Hope in the Holy Land

William "Jud" Weiksnar, OFM Features

This is the second in an occasional series of reflections from friars and their partners-in-ministry on their experiences in the Holy Land in March.

NEW YORK — Before leaving for the Holy Land, I tried to learn as much as possible about the current socio-political situation in Israel and Palestine. Through reading books such as The Israel Lobby and newspaper articles, listening to reports on National Public Radio, and visiting Web sites such as Commondreams.org, I felt relatively well informed. However, the information did not inspire hope.

I got on the plane expecting to find a contentious, intractable, hopeless situation. This experience was not new for me. Four years ago, before moving to my current assignment at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Camden, N.J., I did similar research about Camden, with similar results.

JUD-BWhat I found in Camden, our delegation also found in the Holy Land — hope. We found hope in the Palestinian students at Bethlehem University who persevere in their efforts to gain a good education, despite tank missiles being launched into their library a few years ago.

We found hope at the Tent of Nations, where a community has coalesced around creative, nonviolent persistence. Surrounded by Israeli settlers who commandeered the high ground and build fortress-like compounds, Tent of Nations invites people from around the world to plant trees.

We found hope in the Israeli activists — rabbis and grieving parents of the victims of suicide bombers — who maintain their hope by virtue of simply doing something good.

Eight days in the Holy Land was not enough time to engender optimism about the prospects for peace in the near future. The massive Separation Wall, the new hard-line Israeli government, the naïveté and ignorance of the American people about the situation, all exacerbate problems that have been generations in the making.

However, it is instructive to note the distinction that Cornel West makes between hope and optimism. Optimism is “based on the notion that there’s enough evidence that allows us to think that things are going to be better.” But hope says, “It doesn’t look good at all, so we’re going to make a leap of faith and create new possibilities based on new visions and allow us to engage in heroic actions against the odds.”

There is not enough evidence to be optimistic that the situation in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, or Camden will improve soon. However, there are plenty of hope-filled people making leaps of faith, creating new possibilities, and engaging in heroic actions. I invite you to meet them.

— Fr. Jud was one of seven friars who participated in the March delegation to the Holy Land and is pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Camden, N.J. Those who would like to learn more about Tent of Nations and the story of its founder Daoud Nassar can visit the Web site.