Over the weekend, I woke up early and dragged our family out to Bethlehem. Like Ein Karem last week, it’s a quick inexpensive excursion that didn’t require a lot of advance planning. It was more of an adventure than expected—both Google and Apple Maps failed us completely. No route available to get from our house to Bethlehem? Really? Maybe if we were Israeli passport holders, but as Americans? Please.
So we downloaded Waze, and hit the road. The first check point is actually only five minutes from our house. My colleagues had prepared me for quite a long wait, but they waved us right through. And then we were in the West Bank for the first time. We eventually found parking in the middle of Bethlehem’s market, and began making our way to the Old City.
We stumbled on a Syrian Orthodox church with an open door, and peeked in.
There were several men just hanging out, smoking, and drinking tea, one of whom spoke French fluently (and was happy to find a fellow francophone in Bertrand). Jasmine and Bertrand turned on the charm, and before long, the girls were welcome to run around in the courtyard and touch the beautiful mosaics on display.
After peeking into the church, the kids were hungry, so on the way we stopped for shawarma. Bertrand’s the friendliest man in the world, and we quickly made friends with the proprietor and his kid. Chicken schawarma, hummus, Palestinian garlic sauce, cucumbers and tomatoes, pickles, hot peppers, and yes, the ubiquitous pita bread. It was absolutely delicious.
And then Bertrand had to shop. No jokes about how women like to shop in this family! Bertrand can’t resist a sob story (and this trip was rife with them), and so we ended up with quite a bit more knickknacks than we’d planned.
Finally, we made it to the Church of the Nativity.
Which was beautiful.
But also awful.
Nothing like being pushed and shoved while trying to keep track of a three-year-old and a one-year-old to get to The Spot Where Jesus Was Born. And then doing the same to get to The Manger Where Mary Laid Him. I found the whole experience disappointingly commercial (complete with overpaid tour guide that we somehow picked up on the way).
I expected the moment to be spiritual, and instead, it just felt … crass.
So there you have it. The Church of the Nativity.
On our way out, we stopped to buy a rotisserie chicken (mmmm … those Levantine Arabs and their rotisserie chicken). The kids were getting crabby, so we stopped to buy some sweets. While we were pursuing the cookies, Bertrand was distracted by a juice merchant, and before we knew it, we were whisked away to a quiet side street blessedly empty of crowds of shoppers and tourists.
The juice and tea were delicious, and the fellowship we found with those who lived on the street was also lovely.
Once we made it back to the car, we were surprised and delighted to come upon a shepherd shepherding his sheep across the road home. Biblical indeed.