What took you to Israel in the first place, and what compelled you to stay for six years?
For one thing, I went there to fulfill a personal aspiration — it had been my father’s dream to visit Israel before he died. He didn’t make it, but I had long shared his fascination with the place. So I came on my own, and in his memory.
I also wanted perspective and understanding. I had worked for years on books about both Christianity and Islam. Israel is the only place in the Middle East where Christians, Jews and Muslims live more or less side-by-side, shop in the same stores, eat in the same cafes and share the same streets and sidewalks.
And went as a pilgrim – I wanted to actually see the places I’d read or heard about all my life. Still, I wasn’t especially interested in going on guided pilgrimage. I chose instead to live in a neighborhood and experience life in a more natural and relaxed way. And why did I stay? Quite simply because I didn’t want to leave. I made some wonderful new friends, and they quickly became part of the way of life I was coming to know in Jerusalem.
Do you think Israel is viewed differently “though the eyes of a Christian Sojourner?”
Like most places in the world, Israel is viewed differently through the eyes of every person that visits. But of course there are stereotypical impressions that find their way into travel books. My perspective is perhaps a little more unusual because I “sojourned” long enough to feel the rhythms of life – of holidays, Sabbaths, times of difficulty and times of celebration. Most of my friends, but not all, are Jewish. As a Christian, I think that I have a great deal to learn from them. Curiosity has led me to ask questions, and to listen as carefully as possible to the answers.
What did you learn about Israeli society while you were there?
The friends I’ve come to know are warm-hearted, lively people of great intelligence and decency. But what I am most impressed with is their love of life and their ongoing celebration of being alive. It seems that despite the many sorrows that have touched virtually every person in the country – whether through the Holocaust, terrorist attacks, military operations or major wars – somehow joy and good cheer prevail.