Today's blogpost was written by Anna Brilliant, a Yahel Social Change fellow living, learning and volunteering for 9-months in the city of Lod.
I was raised in a multi-faith household - my mother is Catholic, my father Jewish. My sister and I had baptisms, communions and confirmations. My brother had a Bar Mitzvah. We all went to Temple on Friday nights and Saturday mornings and Church on Sundays. We celebrated all the major holidays: (Christmas, Lent, Easter, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, and Passover). I have been to Catholic funerals and sat shiva for my grandfather. I was raised with two belief systems but one common theme: love each other, respect each other and cherish each other regardless of any physical or spiritual differences. Though I do not consider myself religious, I identify as both Catholic and Jewish.
When Yahel went to Jerusalem for a day, we visited three of the holiest sites in three major religions. Below is my personal reflection.
Temple Mount: This was an incredibly beautiful place. The dome of the rock is as breathtaking up close as afar. After an officer gave us a speech on what we could and couldn’t do (no touching, no praying, no entering the buildings, no PDA), we walked up to the mount. We saw kids running around, who to my surprise go to there for class trips. They are playing as everyday children do without a shred of fear or any concept of what this place means to many in the world. It was promising to watch children have fun, to learn and be “normal”. I say “normal” because they are normal to Israeli’s, maybe Middle-East standards. They are normalized to things I cannot understand.They are normalized to armed guards escorting people with the best intentions to visit a Holy site. The children running around are normalized to tourists who want to see and experience something they get everyday. Children on Temple Mount are normalized to a place that people spend their whole lives trying to go to. It was incredible to stand there and feel the history and emotions this place holds. Even more so, I felt the presence of mutual acceptance of peace. I felt a sense of letting each other take in what Temple Mount had to offer, regardless of religion. Of course, until Jewish visiting hours were over...
The Dome of the Rock
Church of Holy Sepulchre: I won’t lie, this visit was hard. This is where my Catholicism kicked in. Though I went to church as a child, was an alter server in the Roman Catholic Church and was confirmed, I do not consider myself religious. I am close with my priest and respect him and his beliefs, just as he respects my lack of faith. Though I’ve found solace on a few occasions, if I go to church it is mostly out of respect for my mother and family. Because of this, I don’t know if I was prepared to understand the magnitude of the church. I didn’t prepare to feel something. I didn’t prepare to be upset, happy, calm and distressed in such a short amount of time and to have all the emotions come crashing over me...truly crashing to a point where I felt a break. Walking in, I started to understand that this was a place I should care about, and feel connected to. I looked around and realized the beauty in the architecture, paintings and decoration. I was awed by it but I was not connected, rather curious.
My friend, also a Christian, wanted to stand in line to touch the rock where Jesus was crucified, and my curiosity encouraged me to be with her. Going to touch the rock was supposed to be a peaceful and powerful moment. Instead, it was one of the most intense and upsetting lines I’ve ever been in. To be so close to something that has so much meaning and power over peoples beliefs and to have the disrespect literally being pushed against us was startling. When people started to push and shove to reach the rock faster, I got upset. As it continued I got scared. My friend and I held hands and occasionally squeezed harder when we needed. I tried to hold my footing as I was being shoved, almost innocently knocking over the two visibly upset nuns in front of me. Some of us held together to stop those from pushing, asking them to wait their turn and to stop hurting us. They didn’t stop.
Once I reached the rock, I had no idea what to do. I hadn’t prepared. I hadn’t studied what this really meant and while standing in the boisterous line, the opportunity to reflect and connect was taken from me. I didn’t know if I should pray, where to touch, how to touch it. It was under an alter so I had little time to look for clues from those going before me. When it was my turn I bent over, did the sign of the cross, put my fingers in for a moment and crawled out. As I walked away, I could feel the tears welling up inside me. I’m not sure if it was from the anger from the minutes leading up to that moment or the calmness I felt in that moment under the alter, or something more that I couldn’t explain. I’m not sure if I can ever describe the emotion I felt in that moment, but I am sure I will not forget it.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Western Wall: I have been to this site before. The first time, I panicked walking up to it, not understanding how it fit with being Catholic. Did touching it made me less Catholic, or not touching it make me less Jewish? Ultimately I decided to pray at the wall. I felt neither calmed nor moved while praying at the wall. I was moved by the women who did experience something -- those who were crying and praying, who could have spent their whole lives up hoping to get to this point. I prayed for them, because even if I was unsure about God and the wall and the religion, I felt a need to comfort them and I found it in prayer. I walked away still not knowing what this meant for me, but comforted that I didn’t feel that it took away from my Catholicism or Judaism.
This time, it was the last site we visited in Jerusalem, so my emotions were already intensified. I felt connected to something at the church and I didn’t know if I would feel it here too. If I didn’t feel anything here, would it mean that I was not Jewish and no longer allowed to claim that as part of my identity? Was I truly more Catholic than Jewish? As I sat there staring at this giant wall, I could feel the tears coming again. I found myself moved but again for reasons I cannot explain. I walked to the wall, closed my eyes and laid my hand on it. I thought to myself, “G-d, I don’t know which one you are or if you are even a thing, but if you are, please help me navigate this. Help me understand. G-d, please help me”. After a few more short prayers asking Him to watch over my family and friends, I slowly backed away from the wall. I felt tears starting again, so I turned around and didn’t look back at the wall until there was a clear distance.
The Western Wall
I still cannot explain in words what this day meant to me. I think I am more conflicted than ever yet also excited to understand these emotions, or to at least let myself feel them. Religion has always been a complicated part of my life. It is also a part of my identity that interests a lot people. I have been asked repeatedly how I identify, which religion I like more and if I had a choice what would I have chosen. I have been told I am not really Jewish because my mother is Catholic and I have been judged for being Catholic because I sit in temple and observe holidays with my family. I have been pulled to both sides. I respect and love both religions in different ways. I am not sure many, if anyone, can understand this.
I want to stress that I respect my parents deeply for not giving up their beliefs and I cannot imagine how they feel about sharing their children’s religions. They chose love over everything, even when that meant upsetting their families and going against their religious norms. I admire the strength it took and the strength they still demonstrate. That being said, religion was never something I got to chose. It was never something I never had a say in. So I rejected it. I still reject parts of it, but I realize now my beliefs and religion are finally mine. I am not going to let others opinions or “knowledge” dictate how I identify myself, how I practice, how or in whom I believe. No one can determine what traditions I follow and what holidays I celebrate, or where I pray. I will not let others tell me what I should believe or feel. At the end of the day, I am proudly Catholic and I am Jewish.
L to R: Sarah, Anna, Grace- three fellows based in Lod