On Friday, we met for dinner with our tour members and Servas Israeli hosts to mingle and share information about our countries.
On the way, we saw old armored vehicles along the road – preserved to remember the many who fought and died so that Jewish people could have a country.
According to “The Convoy Skeletons” by Gil Gertel & Noam Even,“[T]he vehicles that brought food, water and arms from Tel Aviv to besieged Jerusalem in early 1948. . . were extremely vulnerable. Piles of stones were placed along the width of the road forcing the drivers to halt. Then snipers hidden between the rocks in the hills near the road, would open fire on the riders and vehicles.
Most of the trucks belonged to various kibbutz cooperative transport companies. Many of the drivers volunteered; the return trip was also via convoy. . . .
LESSER KNOWN FACTS
* During the battle for the road to Jerusalem, 230 convoys set out to bring supplies to the besieged city. . .
* Over 3100 trucks made their way to Jerusalem carrying 10,500 tons of supplies. . . .
* In February 1948 – 1299 trucks made the uphill trip to Jerusalem, in 81 convoys.
The armored vehicles symbolize the courage of those who guarded the convoys and who sacrificed their lives to bring supplies to the besieged city of Jerusalem. In the battles on the road to Jerusalem, more than 400 fighters were killed,
Our Servas Israel hosts served great Middle Eastern food including hummus, wonderful olives, breads, . . .
My favorite presentation was the one from Russia (and you will understand why). The Russian women showed crafts and gave a slide show about beautiful Lake Baikal, located in the south of Siberia. We learned that Lake Baikal, which is about 25 million years old, is the largest (by volume) freshwater lake in the world; it contains about 20% of the world’s unfrozen surface fresh water and at 1,642 m (5,387 ft), the deepest and among the clearest of all lakes. It contains more water than all the U.S. Great Lakes combined!
Baikal is home to more than 1,700 species of plants and animals, two-thirds of which can be found nowhere else in the world. In 1996, Lake Baikal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temperatures are cool: a winter minimum of −19 °C (−2 °F) to a summer maximum of 14 °C (57 °F). Lake Baikal is very beautiful and a wonderful place to visit.
Then the Russians ladies gave us typical Russian treats to eat and Lake Baikal water to drink. When the bottle came around, I poured a cup for Manda and another for me. I took a big gulp —- then I realized it wasn’t clear, cold Lake Baikal water, but another liquid for which Russia is famous: vodka!
For Manda, it was the first time she’d had alcohol in 20 years! But no harm was done – and we all got plenty of laughs out of the presentation. We could see that Russians are fun-loving people. Beware, however, when a Russian offers you “water”!
Besides getting to know Servas members and learn about other countries, we also heard from Franco Collodet, an Italian sociologist and philosophy professor from the Institute Volterra-Elia of Ancona.
In several earlier pilgrimages, Franco Collodet has walked the roads of Europe — to Rome, Lourdes, Fatima, and Santiago de Compostela — tracing the ancient routes that arrive in major places of worship. Collodet says he is inspired by integration among peoples.
In his latest pilgrimage, Collodet walked 4,100 kilometers (2,547.62 miles) from the Cathedral of Ancona in Italy to Jerusalem, arriving on Christmas 2014! He shared highlights of his “Send Your Prayer to Jerusalem” experience.
Servas hosts and tour members had a wonderful evening together.
Our following day tour was Christmas in Jerusalem.
At 10:00 a.m., we met at Jaffa Gate of the Old City and viewed the walls surrounding the Old City of Jerusalem – a city of many faiths.
We walked to the Christian Quarter and saw the Franciscan Church of ST. SAVIOUR- St Salvador, a beautiful Italian style church decorated for Christmas.
The Crypt of the Basilica marks the place where after the Resurrection of Jesus, Mary lived and died.
At the heart of the Christian quarter, The Church of the Holy Sepulcher honors the site where Jesus was crucified, buried, and arose. The Stations of the Cross end here.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is controlled by – the Greek Orthodox, who own its central worship space, the Catholics, and the Armenian Orthodox. The three groups have yet to agree on how to restore the crypt area damaged by fire.
We also visited the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer.
We walked then through the Jewish Quarter of narrow alleys to visit at the Wailing Wall and then climbed up to Mt. Zion.
The Muslim shrine located on the Temple Mount within the Old City Walls of Jerusalem, The Dome of the Rock, is considered by some the “most recognized of Jerusalem’s landmarks.” It was first completed in 691 CE.
The site’s great religious significance for Jews, Christians, and Muslims stems from religious traditions regarding the rock, the Foundation Stone, at the heart of The Dome of the Rock.
Although the Israelis captured the Dome of the Rock in 1967 during the Six-Day War, the country gave the Muslims authority to manage the Temple Mount to “keep the peace.”
In 1993, King Hussein of Jordan donated $8.2 million to refurbish the dome with 80 kilograms of gold! No wonder it glows in the sun.
Then we walked on to visit The Last Supper Room.
And we saw Dormition Abbey – a golden, highly decorated church that contains the tomb of the Virgin Mary.
We walked again along the walls of Old City Jerusalem back to the Jaffa Gate – to end another wonderful day full of history and religion and new friends.
Aloha & Shalom,
Servas Israel Tour – Part III – Places of Spirit: Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Tabgha, and the Jordan River
Day 4 – Thursday, 25 December 2014 – our wonderful Servas Israel Tour continued.
We traveled to the Sea of Galilee on Christmas Day guided by Iris Salomon- Har Even, host in Oranit.
At 10:00 a.m., we met up at the National Park of Capernaum (Kfar Nahum)
We started at Capernaum (Kfar Nahum), where Jesus lived and began preaching.
“And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter and Andrew, his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
And He saith unto them. ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men'” (Matthew 4:18).
Here by the Sea of Galilee and at Tabgha, I did feel spirituality everywhere: in the air, in the water, in the light – in the religious sites.
On the shore of the Sea of Galilee is a Greek Orthodox monastery:
“The Church of the Twelve Apostles takes its name from the Gospel account of Jesus choosing the Twelve in this area of Galilee.
But it is also known as the Church of the Seven Apostles — a reference to Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance by the Sea of Galilee to seven of his disciples — Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John and two other disciples” (John 21). . . .
After the Six Day War in 1969, when Israel pushed its border back to the Golan Heights, restoration of the church began first with the removal of a thick layer of cow manure covering the floor – since the church had been used for many years as a barn.
Between 1995 and 2000 the church was redecorated by a Greek iconographer with an eclectic array of Byzantine-style frescoes inspired by works in Orthodox churches and monasteries in various parts of the world, in particular the Balkans. The church glows in the light.
A small, cross-shaped building with white walls, the Church of the Twelve Apostles has two central domes surrounded by six smaller ones, each topped by a cross. As you can see, brightly-colored frescoes and icons cover most of the ceilings and walls of the church.
Inside one dome, Christ the Pantocrator (All-powerful) is surrounded by a chorus of 12 prophets who foretold his coming.”
Tabgha (ancient Heptapegon) on the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee is the accepted site of Jesus’ miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (Mark 6:30-46) and also of the fourth resurrection appearance (John 21:1-24). Until 1948, it was the site of a Palestinian Arab village.
The site’s name is derived from the Greek name Heptapegon (“seven springs”).
Its pronunciation gradually changed to “Tabego”, and was eventually changed to “Tabha” by the Arabic speakers. St. Jerome referred to Heptapegon as “the solitude.” From: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tabgha>.
The Chronicle of Pilgrimage to the Holy Land: The Adventures, The Events, The Holy Sites Go to: <http://www.amazon.com/Chronicle-Pilgrimage-The-Holy-Land/dp/965724000X>.
The Church of the Heptapegon – Seven Springs is built over where Jesus laid the fish and the five loafs of bread on a big rock before distributing the food that would feed five thousand (Mark 6:30-44).
However, I loved the views from inside!
Then we saw the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha – also so named because of Jesus’ miracle. The church is modern but stands on the site of 4th and 5th-century churches. It too preserves splendid early Christian mosaics as well as the traditional stone on which the miraculous meal was laid.
One of the wonderful aspects of this Servas Israel Tour was getting to meet others from around the world.
The Church of the Primacy of St. Peter is north of the Church of the Multiplication and was built on rocks at the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It’s considered the place where Jesus appeared the fourth time after his resurrection (John 21:1-24), during which, according to Catholic teaching, Jesus again conferred primacy of Simon Peter.
Pope John Paul II was a pilgrim to Tabgha in March, 2000.
After a delightful time at these holy places, we next traveled to the Jordan River, the baptism site of Jesus:
My brother Alan said he would’ve done the immersion, but it was December, already getting dark, and I’m a wimp, so I didn’t! However, many Christians braved the cold and were re-baptized in the Jordan River. Many collected water from the river to take home.
Behind schedule on this wonderful day and way after sunset, we said our goodbyes and headed back with our hosts to their homes. On our way to Barry and my Servas home, we got to stop at a fantastic Japanese restaurant: Osaka – Asian Kitchen and Sushi Bar in Ra’anana – wonderful. <https://www.facebook.com/osakarestaurant/posts/552482348116139>.
This day – Christmas Day 2014 – was personally the most spiritual of our Servas Israel Tour. I hope you will get such an experience too.
Shalom and Aloha, Renée
Our fabulous Tour Israel with Servas continued.
Day 3 – Wednesday 24 December 2014
Our morning began with a great breakfast with our Servas hosts: Shoshana and Shmuel.
We were lucky to be handed off to Shlomy, Servas Coordinator Claudia’s husband, and while we waited to meet up with others, he gave us an impromptu tour of Haifa, a city he loves.
We started at the Bahá’í Gardens:
“The Bahá’í teachings emphasize that each person is in charge of his or her own spiritual development. <http://www.bahai.org/action/response-call-bahaullah/walking-spiritual-path>.
Bahá’í members recognize and celebrate all religious leaders.
“The Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa comprise a staircase of nineteen terraces extending all the way up the northern slope of Mount Carmel. At its heart stands the golden-domed Shrine of the Báb,which is the resting place of the Prophet-Herald of the Bahá’í Faith.” From: <http://www.ganbahai.org.il/en/haifa/>
In much of the art throughout Haifa is a plea for peace.
In the Museum Without Walls:
The artworks scattered along the Art Route explore the themes of tolerance, an Arab-Jewish and multicultural dialogue, and the local heritage of the neighborhood. The exhibit was inaugurated in 1993 by the Beit HaGefen Arab-Jewish Culture Center, Haifa Municipality, and the Wadi Nisnas Neighborhood Association as a shared multicultural celebration.
We left Haifa to join up with our Servas Tour members in Nazareth.
According to the Nazareth website, “The city of Nazareth was a small and insignificant agricultural village in the time of Jesus. It had no trade routes, was of little economic importance and was never mentioned in the Old Testament or other ancient texts. . . .
During the lifetime of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, it is believed the population did not exceed 500. Nazareth was a small Jewish village where people knew one another, and like Jesus, lived, prayed and studied in the Jewish tradition. They gathered in the synagogue, meeting for prayer and holidays. . . .The New Testament mentions Nazareth many times, referring to it as the home of Mary and Joseph, the town that inspired Jesus during his childhood and early manhood, the place of the Annunciation . . .
From the 1st to the 4th century AD, the small Christian presence in Nazareth was often persecuted for their beliefs. It was only later towards the 6th century . . . that the town of Nazareth became the Christian pilgrimage site it is to this day. During this time, the Byzantines built one of the first churches on what was believed to be the site of the Annunciation. With the arrival of the Crusaders in 1099, an era of growth began . . . With the defeat of the Crusaders in 1291 by the Muslim army and during Ottoman Rule (1517 – 1917), Nazareth fell into decline. It was only in 1720, when the Franciscans built a new church, that the site of the Annunciation was again revived. In 1955, the church was demolished to carry out extensive archaeological excavations and was finally rebuilt in 1969″ <http://www.nazareth-israel.com/nazarteh-history>.
Nazareth is now a bustling, growing city of about 74,000 and home to the largest Arab community in Israel. Nazareth has changed from an isolated village of little importance to one of most important sites for Christians.
Because I was raised Christian (Episcopalian) and now identify as a Quaker, I did expect a spiritual experience especially since we were there for Christmas Eve!
In Nazareth, we walked the cobble-stoned streets of the Old City, visited the famous spring and Mary’s well, and saw the remains of a cavern believed to be Joseph’s carpentry shop. And because we were there on Christmas Eve, we got to see what the people living there do to celebrate.
Mary’s well was the our first religious site on the Servas tour that afternoon. The Church of St. Gabriel, (also known as the Orthodox Church of Annunciation and The Greek-Orthodox Church), is located over an underground spring, which is believed to be where the Virgin Mary was drawing water when the Angel Gabriel said to her,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;
therefore the child to be born will be called holy,
the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35).
In modern times, Mary’s spring is at the end of the subterranean chamber in the Church of St. Gabriel.
We walked along the Pilgrim’s Path to the Basilica of Annunciation, the Catholic site that also recognizes and celebrates Gabriel’s visit to Mary. The Basilica marks the spot for Catholics of the Annunciation.
We also saw the White Mosque, built in 1785. It’s the oldest of the mosques built in Nazareth. According to its website, the White Mosque is now managed and maintained by the al-Fahoum family. The mosque sends out messages of peace and harmony and seeks good relations especially with the “different Christian communities in town” <http://www.nazarethinfo.org/OldSite.aspx?levelId=63490>.
The White Mosque is located in Harat Alghama or the “Mosque Quarter” in the center of Nazareth’s Old Market.
We ate in the Old Market and got to taste local food and sweets, including baklawa and the Middle-Eastern kenafi or kunafa, a cheese pastry soaked in sweet sugar-based syrup.
At 15:00, we started lining up along the Christmas Parade route, which ran from Paul 6th St to the Annunciation Church (Basilica).
17:15 – Near the Basilica of Annunciation, we watched the balloon release and the Christmas parade. We wandered around looking at the parade and the people coming to celebrate.
In his book Green Crescent Over Nazareth: The Displacement of Christians by Muslims, Raphael Israeli notes that in 1918 when the British marched into Nazareth, the city then had a population of about 8,000 – 2/3 Christian and the rest Muslim. Today, Nazareth, known as “the Arab capital of Israel, has a population made up predominantly of Arab citizens of Israel, almost all of whom are either Muslim (69%) or Christian (30.9%).
Because the British ruled Nazareth for 30 years, the numerous bagpipers in the Christmas parade must be one lingering influence.
At the finale of the parade, we got to see the fireworks as part of the Christmas celebration.
For our Servas Tour, we didn’t go to Bethlehem for Christmas Eve since the town is usually overwhelmed with Christian pilgrims. Nazareth did have its own special sites, and we got to see and do things we hadn’t expected as part of our celebration. One surprise was that the Christmas carols, which I love to sing, were sung – in neither Latin nor English – but in Arabic! It seemed that everyone participated – especially in the parade. Santa was there in Nazareth for the young children.
As for the spiritual renewal I expected since we were there where Jesus had actually lived and walked, it didn’t happen there for me.
Instead, Nazareth was a great experience in people watching and seeing historical and religious sites. Being in Nazareth was also a good reminder that when you travel, experiences – especially others than those you expect – are the ones to keep you in the moment and help you appreciate what is really there.
Aloha and Shalom, Renée
It was a wonderful, whirlwind tour of the country hosted by Servas Israel. Barry and I (and John) have been Servas travelers and hosts since 2002, and many of our best experiences involve visiting with Servas members.
However, the Servas Israel Christmas Tour was beyond our normal experience of staying with people we didn’t know and learning of their lives. “Servas home stays,” says the website, “provide insight into the political, cultural and social realities that face people of diverse cultures and backgrounds around the world.” Go to -(https://www.usservas.org/Membership/). On this tour opportunity, not only did we stay with local families but we were also guided around Israel by people who live there.
We did much and saw much, but it is only now that I’m reporting since I’ve had trouble retrieving my photos and only now are we back home. So here is an overview of the highlights of the first part of that fabulous 10-day tour.
On December 22, 2014, we started our Israel Servas Tour with an evening gathering in Jerusalem. Other Servas travelers were from Belarus, Russia, Poland, Germany, Italy, India, the Czech Republic, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. Surprisingly, Barry and I were the only ones from the U.S.
The people on the tour were varied and interesting. One Servas woman whom I was sure was from the UK because of her accent and manner is actually from Sweden. She says that she’s always been an Anglophile :). I’d never meet anyone from Belarus – and there were two! One woman is a flamenco dancer; one young couple have built a community center; one had written a book about his studies abroad. Everyone was open and friendly. We got to meet not only Israelis but also others from around the world.
Day 2 – Tuesday – 23 December 2014 Guided Tour to Kibbutz Kfar Masarik – Akko – Haifa We had a really full day starting off at 7:30 a.m. at Kfar Masarik, one of the first kibbutz – started even before the creation of Israel. Located in the western Galilee, Kfar Masarik was founded by Czechoslovakian and Lithuanian immigrants in 1932. In 1937, they were joined by Polish immigrants. Despite opposition from those who reasoned that the sandy soil could not support agriculture, the kibbutz grew, and in 1940, the kibbutz moved to its present site and was renamed Kfar Masaryk after Tomás Garrigue Masaryk, the first President of Czechoslovakia.
Our Servas hosts in Kfar Masaryk, Haim and Avraham told us about the kibbutz: The First and Second Aliyah (immigration wave), the situation in the country and in Europe at the time and the establishment of a pioneering settlement outside the main urban centers of the time, including the many difficulties involved.
They noted the social structure of the kibbutz work – of sharing and equality, the difficulties in everyday life — family split apart from children, laundry services, dining, clothing, and various members’ decisions. The guides also said a few words about the present privatization, which is happening with most of the surviving kibbutz in Israel today.
10:00 – Our guided tour in Acre (aka Akko) started at an elaborate Tunisian synagogue where we learned basic concepts of Judaism. The mosaic motifs on the walls represent an integrated Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Zionism in a unique place.
While many synagogues are in humble buildings, the Tunisian Djellaba Synagogue in Akko is the only one of its kind in the world; all four stories, within and without, display spectacular mosaics (from Kibbutz Eilon).
As we toured Acre/Akko, we learned about its significance during the Crusades, Arab and Turkish periods until today. We visited the fortress walls, went inside the local ruler’s fortress, remotely viewing the Knights Halls.
Located directly under the city built above it, a perfectly preserved Crusader city is being unearthed and brought back to life in Akko.
The Old City of Akko is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The walls and fortresses, knights’ halls, churches, synagogues, and mosques are all reminders of the city’s conquerors and religions, from the Canaanites and Romans to the Crusaders, Turks, and British.
12:30 Midday break – lunch at a local eastern restaurant/eatery.
Then we got to wander through the Acre markets.
The Akko Port was first mentioned in relation to the Greek campaign to conquer Egypt in 527-525 BC.
The port had been built during the reign of Ptolemais II (285-246 BC), transforming Akko into an international port city and the gateway to Israel. It reached its zenith during the conquest by the Crusaders. In the 13th Century, Akko became the capital of the Crusader Kingdom in the Holy Land. After the Ottoman conquest, the port was neglected, reduced to a fisherman’s harbor.
During the British Mandate, the Akko Fortress served as the main prison in the north of the country. Prisoners included hundreds of members of the underground movements: the Haganah, Irgun, and Lehi. The Underground Prisoners Museum in Akko has a new exhibit describing reasons for incarceration, daily prison life, the Akko Prison breakout, and the story of the Olei Hagardon (those hanged on the gallows).
Then we drove for about an hour to reach downtown Haifa, the largest city in northern Israel, third largest in the country, with about 600,000 residents in the area, and home to the Bahá’í World Centre (another UNESCO World Heritage Site).
The history of the city spans more than 3,000 years.
Haifa has been conquered and ruled by the Phoenicians, Persians, Hasmoneans, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Ottomans, British, and the Israelis.
Today, Haifa is a major seaport on Israel’s Mediterranean coast and plays an important role in the economy. It is also home to one of the oldest and largest high-tech parks in the country. Haifa Bay is a center of heavy industry, petroleum refining and chemical processing. Formerly it was the western terminus of an oil pipeline from Iraq via Jordan.
Downtown Haifa connects the past and the present and points to the future. Our Servas guides noted historical factors that affect the status of Haifa as the northern province and industrial and logistics center. The cultural fabric of life of Arabs and Jews in Haifa points to a possible realization of future peace for other places in Israel.
Then, instead of joining the other Servas members at Castra – the modern center that combines a shopping and art center, Barry and I finished the eventful day by going with our Servas hosts’, Shoshana & Shmuel, to their daughter’s home for Hanukkah donuts and celebration.
I couldn’t eat just one :) !
It was a wonderful way to end a varied and interesting day.
The following days would be terrific too.
Shalom and aloha,
“People say think globally, act locally. Well, if you think globally, it is overwhelming and you do not have enough energy left to act locally. Just act locally and see what a difference you can make.
We are constantly told to buy more, buy, buy, buy! But do we really need it? It starts with trying to live a more sustainable life in the small decisions we make every day,” says Jane Goodall, conservationist – now 80.
from: National Geographic Traveler, May 2015, p.8.
What needs to be done in your garden, your family, or your neighborhood? You are needed.
“Runner of a Thousand Days” by Dave Choo
In the mountains above Nara, Buddhist priest Ryojun Shionuma has accomplished astonishing feats of discipline and endurance.
It’s Saturday afternoon, and Acharya Ryojunj Shionuma is having a leisurely lunch beside a cascading Japanese-style garden at The Honolulu Museum of Art’s Spalding House Café. Shionuma, conspicuous in his monk’s robes, is eating light: kale salad and vegetable soup. Tomorrow, along with thirty-thousand other people, he’ll be running the 2014 Honolulu Marathon. But Shionuma is utterly unlike 29,999 of those other people. A Buddhist priest from Sendai, Shionuma was invited by Honolulu’s consul general of Japan to run the race with him. The priest eagerly accepted the offer, thinking that the pair would race as a team, each covering half of the 26.2-mile course. But marathoning, as he found out, isn’t really a team sport.
Shionuma had never run the Honolulu Marathon—nor any road race for that matter. He didn’t train and did nothing to prepare beyond buying running shoes. Yet now, sitting in the café, he doesn’t seem concerned a bout his time or even whether he’ll finish. “I’m not sure, five or six hours maybe?” Shionuma tells me through an interpreter. “I just hope that I cross the finish line before they shut down the race.”
To the casual observer, Shionuma’s cavalier approach toward a race most others spend a year preparing to run seems naïve, foolhardy, even dangerous. But Shionuma knows a little something about tests of endurance. The unassuming priest, who looks ten years younger than his mid-forties, belongs to the Shugendo sect of Buddhism, one of Japan’s oldest, founded in AD 672. Shugendo (literally “the path of training and testing”) is associated with the indigenous Shinto religion, which as deep connections with the natural world. The sect was banned from the Meiji period until the end of WWII because it was considered too primitive, filled with magic and superstition. Its disciples are famous for testing their spiritual strength through feats of physical endurance, often in the mountains.
Shionuma has completed the two toughest of those tests. The first and by far the hardest is the Omine Sennichi Kaihogyo (One Thousand Days Trekking on Mount Omine). Every year during the trekking season (May 3 to September 22), he walked thirty miles a day in the mountains above Nara, hiking from Mount Yoshino to Mount Omine and back again, an elevation change of nearly four thousand feet. “The thousand-day practice is limited to five months out of the year because the trail is impassable during the winter,” says Shionuma. “However, because there is such a big change in altitude, you can experience many different climates during one hike, even during the summer when temperatures reach over one hundred degrees.” Averaging 110 consecutive days of trekking during each season, it took Shionuma nine years to complete the kaihogyo, a journey equivalent to circling Earth one and a quarter times. Only one other person has completed the thousand-day practice on Mount Omine in the sect’s 1,300-year history. Since 1885, forty-six people have completed a similar practice on Mount Heian, near Kyoto, but the Heian hike is shorter and less challenging.
Every night during the trekking season, Shionuma would wake at ll:30 p. m. and recite prayers while bathing under an ice-cold waterfall. Then he would climb the five hundred steps to Yoshino Kinpusenji, the temple where he would begin his trek. He would dress in traditional attire, his all-white robes (the color of death in Japan) fastened by three ropes from which hung a container with half a liter of water, two musubi (rice ball snacks) and a bell to signal his presence to bears on the trail. From one rope hung a dagger. If he failed to complete the course, Shionuma was prepared to use one or the other to either hang or disembowel himself. (Though having completed the hundred days of practice required of anyone wishing to attempt the kaihogyo, he was fairly confident that this wouldn’t be necessary.)
Shionuma would usually reach the summit of Omine by 8:30 a.m., where he would drink some water and eat his musubi before returning to Mount Yoshino. He would arrive back at the temple at around 3:30 p.m., a fifteen-hour round-trip. After a meal of tea and rice, he was in bed by 7 p.m., waking up four and a half house later to start again.
During his nine years of hiking, the priest had to sidestep countless venomous pit vipers, avoid wild boar, navigate around landslides, weather several typhoons and once had to face down an angry, charging bear. (He had neglected to wear his bell that day.) However, it was often the little things that posed a threat to survival. Because he wasn’t allowed to receive medical care during the thousand-day practice, injuries, illness and even insect bites could be debilitating, even potentially lethal. “Oftentimes I would brush up against a bush or tree and cut myself. I carried antiseptic with me and made sure that I treated the cut early and often. I knew that even a small scratch could lead to a serious infection,” says Shionuma. “The pit vipers were always a worry, but they were easy to avoid when you came upon them. The ticks and horseflies weren’t.”
Shionuma first learned of the thousand-day practice when he saw a television documentary about a monk attempting the Heian kaihogyo. He was only in middle school at the time, but there was something about the monk’s struggle that the young Shionuma found inspiring. To this day Shionuma doesn’t know why he became so enamored with the ascetic practice or why he was so intent on making it his life’s ambition at such a young age.
Having grown up poor, Shionuma was no stranger to struggle and deprivation. His mother was chronically ill and often bedridden. His father was mostly absent and inattentive when he was around. During Shionuma’s second year in middle school, his father left his wife, son and mother-in-law to fend for themselves. Relatives and neighbors helped feed the family, and the young Shionuma pitched in where he could: He would collect the discarded metal balls from the floor of the local pachinko parlor and eventually became skilled at the game, trading in his winnings for rice, shoyu and miso.
Shionuma says that his mother and grandmother were his sources of strength and inspiration during the toughest parts of the thousand-day practice. One of those came at about the halfway point, when he had contracted a stomach ailment that prevented him from eating or keeping down what little food he could eat. After several days of illness, he woke up one night an hour late, weak and delirious. He stumbled through his preparations, and shortly after starting his hike he collapsed and lost consciousness. However, drifting in and out, he felt a warm sense of calm. “I had no sense of pain or distress or discomfort,” he says. “I felt like I was encased in a protective sphere, and I hoped that time would stop and I could remain like that forever. However, there was another voice inside of me that said that if I didn’t get up and start walking, I would die there.”
Shionuma then saw his life flash before his eyes. He remembered the day his father left; he, his mother and grandmother huddled around a space heater and cried; how they vowed that they would somehow manage without his father. He remembered how they sometimes didn’t have anything to eat, how friends and family would bring them food or clothing. Mostly, he remembered his mother and everything she had done for him, how she told him on the day he left to join the temple that life is filled with adversity and disappointment. He would have to learn to “eat sand,” she’d said, and move on. Still lying on the trail, Shionuma grabbed a handful of dirt and put it in his mouth. “It was really awful, but it immediately brought me back to consciousness, and I took off with a great burst of energy and went straight up the mountain,” he says. “From that time on, my physical condition improved.”
Shionuma completed the thousand-day practice on September 2, 1999. The night before, he had gone to sleep anxious. He was worried that he would wake up without the desire and enthusiasm to do the hike—an irrational fear, given that it had never happened before. Neither did it happen that last morning; he completed the hike just as he had 999 times before, without fanfare or celebration. “I only had the sense that the practice had ended; no more, no less,” says Shionuma. “Climbing those mountains wasn’t the ultimate goal. I had things to do. Completing the practice was like graduating from college.”
Shionuma, apparently, wanted to go straight from college to graduate school. Immediately he began training for the second-toughest test in Shugendo, the Shimugyo, or Fourfold Renouncing Practice. By comparison with the thousand-day practice, it’s a quickie. Only nine days. But nine days during which one is not allowed to sleep, eat, drink or lie down. According to Shionuma, about half of the practitioners who attempt the Shimugyo die trying, so he spent a year preparing. He says that fasting was the easiest of the four aspects to complete; during his nine years of the thousand-day practice, he’d become accustomed to surviving on very little food. Sleep deprivation was also not difficult to overcome, again because of his experience with the thousand-day practice. Going without water for nine days was another matter, the most painful physical and psychological test of the four, especially because one of his daily rituals was to carry and offer buckets of water to the Buddha. Even today Shionuma shudders when he recalls what extreme dehydration felt like.
Shionuma says that the fourth and fifth days, when he was at a physical and mental breaking point, were the hardest of the Shimugyo practice. Practitioners are allowed to rinse their mouths out with water during the second half of the practice. Shionuma had understood that this would occur sometime during the fourth day; however, he was told that he couldn’t do it until the fifth. Instead of protesting or despairing, he persevered. When he was finally allowed to rinse with water, he felt rejuvenated, just has he had when he ate dirt on Mount Omine. Unlike the subdued ending to the thousand-day practice, when Shionuma finished the Shimugyo a crowd of several hundred—many of them from Sendai—was waiting for him. After a lot of water and a simple meal of nuts and cooked vegetable, he was carried back to his quarters in a sedan chair.
The extreme practices of Shugendo are not about physical achievement but spiritual realization.
Shionuma says that completing the Shimugyo and the thousand-day practice has reinforced his belief in some of the central tenets of Buddhism: “When facing difficulties, throw yourself at adversity without anger and be humble. Facing hardship is the ordinary condition of life,” he says. “If you are single-minded in facing your difficulties, then mysteriously the situation will appear to you from a different and liberating angle” (my emphasis). After completing the Shimugyo in 2000, Shionuma decided to leave the mountain temple and return to Sendai. Today he is the head priest of Jigenji (Merciful Eye) Temple in a small village outside Sendai. There he prays, teaches, farms, writes books and welcomes pilgrims. He also speaks throughout Japan and around the world (including in Honolulu the day before the marathon). While much of his talk centers around his travails on the trail, his over all message is that anyone can have a similar experience in daily life. “Awakening is found in ordinary experiences, the change of the seasons, the difficulties of human relationships. It’s a gradual transformation” (my emphasis). Shionuma says that the thousand-day practice left him with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and humility. Hiking the trail day after day, week after week made him realize his close connection and obligation to others, and he wanted to continue his practice among people, not alone in the mountains. “No one exists just by themselves. There is no such thing as doing it alone.”
Unless it’s a marathon, of course. Shiomuma finished slow and steady at 7:03:57. He ate no dirt, just a banana or two and a lot of Gatorade. Not surprisingly, he plans on running the race again in 2015.
From HanaHou! The Magazine of Hawaiian Airlines, Vol 18, number 2, April/May 2015.
People are amazing!
Thankfully, we don’t have to do Shionuma‘s feats to know his insights.
Aloha, Barry (and Renée)
Spring is the season of new growth and new life. . .
Our most significant growth takes place inwardly. We grow as we achieve new insights, new knowledge, new goals.
Let us raise our cups to signify our gratitude for life, and for the joy of knowing inner growth, which gives human life its meaning.
Together, with raised cups, let us say: “L-Haiyim!” – “To Life.”
– from “A Humanist Haggadah for Passover” by Machar Congregation <haggadot.com>.
Aloha & Shalom, Renée
The Old City is an integral part of Jerusalem, but I was surprised to see bullet holes in the walls.
Buskers are here too.
You’ll find street art, hip cafés, smokers, religious pilgrims, fashionable women, and lots of cell phone users.
You’ll find many high-end shops.
You’ll find friendly Israelis and Arabs interacting . You’ll eat tasty new dishes.
Israel is composed of intertwining Jewish, Arab, and Christian communities.
You’ll find water sports in Israel.
It’s warm in Israel – even in December –at least while we were there.
You’ll find old buildings:
Renovated buildings – the outside must conform to the original building facade :
And new –
You’ll find music festivals:
There’s everyday life:
We saw jet trails and lights in Jordan from our Airbnb on the Golan Heights. You’ll see school kids on field trips.
You’ll find good wines:
Arab villages in Israel are very interesting. Ruth and Danny took us to Abu Ghosh village to enjoy the great food.
“His pot of gold gives sparkle to the whole town,” said The New York Times in a piece about Jawdat Ibrahim. (<http://www.nytimes.com/1999/06/16/world/abu-ghosh-journal-his-pot-of-gold-gives-a-sparkle-to-the-whole-town.html>)
A poor Arab among second-class citizens, Jawdat Ibrahim (one of six children whose father died when Jawdat was 4) fled his childhood home of Abu Ghosh to live with his uncle in Chicago. He became a tow truck driver, rescuing cars buried in Midwest snow storms – and then he won the Illinois State Lottery in 1990. With his 22 million U.S. dollars, not only has Ibrahim opened restaurants and provided scholarships in Abu Ghosh, but he also sees himself as an emissary of peace – a bridge in Arab/Israeli relationships. As well, he has fun. Mr. Ibrahim organized Abu Ghosh residents to make the largest ever plate of hummus, winning recognition in the Guinness Book of World Records. Ibrahim donated the tasty hummus first to Israeli soldiers and then to schools, hospitals, and needy people.
Recently, the Abu Ghosh hummus Guinness record was surpassed by a group in Lebanon. Jawat Ibrahim plans to create an even bigger batch of hummus early this summer to recapture the title. Random things surprised me.
The markets are colorful and fun.
The sands look golden in Israel’s Negev Desert, which cover nearly 4,700 square miles of this small country.
With good farming practices of soil enrichment and irrigation, Israelis have been able to produce much food.
Another surprise for us in Israel were the incredible stories we heard from Israeli families.
The stories of the people who make up Israel are most amazing. During WWII, an infant who was left along the path to a church in the early morning hours wore a gold locket declaring, “Whoever takes care of me, God will bless.” Later that morning, the child’s Jewish parents were sent to a concentration camp where the mother was killed. The child’s father escaped twice and managed to survive in great part because he spoke seven languages. After the war, he searched for his child. For the same morning that he had left his daughter, town records showed that an infant girl found on the path to the church had been turned over to the Nazis and killed. With no family left, the father bought a ticket for the U.S. But on the way to the ship, he saw a gypsy fortuneteller who cautioned him, “Someone is waiting for you.”
He sold his ticket and went back to his town. He saw a girl he thought might be his daughter and followed her; she was his child! The girl was brought up on a kibbutz and has raised a healthy family. One granddaughter is now training for the Israeli Olympic swim competition! That story has been made into a play.
In another example, a Servas host’s mother had been operated on by the notorious Nazi Dr. Mengele, infamous for the selection of victims to be killed in the gas chambers and for performing unscientific and often deadly experiments on prisoners. It was a miracle that our Servas host’s mother lived – and a miracle that she was able to have a child.
Another’s story was that her grandfather acting as a recruiter for Israel had gone to Morocco to get Jewish immigrants to help populate what they hoped would be their new country. He married a 16 year-old Moroccan Jewish girl who wanted to immigrate but was too young to go on her own. They got stopped at what was then the British mandate/ Israeli border and sent to a refugee camp in Cyprus. The couple did manage to get into Israel, but it wasn’t easy.
Another woman’s mother was 17 when she got to what was then called the British Mandate for Palestine region (1922-1948) and later became the State of Israel. Although she had lost her whole family to the Nazis, the mom was sent back to Germany. We heard many such stories.
Since the State of Israel was established in 1948, the country has opened its arms to immigrants. Now with so many anti-Semitic problems in Europe, many are immigrating from there – especially the French. We met U.S. citizens immigrating too.
Also, Israel encourages 18-26 year old youth from other countries to investigate their Jewish heritage with a 10-day free trip to Israel. For more information on this incredible program (especially for non-practicing youth with even a slim Jewish heritage), go to <http://www.birthrightisrael.com>.
Wherever we went, we saw that layers of history coat the land of Israel. Caesarea, for instance, is a coastal Israeli city and an important site in Christian history built by Herod the Great about 25–13 BCE. This was where Pontius Pilate governed during the time of Jesus and an important Roman city during the Byzantine Period of the 6th-7th centuries.
The fortifications seen today in Caesarea were rebuilt by Louis IX, King of France, who came to the Holy Land in the 13th century during the Sixth Crusade.
Caesarea is now also a tourist site with restaurants and arts.
Israel is expensive. Jerusalem has much on-going building. The taxes are high: 18% on everything. An apartment in Jerusalem for a one month rental of a very nice one bedroom furnished Windows of Jerusalem Tower apartment is $146.10 (U.S.) a night or $4,529.00 a month. Windows of Jerusalem Vacation Apartments by EXP® Israel | 5 Star Luxury Vacation Rental Apartments I <http://windowsofjerusalem.com/?utm_content=4218058754&utm_term=rentals%20jerusalem&utm_campaign=Campaign+%231&utm_source=Bing&utm_medium=cpc>.
Craig’s List Jerusalem offers a 2 bed/2 bath renovated apartment in the German Colony for 3,600,000 (U.S. $911,854). <http://jerusalem.craigslist.org/reb/4916541698.html> German colony Gem apartment – Loyd george street jerusalem2 You can see history and religion wherever you look in Israel.
Buildings and trees spread over Jerusalem.
Israel is rich in history and many resilient people.
There’s much more to Israel than I’ve shared. Go see for yourselves.
Shalom & Aloha, Renée