Sarah Alexander is a junior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology majoring in Chemistry and minoring in Neuroscience. She is pictured at Capernaum during Israel Uncovered.
“But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. The type of love that I stress here is not eros, a sort of esthetic or romantic love; not philia, a sort of reciprocal love between personal friends; but it is agape which is understanding goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is the love of God working in the lives of men. This is the love that may well be the salvation of our civilization.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
We started the morning in Jerusalem, walking up to the Temple Mount, and as for the first time in my life I was not allowed to bring my Bible somewhere* my thoughts lingered on the fact that we are so far from the vision that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about. We entered Dome of the Rock plaza, or Temple Mount, a place so heavily contested after all these years that we still call it two different names. As I stared up at the beautiful gold dome, I thought about all the people that had fought over this land, wearing faces of anger and hostility, holding swords of hate. Yet I also thought about all the peace and love that had been preached here in Jerusalem. I couldn’t help wondering, at the end of the day, what will be left standing? The love or the hate?
A few hours later, we entered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to go to mass. As a Christian, I was excited for this particular outing, enthusiastic to see fellow believers from all over the world in this place of worship. In some ways, it was what I expected. We were able to go to mass, joining a group of Catholics who welcomed us to their service, even hearing some variation of “When the Saints Go Marching In” in Spanish. But despite this, I felt my heart breaking at the division I saw there. The church is divided into several different parts based on the different denominations of Christianity. Inside it is honestly a bit dark and dingy, the building seeming to suffer internally and falling into disrepair from all the fighting, from spats about communion to water bills.
Amidst that, me and another Christian Israel Uncovered participant, Ali, began to sing. We sang praise and worship, from old hymns to contemporary songs. We sang in response to God’s love and in a declaration of love. And before leaving the church, many of the Christians in our group were able to pray together, despite the differences amongst our beliefs and our lives. Not only that, but several other students in our group of different religious backgrounds asked us about what we were singing, and why. I got to share my beliefs and they got to share theirs. The ground between us does not have to be No Man’s Land. But never forget that it requires respect, security, and love to thrive.
Ending the day back at the Western Wall, seeing the beauty of the wall and of the golden dome peeking up behind it, I thought about all that I had seen and felt that day. I think this blog post makes it pretty obvious, but I am no politician. I know this land holds the history of a lot of hurt, and fear, and anger, that still goes on today. I don’t suppose to have a great political solution. But I do have a basic understanding of the human soul, and our shared human experience. This is a beautiful land, full of great potential for love. And I believe Woody Guthrie sang true words that are applicable across time and space, that in fact ‘This land was made for you and me."
*The Temple Mount is controlled by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf. According to the Waqf, non-Islamic prayer and prayer books, including the Bible and Torah, are forbidden on the Temple Mount.