In Israel, the sounds of two faiths suggest the promise of real harmony

By Bianca and Joseph Wall
Guest Columnists 

Bianca and Joseph Wall during their recent Passover 2024 trip to Israel (photo courtesy of Bianca and Joseph Wall)

Former Louisvillians Bianca and Joseph Wall recently returned from a trip to Israel, where they attended a planned wedding and an unplanned Passover Seder on the West Bank. Upon returning home to Florida, they offered some thoughts: 

An out-of-the-blue wedding invitation sealed the deal for my wife and myself to make a long-awaited trip to Israel, albeit with the uncertainty of going into a war tearing the country apart.

We travelled quickly through Jerusalem past the familiar Old City, descending through a moonlike landscape to literally the lowest place on earth. We arrived before sunset for an outdoor wedding to find preparations already underway. Once through the gate we were greeted by a cadre of barefoot children, beyond whom we could see row after row of olive and date trees as well as signs of productive farm life: goats, sheep and horses, all in pens arranged around a large barn.  

I was particularly struck by several parklike expanses of green grass, which had the effect of softening the ramshackle character of this new settlement. There was a spring nearby – a useful expression of nature to have in the desert, especially because the growing season is all year long.  

We’d arrived in Mevo’ot Jericho, situated a little north of the ancient city of Jericho and the Dead Sea, with the Jordan River to the East. While the children were giving their attention to the farm animals, most of the guests were mingling and getting ready for prayers before the wedding.  

What followed was a traditional wedding ceremony, marked by abundant well-wishing, culminating with the familiar broken glass underfoot. Formalities completed, guests indulged in much singing and dancing, with lots of great food. We had a genuinely wonderful time as we renewed old bonds and created new ones.  

If you have not realized it yet this was an Orthodox wedding. Not your ‘black hat’ variety, but an Orthodoxy reflecting the spirituality of a return to the ancient beginnings of our people. To carve out a living from these unforgiving landscapes of scraggly hill and desert valleys. Leaving late at night I looked to the East at the lights of Jericho and could imagine Joshua and his men making their way across this very valley sealing the destiny of our people.  

Realizing that we had no Passover Seder to attend, my relatives invited us to their home in Hebron. We accepted with a little concern about coming to Hebron, but that was put aside after the trip to Jericho. Driving into the city past the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the cave of the Machpela, it became clear why my hosts felt compelled to return to live in this sacred place.  

Sitting at a beautiful holiday table waiting for the Seder to start I was gazing out at the beautiful hills in the distance and then it started:  

Baurch Atah Adonoy Elohaynu Melech Haolam…….a familiar beautiful prayer but there was something else coming into our consciousness at that exact moment…Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar. It was a sound almost jarring to the senses before realizing that this foreign sound was the call to prayer from the local mosque. At first, these two messages were competing for dominance, but then these two ancient languages seemed to become intertwined with each other, creating something else — a magical moment to be sure. Both are calls to prayer. From the mosque we hear Allah is the Greatest; Allah is the Greatest. From the Seder table, Blessed are You, Adonai our God…Sovereign of all. Both religions praying to their own God coming together as one melodic song. These prayers, both timed by the sun and stars and creating hope that these two peoples can live and exist together in the land.  

This was a remarkable trip with two different experiences, but each relating to a return to the heartland of the Jewish people…Two peoples, coexisting while maintaining their respective identities. Maybe that’s the way forward, but it will take a lot of goodwill (and a degree of good luck) to succeed. Still, stranger things have happened. After all, this is the Middle East. 


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