The land of contradictions
During the last month, I was fortunate enough to be able to spend 10 days in Israel with a group of 40 other Jewish college students from Michigan.
While I was there, I climbed mountains, swam in the Dead Sea, rode a camel and saw the holiest Jewish sites in the world. I became friends with seven Israeli soldiers, saw the borders of Syria and Lebanon and visited an international organization that gives life-saving heart surgery to children in developing nations.
If there was one constant during my whirlwind trip of Israel, it was that Israel seems to be a land of contradictions. There are incredibly wealthy people in Israel, and yet there are those who live far below the poverty level. There are those in Israel who love the nation, and those who deny its existence. Even the weather itself is full of opposites. The desert sun is unforgiving during the day, but the temperature at night drops drastically.
However, out of all the extremes and contradictions I witnessed in Israel, one stuck out to me more than the others. When people think about Israel, or hear about it on the news, they generally think about a nation in turmoil -- a nation constantly at war. And to be fair, that is true. Israel is bordered by nations that it generally does not get along with. Sometimes, those wars have religious undertones. Within Israel, there are constant struggles about the Gaza strip and the occupied territories.
But when I was in Jerusalem, the epicenter of the nation, I heard one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. I was standing in the Old City, right where the market had been in biblical times. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around how old the stones I was standing on were, or how many people had stood there before me.
Standing there, in the Old City, I heard the bells of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre ring. The church is located on the exact spot that Jesus is said to have been crucified. Not too long after the bells rang out across the city, I heard the call to prayer ring out from a mosque. Across the way, I saw a boy with his family, reciting a portion of the Torah, having a bar mitzvah near the Western Wall.
No matter what your feelings are about religion, it’s hard to deny how beautiful it is to hear the three Western monotheistic religions sharing the air, their sounds mixing together at the same time.
This moment -- a brief moment of tolerance among Christianity, Islam and Judaism -- reminded me that no matter where you are, no matter what the history of the people or the land is, acceptance and tolerance can happen anywhere. Those things are choices, and they are choices that each individual makes every time they interact with anyone even just slightly different than they are.
Each one of us needs to constantly make the decision to try to understand our neighbors more complexly. This is the only way that we can ever reach tolerance or acceptance. And while you definitely don’t have to travel to another continent to remember that, it’s a lesson that we all must keep close to our hearts.