Category Archives: israel


After the horrific Nova Scotia rampage in April of 2020 that killed twenty- two people, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a ban on 1,500 kinds of assault weapons.  His decision hasn’t been overwhelmingly popular. Some say the ban infringes on the freedom of Canadians and will be ineffective at preventing incidents like the Nova Scotia one. Others say the ban doesn’t go far enough. Some Canadians want laws like those in Japan which prohibit the ownership of almost all guns.

75% of households in Canada don’t have guns, but we’ve all had personal experiences with guns. They colour our views.

Some of my family stories about guns come from my grandfather. Grandpa told us about being forced to serve as a wagon driver for bandits occupying his Mennonite village in Ukraine during the Russian Revolution.  Once Grandpa was driving the bandits to a neighbouring village when they stopped a priest walking by, shot him and trampled his body to pieces.  Another time, Grandpa was sent to pick up the body of a fellow driver, a friend, after the bandits shot him through the head. 

grandpa peters in army uniform

Grandpa in his military uniform

When three different armies marched through his village, Grandpa’s family had little control over their lives. “We were always at the mercy of their guns,” Grandpa said in an interview about his teenage years in Ukraine.  Grandpa was forced into the Communist army. He was thrown into a military prison for refusing to take part in weapons training because of his Mennonite pacifist beliefs.

My father only went hunting once. A new colleague invited him to go deer hunting. When Dad pulled onto our driveway after returning from his hunting expedition, we heard a loud bang.  Dad’s gun had gone off accidentally. The bullet went right through the car door. My brother remembers touching the bullet hole and it was still hot.

I was very involved in a movement called Parenting For Peace and Justice during the years I was raising my own sons.  The organization advocated not allowing children to play with guns at all. They believed it was wrong to associate something so deadly with fun, that letting kids play with guns desensitized them to the violence guns create and allowed them to think that killing people was something normal. My sons took my instructions about this seriously. They remember returning guns they were given as gifts because they knew I wouldn’t let them keep them.

I lived and worked in Hong Kong where it is illegal for private citizens to own guns. There were sizeable fines and prison sentences for possession. My American colleagues in Hong Kong said they felt much safer living there than in their own country.

soldier with gun at the Mount of Olives

Armed soldier on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem

I did a blog post about gun ownership in Israel. During my visit to the country, it seemed to me that there were people carrying guns everywhere.  I saw teachers carrying guns on field trips with their students.  I asked a gentleman at an outdoor restaurant to move his gun so I could sit in the chair next to him which was the only one available.   I felt uncomfortable and scared because so many people had guns. My blog post about guns in Israel got the most views of any I’ve ever published. People’s opinions were strong.  Some made comments that were frightening, threatening and crass. I deleted most of the comments and removed the blog post for a time. 

If I was being honest and idealistic, I would say that I’d like to live in a world without guns of any kind.  I know however this is an emotional issue for the three million Canadians who are gun owners. Hopefully sharing our diverse opinions and our personal experiences can foster a civil discussion that helps us move forward as we all strive to make our country safer.

Other posts………..

Stalking, Lunch and No Guns

I Never Got Used to the Guns in Israel

Generation Lockdown

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A Peaceful Mind And Heart

boat on the sea of galilee

When I visited Israel I took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. It was the setting for the gospel story of Jesus calming the storm.

Jesus and his disciples set off in a boat after a very busy day of preaching, healing and teaching. They needed time away from the crowds. Jesus immediately fell asleep but was awakened by his disciples who were afraid. Unlike his friends Jesus was able to rest despite the turbulent weather and his hectic, stressful day.

tour group israelThe morning I was out on the Sea of Galilee, our group leader asked us to deliberately turn our minds away from all our concerns and distractions and take some time to reflect and meditate. This wasn’t easy. Although I tried to block it out, I could still hear the sounds of traffic on the highway near the sea. I could hear someone’s i-pod music and the chatty voices of tourists in neighboring boats. I thought about the drama that had occurred on the trip where I was helping to chaperone twenty-five teenagers. 

near sea of galileeI had to concentrate so I could fill my mind with more peaceful things like the sound of the waves lapping up on the sides of the boat, the sight of a bird skimming the water, the beat of my own heart and the blessings of my trip so far. 

on the sea of galileeSt. Francis of Assisi once said “Before you can proclaim peace with your lips you must be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.

Other posts………

Dead Sea Beauty Treatment

Looking For God in the Wrong Places


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More Visible But Not Equal

I saw the movie The Women’s Balcony at the Toronto International Film Festival Theatre this week. It reminded me of just how far we’ve come in giving women an equal place with men in religious institutions and just how far we still have to go. 

women's balconyThe Women’s Balcony is a Hebrew film about a synagogue in Jerusalem being influenced by their new young conservative rabbi who wants women to worship separately from men in a closed room at the side of the temple. The women want to worship in an open balcony right in the same area as the men worship. Eventually the women leave their husbands because they are siding with the new rabbi.  The women raise the money for a balcony and manage to get it built. They return to their husbands who facilitate the removal of the conservative rabbi and the return of their older more flexible rabbi. Progress has been made although the fact that official power in the synagogue still rests with a man, or that women still sit separately from their husbands in a balcony isn’t addressed in the film. Reading about the film later I learned it reflects the ongoing divide in Judaism between orthodox and liberal factions and their differing views of women’s roles in the church. Women are becoming more visible but are still far from equal. 

church mennonite heritage village museum

Church at the Mennonite Village Museum with separate sides for men and women. 

I can remember attending my grandparents’ church where men and women sat on different sides of the sanctuary.  I grew up in a church where there were no women pastors or leaders.  Thankfully those times have changed in some Christian churches but in others women still have no voice and are not represented in leadership at all. This lack of equality for women in the Southern Baptist Church is what led former American President Jimmy Carter to publicly announce he was leaving the denomination after his family had belonged to it for generations. A council created by my Mennonite denomination in 2016 to oversee a time of transition in our national church body contained eight men and one woman.  Women were more visible than they would have been in the past but they still were far from equal. 

In my lifetime women have gained greater representation and influence in religious spheres but the journey is far from complete. 

Other posts……..

Questions After Watching the Film Silence

The Children are Watching and Listening and Wondering

A Woman I Wish I Knew More About




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Filed under israel, Movies, Religion

Way to Go Sarah!

“Can I just say, to the Bernie or Bust people: You’re being ridiculous.” Those lines got comedian Sarah Silverman international attention on Monday night when she addressed the Democratic National Convention.

Photo of Sarah Silverman from Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Sarah Silverman from Wikimedia Commons

Sarah certainly left an impression during her time on the convention stage but I learned something about her this week from a colleague that impressed me more. Sarah has championed a campaign to make the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem a more welcoming place for women. When I was in Israel in 2010 I was truly upset that women had to wait in line so much longer than men to pray at the Wailing Wall because the female section of the wall was only a fraction of the size of the men’s section. I wrote about this inequality in my newspaper column and blogged about it.

Photo I took at the Wailing Wall that shows the much smaller and more crowded women's section on the right

Photo I took at the Wailing Wall that shows the much smaller and more crowded women’s section on the right

Apparently having less room to pray hasn’t been the only issue at the Wailing Wall for women. For several years Sarah and her sister Susan, who is a rabbi, headlined a movement called Women of the Wall that called for legal changes to allow women to wear prayer shawls at the historic wall and sing, pray and read Scripture out loud there just as men can. In 2013 Sarah’s sister and niece were arrested when they defied the law and donned prayer shawls at the wall. In December of 2014 Sarah and Susan lit a menorah on the women’s side of the wall even after the rabbi in charge of the wall had forbidden them to do so.

In the past women had to read and pray silently at the wall

In the past women could only read and pray silently at the wall

Sarah and the Women of the Wall’s protests worked! In January of this year the Israeli government announced that a mixed gender prayer area at the wall would be created and women would be allowed to pray, read Scripture, sing,wear prayer shawls and light menorahs at the wall.

Sarah Silverman was a Bernie Sanders supporter in the Democratic primaries but in an article in the New York Times she is quoted as saying…..”I will vote for Hillary with gusto, as I continue to be inspired and moved to action by the ideals set forth by Bernie.”

Hillary Clinton is lucky to have a fighter with a sense of humour like Sarah Silverman on her side. Sarah has a proven track record of fighting for important changes that give equal rights to women.

eldery man and woman at the wailing wall in jerusalem

In the past men and women had to go to separate places to pray at the Wailing Wall

I wasn’t sure I needed to visit Israel a second time but it might be worth it just to pray again at the Wailing Wall since it is now a place where men and women are regarded as equals as they always have been in the eyes of God. Thanks Sarah!

Other posts……..

Inequality at the Wailing Wall

An Inclusive Canadian Anthem

I Never Got Used to the Guns

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Filed under israel, Politics

A Veronica Sighting in Costa Rica

I wonder where I’ll find Veronica next?   I’m  always looking for more stories about the connections Jesus might have had with women. There’s an account about a woman named Veronica  in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus in a section called the Acts of Pilate. According to the Acts of Pilate Veronica is the same woman Jesus healed of a flow of blood in Luke 8.  

I first saw Veronica’s name when I visited the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem.  The Via Dolorosa is said to be the path Jesus walked with his cross.  The story goes that at one point a woman named Veronica used her veil to wipe the sweat from Jesus’ face as he walked by her.   I photographed this stone marker bearing Veronica’s name.   I was intrigued and wanted to learn more about Veronica. 

veronica in jerusalem via delrosa

When I visited The Church of the Beatitudes on the Sea of Galilee near Capernaum I saw a beautiful wood carving of Veronica. Part of Veronica’s story is that after she wiped Jesus’ face with her veil the image of his face was left in the veil and that is clearly shown in the carving. veronica at the church of the beatitudes

It was a couple of years later when I came across another rendition of the Veronica story when I saw this painting of Veronica in the Stadel Art Museum in Frankfurt, Germany. It was done by Robert Campin a Flemish artist who lived from 1375-1444.veronica-by-robert-campin public domain

My last night in Costa Rica I walked into the Church of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in Liberia and as I made my way around the sanctuary looking at each of the Stations of the Cross I found Veronica again. veronica cathedral liberia costa rica
Veronica was compassionate but she was also brave. Jesus was about to be crucified and to be identified as a supporter of his was dangerous, dangerous enough that one of his disciples denied even knowing him. But Veronica doesn’t worry about her own safety she is just concerned about doing something kind for Jesus. I wonder where I’ll find Veronica next?  

Other posts……..


Worshipping with Quakers in Costa Rica

My Grandmother’s Epitaph

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Filed under Art, Costa Rica, Germany, israel, Religion

This Story Was Troubling

The crossing of the Red Sea is a well known Old Testament story. The Israelites made it through the Red Sea ahead of the Egyptian army pursuing them. God provided a dry path for the children of Israel to cross the sea but then once they were all safely across, ” Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea and the waters returned and covered the chariots, the horsemen, and all the army of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them. Not so much as one of them remained.”

That’s the story in Exodus 14. 

My story figures during my telling of the story.

Story figures during my telling of the story.

I’m teaching Sunday School to elementary age children and some of the Old Testament stories in the curriculum are troubling. I didn’t find them troubling as a child, but I do now.  All those Egyptian soldiers dying because God threw them into the sea somehow doesn’t sync with the loving God I want to believe in.

When I was telling the story I said the wave had thrown the Egyptians into the sea and I left out the fact that everyone had drowned.  One child piped up though and said something like, “They all died didn’t they?”   The kids knew. 

The theologian who writes the Biblical commentary for the curriculum we are using, suggests we tell these Exodus stories in a way that identifies with the Egyptians and grieves with them in their suffering rather than taking any sort of  delight in it.  Good advice but in the book of Exodus the Israelites dance and sing after the Egyptians die. They are pretty delighted. 

The Red Sea story is no more violent than some of the fairy tales children read, or the plot in many pieces of classic literature, so why did I feel I needed to try and white wash it ? 

Other posts ……..

Taking Teens to Israel and Palestine

Noah A Violent Movie About A Violent Story

Anne of Green Gables- A Faith Perspective

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Filed under Childhood, Education, israel, Religion

Taking Teens To Israel and Palestine

With the high school students, I chaperoned in Israel and Palestine

 “Why would the Jewish people after experiencing the Holocaust come to the Holy Land and confine the Palestinians?”

One of my high school students wrote that question in his journal after a very thought-provoking day on a school trip to Israel. We had spent our morning at Yad Vashem. It is a modern museum in Jerusalem designed to take each visitor on an unforgettable journey through the Jewish holocaust experience.

The twenty- two teenagers with me were mesmerized as they walked from room to room. Everywhere they went there were exhibits and screens that told the stories of Holocaust victims and survivors. 

The Hall of Names at Yad Vashem where many Holocaust victims are memorialized

I saw some of the teens standing and looking at the photos of victims and watching interviews with survivors with tears running down their faces. They heard stories about children who had witnessed their parents’ murders, women who had killed their own babies rather than have them sent to a concentration camp, schoolchildren who showed up in the morning for class only to find fellow students or a teacher had ‘disappeared’ overnight. Many decades after the events being described the survivors could still recall their experiences in disturbing detail.

One room in the museum was completely dark save for thousands of tiny twinkling lights on the ceiling. Each light is there in memory of a child who died in the Holocaust and while you walk through the room their names are being whispered.

Just as you leave the museum you read a poem by Andre Schwarz –Bart wrote after the Holocaust ended. He has inserted the names of concentration camps into a prayer of praise. He is glad the Holocaust is over but how to deal with its reality? He leaves the reader trying to answer the question- Where was God during the Holocaust?

Later that afternoon our group went to Bethlehem and visited a Palestinian refugee camp. We heard the stories of children who had been shot by Israeli snipers while playing soccer. wall aidaWe saw the wall that has been built by the Israelis around the Palestinian territory. It was covered with graffiti and in places marked by bullet holes. We heard the story of a young Palestinian woman who was refused an exit visa to study medicine at the university where she had received a scholarship. aida camp palestineWe met people who have never been able to return to their family properties because more than a half-century ago their homes and land were taken over by the Israelis. An aid worker, who was our guide said it is ironic that anyone can convert to Judaism anywhere in the world and get an Israeli passport, but a Palestinian whose family has lived in Israel for generations cannot get an Israeli passport and therefore has difficulty travelling anywhere outside of Israel.          

graffiti refugee camp palestineJust as our Holocaust museum visit raised difficult questions for my students so did our visit to the Palestinian refugee compound. One girl wrote in her journal, “God whose son was called the Prince of Peace must be very sad about the things that are happening in His Promised Land.”

Many people make pilgrimages to the ‘Holy Land’ of Israel in search of answers.   I took a group of students to the ‘Holy Land’ of Israel and we left with our heads full of difficult questions.

Other posts about Israel……..

I Never Got Used to the Guns

Gender Inequity at the Wailing Wall

Looking for God in the Wrong Places



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Filed under Education, israel, Politics, Religion

Antigone’s Legacy

Rachel Isaacs was the first openly lesbian rabbi ordained by the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary in May 2011. When Rabbi Isaacs graduated from Wellesley college in 2005 she gave the student address. She called her speech Antigone’s Legacy and encouraged her fellow graduates to have Antigone’s courage in the face of injustice. She hoped her generation would create new ways of protecting the rights of every individual just the way Antigone had.

Antigone by Frederic Leighton

I learned Antigone’s story well since it was required reading in a high school literature class I taught.  Antigone is the young female heroine of an ancient Greek tragedy written by Sophocles. A state leader tries to stop Antigone from providing an honorable burial for a war hero. The leader, who had political differences with the dead man, orders his body be left lying in the open as carrion for the birds.

antigone-1Antigone insists such an immoral burial will displease the gods. She buries the body herself and as a result  is punished by death.

Antigone is an inspiring character. Her story has been re-told by great artists like Mark Rothko, famous musicians including Mendelssohn, and countless playwrights who have rewritten Sophocles’ original drama and set it in more modern times. There are operas about Antigone and poems telling her story.

The United States Navy even named one of its World War I battleships after her.

Perhaps the most legendary performance of Antigone took place in the Robben Island Prison in South Africa in the 1960s when some of the inmates there chose to present the play at their annual Christmas concert. Nelson Mandela, imprisoned at Robben Island because of his political efforts to end apartheid in South Africa, played one of the major roles.

Antigone is an unlikely hero. She is young. She is a woman. She is also the daughter of Oedipus, and comes from a highly dysfunctional family. Yet these factors don’t hold her back from following her conscience.

Antigone might serve as an inspiring role model to the young men and women graduating from universities and high schools this month. 

Other posts about female role models…….

The Famous Five

Three Remarkable Jamaican Women

The Aviator’s Wife

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Filed under Culture, History, israel, People, Religion

It’s Okay to Cry

Jesus wept. John 11:35

In the city of Jerusalem I visited the Dominus Flevit Temple. It is also known as the Tear Drop Temple because its roof is shaped like a teardrop. The temple was designed and placed on the Mount of Olives in memory of Jesus’ tears. 

The Bible records two times when Jesus cried. Once was at the death of his good friend Lazarus and another was when he was overcome with sorrow because he knew what was going to happen to the people of Jerusalem. The Tear Drop Temple is said to be built on the very spot where Jesus wept for his people.   

 There are times when we all need a good cry. We may be moved to tears because things aren’t going well in our personal lives or in our work place. Sometimes our tears are a reaction to the loss of someone or something we love or because we’ve lost an opportunity we may never have again. I often cry when I know I have done something wrong and I am feeling remorse and guilt about my mistake. My tears are especially abundant when I realize my error or bad behavior has hurt someone else or made them angry. 

 We may cry out of sympathy for someone who is experiencing hardship or tragedy. We may cry because we feel helpless and frustrated at our inability to bring about positive change in the life of a person we care about.

Sometimes our tears are bittersweet. We may cry at a child’s wedding or graduation. We are happy for them but at the same time we feel sad that they are growing up, becoming independent and that our relationship with them is changing.
 There is nothing wrong with tears. They are not a sign of weakness. Tears are a way to express our emotions, a sign of our humanity and vulnerability. American writer Rita Schiano says “Tears are God’s gift to us. Our holy water. They heal us as they flow.” Jesus knew that. We need to remember it too.

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Looking for God in the Wrong Places

On my trip to the Middle East, I didn’t find God in the places I expected. Frankly, most of the stops on the traditional ‘Jesus’ tours are just tourist traps.

Huge ornate cathedrals have been built over the places where Jesus ‘might’ have been born, ‘could’ have preached,  ‘maybe’ was crucified and ‘perhaps’ was buried. These places are gaudy, ornate shrines packed with hordes of sightseers often surrounded by noisy, crowded souvenir shops. IMG_0766I figured Jesus would probably start to cry or else get angry if he could see the way greedy entrepreneurs are taking advantage of him to make a ‘quick buck.’

john the baptist souvenir shop bethlehemYou have to get off the beaten tourist path if you want to have ‘holy’ moments in the Holy Land. I had one in the Negev desert.  We took a camel trek out to a Bedouin camp to spend the night in a tent there and I woke up just before dawn. dawn on the negev desertI went to the edge of the camp to watch the sun come up over the desert. It was totally quiet and I waited in almost breathless silence as the sun slithered in a golden slice over the hills and then bathed the barren brown landscape around us in a shining orange light.

wedding at the church in canaThe church in Cana where Jesus turned the water into wine could have been just another tourist trap but they were actually having a wedding there. We arrived just as the newlyweds were exiting the building surrounded by smiling relatives and friends. Everyone was laughing and clapping. One of the wedding guests happily chatted with me and told me all about the bridal couple, their families, their jobs and their honeymoon plans.

children in palestinian refugee campI had another ‘holy’ moment in a Palestinian refugee camp as I watched three dark haired little girls playing a version of hopscotch. The children were surrounded by walls  topped with barbed wire and riddled with bullets but they were having fun- laughing and skipping together.

Perhaps all too often we look for the ‘holy’ in the wrong places. God might not be in a fancy cathedral or at an historic site.  God might be waiting for us in the quiet moments just before dawn, in the smile of a bride or the innocent play of children.

God if I can’t find you maybe I’m looking in the wrong places.

Other posts about Israel……

Gender Inequity at the Wailing Wall

The Pool of Bethesda- Personal Connections

Dead Sea Beauty Treatment

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Filed under israel, Religion