Literature and Faith in the Holy Land

LMU BELLARMINE COLLEGE OF LIBERAL ARTS | Nina Gibson, a graduate student in the English creative writing program, took part in the course trip to Israel to explore literature and faith of the Holy Land. The course is offered every two years. Here are her reflections.

My expectations before this trip were somewhat restricted: I had definite notions of what the Holy Land meant. But in seeing the wondrous sites, meeting the open, generous people, and the amazing faith of my LMU companions, I came away with a much richer experience. What I saw of the three Abrahamic faiths has expanded my horizons.

The excitement began immediately upon departure for Israel. Joy and expectation fueled the entire 14-hour nonstop, sleep-deprived flight for the 19 students, anticipating an adventure full of historical sites, spiritual knowledge and new beginnings. Led by Professor Holli Levitsky, with additional teachings by Rabbi Mark Diamond and Father Alexei Smith, the course began the instant we took off on our group ticket for Tel Aviv. We landed midday and headed to the beach, which reminded me of Santa Monica. Soon enough we would be transported back in time.

The summer course in Israel is an action-packed two-week adventure, that included hiking mount Masada, mud bathing in the Dead Sea, and experiencing a water-to-the-knees tunnel walk below ground. We studied Israel’s renowned poet Yehuda Amichai as we traveled through Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethlehem and the Sea of Galilee discovering the plight of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities in Israel. Eye-openers for all who come to the Holy land.

We heard multiple sides to each story, such as the fight of the Jews and the Palestinians to return to the Holy Land, and why Christians are slowly leaving Israel. We ate like kings for breakfast with buffets at every hotel. We walked by foot to our Shabbat dinner and were treated to a home-cooked four-course meal, poetry, Shabbat rituals and the most fantastic display of romantic love I can only find in my Korean dramas.

We rode camels, which I found a bit scary, but which the other students loved. We dug in the dirt seeking archeological treasures at Tel Maresha. We sailed the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and learned to play drums. Seven classmates were baptized in the Jordan river one moment, then we all continued down the river for a rafting adventure the following day. We met with IDF soldiers guarding the border between Israel and Lebanon. We read poetry on the Mount of Olives, toured the Tower of David museum, and explored the water tunnels under the city of David built thousands of years ago to secure Jerusalem’s water supply. We visited churches and religious communities such as the Israeli Arab Druze and an Ethiopian Jewish immigrant to hear about her journey from Africa to Israel.

Visiting ancient sites was so moving. But the most moving piece of the trip was engaging with people. Meeting an Ahmadiyya Muslim leader whose teachings are to treat their enemies like friends; an Arab Christian who loves Israel yet can’t keep the next generation from deserting the home he cherishes for a better life; and the Jewish community members who showed us how to remember, forgive and move on.

This course comes around every other year, put it on your bucket list for 2021. Warning: customer service standards are not American standards and for two weeks you will have to get used to not having cheese on your burgers, as restaurants are mostly kosher, otherwise, Israel was amazing and should be experienced by all. Shalom.