Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, Is Mount Zion in the far north, The city of the great King.
Recently, we had the opportunity and the pleasure to attend the Plastic Surgery at the Red Sea International Symposium, in Eilat, Israel. It was really a life-changing experience to go to the Holy Land for the first time in my entire life (Fig. 1). Entering Jerusalem at night and seeing the Holy City, with its sections divided into Christian, Muslim, and Jewish sectors all in one central area, was emotionally overwhelming. It was truly not only profoundly visually captivating, but also awe-inspiring to realize that three of the world’s major religions have many of their holy sites located in this small area. The city has been seized at least 53 times throughout its over 3000 years of history. It is an amazing place, and it is moving to see the effects of the history of humanity reflected in the many facets of the city, which are truly life altering when one reflects on what has happened there from the time of Abraham to the present.
An apt one-word description of Jerusalem, and the Holy Land as a whole, is “complex.” Jerusalem is a complex city, with a complex history. Another good single-word term would be “layers”: layers-upon-layers of meaning (including layers of history, archaeology, theology, and politics, not to mention poetry, language, art, and food) pile on top of each other in ways I have not seen elsewhere. Fascinatingly, however, newer layers do not supplant or displace earlier ones; each new layer builds on previous ones, which in and of themselves live on with a sort of dynamic life of their own. Remnants from King David’s age (c. 1000 BC) live equally at home with those from the time of Jesus, which are just as vibrant as those from the Middle Ages and Arab and Ottoman Empires, only to be in communication with those from the twenty-first century. To see the tomb of King David (Fig. 2), and then climb to the upper floor in a matter of minutes, to the room where Jesus and his disciples ate the Last Supper, and to see olive trees (well over 2000 old) (Fig. 3) where Jesus prayed, drove home how history is powerfully alive and vibrant in Jerusalem. I found it to be a phenomenal religious experience to go to the Wailing Wall (Fig. 4), which we did at night. We could see the Dome of the Rock (Qubbat As-Sakhrah) over the Wailing Wall, sacred holy ground for the Muslims. We also visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre within which is the last four Stations of the Cross, including the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ. I saw where Jesus was crucified and buried! Whether you are religious or not, going to each and all of these sites is a very moving and life-changing experience.
“Hebrew,” “Arabic,” and “Semitic” are all marvelous terms, rich with meaning. Each of them refers to a history, a culture, a group of people, and a language or group of languages. All of them have deep connections to long-occupied geographic regions but at a deeper, more visceral level, to the soil itself. Hebrew and Arabic are both wonderfully “earthy” languages; ancient, rooted deep in human history, sounding deceptively simple, yet each word is rich with meaning and dependent on context for its proper understanding. And both languages have given humanity some of the most beautiful poetry ever written.
The culture, too, is complex, lively, earthy, and multilayered. The ancient tradition of hospitality is alive and well wherever we went; our hosts took wonderful care of us and tended to us in such a personal way that my visit took on a distinctive “family” tone. Far from intrusive, I found this tradition and level of familiarity disarming, welcoming, and in sharp contrast to much of our modern, closed-off, and isolated “Western” tradition we see today. Jewish and Arab people prize their friendships, and when entering into their home, you will be well fed, treated with the utmost of honor, and protected and cared for.
Israel is a fascinating country. It is multiethnic, multilingual, and multireligious, all of which contribute to the complexity and layering I encountered there. From a visitor’s viewpoint, life in Jerusalem seems to work remarkably well and in harmony, regardless of the complexities. To my amazement, and unlike what is shown to us in the U.S. media, I found that it was a very safe place, like walking in any city of the United States. The individual people and the cultures all seem to intermix and get along very well, at least from a superficial perspective. With that said, there are extraordinarily deep divisions within the region as a whole. Although Judaism, Christianity, and Islam do share numerous commonalities, there are also fundamental differences among these “People of the Book.” For example, although all three religions are strictly monotheistic and use similar theological terminology, they diverge at key points. Abraham is the “Father of Faith” for all three, but Jews believe Isaac was the son of promise, and Muslims believe that Ishmael was the rightful heir to the covenant. Jews follow the Mosaic law (Laws of Moses) and the word of the Torah; Muslims follow the Islamic law given in the Quran and also the Hadith. Christianity builds on the Jewish faith and holds that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. Jews don’t consider Jesus to be the Messiah; Muslims hold Jesus in very high regard as a prophet, but don’t believe he was God incarnate, or that he died on a cross or was resurrected. Christians uphold the Jewish law and prophets, but believe that the only way to have a relationship with God is to place their faith in Jesus, God incarnate who was crucified, buried, and resurrected. All three religions seek God, but through different means.
I am happy to report that plastic surgery in Israel is alive and well. The Israel Society of Plastic Surgeons and Israeli Society of Plastic & Aesthetic Surgery are two vibrant groups with highly skilled plastic and reconstructive surgeons. As in the United States and many other countries, many plastic surgeons here divide their time between reconstructive and cosmetic procedures, providing the entire range of reconstructive and cosmetic procedures. The Plastic Surgery at the Red Sea conference covered both reconstructive and aesthetic surgery, replete with a first-class international faculty. As an American, I was very pleased to see the exceptional technical skill and competence at the meeting. I learned much and encourage our Middle Eastern colleagues to send in their papers to Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and also PRS—Global Open. They have valuable skill and experience and need to share it with plastic surgeons worldwide.
It is hard to single out any one experience as a defining moment in my trip. As mentioned above, visiting the Old City of Jerusalem, seeing the room of the Last Supper, sitting on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, seeing the Jordan River (where Jesus was baptized), setting foot in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and being in the presence of the Wailing Wall—they were all amazing highlights of my visit. We also had the opportunity to travel to Petra, which is a magnificent archaeological site in southern Jordan, a city carved out of rose- colored rock (Fig. 5).
Equally impressive (on a different emotional level, however) was the level of security and methodical deliberation shown at the airport and at various military checkpoints throughout the area. Although mine was very seamless as I was with Dr. Shai Rozen, who guided me carefully and meticulously on my travels in Israel, experiencing such visible signs of security and realizing that they are necessary gave me an inkling of the very high stakes involved in everyday life that exist here. The Israeli and Palestinian people are intensely passionate about their beliefs. Although I would not welcome so great a military presence in the United States, it is necessary to do so in this region of the world. I couldn’t help but reflect on the depths of my own beliefs as what we take for granted in the United States—freedom to move around all over our country without boundaries or border checks—we have no idea how fortunate we are!
Have you visited the Holy Land? If not, I urge you to do so, soon. Regardless of your heritage or religious beliefs, you owe it to yourself to see this cradle that gave birth to much of our modern world. You will be amazed, enchanted, and perhaps moved to believe. It will change you forever in a very positive way as it has done for us.
How blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding. For its profit is better than the profit of silver, and its gain than fine gold.…