Echoes of Samaria by Michael Baum

Feature

Echoes of Samaria

Finding Jesus & Neighbors in the Holy Land
by Michael Baum

Finally, our bus driver had to admit defeat. Adept though Rami had proved at negotiating the narrow streets of Israel and Palestine, the cobblestone lane before us was steadily narrowing, becoming ever steeper and more uneven. He pulled over, opened the doors, and said something apologetic in Arabic to our guide. "We have to walk the rest of the way," Sasha translated to us. Our tour party disembarked and started to trudge the final hundred yards or so up to the tiny church overlooking the village of Burqin.

As we finished the climb, Burqin spread out tranquilly below us: a place of profound poverty near the northern edge of what the world knows as the "West Bank" but Israel and the Bible know as "Samaria." Burqin houses perhaps 6,000 Muslims, with about twenty Christian families maintaining their ancient faith and tending their ancient church. Sasha, an American Orthodox expatriate who has lived in Jerusalem since about 2000 as a professional tour guide, tries to bring foreign pilgrims whenever he can. International visitors are a status symbol in a town that seldom gets outside attention of any kind. Visitors buy handmade olive-oil soap, which the church in turn buys from Muslim neighbors, helping nurture good relations.

It was May 2013, and this was our tour's first stop in Samaria. Burqin today is a "B area" under the Oslo Accords—administered by the Palestinian Authority but subject to Israeli security. On our arrival in Tel Aviv four days earlier, Sasha told us that current political conditions were favorable to visiting some parts of the region that are often off-limits. Ironically, only a year later, these same areas were to become scenes of lethal violence between Palestinian and Israeli forces during the 2014 Hamas-Israel hostilities in Gaza.

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Michael Baum is a management consultant, former English teacher, and writer with degrees in English literature and education from Yale University and an MBA from Northwestern. He and his wife live near Madison, Wisconsin, where they attend St. Ignatius Antiochian Orthodox Church. Their three adult children and five grandchildren attend Orthodox churches in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana.

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