Middle East Peace Programs

Exploring Shared Values and Hopes in Jerusalem

People from all over the world from different religious and ethnic backgrounds refer to Jerusalem as the birthplace or at least a place of importance for their particular religious beliefs and practices. Three major religions of the world had the most impact on the city in terms of its architecture, culture, and demographics, and these three major religions were the most influenced by the city as well. Jerusalem, a holy place for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, is still the symbol and the tangible proof that the stories of Torah, Bible, and Qur'an took place in real life and that prophets such as Abraham were real people in their quest for God and faith.

That is why this 40th Middle East Peace Initiative trip, like the previous trips, was initiated with a tour of the old city of Jerusalem to help people understand and connect with our common roots, honor our common ancestors, enjoy the holy monuments of our religion, and to appreciate the beauty that is universal to all of us.

All of us went on a tour of the old city of Jerusalem. For some of us it was our first visit to the city of Jerusalem, for others it was their 2nd, 10th or 20th trip to the Holy Land. But to see Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Western Wall, touch the stones of the holy city, smell the air, and see the sky above Jerusalem, while trying to comprehend and to imagine the city thousands of years ago, is never too much to experience.

We started our tour with Dome of the Rock. The weather was amazing. The sun was shining, and the breeze was light and refreshing when we climbed up to the plaza of the famous mosque. The photos can show its beauty and amazing architecture, but one has to be there to see it for oneself. To touch the marble stones, to see the real blue of its walls, and to bow one’s head in front of the famous mosque, brings forth the whisper: “Allah is truly great!” It did not matter that the majority of us were not Muslims, the only thing that came to our minds was that we were the descendants of Abraham, our common father of faith, who brought us closer to our God, our Heavenly Father who is great, merciful, and almighty. And the Dome of the Rock is a reminder of it.

Next on our tour was the church that was built on the spot where Jesus Christ was crucified and later buried, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We went through the Via Dolorosa, the famous path that Jesus walked before the crucifixion. The narrow, crowded streets are full of tiny shops where you can buy rugs, traditional pottery, food, and antiques. Everything looks very colorful and lovely here, so for the moment it is difficult to imagine that it is the Via Dolorosa where Jesus walked, stumbling upon the rocks, falling down, and carrying his cross towards the place of death, his final destination. One then would find oneself standing on the courthouse before the holy church that was destroyed and rebuilt a hundred times only to remain as powerful and sad as ever, the place where Jesus was  crucified. Monks of various religious denominations are taking care of the holy church, living in the convents built close to the Church, sharing the burdens of a daily life and the joy of being so close to a Christian holy place. Once again, despite our different religious backgrounds, we were touched to the depth of our hearts by the gift of Faith and love that Jesus represented and still represents.

The final destination of our tour was the Holy Jewish Place, the Western Wall, the place where Jews had been gathering for centuries to weep over their sufferings and despairs, to find comfort in God and to share their dreams and hopes with him. However, we were fortunate to see this place from a different, very unique perspective: our visit coincided with the day of celebrations of the various bar mitzvahs, where dozens of families celebrated the successful holy readings presentation of their sons, grandsons, and brothers by throwing parties right next to Western Wall, sharing food and joy over the happy event. The place was full of people, laughter, prayers, wails, celebrations, prayers, and holy readings. It was a holy place indeed, for God is always there when his children hope, cry, and laugh together.

While getting ready to leave, approaching the exit gate, all of us glanced back at the wall; looking up, we saw the most amazing clear blue sky and beneath it the stars of David, the Golden Dome, and the holy crosses all in the same place, very close to each other, representing different religions but reminding us of shared values and ancestry and the same Father, who hopes that we would embrace each other and forgive our differences, by celebrating and valuing them, because we are all part of him.

For a map of some of the historic and holy sites visited, click here.

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