I am in the waiting area, getting ready to board a flight to Israel. All around my is an enthusiastic group of Americans, most with pleasant southern accents and a polite smiles. They’re chatting excitedly with each other and many are wearing an ID stick of the “Hello, my name is…” type so that they can get to know the rest of their tour group. Standing next to me is an amiable gentleman who is stuck behind me and thus slightly isolated from his group. So I ask him, about his trip.
It’s his first time to Israel and he’s very happy to see everything there. The tour is going to be busy, but great. I ask about what they have planned and he rattles off a typical list: “Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Sea of Galilee, oh, and the Wailing Wall of course.” “Oh, that’s right next to the temple mount too,” I add. “The what?” comes his puzzled response. “Um, it’s the site of the Dome of the Rock, from which Mohammed is supposed to have ascended to heaven on his horse. It’s one of the holiest sites of Islam, right next to the holiest site in Judaism and walking distance from the spot where Christ is to have been crucified.” “Oh. I don’t know if we’ll have time for that…” he trails off.
His tour was arranged by a southern Baptist ministry and, obviously, will be concentrating on the Christian sites. I suspect they will see the Wailing Wall in passing (it’s hard to miss) and, who knows, the tour guides might have a different view about the golden dome of the Temple Mount, his sadly myopic view is embarrassing at best, and more likely, a bit sad.Religion has an uncanny knack of separating us into individual tribes yet even the modern internet makes it easier than ever before to put blinders on, sorting news for us so we don’t even have to learn about what we’re not interested in.
Officially, Jews can’t visit the Temple Mount area. They can’t visit any churches in Jerusalem either, because, according to the rabbinical authorities Christianity is polytheistic (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost and all). Normally, they’re allowed to visit Mosques (as Muslims and Jews vigorously agree about their being just one God), but the Temple Mount sits atop the site of the Second Temple, which traditionally houses the holy of holies, the Ark of the Covenant, the star of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Today, many agree that this particular ban is actually good for peace, reducing inevitable friction between Jews and Muslims in tense Jerusalem, but some folks shared with me they wouldn’t visit any Mosques anyway, “as a Jew, I don’t feel safe there anyway.”
Each of the Abrahamic religions may teach “Love thy neighbor,” while their followers travel half way around the world or live right next door, and yet still can’t get to know each other.