Day 2: Jacob’s Well, Nablus Old City, Samaritan Village, Mount Gerizim

Continuing on Day 2 of Ecclesia Houston‘s Holy Land pilgrimage with Breaking Bread Journeys, we started our tour by making our way from Netanya to Nablus in the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories. Our first stop was to the Greek Orthodox Church that sits atop the three-millennia-old Jacob’s Well. Christianity has a longstanding connection with the site of the well, with various churches being constructed on the site since 384 AD. We tried to guess the depth of the well today, which prompted me to research the question. I found that based on a measurement made in 1935, the total depth of the well is 41 meters (135 ft).

Pastor Chris read to us from John’s Gospel 4:1-26, which describes the account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman who drew water for Jesus from this very well. In the passage Jesus tells the Samaritan woman of the living water that quenches our spiritual thirst forever. Jesus breaks accepted social barriers of the time by associating as a Jew with a Samaritan, and by associating publicly with a woman.

Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “Drink this water, and your thirst is quenched only for a moment. You must return to this well again and again. I offer water that will become a wellspring within you that gives life throughout eternity. You will never be thirsty again.”

We experienced the rare blessing to drink water from the same well mentioned in this Gospel passage – to quench our physical thirst – while on the very same site were reminded of that eternal spiritual wellspring deposited within us!

Next, we made our way into the old city of Nablus to visit an olive oil soap factory that’s been making hand-cut soap for 180 years. It has made Nablus famous throughout the middle east for its soap. We then toured more of the old city, visiting several street food vendors and a candy factory.

It never ceases to amaze me how extremely friendly the people of Nablus are to us foreigners. So often we heard, “Where are you from?” with us replying, “America” and them then saying, “Welcome, welcome.” We learned to say “salaam alaikum” which means “peace be with you” and “shukran” which means “thank you.” These two phrases carried us far with these kind people, as you could tell they were grateful for us visiting their city, and we were likewise humbled by their hospitality.

Next, we arrived at an event prepared by Slow Food Nablus, the culinary school for The House of Dignity which is an empowerment and education program for Palestinian women. The women of this community are incredibly joyful and were so happy to serve us. Our meal was an unbelievable feast we will not soon forget. At the lunch we were joined by a local Sufi Imam who shared with us his perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian tensions, what life is like in Nablus, and how he is working to try to influence youth to seek peaceful resolution to the tensions vs. violence or military struggle. He cited that over the past few decades it has become clear to him that military struggle creates only loss in their pursuit to see the freedoms they desire.

Part of the aim of this unique tour is to demonstrate the love of Jesus to all peoples of this diverse land as we enter in to their homes and neighborhoods to break bread and listen. I believe that part of loving like Jesus loves is to break the accepted social barriers as he did with the Samaritan woman, to go across those “borders” and listen with respect to those who are not like us. We will do that again later in the week as we tour Yad Vashem, the Jewish Holocaust Museum, and as we enter a Jewish home to break bread in a traditional Shabbat dinner. And we did it today by listening to our new friends in Nablus. In between these two book-end experiences, we will walk where Jesus walked and further consider his radical ways of love, with no better backdrop than to be among those who often feel hated and misunderstood.

Next we visited the Samaritan Museum on Mt. Gerizim and enjoyed a scenic overlook with stunning views of Nablus below. The Samaritan Priest explained to us much about the tiny minority Samaritan faith (essentially, an obscure sect of Judaism, although they would not describe it that way) and its ancient history in the region. We were reminded again of the account of the Samaritan woman, and of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus, when asked by the scholar who Jesus means by “your neighbor”, tells a story of a man attacked by robbers and left for dead. An apparently pious priest and a Levite pass by the wounded man, but a Samaritan stops to help the man recover. Jesus then asks, “Which of these three proved himself a neighbor to the man who had been mugged by the robbers?” The sholar answers, “The one who showed mercy to him.” And Jesus said simply, “Go and do likewise.”

I felt this day that Jesus was calling us to “go and do likewise” to show mercy in the simplest of ways, by showing up, accepting hospitality, and blessing strangers with the gift of listening. It’s a theme I’ve seen on these tours, and I think our presence represents Jesus well, while trying our best to stay ubiased and avoid politics, to diffuse the tension of the region with the love deposited within us, to be ambassadors of God’s peace in the most unlikely ways. I feel that this is part of the adventure God calls us to.

I hope you’ll enjoy my photos from the day, and hope they offer a representation of some facets of what we saw and experienced today. Thanks for following along!

Day 2: Jacob’s Well, Nablus Old City, Samaritan Village

We started our tour by making our way from Tel Aviv to Nablus in the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories. Our first stop was to the Greek Orthodox Church that sits atop the two-millenia-old Jacob’s Well. Next, we made our way into Nablus city to visit an olive oil soap factory that’s been making hand-cut soap for 180 years. It has made Nablus famous throughout the middle east for its soap. Next, we arrived at an event prepared by Slow Food Nablus, the culinary school for The House of Dignity which is an empowerment and education program for Palestinian women. The women of this community are incredibly joyful and were so happy to serve us. Our meal was an unbelievable feast we will not soon forget. Next up, we visited a Samaritan museum on Mt. Gerizim. This Samaritan Priest explained to us much about the Samaritan faith and its deep history in the region. Such an amazing day. I am always touched by how welcoming the people of Nablus are. There’s a certain sense of tranquility over the city. 

Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Chefs for Peace, Tunnel Tour, Razzouk Tattoos

Part 2 of Day 6…

As I explained in my last post, Day 6 was packed full of experiences and tours within tours. A definite highlight of our week was meeting up with Chefs for Peace, a non-profit, non-political organization founded in Jerusalem in 2001 by a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim chefs committed to exploring cultural identity, diversity and peaceful coexistence through food. Chefs for Peace realizes food— its preparation, sharing, and enjoyment— is a powerful means of creating a bond with others and revealing that which is valued by all three faiths: food, family and friends.

We met the chefs at the Damascus Gate along with the founder of Chefs for Peace, the Armenian, Jerusalem-born chef Kevork Alemian. They then took us on a tour of the old city to buy the ingredients they would be using to prepare our lunch! And the real treat was that they would be inviting us to learn how to cook with them!

Here’s the group as we first met…

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After shopping for some fresh Tahini in the Muslim Quarter, the chefs took us for an appetizer at a restaurant known for their falafel and hummus. They explained to us the different styles of making hummus and how to eat the various appetizers served…

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We then took a slight detour to meet the owner of a famous photography print dealer, Eli Kahvedjian, The pictures he sells are part of a collection of about 3,000 photographs taken by his late father Elia Kahvedjian, a refugee of the Armenian genocide and one of the greatest photographers in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 20th century. The pictures, which had been hidden away since 1947, were rediscovered by the family 28 years ago and serve to help researchers and aficionados of Jerusalem probe its past. For a fascinating article on the importance of the photographs, you can read this article.

Several of us bought his book, Jerusalem Through My Father’s Eyes, which is a rare collector’s item. He was kind enough to inscribe the books for us. I felt honored to take his portrait.

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We then continued our culinary tour of the Old City. This time we were treated to some crepe-like sweets of which I am embarrassed to admit I do not remember the name. I was so busy just keeping up with the many stops of their very diverse tour!

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The chefs then took us to a spice vendor and to the vegetable and fruit market where they selected more ingredients for our lunch…

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We then arrived at Bulghourji, an Armenian restaurant in the Old City where we would prepare our lunch alongside the chefs and enjoy an unforgettable meal.

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Founder of Chefs for Peace, Kevork Alemian was kind enough to offer me a beer…

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And here’s what we came up with! Easily among the top 10 meals I’ve ever enjoyed… I’m not a culinary photographer, but I tried my best…

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Next, our tour with Breaking Bread Journeys took us through the tunnels revealing archaeological finds deep underneath the Old City. The Tunnel Tour is in such high demand that you must book it two months in advance. We learned that the much of the city was raised from a small valley centuries ago by arched supports, and it is under these arches that many of the tunnels were excavated. We saw the ancient gates to Solomon’s Temple, and learned that one stone of the temple’s western retaining wall weighs an estimated 570 tons.

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My next photo reveals the 570 ton stone… the heaviest stone in the region. There is only one stone heavier in all of Egypt (think of the Pyramids, etc.) …

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Jewish women praying at the point deemed to be closest the the ancient ‘holy of holies’ part of the temple …

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The approximately 1700 foot (518 meter) tunnel starts at the Western Wall Plaza in the south of the Old City and ends near the Lion’s Gate in the north of the Old City.

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We ended the night with a visit from Palestinian Christian Wassim Razzouk, whose family has been in the tattoo business in the Old City for over 700 years. It has been a longstanding practice for Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem to get the Jerusalem Cross tattooed as a commemoration of their pilgrimage. Several of the members in our group did just that. To read more about the fascinating history of the Razzouk family business, you can read an article here.

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