cameras in several directions at the top of photo below.
Nothing goes unnoticed.
Near the Ecce Homo Convent (near the large green rectangle north of the Dome of the Rock on the map) we head west, picking up the Via Dolorosa, "The Way of Sorrows."  Every morning, we encounter three or four pilgrim groups retracing the steps of Jesus, carrying the cross, singing hymns, and reading the Passion accounts from the Gospels.

At the Fifth Station a group from Mexico pauses to sing with guitar accompaniment to remember the role of Simon of Cyrene in taking up the cross of Jesus.
We have reached Redeemer Church, built upon the foundations of the twelfth-century Church of St. Mary Latina.  Here the restored arch from that early structure greets us.
Just ahead is the Muristan Market and the minaret of the Mosque of Omar.  And to the right, the historic Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
May your Lenten journey be blessed as you make your way to Good Friday and Easter.

Fred & Gloria Strickert

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Little Girl, Arise

by Fred & Gloria Strickert

There's nothing more fascinating than old photos if you want to get a hold on the history of a place.
So on International Women's Day, this 1929 photo of the Jerusalem women's democratic club is fascinating.  This was just 9 years after women's suffrage was adopted in the USA.  Their focus was on non-violence, human rights, and democratic values.  Where did this originate?  On this international women's day, it is significant that a Palestinian Women's Bill of rights was adopted in 1994, the year that Palestinians achieved their first breath of self-rule.  There's plenty of room for growth when it comes to women's issues, but five out of 19 of Palestinian cabinet ministers are women and many leaders in education and business are women, including the head of the Palestinian stock exchange authority and Governor of Ramallah region.

The first school of girls in Jerusalem was given the name Talitha Kumi.  That's an Aramaic term that occurs in the New Testament.                                                                                                                                                            In Mark 5:41, when Jesus encountered a twelve-year old girl at the moment of death, he took her hand and said, "Little girl, arise."  So it was very appropriate, that this Aramaic term was used for the name of a school that lifted up young girls through education and career development.  The Talitha Kumi was a long-time landmark in Jerusalem, northwest of the Old City on King George Street.  The name positioned below the clock and above an arch announced to all that education for young girls was important.

These were some of the first Lutheran Missionaries.  They did not come to convert others but to show their faith in service to others.  They came from a small village on the Rhine River of Germany called Kaiserswerth, where there was a school of Deaconesses.  Their most famous graduate in 1853 was Florence Nightengale.  But three others came to Jerusalem that same year to establish Talitha Kumi.  In subsequent years hundreds of Arab girls graduated to become nurses in health ministries and to improve their lot in life.

After the 1948 war, when the Lutheran congregations were located in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the church lost the school which was demolished to make room for a new department store.  Yet thousands of cars drive by each day to see the arch with its clock and the words Talitha Kumi, left as a monument of earliers days.
Talitha Kumi, however, did not die, but a new school was built in the West Bank town of Beit Jala-- now one of the top coed schools in the country, where Christians and Muslims study side by side, learning respect for each other's faith, and enhancing their academic work with strong programs in music, environmental education, and peace studies.

Talitha Kumi began as a school for girls.  Also in the 1850s another German named Johannes Schneller arrived in Jerusalem with a number of Syrian orphans.  This developed into the Schneller Syrian Orphanage and Boys School.  This was the first school in all Jerusalem to offer a liberal arts curriculum, science, math, history, language.  As a German Lutheran institution, like Talitha Kumi, the school was closed and property confiscated and turned into an Israeli military base until 2008.  Now it will be turned into housing development for orthodox Jews.  Today the ELCJHL operates four k-12 schools in West Bank cities of Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Bethlehem, and Ramallah with about 2,000 students, an amazing figure for such a small church.  Half of the students are Muslim-- in Ramallah 80 %.  This fits with the philosophy of missionaries 150 years ago, that their purpose was not conversion, but the education of young people to contribute to the better of Society.  Notice again the 1929 photo above of Christian and Muslim women uniting over common values.  Christians and Muslims have lived together in this place for almost 1,400 years, and their future depends on their development together in schools where Christians are taught to respect Muslims and Muslims are taught to respect Christians.

Last month in Ramallah Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was the guest speaker for the cornerstone laying for a new Lutheran school in Ramallah, one that will quadruple in size the current school.  This is a clear endorsement that the PA respects the work of Lutheran Schools, especially the interfaith education setting, and the focus on top-notch education for young girls.
Later blogs will return to the schools.  There are many good stories to tell.  For now, here's one recent experience with the schools, when Fred served as a judge for the students of all four schools coming together for their annual English Bowl.

Many of the 24 Eighth, ninth, and tenth-grade students who competed, along with teachers and judges at Dar Akalima School in Bethlehem.

This young woman, a ninth grader, competed in interpretative reading as also in extemporaneous speaking.  This is amazing when English is a second language to Arabic and they learn German as well.

The four judges, English speakers from England, Canada, and the USA
A Dar Akalima Teacher proudly congratulates her medal-winning daughter.  A perfect story for International Women's Day in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
by Fred & Gloria Strickert