Editor Bethany Leggett in Jerusalem in May

I have just returned from a 10-day trip to the Holy Land. There’s nothing like overcoming jet lag by going straight into a deadline; it forces you to download all your pictures, write all your captions, and catalog all your feelings in a mad rush. And boy, do I have the pictures — and the feelings. 

There are so many things I wish to share with you about my adventure to Israel and Palestine. I joined a group of 44 people — most who attend St. Simons Presbyterian Church, Christ Church Frederica, or Temple Beth Tefilloh. It was an incredible exploration of the land and the people through a religious lens of ancient and modern complexities. The amazing trio of Rabbi Rachael Bregman and the Revs. Alan Dyer and Tom Purdy spearheaded our tenacious group of travelers, who ranged from 87-year-old Don to 4-year-old Lilith. We stood atop the ancient Herodian fortress at Masada, floated in the oily waters of the Dead Sea, and prayed at the Western Wall. The landscapes were stunning (You can flip over to page 95 to look at my photo essay from the trip).  

As I told the group during our last night there, it wasn’t the places that had carved themselves onto my heart; it was the people. Our group wasn’t a typical visiting tour. We came on an interfaith, peacemaking mission established through Mejdi Tours with a robust itinerary filled with visits between Jews, Muslims, and Christians. We attended a Shabbat service and had dinner with an Orthodox rabbi on a Friday; and had communion during an English-speaking Lutheran service in Jerusalem on Sunday. Speakers talked to us about the Holocaust. Others spoke to us about Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands. They shared stories of death, but also of resilience. Almost everyone said, “It’s complicated,” and we quickly decided that was the tagline for the trip.

In particular, one day stood out to me. We went to the West Bank, where we visited the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem (and no, he was not born in a stable — they didn’t have those). I marveled at the beautifully ornate Church of the Nativity, but I felt disconnected. I was waiting for an epiphany of sorts, and I didn’t find it there. Instead, I felt the most connected spiritually when we visited the Tent of Nations, an environmental and educational farm run by a Palestinian Christian family outside of Bethlehem.  The Nassar family has lived on the land for 103 years, but they are facing a protracted legal battle since the Israeli government classified the property as state land in 1991. As our group sat in a cave on the property — one of many habitable caves where the family lives since the government will not allow them to build on the land or have running water or electricity — we were astounded to hear a message of love and hope. We weren’t there to solve their problems but to bear witness and look at ways we build peace in our own lives. 

This trip has been the most fulfilling — and exhausting — travel experience I have ever had. It has left me asking myself: In what ways am I acting as a peacemaker? When do I answer with love and not anger, even if I feel my anger is justified? Where is injustice happening in our own town, and what will I do to end it? My journey has only just begun.    

Peace be with you, 

Bethany Leggett