Visiting the Ein Kerem Neighborhood

By Aurora Mercer, fall 2019 student

Recently, our class traveled close to our home at Kibbutz Tzuba, visiting churches in Jeusalem’s Ein Kerem neighborhood. Before entering these churches, I didn’t expect what I learned, saw, or even heard would impact my Jewish identity. I had been to churches before, even during mass, and had always brushed my experiences aside, because I knew that I was Jewish and nothing could change that, and nothing, especially a church or a mass, could strengthen those beliefs. I think now, after finally listening and embracing my most recent experience, it’s safe to say I loved every second of them and would continue to learn more in a heartbeat.

Our teacher David is always looking for a chance to add insightful knowledge that he’s gained from his Israel tour guide class. Even before we had seen a church, he mentioned that about 80% of the tourists who visit Israel are Christians, I was slightly confused. Sure, there’s the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and maybe a few other lesser-known attractions here and there, but I thought that it was hardly anything, and not their homeland, or so I thought. As we went through our first round of notes, my eyes began to open slightly more with every new thing we learned. The real origins of Christianity actually began in Israel, with Jesus and Mary. Before Jesus was even born, word spread to the people, and eventually Mary, that Jesus was going to be the savior of the world, and if you look at the lineage of Jesus in the new Testament, he descends from King David; something that could make him the Messiah Ben David. In order to give birth, Mary traveled to Bethlehem, stopping at an inn in Ein Kerem. This stop was incredibly significant because it was where Mary’s sister, Elizabeth, told her that she was going to soon give birth to the savior of humanity.

As we continued on, I already felt ignorant for my lack of knowledge about a religion that stemmed from mine. We moved into a church courtyard in the Church of the Visitation and that was where I realized just how many generalizations I had made about the religion. As we stood there, David told us to look around at the walls. They each had the same few words of the “Magnificat” prayer on them, but every single frame had a different language. I had always known that Christianity was practiced on a pretty large and global scale, but I had never stopped to think about just how accepting that really makes it. I always believed that most Christians were closed minded people that use their beliefs for closing people out of their lives and religion, when in fact their Bible tells them everyone in this world was made in the image of God. To me that was a pretty powerful, warming, and an eye opening thought.

Walking into the Catholic Church of the Visitation during a sermon while mass was being held was incredible. We were told to look around, and notice the church itself. Although all I could focus on were the people; both the priest and the congregants. The men and women that surrounded me where watching the front of the church, taking in everything the priest had to say with attention. He was talking about how this particular congregation that had always been the Elizabeth to his Mary. How whenever things got hard the people in that room were always there for him. Even if they couldn’t help his problems directly, they heard him and that alone was powerful, and that realization evoked a very strong emotion in everyone there.

I live a lifestyle where I’d like to believe I’m accepting and full of love but the truth is this tiyul opened my eyes to see that sometimes hearing instead of just listening makes all the difference in how I view other people as well. Learning about a religion that some people consider to be an updated version of the original first century Christianity was not only fascinating but also strengthened my ideals and reminded me of why I’m Jewish. As loving and accepting Christianity can be, it grew from our Jewish traditions that I look forward to pursuing, both while I’m here at Tzuba and when I return home in December.

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