Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Isrealities: Perspectives from Israel

A new blog series by Project Interfaith's International Blogger, Emily Muskin

January 1, 2011

As I slowly stroll through the streets, sipping my pomegranate and orange concoction, I smell the wafting odors of freshly baked bread. The cobble stones threaten to throw me off balance at any second, and I feel a slow smile spread across my face at the thought of being back in this amazing place. The Old City of Jerusalem makes me feel as though I’ve stepped back in time.

David K. Shipley, a Pulitzer prize-winning American author once wrote, “Jerusalem is a festival and a lamentation. Its song is a sigh across the ages, a delicate, robust, mournful psalm at the great junction of spiritual cultures.” Though I have a hard time phrasing my feelings so eloquently, Shipley’s quote really describes the multifaceted dimensions of Jerusalem.

In one day, I walked on the cobble stones through the Armenian, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish quarters in the old city, and then exited to the modern, new city. I walked among Haredi (Ultra Orthodox) Jews dressed in traditional attire, young Israeli soldiers, tourists from all over the world, Christian laymen, Muslim women dressed in full religious attire, etc., etc., the list goes on and on!

I have visited Jerusalem on two prior occasions and have always been struck by the almost magical compilation of the cultures of past and present. The Old City of Jerusalem only comprises a 2.5 mile area, yet it is home to some of the holiest religious sites within the Abrahamic faiths. From the Western Wall to the Dome of the Rock to the Holy Church of the Sepulchre, I was literally drinking in history!

This city is also home to conflict on many different levels; conflicts of secularity vs. orthodoxy, Muslims vs. Jews, and modernity vs. history. The “great lamentation” and “mournful song” that Shipley speaks of seems to me to be these constantly conflicting ideologies. All of these diverse cultural groups coexist without really seeing one another.

This is a debate that I am not going to elaborate on just yet, except to say that the more I travel and see the world and other cultures, the more I appreciate the necessity for organizations like Project Interfaith. Before my journey to Israel, we discussed as a staff what the next step would be for people after they attended our programs and became interested in our work. I immediately suggested travelling, which is how this blog began in the first place. This will hopefully provide a little insight into my experience in expanding myself personally and spiritually. My hope is that this blog will reflect some of the passion and inspiration I have gleaned from my travels and interactions with diverse groups of people.

Emily Muskin was the fall 2010 Development and Communications intern for Project Interfaith. She has graciously agreed to continue with Project Interfaith as our international blogger while she experiences Israel. She graduated from the University of Kansas in 2008 with a degree in Latin American Studies. In May 2010, she concluded her year of service with Americorps Vista Program and Goodwill Industries in Kansas City. This was where her interest in the non-profit world began. In her free time, Emily enjoys cookng, reading, traveling to foreign lands, and watching cheesy reality cooking shows.

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