The wheels touched the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport this past Monday and people started to applaud. On El Al, they often play Israeli folk music too but not this time. The guy in seat 37B asked me why people were clapping. Since he had already learned I was a rabbi during the 11 hour flight and I was in 37A, I must have seemed like an obvious person to query. I told him it was because we had arrived ‘home.’ He thought about that and smiled.
This visit is different than past trips because I am joined by my friend Pastor Roy Howard from St Mark Presbyterian Church. We are participating in an interfaith clergy mission with Jewish and Christian clergy from around the country. We are exploring Jewish and Christian sites as well as the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
Because we did not sit together on the plane, we had a lot to catch up on at the luggage carousel. We remarked about the men pacing the aisles wearing their tallit and tefillin as the morning sun hit the window shades. Roy and I talked about how there is a commandment to pray in the morning and if people waited till we landed, it would be too late in the day. He and I often talk about prayer, our individual sense of being commanded and how our communities respond to these ideas.
We were met at the airport and driven to our hotel in Jerusalem to meet the other participants in this 8 day program sponsored by the Israel Action Network of the Jewish Federations of North America. The program is Interfaith Partners for Peace. We had a wonderful driver who must have recently retired from the Indianapolis 500 by the way he drove. As we got near Jerusalem, the driver cut across parts of East Jerusalem and we heard the afternoon Muslim call to prayer. The sound of the Arabic invitation lifted over the neighborhood we drove through. Roy and I turned to each other and laughed as we said we now had 2 out of 3 faiths covered that day.
In a little bit, we would be 3 for 3 – Jewish, Muslim and Christian prayer.
At the hotel, we learned the other participants had significant flight delays so we had free time until dinner. Not wanting to waste a minute, we cleaned up from the flight and walked towards the Old City. While our hotel is closer to the Damascus Gate, we continued to the Jaffa Gate. We stopped along the way to look at things, shared memories of past trips (this is Roy’s 6th trip and my 13th), and enjoyed walking through the Holy City together as friends and people of faiths.
We entered the Old City and navigated our way through the streets. At the plaza outside the Hurva Synagogue, we sat for a fresh mint lemonade and wrote notes for the Kotel. Roy shared with me the beautiful prayer he composed. It was about the importance of seeing beyond differences and affirming the unity and oneness of God.
We approached the Kotel with the weight of what this place means for each of us. We have different histories here and yet those pasts are intertwined. The Kotel is a complex place of spiritual uplift and conflict. Yet, standing there together brought a new richness for me.
I know these next days will push and challenge me in wonderful ways. Those pushes are the essence of spiritual growth. So on our first day in Israel, Roy and I were 3 for 3 with Abrahamic prayers. I can only image what the next days will bring and I plan on sharing many of them with you.