We often experience sacred time by retelling sacred myths and stories. So when my friends the Reeds joined their friends (two families) on a ten-day trip from Atlanta to Israel last winter, Janet Reed's real-time diary of their interfaith journey brought me endless joy and fascination, which I chronicled in Bethlehem bound: Is it safe?
Their holy caravan of three families (six adults and seven children) traveled as one throughout Israel. In Jerusalem, the Reeds participated in their friends' children's Bar and Bat Mitzva ceremonies, and on Christmas Eve, the Reeds took a short security-conscious journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. So, when Dori called me from Illinois to find out how she and her fiance, Josh Gomes (a pro basketball player scoring points for Israel), might worship in Bethlehem this Christmas Eve, I knew which pro to ask.
Guest Blogger Janet Reed Writes
"Janet Reed is an FOT (friend of Tamar) whose family exploits are sometimes featured on this blog. Janet is a writer and the chief herder of two adorable girls and one fabulous husband who has introduced Janet to many of her best friends (such as Tamar!). Janet likes to read, cook, and travel, and especially enjoyed planning a trip to the Middle East last year, which included Christmas Eve in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity. The journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity service we attended, and related experiences in Manger Square were spectacular in every way. You will have so much fun. We loved every minute of our trip.
"Here is an excerpt from an email we sent Tamar and others:
Greetings from Jerusalem!! We are having a GREAT time and are loving our trip. We made it to Bethlehem last night — a total zoo. A massive (NYC Times Square-ish) crowd in Manger Square, which we had to navigate with the girlies. Then pushed through the barrier into the Church of the Nativity through the labyrinth of that amazing church to a tiny Greek Orthodox chapel where we had Lessons and Carols (a cappella) with Mahmoud Abbas (super security detail included) and about 90 other "pilgrims," mostly English-speaking but lots of Arabs and Arabic speakers as well. Made it into the Grotto (where Jesus was born) for a quick touch, then back through the throng. Exhilarating and scary, but glad we did it.
About the Church of the Nativity
Three Christian denominations “share” the Church, and they hold services independently. (There are no restrictions on photography inside churches — so odd to us! — we took pix everywhere!)
We wanted to get to Bethlehem and back in one evening, and to attend a service in the Church. As far as I could tell, the only group that could help us accomplish this easily was St. George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem.
About St. George's Cathedral
Nablus Road 20 Phone in Israel 02/627-2133; Fax 02/6276401. Outside Israel 972+2/627-2133. The Tickets are required, and only the Cathedral sells them.
From the Cathedral, we boarded buses that took us to and from Bethlehem — only seven miles away, twice crossing through a large Israel Defense Forces checkpoint.
Key: (A) Arabic, (E) English
- 4 pm Carol Service in Shepherds Field (YMCA) of Beit Sahour (E, A)
- 7 pm Buses depart St. George's Cathedral for Bethlehem
- 9 pm Service of Christmas Carols and Lessons in the Church of the Nativity (E, A) Buses return to Jerusalem after the service.
- 11:30 pm Eucharist of the Nativity in St. George's Cathedral (A, E)
- 10 am Christmas Day Eucharist (A, E)
- 6 pm Solemn Evensong (E)
7.30 am St. Stephen's Day Eucharist (A, E)
Other travel options
You can go to Bethlehem for a wild Christmas Eve party in Manger Square (no kidding — that’s what it’s called!) and you can Google “Christmas Eve in Bethlehem” for schedules of various services and activities. If you want to visit Bethlehem any other time, that’s pretty easy. If you’re feeling highly adventurous, you can drive or go by taxi — not ways I’d go, but maybe you know your way around and will feel comfortable with this.
Questions for Janet?
I’ll be happy to answer any questions on our journey. Just ask in a comment at the end of the post.