Visits to the Mount of Olives, Garden of Gethsemane, Western Wall and the Wojoud Cultural Center
(These blog entries provide brief reports and insights from our conference in Israel and Palestine. They are written by our participants and are neither comprehensive nor in depth reports, but simply glimpses into the amazing experiences we are having together.)
We left our hotel this morning and rode up to the Mount of Olives, where we took a group photo overlooking the old city of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. We descended the path that Christ walked with his disciples and the crowds on Palm Sunday, and we stopped at the Church of the Agony along the way. When we reached the Garden of Gethsemane, one of our members read the passage describing Jesus’ last hours before the Romans came for him, and his plea that they might stay awake with him. It was emotional to listen to these words while marveling at the ancient olive trees, some of which are over 900 years old. Our last stop was at the Western Wall, where many group members chose to cover their heads and go to the wall to pray, with men and women in separate sections, among the diverse crowds of worshipers and tourists.
After walking through the Jewish Quarter, we entered the Christian Quarter for our lunch. From the busy marketplace tightly packed with merchants’ stalls, we went through a small door and entered the Wujoud Cultural Center and Museum with its interior filled with unique and charming rooms. “Wujoud” means “existence” and the center, sponsored by the Arab Orthodox Society of Jerusalem, is a place to celebrate and learn about Arab culture. Nora Kort, the founder of the Center and a former International Peacemaker with the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, welcomed us graciously and introduced us to the center, sharing the evolution of the space – given by the Greek Orthodox Church – and the many struggles to renovate the building to its beautiful condition today. She also shared with us the story of her family’s struggle to live as Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem, the expulsion from their home and the indignities and restrictions that control so many aspects of daily life for those living under the occupation. On the rooftop after a delicious lunch, she regaled us with stories of dealing with Jerusalem bureaucracy, including frustrations and small triumphs.