I have been warned about Israeli men… especially shop keepers. But I forgot to bring my fake wedding ring [which is apparently quite useful for single female volunteers]. I’ve already been offered a tour to the Dead Sea by a merchant selling souvenirs by St John the Baptist. More on that later…
On the morning of day two I got a tour around the convent, learned about the history and the Charism of the order. The Guest House that I’m staying in was originally a school for orphans, primarily Muslim girls from the village of Ein Kerem. After the establishment of Israel in 1948, all the Arabs fled the village, and the school house eventually became a place for hospitality.
There are three communities here: Two communities of Sisters (one being contemplative), and one community of Brothers. They come from all over the world (France, Brazil, Poland, and Egypt, to name a few). They speak primarily French and English here, though Sister A, who has been here for 42 years, is also fluent in Hebrew. They hire Palestinian staff, and many of their guests are Israeli. Their House in Old Jerusalem, Ecce Homo, attracts mostly Christians from all backgrounds because of their location on the Via Dolorosa (the path that Jesus walked while carrying his cross to be crucified).
In the afternoon, I set out to explore the village a bit. Ein Kerem is known for being the place where Mary, while being pregnant with Jesus, met Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist. So what happens when there’s a holy/famous site? You build a church on it. So we have the Church of the Visitation. It’s also famous for being the site where Elizabeth hid John as told in the apocryphal gospel of James. When I came up to it, I met a Franciscan Monk, Father Anthony, in full habit and taking a pipe break. A little later I met 3 Franciscan Sisters visiting the church.
After this, I walked around and came to the Church of St John the Baptist, the site where he was born. I also encountered the Shop Keeper who offered a personal tour (haha) and gave me a bracelet to remember him by.
Tomorrow I start work, but the most challenging task here will be learning some Arabic and Hebrew phrases [ugh! I’m terrible with languages]. It still doesn’t feel real. If anything, I feel small and insignificant. So many stories are etched in these stones, and so many people have passed through these streets. And like some of these archeological digs here, I’ll only be scratching the surface in terms of “life in the Holy Land.”