Bombs didn’t break the connection
EDWARDS – When Jennifer Stiebel left for Israel with 30 other Catholic teachers a couple weeks ago, she was expecting to learn about Judaism, Jewish-Catholic relations and the Holocaust. Instead, she watched as a new chapter in Israeli history was written.Stiebel, a history teacher at St. Clare of Assisi, was chosen to participate in the Anti-Defamation League’s program, “Bearing Witness Advanced: Anti-Semitism, The Holocaust and Contemporary Issues.” The group arrived in Tel Aviv just as the tensions between Israel and Hezbollah escalated.
The teachers first noticed the conflict on July 14, a Friday, in Nazareth. They were outside the Church of Annunciation when they heard “what sounded like firecrackers,” Stiebel said. Later, as they toured an old Syrian bunker in Golan Heights, they heard it again.”It was surreal to hear bombs going off in the background while our guide was explaining the Six Day War,” Stiebel said. “It was freaky.”The next day, constant bombings created an eerie soundtrack as the group visited synagogue ruins in Capernaum. Despite the threat looming across the Galilean coast, the teachers remained optimistic.”Not once did we consider stopping the tour, packing up or leaving,” Stiebel said. “The spirit of the people there kept us going. We figured if life doesn’t stop for them, if they’re still doing everyday stuff, then we must be alright too.”Friends and family back home were more worried about the situation than they were, she said.”We would watch CNN and think, ‘Our families must be freaking out!'” she said. “But you get a different perspective from watching it on the news and actually being there. It would be a-whole-nother story if I was in Beirut or Lebanon, but we were never in harm’s way.”The attacks never hit too close to the teachers, but they did change their itinerary. One night, the group was supposed to travel to Safed for a Shabbat dinner with a Jewish family. Safed was bombed, keeping the teachers out of town. They retreated to Ein Gev, just across the Sea of Galilee from Tiberias. When Tiberias was bombed, their dinner plans were off and they had to make a quick escape.”As soon as Tiberias was bombed, they told us we had 45 minutes to pack our bags for Jerusalem,” Stiebel said. “After we got there, we were fine.”
The attacks didn’t change all of Stiebel’s plans. The teachers were addressed, as planned, by the Papal Nuncio and the newly appointed Archbishop Elias Shakhour.”I didn’t feel worthy to have these people speak to me,” Stiebel said. “It was inspiring. They gave honest answers to tough questions. They admitted there is tension and discrimination between Jews and Christians and they’re trying to reach out.” The group also visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum.”Yad Vashem gave a one-on-one feel of what each person went through. You could relate to individual stories and seeing a pair of baby booties,” she said. “They try to keep up with the names of every person who died. It’s like the Vietnam Wall. It hits you like, ‘Whoa, here it is.'”
None of the teachers were expecting the experience they encountered in Israel. The attacks shifted the focus of the trip, Stiebel said.”The trip became about understanding the plight of Israelis for thousands of years,” she said. “Their land is part of their religion, and I witnessed it firsthand.”When school starts in the fall, Stiebel will discuss her trip with her middle school classes. She said she will talk about the connections and differences she saw between Judaism and Christianity, and urge a respect for both.”It was not the trip I was expecting at all,” Stiebel said. “A little background noise, a little scare here and there taught me there’s still a lot of work to be done. It’s going to be long, hard work, so the process has to start now.”Brooke Bates can be reached at email@example.comVail, Colorado