June 29th, 2009

Well, school is finally out. That last week was hot and humid. The school doesn’t have air-conditioning and the students began to unravel as the week went on. But it’s over now. The long-awaited summer holidays are finally here. And that means I can finally concentrate on getting organized for my upcoming trip to the Holy Land.

It hardly seems like a full ten months ago when the idea of studying in Jerusalem was brought to my attention. We were walking back to class to finish up a full day of Ethics for Religious Education, Part 1, when a colleague mentioned she had seen an advertisement for studying in Israel, offered through OISE at the University of Toronto. She mentioned this ludicrously low price – something like $3000 – for three weeks in Israel and I was in. As it turned out, it was closer to $5000 for two weeks. Considering that return airfare to Israel in the summer is roughly $2500, the offer was still a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I love travelling but if I were paying simply for a vacation, Israel would not be high on my list. I don’t know anyone there, it’s not really a big bang for your buck and as enticing as the religious significance is, I would have to weigh it against the potential dangers of travelling to the politically unstable Middle East. However, the idea of going with a large group, having it pre-organized and getting an Additional Qualification credit for it (Religious Education, Part 2) irreversibly tipped the scale in favour of heading to the Holy Land for personal adventure, faith growth and professional development.

And so preparation began. I convinced my good friend, Tracy, to come with me and then convinced a friend and colleague, Beth, to come as well. There are five of us from Ottawa going, along with seventeen others from the Toronto area. There were forms to fill out and documentation to provide and signatures to chase down. There were readings to read and people to meet and travel things to buy. There were reservations to make and return tickets to extend and more and more research to be done. We will spend seven days in Jerusalem and then move north to Galilee, with a one-day pit stop at the Dead Sea. We will be going to all the main sites and discussing Jesus in the Jewish context. There will be lots of walking and even more standing. There will be copious amounts of photos and notes taken. Each participant is responsible for learning about one aspect of the curriculum and presenting it. My focus is the Torah. As Pat, the coordinator said, “We are not travelling thousands of miles to sit in a classroom.” Shopping in the markets and swimming in the Dead Sea is actually part of our scheduled itinerary! Tracy and I extended our stay for one week for the non-academic portion of our stay. We both figured that we would never return to Israel after this excursion so we might as well make the most of it, within the limitations of cost and time. Our trip will include a trip south to Eilat, a day-trip to Petra, Jordan and three days in Tel Aviv.

Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, holds many of our imaginations in its grip. It is the setting of stories that we have heard since the cradle and the values that have shaped our thoughts and actions. There is no denying the power that the Holy Land has over the vast majority of the world, whether we grew up with a particular tradition or not. It is a place of mystery, drama, and myth, so far removed from my reality as a Canadian (of Irish heritage), that I do not really know what to expect. I expect it to be hot. And I expect it to be coloured in hues of gold, ochre and Mediterranean blue. I anticipate that I will be overwhelmed with the history that lives in every stone and every grain of sand, the history of kings and temples, pain and redemption, struggle and hope. I predict the land and the learning will push me to a deeper understanding of my own faith and my own vocation in the world, the community, and my school. But I can be no more specific than that.

As some of my readers may know, I document my travels through the written word and photos so the idea of a blog makes perfect sense. It is a trail of stories for all to share. It is a glimpse into the traveller’s viewpoint. I am truly excited to have you join me in my journey. I only hope I can adequately express what I see, hear, feel, and think so that you can enjoy your vicarious vacation to the Holy Land as much as I will.

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