It is difficult to talk about Israel as it’s hard to understand where to start; after all, it’s a most complicated country, multiethnic and with a complex history and never-ending religious turmoil.
Jerusalem remains the stronghold of the spirit, the city that exerts a powerful appeal on the three major monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Bloody wars have been fought in the name of a God who has always looked down on all his sons and creatures.
Even today, that overbearing energy runs through the streets of the old city, in a continuous, palpable flow that bounces off the Western Wall, ricochet against the Holy Sepulcher and then crashes into the Dome of the Rock.
So many narrow streets, crowded with worshippers in the rackety shouting of traders who have transformed the Holy City into a bazaar.
There is not a single faith prevailing over the others, all three coexist in harmony and, quite paradoxically, the actual turmoil ravages the very inner factions of the same worshippers.
After all, the custodian of the keys to the Holy Sepulcher is a Muslim, because among Greek Orthodox people, Franciscans and Armenians, there has never been any true understanding or agreement.
Jerusalem is the place where Jesus lived during his last days on Earth, but a few kilometers from here Bethlehem is already in the State of Palestine. It is no longer the village in which Mary and Joseph gave birth to their son, rather a highly populated settlement: very little is left of that holy birthplace celebrated by Christians through the centuries. However, upon entering the church of the Nativity, one can have a truly mystical experience by observing and touching the very place where baby Jesus was born and seeing where the manger was located, warmed by the hot breath of an ox and a mule.
You may be a believer, but there’s no denying that a smile would appear on your face, just by thinking about the very arrival of a single baby, capable of changing the whole wide world.
That church was built by Emperor Constantine and his mother, Saint Helen, in 326 A.D. and since then, come what may, it has been preserved in its sacredness and continuously used.
There is another important church in Israel, this time in Nazareth: the Basilica of the Annunciation, which contains the ancient cave of the Incarnation, the house where Mary lived and where she was told of her forthcoming pregnancy by archangel Gabriel. The Marian cult spread as early as the dawn of Christianity and the house of the “Madonna” has been a pilgrimage since the I-II century.
Ours has been a backward path to those places that belong to our culture, as well as to the Christian religion.
In spite of questioning the actual historical locations and the very Christian belief, one cannot remain indifferent to so many events that led to disruptive consequences in humankind history.
Our journey ended in Tel Aviv, which is way too often mistaken as a mere city of entertainment.
On the one hand, Tel Aviv is very young, dynamic, full of clubs, parties, beaches, and restaurants; on the other hand, there is a surprising well-working integration and a desire to comply with the sacred principle of free will.
It is surprising how a Middle Eastern city, located in one of the most complex countries in the political scene, can have such a light atmosphere, that simply makes you want to stay and take advantage of that positive momentum and of all that sparkling energy easily found in friendly, relaxed and always smiling people. And to think that they live next to… war!