My reflection begins when I returned home. I wanted to digest my experience before writing about it, but I have not digested it. Also, at first I did not want to write my reflection because I did not want my experience to gel into words and lose its aliveness.
On December 24, 2008, I returned from the fortieth Middle East Peace Initiative to Israel.
It is January 6, 2009. Not a day has gone by that I do not dream of Israel, even when dozing. The people, the places, the atmosphere—it is active in my soul. The connection made to The Holy Land through this short trip is indescribable. The cause for peace is pumping my heart. How did this happen in me?
Israel gave itself to me. Through food, through sleep, through traveling the terrain, through talking to and listening to its people tell their stories, through people trying desperately to be understood, through walking the streets, through the markets, through breathing the air, through passing the checkpoints, I found Israel to be a culture that exists not for her own sake but to give and share who she is, and I absorbed it all. MEPI designed this experience and has laid an incredible foundation, and I am eternally grateful.
The question that remains and plagues me is what to do about the situation that palpably exists there of two brothers, both victims, both equally victimized, and both with embedded blame, hatred, and mistrust of one another. What can I do? is the question that haunts my dreams. I love them both, all of them.
I experienced going home when I went to Israel. I believe this is not uncommon for people to feel because, with its cultures, its climate, its religions, and its barriers intensified all at one dot on the map, the small place that is Israel is a microcosm of the world. Being led around through this, having it all explained to me by the tour guides with a heart of “pouring their soul,” and listening to the people we met, lecturers, and my fellow travelers added up to an immersion experience.
My deepest, most profound experience is a simple one. On my last day, I was shopping with friends in the Old City. Waiting for my friends to come out of a stall, I browsed at another stall, looking at silver rings. They were inscribed. They were something I had not seen yet but had thought I might want, so I was attracted. I tried one on, and it fit. The stall owner came over and said it was 85 shekels. I had only 12 shekels left, so I balked and assured him I could not buy it. I asked him what the inscription meant, and he said it meant “I love Jerusalem.” I loved it and wanted it but had no intention of buying it. He began lowering the price. Finally I laughed and told him I had only 12 shekels left. He lowered the price five times, but I just smiled and had to walk away with my friends when they came out. He chased after me down the narrow path with the ring and said, “Give me your 12 shekels.” As I did he looked me in the eye and said, “I trust you.” On the plane back, I asked the Israeli Jew beside me what the inscription meant. He looked at it and said, “Sh’ma Yisrael. Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad!” When I said I didn’t understand, he said, “Aren’t you a Jew?” I shook my head, and he said in broken English, “Listen, nation of Israel. There is One God.” Then the Bible verse (Deuteronomy 6:4) floated into my mind and hit me in the gut like a revelation, and I exclaimed:
"Hear, O Israel! The Lord Our God, the Lord is One!”
“Sh’ma Yisrael! Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad!“
This 12-sheckel ring, which is probably tin, is my most precious treasure. It encapsulates my whole experience.
Going to Israel was only the beginning. I never expected to become changed by going there. I never expected to become an Israelite. I can’t put it down. I am studying Israel, reading about it, watching movies and documentaries, and wanting to learn the Hebrew and Arabic languages.
It is obvious to me that something like MEPI, coming from outside the conflict, is the answer for Israel because Israel’s identity has become wrapped up in the conflict. Who would she be without it? She would not be Israel. She would be transformed. This is not something she alone can conceive. What shall we do?
by Elizabeth Henkin
January 6, 2009
This trip was organized by the Middle East Peace Initiative, an ongoing global effort to join faith and civic leaders from all religious backgrounds to pray together, reconcile and help bring an end to the violence there.
More information about the Middle East Peace Initiative