My perspective as a 1st-time traveler to Israel:
“We’re surrounded by enemies.” That’s what she said to me. My seat-mate leaving Israel was a delightful Jewish woman who grew up in Britain and has lived in Haifa, Israel since she married her husband who was from Haifa.
It is always interesting to hear the perspective of ‘real’ people. Ordinary, life-loving human beings, unfiltered by any agenda. She quieted her voice and glanced around the plane before she would speak. Always careful, alert. Her husband was called to reserve duty in the war with Lebanon. Her sons have served their country in wars. Fighting had come closer than she thought it would in her neighborhood. Friends have moved out of the country because of bombs that hit nearby years ago.
She was traveling to see her sister in Scotland and remarked about the long early morning trip to the airport in Tel Aviv. Naively, I asked if there wasn’t a closer airport somewhere, and that’s what brought her comment.
I’m not writing a political thing and I’m certainly no expert on travel. This is my first trip ‘overseas’ and the first time I’ve had my passport where it could be stamped. That’s another thing. Only it wasn’t stamped in Israel. Again, it was explained to me that you are given a small paper insert because if you have the stamp of Israel, some other countries won’t let you enter. They are doing you a favor by not stamping it.
There’s a lot of stories to tell about our trip. As a writer, it’s how I process the information and education of the days spent there. As a newbie traveler, I learned some interesting tidbits. A universal word I would rarely use in my suburban U.S. life is toilet. That’s from the trivia section!
Also, know where you are, so you know where you’re safe. I never felt unsafe, but I was always alert and careful. If you stay on the roadway to the Dead Sea, you are in Israel. If you get off the road on the left or right, you are in a different country – neither one friendly. That’s not so trivial. I learned that when we went to the city of Bethlehem, we were sort of not in Israel anymore, so our Israeli guide did not accompany us there. If you’re confused, join the club. And that’s what my seat-mate said, “It’s all so confusing.”
The western wall where you can pray is open to anyone. Any nationality. Any language. Any religion. Any friend or foe of Israel. Security is a definite, but anyone can come there to pray. And they do. The wall of prayer is a very small part of the old city wall of Jerusalem. It is significant to many for a variety of reasons. It is where many believe God’s presence is the closest to earth.
A Jewish guide took us through the underground tunnels where the old city walls have been excavated. There is continual excavation and it seems as though pieces of the puzzle of ancient times are continually being put back together.
I could tell about the sounds and smells of the four quarters of the old city shopping area. I wasn’t always sure where the different quarters ended and others began. I cannot give an adequate verbal description of the putrid smells that had me gasping for air or the shoulder to shoulder mass of people in some areas. The visuals were hard for me to take in; a fully skinned goat (raw meat) hanging in a glass window next to a high tech products shop next to a shoe shop, next to an art store, next to a fresh vegetable stand, with a motor-bike passing by and a man balancing a long, flat box with goods on top of his head as he jostled through the crowded rough tile street.
I could give the story of the mountainous area in the northern part that’s desired by surrounding nations and the military bunkers that remain on the sides of the hills. We were close enough to the Syrian border to throw a stone into it. Probably not a good idea.
I could tell about floating in the Dead Sea as being ‘trippy’ as phrased by one of our group. Or the deep emotion of touching and seeing the empty tomb where Jesus was buried and the documentation to prove it. Or praying in the olive grove, overlooking the long wall of the city. Of watching my brother baptizing in the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized. Or the time spent on the beautifully calm Sea of Galilee and staying in a Kibbutz there. Or the very high-tech new Friends of Zion Museum. Or of my first experience bargaining in shekels for a skirt.
Maybe I will write more about those later. But as I process what I’ve seen and tasted, (falafel or shawarma anyone?), what I’ve touched and felt, it’s really about the people.
The people of Israel who do not succumb to hate when surrounded by enemies.
The people who come to pray because they desire to be close to God.
The people who gave their lives to rescue others from the horrors of the holocaust.
The people who have found the Dead Sea scrolls.
The people who continue to preserve the history of this nation and uncover it inch by inch at excavation sites.
It’s people like our Israeli guide, who has embraced Jesus as Messiah, who introduced us to artists and craftsmen and gave us insight into history and geography and the tie to Bible truths. And thought we should learn to sing the Hebrew Shabbat song.
It’s the people that we shared this journey with from different parts of the world. Now friends. We became ‘family’ as I believe God intended when there were Emergency Room visits and we prayed for each other. Having four pastors who’d never met before, but shared devotionals or prayer on the tour bus each morning.
It’s people that God loves. It’s people that He cares about and continues to reveal Himself to. People. Created by a God of love and justice. A God who is relational. A God who parted the Sea in this land and still does miracles in whatever land we live in. A God who invites us to trust Him, even when we’re surrounded by enemies.
If I could encourage you to go to Israel and experience for yourself, I would consider this blog successful. We wouldn’t have considered it without hearing others’ stories- my brother’s being the most influential. Yes, it makes the Bible come to life as you remember seeing the ‘reservoir’ at Bethesda where Jesus healed the man and why He didn’t help him into the pool instead. The story behind the story because you see and understand the etymology and history and spiritual aspects altogether. Yes, it’s proof that the Bible is true and accurate, supported by excavations and documentation. Yes, the sights and sounds and smells are unforgettable.
But when we want to follow the Jesus of Israel, the God who took on human form to become our Savior, it’s helpful to know the land and the people of this land to understand more fully who we are and what His purpose is for our lives. We can then pray to know what our individual part is in making sure no one has to say, ‘we are surrounded by enemies”.