I am back from a second journey to Israel – the previous one was in 2013. I would simply like to share some images, without the slightest apologetic pretention. It was a two- phase journey: a “traditional” pilgrimage week, with a group of Christians, followed by four days with my Israeli cousins.
Jerusalem. The Old City, buried under the weight of levels of history and religion. But it is a living city, as well. Alleys, crowded with legions of tourists, Arabs wearing keffiyeh or niqab, Jews with side curls, caftans and large hats, Ethiopian monks wearing their long cassocks, yeshiva students with
a black velvet yarmulke,
Franciscan priests in brown garb, policemen, soldiers, male and female, with a
gun on shoulder. People pass each other with little, if any, communication,
except for the merchants who badger you and extol their products.
The Christian Holy sites
the Holy Sepulchre, the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, etc. The
swarming crowds and the surrounding din make any attempt for recollection a
vain pursuit. But there is a one notable exception, the Basilica of the Agony,
in Gethsemane, where an attentive Franciscan friar enforces the silence and
where the dimmed light, around the rock, is an invitation to prayer.
The landscapes of Galilee, green and flowery, as spring arrives, evoke the settings of biblical stories. Then there is the Sea of Tiberias and, in the distance, the Golan Heights, which lead one to think of clearly less peaceful places…
Yes, the Kotel. To those who persist in calling it "the Wailing Wall", I advise you to go there on a Thursday morning. People gather there to celebrate bar mitzvah (mitzvoth, because there are many of them), in a climate of amazing joy and fervor. At the Kotel, I brought - and wore - the kippah offered to me on my previous trip by the father of my cousin's wife. He is a 90 year old man, polyglot, bright and cheerful as a child. At the moment he offered me this kippah, he said to me: "I attend the synagogue out of loyalty to my parents."
The Dead Sea, whose level is alarmingly low. Its shores are disappearing and its banks subsiding. Will the pipeline project bringing water from the Red Sea ever materialize? Led by a French native Israeli guide, we visit Masada and Qumran.
Tel Aviv, bustling and yet relaxed. The splendid campus of the University, with the Diaspora museum. The Sarona district – an agricultural colony founded in the 19th century by the Templar Society of Christoph Hoffmann – a weird set of German-style, nicely restored houses, amidst high offices buildings. This neighborhood is now a fashionable area.
Rehovot, where, four years ago, I visited the famous Weizmann Institute. This time, I discovered the remarkable kibbutz of Machon Ayalon. There, from 1946 to 1948, members of the Haganah, six meters underground, manufactured millions of 9 mm bullets, right under the nose of the British Mandate authorities.
On the way back from the Dead Sea, our Israeli guide told us that he made his alyah twenty years before, just “to see”, and that he decided to stay in Israel. He added that several of his companions returned to Europe. They came with too many preconceived ideas and too idealistic a vision. "They could not bear to see that Israel is a country like any other". Perhaps. But that country seems to me quite different from others. I feel plenty of enthusiasm and vitality among its inhabitants... Something very different from our “depressive” Europe. Next year in Jerusalem? I hope…