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An experience of Israel

   

January 14, 2003
By Steve Drudge

 
Steve Drudge and Gordon Ja
   

Markham, Ont.—I had dreamed of visiting Israel someday, and the one-month Bat Kol program seemed a good fit. Thanks to a scholarship and the strong support of my family and church I was able to go.

The Bat Kol Institute in Jerusalem lets Christians study the Bible within its Jewish milieu, using Jewish resources, with Christian and Jewish professors. (MC Canada Witness worker Glenn Witmer is also Bat Kol's Registrar, and the Director of Program Development and Publishing.) Classroom engagement with the biblical text is augmented by Bible study at associated archaeological sites. This year's theme was "Excavating Exodus." We traveled to Sinai, the Dead Sea region, Bethlehem and Galilee and took walking tours in Jerusalem.

Studying the Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish context in which Jesus was rooted shed new light on Jesus' teaching and the gospels.

I gained a fresh appreciation for the rich nuances of the Hebrew text. In Exodus 34:6, God's first self-description as "compassionate" (NIV) translates literally from Hebrew as "mother's womb." One rabbi likens reading the Bible through a translation to kissing through a towel.

In contrast to Sunday School images of "Moses and the Burning Bush," actually seeing a knee-high, dry wilderness thorn bush gave me a new appreciation for God's humility in lowering himself to enter into the suffering of the enslaved people.

We participated in Jewish synagogue services and Sabbath meals in homes. I was dismayed to learn about anti-Jewish attitudes that developed in the early Christian church. I feel ashamed that Christian Crusaders butchered Jews in Eastern Europe on their march east to massacre Muslims in the Holy Land a memory that is but 'yesterday' to Jews and Muslims. Jews suffered an immeasurable Holocaust in "Christian" Europe and are grateful for a homeland today. We spoke with Israelis who live with the constant fear of suicide attacks and the inconsolable grief of having lost loved ones.

We also experienced warm hospitality in Palestinian homes. We witnessed the crippling effects of the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza: 60% or higher unemployment in some areas, long curfews in which entire villages and cities of Palestinian people are imprisoned in their own homes, interrupted schooling and commerce, houses shelled, sometimes with the occupants inside, crops bulldozed… the list goes on and on.

I spent a day in Hebron with Christian Peacemaker Teams and another in Gaza with Mennonite Central Committee personnel, and saw first-hand the destruction and suffering caused by the conflict fuelled by the Israeli occupation.

For more information on the Bat Kol institute see its web site, http://www.batkol.info.