Monthly Archives: August 2006

Going north again

Ben called and asked if I wanted to drive to the north with him and the wife of a friend who was visiting from Atlanta. Of course, I said, “Of course”.

Walked up the hill to where our street ended at the Haas Promonade to meet Ben at 9AM. The sun was already hot but there was a crisp, cool breeze blowing from the Mountains of Moab in Jordan to the east. The flowersthat hang from the wall next to the sidewalk are so beautiful (you don’t see blue flowers very often); but for some reason that no one can explain to me, almost none of the flowers in Israel has a scent. You will remember that the Haas Promonade is the hill where Abraham first saw Mount Moriah (later to become the City of David, and Jerusalem).

Ben picked me up and we took a vote as to which way we wanted to drive north. All of us wanted to drive east to the Dead Sea and then go north along the Jordan River Valley. The original reason for the drive was to see damage caused by the war, but that soon fell by the wayside and our trip became a reason to get out of the city of Jerusalem. The day was hazy across the Jordan Valley.

We stopped at a roadside gas station to get drinks and we met a group of about 200 soldiers. We didn’t know where they were going, but they all looked to be about 18-19 years old, which most of them are. Incidentally, some of you have asked me to say something about the war from this side. I have hesitated to do so for several reasons: First, I’m not sure the war is really over; second, some of the information that has come to me is not what you hear on the international news and I believe some of it might even be confidential (or, perhaps, even secret); and third I’m not sure how many of you are all that interested.

When you drive north along the River Valley, you drive very close to the electric security fence. The actual border is the middle of the Jordan River and there is about a mile between the River and the fence. This distance is referred to as ‘no man’s land’ and, as you can imagine, is very fertile ground for growing crops. On each side of the River, farmers grow some great crops, but they are also farming between each country’s security fence. Fortunately, Jordan and Israel have an uneasy peace right now. It has rarely been so…  

Ben decided he wanted to get off the main road and drive east to the River so he could show us a bridge he remembered seeing several years ago. He said the bridge crossed the River into Jordan. To say this idea made our female companion very nervous is a huge understatement. Ben found a place to turn off the road and we began wandering along a dirt road getting us closer and closer to the Jordan River and to Jordan, itself.

Eventually we arrived at an old army outpost which has been turned into a place where students are taken to study the history of the various wars with Jordan. A group of students were being shown around by a guide. Ben drove around the group and took a dirt road that had old railroad tracks embedded into it. The lady wanted him to turn around and return to the main road.

Down and down we drove along a road that obviously had not been used by anyone in a very long time. I was in the right passenger seat and could have opened the window and touched the electric border fence. I took this picture through the fence and you can see two abandoned Jordanian outlook towers from some war that is now only a memory. Then we came around a bend and there, on the hill above us, was a Jordanian lookout tower that was not abandoned, complete with the flag of Jordan waving high up for everyone to see. Our lady was now so nervous she was making me nervous. But, Ben just knew there was a bridge up ahead, somewhere.

We finally came to a very old bridge, and, sure enough, it crossed the Jordan where the River flows under the fence and across the border. I wasn’t sure the bridge would support our weight, but Ben crossed it, anyway.

We went up a small hill and over a rise, and suddenly we were in the middle of a park! Everything was green and beautiful, so Ben stopped to see what park it was. Some of you know that, whenever there is a murder of innocent Israelis, the people build a park on the site as a memorial. This turned out to be such a place. Apparently, a few years ago, a girl’s school was having an outing next to the border with Jordan, and a Jordanian soldier went crazy and began shooting at the girls. Here are pictures of the youngsters he killed. Their bodies are buried in the park and their graves are marked by mounds bearing their names written in flowers.

We finally found the main road again. By this time, we had arrived at the Sea of Galilee and Ben decided to take us to his favorite restaurant, the Ein Gev Fish Restaurant. Here is a picture of Ben and me next to the boat on the restaurant’s lawn. Some of you reading this blog will know exactly where this place is. Ben loves St. Peter’s fish. The lady and I both ordered omelets. Ben looked at us horrified, “You mean I brought you to the world’s finest fish restaurant and you order EGGS!” He wasn’t very happy; but, I don’t care much for fish, so I ordered eggs. However, after taking a bite of his grilled fillet, I realized that I should have ordered the fish. He made mention of my egg order several times the rest of our trip.

Drove around the Sea of Galilee, past most of the areas of Jesus’ life and ministry: Bethsaida (home of all the disciples who were fishermen); Magdala (home of Mary Magdalene); the Hill of Beatitudes; etc. It was a very hazy day or I would have taken more pictures for you.

We decided to drive to the most northern town of any size and then return home. Our female friend wanted to visit a place which she had been only once before (years ago): a home that makes wind chimes. Somehow we found it and I almost bought a set of chimes for Blake since they were tuned to the Japanese scale and had a wonderful sound. Too expensive.

Speaking of Blake: I have only worn my tennis shoes for about 4 hours since coming here. I LOVE my Chacos! And, I wish I had a picture of me in my Tilly hat. It is perfect!

Returned to Jerusalem about 8PM and crashed…

4th Week

Today is Friday and I am now into my 2nd month in Israel.

Left Ma’ale Levona on the 7:30AM bus. It seems as if 20% of those on any bus are carrying machine guns. Sort of makes you feel secure. I am told that in any group of soldiers, one of them is the “designated shooter”. This means that in a cafe or restaurant, all the soldiers will lay their guns under the table, or stack them in a corner. All but one. His job is to keep his gun in his lap with his finger on the trigger. Sort of like a “designated driver” who lets everyone else drink, but is responsible for staying sober to protect the rest.

Arrived back at the apartment in Jerusalem around 9AM where I unpacked and washed clothes. Danny had to come to Jerusalem, so we rode the bus together. He had to get off the bus before I did, and immediately I realized he had left his hat on the seat. A few blocks later, Danny called me and asked me to take his hat on to the apartment. Just now he came to the apartment to retrieve his hat and brought with him something I have never before seen in Israel: a Dr. Pepper! He must have looked long and hard for that. Very thoughtful…

Spent most of the week in Ma’ale Levona working with Danny on his travel business. The weather has turned hotter than I’ve ever experienced in the Land in all the years I’ve been coming. Several old timers have said the same. Even the breeze is hot!

How wonderful to be in a Land where everything you see is something described in the Bible. For instance, from Ma’ale Levona I can look out on the countryside which is exactly described in Judges 21:19—

“The annual feast of the Lord is now being held at Shiloh. (Shiloh lies north of Bethel, east of the highway that runs from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Levona).”

This scripture even goes to lengths to describe where Shiloh is located. Since “Ma’ale” means “heights”, I am on the hill overlooking  “Levona”  described in the scripture above.  I can see  Shiloh just below me and Bethel and Shechem in the distance.

Danny and I have been working on a plan to help groups visit Israel. We are going to offer a discount of between $1,000-$2,000 on anyone’s tour when they gather between 20 & 35 people to join them on one of our “Israel Experiences”. We have been working on a 12 day & an 18 day tour. We aren’t calling them “tours” since they aren’t typical tours. They really are more of an “experience” than a tour, especially for families.

Yossi is too busy right now to continue work on his book. We spent a couple of hours last night discussing what to do next and came up with some ideas which we will talk more about when he has the chance. So, for now, I’ve turned my attention to helping Danny, who has offered to share in his profit if we are successful in bringing groups over here. 

Danny is currently directing a tour, so when he goes out to touch base with the group and the tour guide, I have been going with him. This particular group includes a number of very small children (ie. in diapers). In this heat, groups with really small children are the ones that make a guide earn his pay.

Yesterday, we left Ma’ale Levona for the north to see if we could find some war damage. We passed the “trampiata” on our way out of the community. Remember that the trampiata is actually the last bus stop in every Israeli community. Individuals stand there hoping to catch a ride from someone going their way. If they can catch a ride before the bus comes, they don’t have to pay for a bus ride. Israelis do a lot of “tramping”  (hitchhiking). If you are driving a car past a trampiata, you are expected to stop and tell everyone where you are going so they can go with you if they are going in that direction.

Visited the tour group on the way north and saw a baby camel. Had to take this picture. We drove past Mount Tabor, site of the battle between the Judge, Deborah, and Jabin (this interesting story is told in Judges, chpater 4. Read it while looking at the picture). It is also the probable site of Jesus’ transfiguration, where Peter told Jesus he wanted to build 3 tabernacles: one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for Jesus (see Matthew 17 for the story).

Stopped in Tiberias, built by the Romans in honor of Emperor Tiberias, on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee. Even in Israel, most signs are in English. Danny had wanted to show me some possible accommodations for future tours, so, since we were at the Sea of Galilee, anyway, we visited some places: [1] [2] [3] [4]for next year’s tours. This last picture shows some interesting areas, in spite of the haze on the Sea of Galilee: On the opposite shore there is a low hill. This is the hill where Jesus drove the pigs out of the Gaderene demoniac and into the water (story in Matthew eight).

Drove north to Safed (pronounced “sfat”, like “fat” with an s). This is Israel’s “holy city”, determined to be so because several ancient Jewish “sages” are buried in caves on the mountain sides. People visit, and pray at, these burial sites. Sort of like if the Catholic church designated a single city as holy because it contained the burial sites of several of its “saints”, where people could visit and pray. The city is home to two of the largest Hassidic sects; but, interestingly enough, it is also Israel’s main artists’ colony.

As we approached Safed, we noticed a lot of scorched earth where Katusha rockets had landed in the surrounding forest. When we entered the town, we found an apartment building where a rocket had entered the top floor apartment and exited by the opposite  wall. We spoke to the lady who was in the apartment when the rocket hit. She said she and her husband were sitting in their living room when, BANG!, a rocket came through the room. It was a good thing it didn’t end up in the room, because this kind of rocket is supposed to explode on contact releasing thousands of bb’s to do as much damage to human flesh has possible.  

Some of Safed’s most famous products are its candles and cheese (no comment on this picture).

On the way back to Ma’ale Levona, a belt in Danny’s car broke and we had to limp back to Tiberias where we spent a couple of hours in a repair shop.

Headed home, first driving south along the Jordan River Valley road. The sun was going down over the mountains to our right. We drove most of the length of the Jordan River which was just to our left. We drove past the area where the prophet, Elisha, lived; and also past the area of ancient “Tishbe” (where the prophet, Elijah, the Tishbite, was from). We were a stone’s throw from the border with Jordan most of the time. The mountains in the background of the picture labeled “Tishbe” are the Mountains of Gilboa (2 Samuel 1:21), and are across the Jordan River in the country of Jordan.

Passed a young, Orthodox Jewish woman, carrying a baby, tramping alone on this rather deserted highway in the early evening hours. This is not unusual here in spite of its danger. Could she be harmed? Yes. Does the government frown on tramping alone? Yes. Is it illegal? No. People here would rather be killed outright than allow their enemies to think they had been frightened in some way. These people are stubborn, especially in the face of danger!

Stopped for gas and this donkey came running up like a dog looking for a handout. Just had to take its picture. Then we headed east toward Ma’ale Levona. Since I love the desert, I took the following pictures as the sun set: [1] [2] [3] [4]. Seeing these pictures, you get a better understanding of Jesus’ words, “…the rocks would cry out…” (Luke 19:40). That would be a lot of crying out! The last picture shows the high mountains of Edom across the Dead Sea, in the country of Jordan.

Last night Danny and Judy made a great bar-b-que supper and invited some friends to dinner. I am amazed at how many of the English-speaking Jews in Ma’ale Levona are former Baptists.

I’m still looking for a good cup of coffee. Was told that Starbucks opened up in Jerusalem and went out of business. I guess people have to know what a good cup of coffee is before someone can sell them one. Does anyone out there want to give it a try? I have some good names in mind: How about “Holy Grounds” or even “Wholly Ground”? A good steak place might be called “Holy Cow”.

Haven’t heard how the Weavers are doing. Did Craig get the job?

Can the Bible be believed?

As a young boy, one of the first books I ever remember noticing was one a friend of my mother’s had given her. The book was titled, The Bible as History. I don’t know why I took particular notice of this book except for a comment my Mother made about it. She said that scientists were beginning to discover that some of the places the Bible talked about actually existed and weren’t just a bunch of stories. To this day, I don’t understand why that made an impression on me because I had never seen a Bible and don’t remember ever hearing anything religious spoken of in my home.

At the time she showed me the book, the nation of Israel was only a few years old. Evidently, a relatively new science, called “archeology”, was beginning to develop ways to look into man’s past by digging into the ground. Many of these scientists were Israeli settlers who thought it important to justify their belief that the land had belonged to their ancestors, and, therefore, should belong to them as well.

Today, people might laugh at the notion that the Bible is only a bunch of fairy tales; but for most of the last two thousand years, one of the main reasons serious-minded people didn’t believe the Bible was because so many of the locations mentioned in the Bible simply couldn’t be verified.

Took the bus to the Little Italy restaurant to meet Ben for lunch. As soon as we met, it was like we had never been apart. I have a special love for Ben. In spite of his stature in Judaism (he is a direct descendant of Aaron, the High Priest), he is a very humble man with a wonderful sense of humor. Ben was the first Orthodox Jew I ever met. His gentle acceptance of others and willingness to dialog without being too insecure to talk to those of different beliefs gave me an appreciation for Jewish people. His friendship also gave me an interest in Middle Eastern history which I have never lost. 

Ben’s loneliness was immediately evident. His wife of 54 years was his soulmate and he misses her tremendously. He even brought a scrapbook of her life for me to see. However, he also told me that he has wonderful friends who have not let him eat a single Sabbath meal alone in the year and a half since Sonya died.

No sooner had we ordered, than a couple came into the restaurant. They were Ben’s best friends and joined us for lunch. They used to live in Ma’ale Levona (where Danny and Yossi live), but their home was destroyed by a flood and they had to move to Jerusalem.

We talked and laughed and ate a wonderful meal. Ben had to get ready for Sabbath, so he asked if he could drive me home. I said that I was intending to visit the Pool of Siloam in the City of David before Sabbath closed down the entire city, so he agreed to drop me off. The Pool is in the Arab part of Jerusalem and Ben, being a Jew, didn’t feel safe driving into that part of the City. So he drove me through the Old City and out the Dung Gate and to the entrance to the new visitor’s center of the ancient “City of David”. Before we parted, Ben asked if we could spend some time together, perhaps swimming in the Dead Sea. I said I would call him as soon as I returned from Ma’ale Levona.

It has taken me several trips here before I understood the difference between the City of David, The Temple Mount, and the city of Jerusalem.

I passed the entrance to the visitor’s center and walked the half mile down one of the steepest roads in Jerusalem into the Arab area. When I got to the bottom of the hill I saw the archaeological dig off to my left.

Here is where the title of this entry, Can the Bible be believed? comes in: As I said, one of the reasons people didn’t believe the Bible was that it mentions so many places whose existence no one could ever find. For instance, there was only one general area in Jerusalem where the Pool of Siloam could have existed. The Pool was supposed to have been able to hold more than 10,000 pilgrims coming to a Festival. But where was it? And if it wasn’t anywhere to be found, perhaps a lot of other things the Bible had to say were not real, either. This was no small problem, because an entire chapter of the New Testament (John 9) has to do with this pool. If the pool, itself, didn’t exist, probably the things that were supposed to have happened there didn’t happen; and, the really important things that were supposed to have been said there, probably were never said.

However, two years ago, a tractor was cleaning up an area near the exit to the tunnel of King Hezekiah (built @ 700BC). All of a sudden, the tractor’s weight caused the road on which it was working to crack and the back wheel of the tractor fell into a pool that had been hidden for 2,000 years. It was the Pool of Siloam.

For 2 years archeologists have been excavating the pool area. In this picture, the current water level is seen on the right. In your mind, take out the wall on the left and then picture the whole area (where you see all the trees) filled with water. Big pool!

Here are some of the ancient stones smoothed down from millions of feet over two thousand years ago and more. And, an added bonus found at the Pool: this picture shows how they fed the animals they brought to sacrifice at the feast. Altough the sides are broken, you can see that this was a feeding trough for animals. In the Bible, it is called a “manger”, just like the one in which Jesus was laid in the stall in Bethlehem.

I left the excavations at the Pool of Siloam and walked up the hill, thinking how much time Jesus spent walking up and down the same hill, from the Temple to the pool and all around the area. I walked back up to the oldest part of the area: the “City of David”. I climbed on a lookout and took this picture of the original stones which David used in the city’s wall. Also took a picture of the Mount of Olives and its thousands of above-ground graves, and a picture of the many “illegal” Arab homes across the Kidron Valley from David’s city.

Then I walked back up the hill and entered inside the Old City walls. Walked through the courtyard of the Kotel (Western, or “Wailing Wall”). I wanted to take a picture from a higher vantage point than the courtyard itself since a new fence between the courtyard and the wall obscures a clear view of the people worshipping at the wall. I saw a two story building and climbed up the stairs to take a picture out the upper window. I entered an upstairs office and saw a bunch of police sitting around. “What are you doing here?” an officer asked me grufly. I pointed to my camera. He said, “This is a police station!” I pointed to my camera again and to the open window facing the courtyard. He must have thought I couldn’t speak because he grumbled, “Take your picture and leave!” I walked to the window and took the picture, turned around and said, “Toda” (thank you) and beat a hasty retreat back downstairs and out into the courtyard.

Left the courtyard and climbed the stairs toward the center of the Old City and decided to walk through the Arab Market. Came out at the center of the Ancient Roman “Cardo”, the name the Romans gave to the “heart” of the city. There the Romans had built their shops between columns that held up the Cardo’s roof. The Roman columns still stand.

In the center of the Cardo, encased in Plexiglas is the centerpiece of the Third Temple: the huge Golden Menorah. It sits here for everyone to understand that a lot of people are serious about building a Third Temple. In fact, almost every article used in Temple service has already been made and is being held in storage. Every stone has been hewn and waits for the proper time to be assembled into the Building. What does the New Testament say about the next Temple?  

While I was taking a picture of the Menorah, an Orthodox Jew came up to me. He asked, “Are you a Christian?” Then he began telling me what a terrible life he had and could I give him some money.  I gave him a 50 shekel note. He wasn’t satisfied and asked for twice that amount. 50 shekels is about $10.00, so that’s not a lot of money, but I didn’t like him asking for more, so I said, “No” and walked away.

By now it was 3:30 and I was a little concerned that I might miss the last bus home since buses quit running early on Friday. I made it to the bus stop and caught the bus home. A hot day.

Yossi called and we had a long discussion about The Book. He is very busy right now, for which I am glad. I told him I thought our options are 1) To leave the book as is; or, 2) For me to totally rewrite the book by myself. I told him I didn’t like either option. I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to take over the project without Yossi. I can make the book readable and contain proper English. But, the “sound” Yossi adds to the sentences is too important and is something I can’t replicate.

Danny is picking me up Sunday to spend the week in Ma’ale Levona and work with him on his business. On Monday, Yossi and I will talk about the book and make a final decision about the future of my involvement on the project.

Yesterday was Saturday. Spent most of the day reading and relaxing. There is something nice about resting part of the week, I think, especially if you work the other 6 days. Not legalistically, but it’s kind of nice, anyway. Went with Scott and Theresa to their church service. Only three people in attendance in the beginning. When Theresa began to play a worship CD in Arabic, a group of kids came in through the open door, drawn by the music. They ran around creating havoc until Theresa gave them all some paper and pens. One of them sat on my lap while we worshipped and later presented me with a portrait. Looks kinda like me, don’t you think? I used to have a chest, I really did!

This is too long, and I’ve got to pack for Ma’ale Levona. Thanks for the emails. I am enjoying news from the other side of the world. Stay in touch if you can…

Wandering

Awoke to another beautiful day from my patio facing east. But, it promised to be a hot one.

Once a week, Yitzchak’s wife, Aviva, works at a library for elderly English speaking Jews and I had promised her I would volunteer my help when I could. So, today was the day.

Met Aviva at the Central Bus Station at 7:30AM. Here are some pictures of the Bus Station. It’s like a giant mall, with just about every kind of shop. Blake, here’s where all the Crocks have gone. Aviva wanted a cup of coffee before we got on the next bus headed toward the library. She asked what kind of coffee I wanted. Simple question? Not in Israel! You can get half coffee/half milk, or instant coffee (simply called “Nescafe”), or Turkish coffee. I had visions of Starbucks and told Aviva I wanted, “Some strong coffee. I’ll add the cream and sugar.” Aviva ordered (in Hebrew) each of our coffees. Bad idea. She ended up with some kind of latte and I ended up with Turkish coffee (which is like used motor oil in a cup). Just couldn’t drink it. This time, I ordered for myself. I remembered a phrase from my time here last year: “filtered coffee” which is a weak version of coffee brewed from a tea bag. After adding a couple of teaspoons of my Turkish coffee, plus lots of milk and sugar, it was OK.

If Aviva had not met me downtown I would never have found the library. Like so many other places here, it was tucked in behind other buildings, down an alley, and up some stairs. No A/C in these ancient buildings. Not long after we arrived, a dozen elderly women came in and began doing whatever women do in a library: putting together a newsletter mail-out, taking calls from shut-ins for books and books on tape, etc. Evidently there are lots of jobs these ladies never have time to get done, so I was assigned one of them: I spent three hours putting several hundred books on tape in numerical order. The ladies were thrilled. I was happy to help, but decided to leave around 11:30.

Jerusalem has a population of around 600,000, but they are stacked one upon another, so the city isn’t really all that big. Everywhere, signs point to things like “City Center” or “Old City”. It was a very hot day, but I just wanted to walk as much of the City as I could. 

I have been trying to connect with an old friend, an Orthodox Jewish Cohen (or, priest) whom I had known during my days in Atlanta. Ben had moved to Jerusalem about 15 years ago. His wife had died a little while ago and I wanted to see my old friend. I tried several times to reach him by phone, but we couldn’t connect.

I left the library on my walk. I took a turn on the next street and suddenly I realized that I was familiar with the street I was walking down. It was the street where Ben lived. I had been there a few years ago and remembered what his home looked like. So, as I stood in front of his house, I called his phone number, but could only leave a message.

I decided to head toward the center of the city where I could eventually catch the bus home. Ben Yehuda is the main pedestrian shopping street downtown. On the way I walked through parks and wealthy neighborhoods. I passed by the home of the president of Israel. My old map wasn’t helping me much. I actually had to ask several times which direction to head (hey…no sarcastic remarks from you males!). Also passed the Great Synagogue of Jerusalem. I am told it was designed to look like the Temple of Solomon.

By the time I reached Ben Yehuda Street the heat had really gotten to me and I was getting dehydrated. I stopped at a juice stand and bought a large cup of hand squeezed, fresh pomegranate juice. Bad idea. Too expensive. I wish I could say it was delicious, but at least it was cold.  

Bought a decent City map. Also too expensive, but I think it will be worth the cost. Decided to eat at one of Jerusalem’s finest restaurants. You may ask, “Which restaurant was that?”. Here is a picture. Bad idea #3.

I really wanted to visit the Old City, but just happened to wander past Max Richardson’s photo studio. His wife (remember Indiana Jones’ daughter?) was standing outside the studio and invited me in. We talked about an hour. By now I was pretty close to one of my favorite places: the Shook and decided to walk the few blocks and wander through this outdoor fresh market.

On the way to the Shook, received a call from Ben Rabinowitz, my Cohen friend. He wants to meet for lunch tomorrow.  

Entered the Shook (this aisle is only one of dozens in the outdoor market downtown). I love this place with all its hustle and bustle and the smells and colors. Want some nuts, figs and raisinsSpices? How about some fishFresh fruits and vegetablesFreshly baked bread? Home-made chocolate? I can’t ever go here without buying some dried figs or dates. So I did.

Gave up on visiting the Old City. Maybe tomorrow after lunch with Ben. Caught the bus and headed home.

Vacation?

[This, and the 2 posts below, were written yesterday & today]

Yitzchak and Aviva had invited me to go north with them and another couple (and their 6 children) on their annual vacation at an Orthodox settlement called Shavi-Shomeron. I was honored to be included and jumped at the chance to go.

We were to leave Ma’ale Levona on Thursday at noon, but the bus broke down on its way to us. Yitzchak suggested we walk to the entrance of the Yishuv (settlement) and try to hitchhike. Evidently the first bus stop at the entrance to each Israeli Yishuv has been designated as the place to get picked up if you don’t want to pay the price for a bus ticket.

So, we walked to the bus stop and waited with several others. And we waited and waited. Several cars stopped on their way out of the Yishuv, but no one was going to Jerusalem. It was very hot and Yitzchak was having trouble with the heat, so we decided to wait for the 2:30 bus.

We caught the 2:30 bus and it broke down as soon as it reached the next Yishuv, Shiloh. The bus had lost its transmission and couldn’t go forward. We sat for over an hour on the bus waiting for another one to arrive. I was really hungry and asked the driver if I could leave the bus and walk to a market which was about 100 yards away. He said, “Yes, but be sure to be back before we leave.” As I was getting an ice cream bar, the bus suddenly began to move forward. The driver had gotten the transmission in gear. When I saw the bus beginning to move, I ran back and jumped on. Just then, the bus again lost its transmission and began to roll backward across the metal knives which stuck out of the ground so you can’t enter the Yishuv via the “exit”. As the bus rolled backwards, the steel knives punctured the front tires.

Finally the replacement bus arrived and we made it to Jerusalem just in time for Aviva to join us, grab a quick sandwich and catch the bus north to Shavi-Shomeron.

We arrived around supper and the Neiman family was waiting for us with a bar-b-que they had just cooked. We put our belongings in what is called a Caravan (structures where the government puts all newcomers, but which are also used for visitors to a Yishuv). We sat around the rest of the evening eating and talking. 

Friday we all rested and Dov (the dad of the 6 kids) and I went to the Yishuv’s pool. It was the “for men only” session (men and women don’t swim together in Orthodox Judaism). He didn’t take his kids since they are all girls. I learned a lot talking to Dov as he is very knowledgeable about his religion.

Friday evening the men all went to the Shul (Synagogue) to spend a couple of hours welcoming in the Sabbath. Of course, I didn’t understand a word of it and read my own Bible most of the time.

One of the highlights of my “vacation” was the time Dov, Yitzchak and I spent reading the Talmud together. Dov was teaching Yitzchak about Jewish Law and the Talmud (being the written commentary of the Law), is what you study. In the particular section we were reading, the ancient rabbis are having a discussion of what can and cannot be carried on the Sabbath. It was excruciatingly detailed and picky. One of the reasons it was so fascinating to me was because I came away from our time really understanding just how revolutionary Jesus’ words were in Matthew 6,7, & 8; how counter-cultural Matthew 23 was; and what Jesus meant when He said things like, “You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.”

We then went to a dinner at the home of a dear friend of Aviva’s. This lady was the most wonderfully Jewish women I have met in person: elderly, loud, funny, gracious, fond of company and a wonderful cook. I remembered just in time that Sabbath meals are served in several courses, so I didn’t eat everything during the bread, wine, fish, humus, etc., course.

Dinner was accompanied by lots of argument (ie. sharing of deep opinions) about every subject imaginable. Lots of laughter and more food. We went home around midnight.

The next day was Sabbath when all males go to Synagogue around 8AM. Dov was the only one who went. Yitzchak and I slept in. Then came Sabbath dinner (during Sabbath you eat 3 meals). Ytizchak was not feeling well and stayed in bed all day. This meal, also accompanied by several courses and much talk, lasted from 11AM to after 4PM.

We went back to our Caravans and slept until 6:00 when Dov arrived for our 2nd session of Talmud. After this, there was a short session at the Synagogue and we went back to Aviva’s friend’s house for the 3rd meal. This meal began with a ceremony to close out Sabbath and transition to the work week. We kept waiting for supper to be served, but our hostess was busy and we finally left at 9PM without eating anything. I never knew what happened to supper. We just went back to the caravan and had some coffee with the Neiman’s, talked some and went to bed.

We left the Neiman family at the Yishuv to continue with their vacation and we caught the bus back to Jerusalem. I finally got back to the apartment at around 4PM.

Although I was pleased to have been invited to join in on other families’ vacation, it was money I didn’t need to spend and took time away from working with Yossi.  

Yossi called around 8PM to tell me he will be working for the next week and a half. He asked me if I could spend my time rewriting chapters that are currently in the book. I told him I didn’t think so based on our earlier experience of writing chapters together. The reason is that Yossi wants each sentence and phrase to have a certain “sound” that really can only come from him. Even if I rewrite chapters (which I have done already), he will rephrase each sentence until it achieves that sound. What we have done together is excellent; but I am not Yossi and I don’t think I can accomplish what he wants without his input.

We agreed that Yossi would call me again today so we can discuss whether or not we can really get anything done on the book, which means whether or not I need to stay in Israel.

Personal note: There is a movie (actually, a documentary) which the Jews here have been eager for me to watch. I watched it the other night and I want to highly recommend it to everyone who reads this blog. Since it took place just down the road from Crossville, it is appropriate for my Crossville friends, but it is a “must see” for everyone. Get a group of people together and rent the documentary, Paper Clips. Then, tell me what you thought of it.

Shechem

[This post is only for those who have an interest in biblical things…]

The following is a picture of Shechem. The Palestinians call it Nablus. It is one of my favorite locations in Israel even though I have never been allowed to visit the place.

Try to center the picture on your screen and then take a close look at it. You will notice that the city is in a valley between two hills. Also, note the structure on the top of the left hill.

Typically, Christians come to Israel having a pretty good knowledge of their Bible. But, when a person grows up hearing (or reading) Bible stories, something often happens to those stories which he doesn’t realize. By the time a child is around 6 or 7 years old, his mind is developing the ability to determine what is a “real” story and what is fictional. But, his mind also has the ability to place some stories in between those two categories. This happens to a lot of people who have been raised on the Bible.  In other words, he is supposed to believe the Bible is true, but Bible stories are so far beyond his personal experience that he places them in that special category somewhere between “real” and fantasy.

Then he comes to Israel and is amazed to realize that he can visit the places where his Bible stories actually happened. Shechem is one of the most important of those places.

I have never actually visited Shechem because several years ago the Israeli government turned it over to its main population, the Palestinians. But, if we go back 4,000 years, things were very different:

Shechem is the first city in the Promised Land which is mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 12). At that time, Shechem was only a sprawling village owned by one man named Shechem who was the wealthy patriarch of a large, extended Canaanite family. Genesis 12 actually calls this place “the site of Shechem.”

It was in Shechem that God first spoke to Abraham and promised that all the land would one day belong to his extended family. Abraham bought some land from Shechem and built his very first alter there, beginning the first religion based on the concept of a single God who had made everything else. Years later, Abraham’s grandson, Jacob (Israel), returned to Shechem where he also bought some land, where he also built an alter, where he dug a well, and where he established a piece of his land to be a burial site for his second youngest son, Joseph. Why just one son? See below.

Later, when Jacob had moved his family south of Shechem, Jacob’s sons took their father’s sheep up to Shechem to find some pastureland. Jacob sent Joseph to Shechem to find out how his brothers were doing. Joseph put on his multi-colored coat and headed for Shechem. When Joseph arrived, the brothers grabbed him and sold him to a traveling caravan bound for Egypt. That was the last time Joseph ever saw the land God had promised to his grandfather, Abraham, until his bones were returned to Shechem to be buried in the plot Abraham had purchased for him so many years earlier. By the way, one of the reasons Jews feel they can claim historical ownership to this whole area is because the bones of Joseph are buried in Shechem. And, this is also why, three  years ago, the Palestinians attacked and completely destroyed the 4,000 year old tomb of Joseph.

God had told Moses to do something as soon as he got all the people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Joshua was to take them to Shechem and have all 3 million gather in the valley between the two hills (see the picture). Then Joshua would climb the hill on the right (Mt. Ebal). He was to build a monument and write on it all the laws God had given the people. Then he was to divide the people into two groups: one was to face Mt. Ebal and the other group was to face Mt. Gerizim, the hill on the left of the picture. A man standing on the top of Mt. Ebal would read out all the curses of the Law and a man standing on top of Mt. Gerizim would read out all the blessings of the Law and all the people were to say, “Amen.”

Then, just before he died (and after the people had settled the Land), Joshua again gathered everyone to Shechem. Joshua set up a huge stone and asked all the people which God they would serve. They all said, “We will serve the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob.” Then, Joshua said to them, “This stone will be a witness to the words you have spoken. You can serve whatever God you like. But, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:25). This huge stone still stands in Shechem today.

Now, what is the significance of the big structure on top of Mt. Gerizim, the hill on the left of the picture?

When the Babylonians overtook Israel and destroyed the Temple, all the leading Jews were sent to Babylon and the Babylonians sent some of their own farmers to live in Israel. These foreigners eventually intermarried with the poorest of the Jews and became known as Samaritans (foreigners who lived in Samaria). The Samaritans took up a form of Judaism which the “true” Jews believed was heresy. That’s why the New Testament says that Jews traveling north or south would go around Shechem, going out of their way not to run into a Samaritan and end up having to speak to him.

The Samaritans’ form of Judaism had some interesting quirks: Since the Samaritans lived in Shechem, they believed that Kings David and Solomon had goofed when they located the original Mt. Moriah (where Abraham went to offer Isaac) in Jerusalem. The Samaritans believed that Mt. Gerizim was the true Mt. Moriah and that it was to Gerizim that Abraham had come to sacrifice Isaac. Therefore, the Temple should have been built on top of Mt. Gerizim.

So, guess what they did? They built their own temple on top of Mt. Gerizim to look like the one in Jerusalem and worshipped the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in that temple.

So, when Jesus did the unthinkable: to actually travel through the region of the Samaritans (instead of around it), He was doing something a good Jew just didn’t do. Perhaps Jesus was doing what Jews try to do today: visit Joseph’s tomb. And, since Jacob’s well is only a block from the tomb, Jesus went there for a drink. But, then, He really did something “wrong”: He spoke to one of the Samaritans, and a woman at that!

After some small talk, the woman decided Jesus was a prophet. She said to Him, “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain [see the structure on the hilltop in the left of the picture], and you people say that Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”

Jesus answered her, “Woman, believe me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshippers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4).

The Samaritan people still exist today. They have been forced out of Shechem by the Palestinians and have established their homes on Mt. Gerizim. They have a Chief Priest who carries out the Law of Moses, including slaughtering animals and bringing sacrifices. They believe man should still “worship God on this mountain…”

Today, the Israeli government has built a highway that goes around Shechem so you cannot enter the city. Not for religious reasons; but because, if you were to wander into Shechem today (perhaps because it is the most direct route north and south or you are looking for water at Jacob’s well), and it was discovered that you are not Palestinian, you would be killed.

Who knows. When Jesus returns, He might just enter Shechem and sit down at Jacob’s well again…

In Ma’ale Levona

Have been on “vacation” so haven’t been able to post. More on that later…

Last Tuesday afternoon I was at home putting pictures on the last entry of this blog when Yossi called. He was in Jerusalem and wanted to get together to discuss the book. He wanted me to take the bus to meet him. I still don’t know the city very well so when I took the bus downtown I got off several blocks beyond the Sheraton Hotel where Yossi wanted to meet.

When I got back to Yossi, he and I sat, drinking coffee while I read aloud the chapters I had rewritten. He listened attentively and we discussed whether or not my suggestions would be beneficial to him. Finally, Yossi said, “We really need to work on these chapters sitting together and discussing what we will do.” Yossi’s idea was that he would drive me to the apartment where I would pack. Then he would drive me to his house in Ma’ale Levona where we could spend the evenings working together. Then, during the days, when he was leading tours, I would write. I told him I could only work that night and the next day and evening because Yitzchak had invited me to spend Thursday-Sunday in Samaria in an Orthodox settlement called Shavi-Shomeron. That night, I went to Ma’ale Levona with Yossi after packing for the next 5 days.

We arrived at Yossi’s around 9PM. I hadn’t eaten anything all day but a bowl of cereal and a humus sandwich, and I was hungry. Yossi’s wife, Aviva, was out shopping and their 2 little girls plus 3 little friends had made “baligone” (a favorite Hebrew word, meaning “a terrible mess”) of the house. Yossi scolded the girls and told them to clean up and that I would be spending the night and to straighten up a bedroom for me. Then he tried to scrounge up something to eat and could only find some crackers, olives, and some yogurt-looking stuff (that I later found out was Arab cheese).

We set up my computer and tried to do some work. But, both of us were so tired that, after about an hour, we decided to go to bed. Yossi said that he worked best in the early morning hours, anyway, and asked if I could get up and start working at 3AM. I set my alarm and tried to go to sleep over the chatter of 5 little girls. Suddenly, my alarm went off. 3AM!

Yossi had already made coffee, so we drank up and began work. As Yossi dictated a completely new chapter, I made suggestions and typed. By 5AM we had worked through a little more than 3 pages. Just the, Yossi turned on the computer which brought up the pictures of several soldiers who had been killed the day before. (Yossi had been a tank commander and knows many soldiers in the current war). Yossi turned to me and said, “I must quit now. You can continue to work if you want, or go back to bed.” I went back to bed and Yossi got dressed and left for Jerusalem.

But, with two cups of caffeine in me, I couldn’t sleep. Instead, I stoodat my 2nd floor bedroom window and watched the sky grow light. The hills produce an amphitheater affect so that the sounds from the valley floor rose upward to greet my ears. By 5:30, I could clearly hear the engines of large trucks as they made their way along the ancient Patriarch’s Highway, carrying product from the north to the capital city of Jerusalem. The sky was growing lighter each minute and a cold mist was swiftly drifting across the hilltop community. It looked like a high, wide, shimmering curtain as it moved along. Then the sun broke through the clouds over the eastern mountain range, and the cold and dampness quickly burned away, declaring that this would be another hot day in the Valley of Levona.

Spent most of Wednesday working on The Book (notice the capitalization–This book has taken on a life of its own). Was really hungry by 11AM, so ate a bowl of Cocoa Puffs and Aviva cooked me 2 scrambled eggs. Worked on The Book some more and then walked to Danny’s house to help him write a letter to prospective travelers to Israel. Danny’s wife, Judy, made me a falafal sandwich. It was so much food that I couldn’t eat it all. Went back to Yossi’s and took a short nap. Then walked to visited Yitzchak and Aviva and then back to Danny’s to check emails and make some phone calls to family.

Judy and I walked to the Community’s petting zoo to feed the horses their grass clippings. Many of the community’s kids work on the zoo to keep it running. At the zoo, I met one of the many families who had fled to Ma’ale Levona (and so many other communities) to escape the Katusha rockets being fired at their homes up north. Took a couple of pictures to show that some people in Ma’ale Levona can afford to put money into a garden, while other’s can’t..

While at Danny’s, the sun began to set behind the western mountain ranges. I have watched the sun set from this spot before (when the sky was much clearer), and could see it setting in the far-off Mediterranean Sea. If I could walk from where I stood, directly toward the setting sun, I would arrive at the world’s most ancient port city (Jaffa) from which the prophet, Jonah, boarded a ship to escape from God.

Yossi arrived around 8PM from Jerusalem with some kind of wonderful sandwiches. We ate and began working on The Book around 9PM. An hour later Yossi had to quit and so we both went to bed.

Personal notes: 

Frank: I feel your pain. Just remember that you were keeping things on a “higher plain” all be yourself before I arrived. Stay rested, eat well, and don’t let your mind lose it’s razor sharp edge. Be encouraged. You can do it. After all, there’s not much competition, with  one possible exception [name withheld…].

Doug and everyone else who sent “comments”. Thanks for letting me know you are reading the blog. I don’t know unless you tell me.

Turners: Are you out there? Haven’t heard how you are doing.

Charles: You asked about the grapevines we planted last year just below Ma’ale Levona. Here’s a picture. They look pretty good from this distance.

I’ve got a special blog for next time, but only for those who are interested in biblical places.

2nd Sabbath

Last night Scott and Theresa came home early. When they are in town, they usually have one good meal a week, on Friday evening. Other than that, they don’t seem to eat at all. I was really glad it was Friday. I was hungry! We had expected to have two “lone soldiers” (see previous post) eating with us and, perhaps spending some days here. But, for some reason, the didn’t come.

Yitzchak had called from Ma’ale Levona early Friday morning to find out if I was coming up there to spend the weekend. I declined because I thought the “lone soldiers” were coming and I wanted some realnews from the front lines to share with you all. Told Yitzchak I would come next week.

As soon as I hung up with Yitzchak, Danny called and wanted to know how I was doing so far. Truth is, nothing has turned out the way I expected it would. But, I’m OK with that. Before I came here, the Lord had told me that’s what I should expect: That nothing I expected would turn out like I expected it would.

Had a wonderful meal. Bread, salad, wine, steaks, more wine, vegetables, even more wine. Before I leave here I hope to get used to Sabbath meals coming in several courses. In the US, everything you are going to eat is on the table at the beginning of the meal. Here, on Friday night, a lot of food is on the table, but it’s only the 1st course. Don’t eat too much! There is much more to come (in several more courses) and each course has more food than the previous one.

Talked to Scott and Theresa late into the night. They are great people and I’m beginning to feel more comfortable with them. They just aren’t home much. Very, very busy doing whatever is asked of them.

Got up early this morning and read and prayed. A really good time with the Lord. This morning was extremely hot, but it cools down nicely by mid-morning.

Scott and Theresa took me to the church they pastor. Services are 2PM every Saturday. It is in the basement of a VERY old building not far from the area where Emily is leading worship several times a week. The church has from 2 to 15 who attend. This afternoon there were 2 plus a visitor: a homeless woman from Finland who is trying desperately to emigrate to Israel. She is even willing to marry one of the other members if that will allow her to stay. Very bizarre. Scott and Theresa brought both the lady and her Arab Christian “intended” back to the apartment for lunch. The conversation was strange. The lady is so soft spoken her speech is barely audible. When Scott asked, “Are you willing to marry Omar even if it means you cannot stay in Israel?” the woman replied with a soft, “No”. Scott asked lots of questions. The woman spoke very little English and her spirit was totally strange. She behaved like a dog who had been beaten for years, cowering in a corner. She never smiled or showed any signs of life.

I need to hear what’s going on with some of you: Nyes, Berrys, Newbolds, etc. etc.

Gayle. I’ve tried several times to email you but each message was returned. Your email address is the only one this happens to. I will try to call you soon.

Tomorrow is Sunday, the first day of the work week. I will visit Emily tomorrow and will probably go to Ma’ale Levona mid week to be with Yossi and Danny. I have written 5 chapters to show Yossi. It is moving more and more smoothly. I’m in a groove with the writing and enjoying it. Danny has asked me if there is any way I can help him with his business. I have some ideas, but am not sure this is where the Lord wants me to direct my energies.

Have a great weekend. We in Jerusalem don’t feel ANY effects of the war. It’s that way in most of the country with the exception of the north. Stay tuned…

Tish B’av

Today all the religious Jews held their collective breaths. This is the 9th of Av on their calendar and a lot that is bad has happened to the Jews (and the world) during this day. Today it has been relatively quiet except in the north where the war is going on.

Scott came in last night at 6:30, took a quick shower, and headed to the Lebanese border. He went to pick up a young Israeli soldier who was injured two days ago. The soldier was standing with his platoon when a hand grenade was lobbed from out of nowhere and landed on the ground in their midst. An officer was standing among the men and he instinctively dove on the grenade which sent his body parts all over the other guys. Just then a bush opened up with machine gun fire killing several and wounding the young man whom Scott had gone to the border to pick up. The Hezballah have dug miles and miles of tunnels and can come up from underground any place they choose. Just when the Israelis think they have secured an area, out pops someone from underground and opens fire or lobs a grenade and disappears again. They must have learned this tactic in Viet Nam.

There is a unique group of young men in Israel who come here in their late teens. They have grown up in ultra religious families in various countries. Eventually they reach a point where they can’t do the “religious thing” any more. When this happens, their parents disown them, considering them to have died. The parents then buy their son a one-way ticket to Israel in the hope the kid will “come to his senses” and find some way to live the rest of his life (hopefuly as a Jew). They come to Israel knowing no one, having no friends and no money. Most of them go into the army for lack of anything else to do. They find what happiness and fellowship they can in drugs, women and alcohol, but they are really looking for a father.

Scott is a big, burly man who has been a father figure to a lot of these boys, but he says, “They don’t need me as a father, or you as a father. They need the only Father who can really help them.” The boy Scott picked up last night is one of these and he may be coming here to live with them as soon as he is released from the hospital.

Last night I attended a march at the Old City Walls. The march was to show solidarity for the soldiers and the land of Israel. I went just to see what it would be like. It was a beautiful, warm night. I walked to the bus stop around 8:30. The sun had set. The sky on the western horizon was light blue and it got darker and darker blue the more I looked up toward the half moon above my head. There was a slight breeze that always seems to be blowing in the City.

Everyone was to gather in a square downtown and first listen to an hour of reading the Torah. I got to the square late because I wasn’t interested in the reading. I still got there too soon. They must have started late (typical Israelis) but the square was pretty full. The reader was singing–well sort of. He was an elderly man, singing in Hebrew. Actually he was singing-yelling into the microphone. I don’t know why people who run sound systems think the world had gone deaf. Maybe it’s because they have gone deaf!

I had to move out of the courtyard where I could sit on a low wall and not be directly affected by the “singing”. Eventually another man took over. He wasn’t any better a singer, but he didn’t yell. I just closed my eyes and almost fell off the wall I was so tired. Just then a midget sat down beside me and lit a cigarette. Before I moved away from the smoke, he decided to move. Then a beggar sat down on the opposite side. He turned to me and said, “Shalom.” Remember that my eyes were closed and I was almost asleep. Even though the smell of his tobacco breath woke me up, I still pretended to be asleep. Finally he got up and moved, too.

Then the march began. It took a long time before the crowd could assemble on the street corner. The woman in charge told everyone, “We have all begun our fast for Tish B’av. This is a solomn march and you should not talk but walk reverently. This is not a ‘happening’.” Well, that didn’t last long at all. It was definitely a “happening”. There were thousands of people marching, waving flags and talking as only Jews can talk: loudly and waving their hands.

We walked down the street with the Walls on our right. Then we turned the corner, keeping the walls always to our right. We entered the Arab section and lots of Arab children screamed at the crowd from the rooftops of their houses. Police and the army were everywhere by the hundreds, with all sorts of guns and some on horseback.

Someone had the foresight to put Porto potties every half mile or so. Thank you…

When we had walked about half way around the Old City, the crowd stopped to hear a member of Parliament give a speech. About half the crowd left and went to the Western Wall where all the crowd was eventually to gather. I really wanted to be at the Western Wall with that many thousands of people. But, by then I was concerned that I would miss the last bus home. At any rate, I was determined to finish the walk all the way around the walls even if I had to get a taxi home. So I set out to finish the walk.

Every time I walked a mile down hill, I knew what was coming: a mile up hill. It took me an hour and 1/2 to make it all the way around. By then it was 11:15 and I was pretty worn out. I had another couple of miles to get to the bus stop where I finally caught the bus at 12:15 and got home at 1:45 this morning.

Spent most of the day rewriting chapters for Yossi’s book. Also, I finally got in touch with Emily Whiteside. She had been to the coast with her sister, Grace, who had come in to be with Em her last two weeks here. Next week will be lots of fun.

Did I mention that Danny had asked me to help him with his business? Don’t remember.

One more thing: It’s a wonderful thing to hear the children calling their fathers. They say, “Abba! Abba!” Does this remind anyone of anything Jesus and Paul said? Try John 14:6 & Romans 8:15.

May the Lord bless you all!