A group of 44 pilgrims  — many from Christ Church Frederica, St. Simons Presbyterian Church, and Temple Beth Tefilloh — journeyed to the Holy Land at the end of May on an interfaith trip, led by Mejdi Tours. They toured the ancient stones of the Old City in Jerusalem, walked the streets of Nazareth, traced their hands across the Western Wall, and strolled by the seaside in the Roman ruins at Caeserea. 

Witnessing the living stones — the people they met during their travels — proved equally impactful. The group shared a Shabbat dinner with an Orthodox rabbi on a Friday night and received communion during a Lutheran service on Sunday. They walked through the street celebrations at the end of Ramadan. And they listened to many speakers — Jews, 

Christians, and Muslims — explain how making peace, despite the complications from centuries of conflict, is the great hope for the future of both Israel and a Palestinian nation. On the following pages, the words of the living stones are captured alongside photos of the ancient ones.  

Walking down the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus took from where he was condemned to where he was crucified.

“We get many Christian groups that visit the ancient stones, but they forget to visit the living stones. There are Christians still worshiping here.” – A Lutheran Priest

Masada

The Snake Path is a small path that crisscrosses from the base to the summit of Masada.

An ancient Herodian fortress sits atop the cliffs that overlook the Dead Sea in the West Bank. Masada became a refuge of the last survivors of the Jewish revolt in 73 A.D. Chronicler Flavius Josephus recorded the details of the seige of Masada by the Romans, which resulted in a mass suicide by the Jews, who chose death over slavery. Today, some soldiers will be sworn into the Israeli Defense Forces at Masada, after making the perilous hike up the steep ascent. A tram ride and the Snake Path are also available for the everyday traveler, with views of Roman encampments.  

Mezuzah

A mezuzah, seen here in the ancient town of Tzipori, is a small scroll with an inscription from the Torah that is affixed to the doorway of a Jewish home. In Orthodox homes, they will have a mezuzah at the entrance to each room, with an exception of the bathrooms.

A mezuzah, seen here in the town of Tzippori, is a small scroll with an inscription from the Torah that is affixed to the doorway of a Jewish home. For Orthodox observers, they will have a mezuzah at the entrance to each room in their home, with an exception for the bathrooms.  

“We invite many into our home. My table is blessed by guests. Welcome.” — An Orthodox rabbi during shabbat dinner. In the rabbi’s home, he had a mezuzah at the entrance to each room in his house. His family touched each mezuzah as they entered every room. 

Women prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

The Western Wall, or Kotel, in Jerusalem is a holy site for the Jewish people. Top and middle photos: The wall  — a retaining wall of the second temple built by King Herod — is divided into separate prayer spaces for men and women. Bottom: Temple Mount — which includes the Dome of the Rock with its gold dome visible just beyond the Kotel; the Al-Aqsa Mosque; archaeological sites; and museums  — is a holy site for Muslims and sits above the believed remains of the first and second Jewish temples. Temple Mount is under the control of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, and non-Muslims are not allowed to enter either the Dome of the Rock or the Al-Aqsa Mosque. An imam with the mosque met with the Mejdi tour travelers outside Temple Mount. With the help of an interpreter, the imam explained the intricacies of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that includes fasting from sunrise to sunset. During Ramadan, the Al-Aqsa Mosque will get an influx of hundreds of thousands of Muslims who travel to the city for Friday prayers. 

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9

The view of the Sea of Galilee from the Beatitude Monastery atop the Mount of Beatitudes, Israel. This is where Jesus gave his Sermon the Mount.

“You get a lot of perspectives here. You notice I didn't say two sides because they are many perspectives here. If we don't talk, then the extremist voices win. So we have to talk to each other.” – A Lutheran priest

The Tent of Nations in the West Bank, outside of Bethlehem, is where the Nassar family runs a farm on land they have owned for 103 years. The Palestinian Christians family is in a protracted legal battle against the State of Israel, which classified the property as state land in 1991. The family is not allowed to have running water or electricity on the property, so they live in caves, collect rainwater, and are developing ways to cultivate their olive groves with composting and other agricultural methods. The case is before the Israeli Supreme Court.

“I’m an Arab. I’m Palestinian. I’m Christian. And I’m Israeli. I know my identity is complicated, but it is who I am. I have to take all four words as my identity. It's a whole package. All these four together in one person. If I skip it, leave a part out of it, I won't be honest with my identity.” — An Episcopal priest speaking on identity. The term ‘Arab’ describes a culture, not a religion. Arabs may be muslim, christian, secular, etc. The term ‘Palestinian’ describes Arabs living in Israel and in the territories of the west bank, east Jerusalem, and Gaza; and those from the region that now reside in other countries. A Palestinian’s legal status in Israel and the occupied areas is dependent upon where they were born.   

“They do these things, no water and no electricity, to push people to leave or to violence. But we will not leave and we will not react.”

Caesarea National Park includes fortifications made by the Crusaders; and a mosque and minaret built by the Turks in the 1870s, when they brought Muslim refugees from Bosnia to live there.

"We can lose everything but hope. We can’t lose hope.”- A Sufi Sheikh

A stroll through Jerusalem’s City Center after Shabbat ends on a Saturday night.

"It's important to create one circle. We are one. I don't agree, but I must respect you." - A Sufi Shiekh 

The Tulip Winery is located within the Village of Hope, a place where adults with diabilities live and work in Israel. The winery chose to locate their tasting room within the village in order to employ several residents of the village.

Tulip Winery was started in 2003 as a boutique winery with a mission for social responsibility. 

The winery is located within the Village of Hope, Kfar Tikvah, a community for adults with developmental and emotional disabilities. Around 200 people, ages ranging from 21 to the late 80s, live within the village, which is subsidized by the Israeli government to cover food, clothing, and housing. Around 100 caretakers also work in the village. Residents work for a wage, set by the state, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. 

Tulip Winery chose to locate their tasting room within the Village of Hope in order to employ 8 residents, who sort grapes by hand, set up the tasting room, and more. 

The Holy Land Interfaith group gather on the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem.

See the rest of Bethany's trip to Israel here.