The Complexity of a Soul

On the Seventh Night of Hanukkah, Rabbi YY Jacobson released this video telling the dramatic story of a Jew who survived the Holocaust, became a Catholic priest, and sought to receive a Jewish burial alongside his parents’ graves in Poland.

I have shared this story many times today and gotten a wide range of reactions from friends about it.

The wisest comment, in my view, came from a friend who said, “One has to be somehow ‘living in the hyphen’ to appreciate such a story.”

Instead, the story of “the complexity of a soul” (as Rabbi YY Jacobson puts it) demands a certain openness and receptivity in order to be touched by it. Such complexity may unsettle many of us but we can take comfort in knowing that none of our souls are too complex for God.

Fraternity on the Periphery

A dear friend of mine who has spent the past two years living in Nazareth introduced me to the story of Blessed Charles de Foucauld. Somehow I had never heard his story before or, at least, it hadn’t caught my attention.

The Vatican’s very short summary of him is this:

Blessed Charles de Foucauld, born in 1858, was a French aristocrat and religious, whose work and writings led to the founding of the Congregation of the Little Brothers of Jesus. During his adventurous life, he was a Cavalry Officer in the French Army, and then an explorer and geographer before becoming a Catholic priest and hermit who lived among the Tuareg in Algeria’s Sahara Desert. He lived a life of prayer, meditation and adoration, in the incessant desire to be, for each person, a “universal brother”, a living image of the love of Jesus. On the evening of December 1, 1916, he was killed by bandits.

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Banish the Darkness

On the First Night of Hanukkah this year, I had the great joy of being Jerusalem and, more specifically, in the vibrant neighbourhood of Nachlaot.

I joined some friends outdoors, warm beverages in hand, and we sat outdoors enjoying the light of the hanukkiah. Throughout Jerusalem, there is a big emphasis on publicizing the miracle of Hanukkah, as has always been the aim but as has not always been the possibility on the holiday.

After some time, we began a stroll throughout the neighbourhood. Every few doors, we came upon families lighting their hanukkiot, saying the blessings, singing songs and playing instruments, serving soup and latkes to their neighbours, and enjoying being in the Jewish homeland.

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The World Will Be Saved by Beau[tiful] Breakfasts

“The world will be saved by beauty.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky

I recently returned to the Middle East to continue my practical education in fundamentally human things.

Among the “courses” that I took was breakfast.

The photo above is of my breakfast plate from the Amani Cafe in Nazareth. A dear friend of mine who has been living there for the past two years told me that this cafe was among her favourites.

I was so impressed by this breakfast platter that I wrote the following comment beneath my social media post about it:

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Pursue Peace Anyway

Usually, on the anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, I like to re-read what ended up being his final speech.

He began:

Permit me to say that I am deeply moved. I wish to thank each and every one of you, who have come here today to take a stand against violence and for peace. This government, which I am privileged to head, together with my friend Shimon Peres, decided to give peace a chance–a peace that will solve most of Israel’s problems.

I was a military man for 27 years. I fought so long as there was no chance for peace. I believe that there is now a chance for peace, a great chance. We must take advantage of it for the sake of those standing here, and for those who are not here–and they are many.

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Assumed into Heaven

On the 15th of August, Catholics celebrate the Feast Day of the Assumption of Mary in honour of Mary’s bodily taking up into heaven.

The site in the Holy Land connected with this event is the Dormition Abbey. Here’s a two-minute video explaining this teaching and showing the church connected with this spiritual heritage.

It’s interesting to read that almost all major world religions believe that there are some people who entered heaven alive or were bodily assumed into heaven.

It is also interesting to consider the significance of this belief appearing across traditions, as well as its meaning for theology and anthropology.

Moving into grief instead of moving on from it

This past weekend (from Saturday night to Sunday night) was Tisha B’Av, the Jewish date for communal mourning of the destruction of the temples in the Jerusalem as well as all other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people through history.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to experience Tisha B’Av in Jerusalem and perhaps that will provide inspiration for another post.

Today, however, I wanted to share something I heard on Yocheved Davidowitz A Deeper Conversation podcast episode for Tisha B’Av.

In it, she discusses the solidarity Jews experience in mourning loss collectively and also the profound rituals Jews have for funerals and the grieving process.

Yocheved then discusses how, in her work as a therapist, she would notice the sense of dread people have about feeling sadness and mourning.

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A Perspective on Danger

Here’s an anecdote:

It was the summer of 2018 when I crashed an Aramaic summer camp for Maronite children living in northern Israel. I got to have a blast singing songs and playing games with the children who are growing up navigating a complex identity with an extremely fraught history in a pretty volatile region.

One day during that camp, I decided to ask an 11-year-old girl named Marie who lives just a few kilometres away from the border with Lebanon, “Who do you think is in greatest need of our prayers?”

The preteen immediately answered, “The kids of Florida.”

“Florida?” I repeated curiously.

“Yes,” she told me. “Because of the school shootings there.”

I was quite struck by this answer to the extent that I still remember it.

It is interesting to consider this perspective on danger.

After all, I am sure that, were I interviewing 11-year-olds in Florida about who most needs our prayers that someone there would have told me, “The kids of the Middle East.”

The Day I Almost Died in the West Bank

Since today is the three-year anniversary of a near-death experience of mine, I thought I’d blog about the day my friends and I were attacked in the West Bank.

It was a Friday night in Bethlehem when, unlike Jesus, my American friend Ashley and I had managed to find overnight accommodations at an AirBnB there.

The following morning, on July 7, 2018, our Palestinian Christian friend Khalil came to pick us up, greeting us with the cappuccinos he’d brought for us.

Next we picked up my Canadian friend Amy and set off on our West Bank adventure. I remember we said a quick prayer for our trip.

The first place we visited was the Shrine of Our Lady of the Garden at Artas. “Tour groups almost never come here and it isn’t really a tourist site,” Khalil told us. “But this is my favourite place in Bethlehem and the most beautiful.”

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Parting Words

If you died today, what are the last words of yours that your loved ones might find in your bag, on your computer, in a text message, or on your desk?

One of the victims of the recent tragedy in Meron reportedly gave his friend an envelope and told him not to open it until Sunday.

Rabbi Shimon Matlon could never have imagined that he would die that very night and that his note would be opened not only to his friend but to the world.

According to this source, the letter said:

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