Monthly Archives: September 2008

Happy New Year

“Man is not defined by that which denies him, but by that which affirms him”–Elie Wiesel

This morning I was awakened by an altogether new noise for me. Normally, I am waked up at about 5:30AM by the local Muazzim calling everyone to morning prayers from atop the minaret of one of the mosques across the street. The “call” is really a recording, and it’s loud enough to wake me up.

Instead, this morning I was treated to all the minarets in the area singing out some Arabic song. Not exactly a choir but I think they were singing the same thing. And, it was live! They were celebrating the end of Ramadan.

It’s the Jewish New Year today!

I can tell you what the Jewish New Year means: FOOD. Food that smells up the entire neighborhood with the most delicious scents of the year. It’s made worse because everyone is eating outside on their patios.

I made French toast for Daniel and myself this morning. That’s about as tasty as it gets for us with Theresa Johnson in America. As I sit next to my open window writing this, I can smell all the wonderful smells of an Israeli New Year’s Day celebration meal. The noises of these celebrations are also entering through my open window. Laughing and shouting and singing and the clanging of plates and glasses.

It’s a beautiful, fall day with a breeze and a warm sun. It must have rained during the night because this morning the low places on the patio floor had little puddles of water. I have just hung out my laundry on the patio and the breeze and the warm sun are drying out my clothes. Today is one of only two times since I’ve been here that it is clear enough for me to see all the way into the country of Jordan.

Well, it is now nighttime and I’m tired. Not that I’ve done anything today; I’m just tired. I think I’m finally ready to get back to base and see “my people”. I leave a week from tomorrow.

Good night.

“You are not in America…”

It is Sunday and I arrived in Ma’ale Levona Friday afternoon to spend my last Shabbat with Danny & Judy before returning to the States.

The bus from Jerusalem was packed, mostly with young, male soldiers. I found an empty seat toward the back of the bus and settled in for the hour and a half ride north.

As the bus was ready to leave, a women got on the bus and came back toward where I was sitting. I got up and offered her my seat. She shook her head and sat down on the steps next to the door. I asked her twice to take my seat and she just shook her head.

Then two more women got on the bus and the bus pulled away from the station. The two women came back to where I was sitting and I got up and offered either of them to take my seat. They both said, “No” and stood in the aisle.

So, picture the three of us standing next to the only empty seat on the bus and none of us willing to sit down. Several times I motioned to the empty seat and said, “Here, sit down.”

A soldier sitting in the seat in front of me turned to me and said matter-of-factly, “They will not take your seat.”

I looked at the women and asked, “Do you speak English” to which they both responded by shaking their heads.

I turned to the soldier and asked, “Why won’t they sit down?” He responded, “They are respecting their elders.”

“Well, tell them that in America, men stand up for women and give them their seats.”

One of the women looked me straight in the eye and said, “You are not in America, you are in Israel!” So much for not speaking English.

The soldier smiled at me and I asked him, “They are being stubborn, aren’t  they?” He said, “Yes.” I told him, “I can be just as stubborn as they can.”

For the next half hour the three of us stood next to the empty seat. Finally one of the girls sat down but, then, a man across the aisle got up and motioned to the girl left standing to sit down across from her friend. He moved to the back of the bus and sat down in the aisle. Still the girl refused.

Finally, one of the male soldiers who had been standing in the aisle in the front of the bus and who had been watching this whole thing unfold, walked to the back of the bus, took the empty seat, and promptly fell asleep.

For the first time in the 6 years I’ve been visiting Israel it rained on Friday night. It was a hard rain and the temperature turned really cold. However, this morning, the sun is trying to break out from the rainclouds and dry things out.

The Bible talks about “early and latter rains”. Israelis consider the “latter rain” to be any rainfall that comes after the New Year (which is next week). The “former rain” is what falls before the New Year and is considered bad luck here in Israel.

I am supposed to meet with Yossi Maimon today after I mow the Kransdorf’s lawn. This is the Sabattical Year and nothing is supposed to be planted or harvested. Mowing the lawn is considered harvesting and can’t be done. But, since I’m not Jewish, it seems that I’m exempt from this prohibition.

Friday

Woke up this morning before sunrise and made some coffee. Walked outside on the 2nd floor patio to pray. As the sun rose, Jerusalem seemed to be shrouded in mist even though the sky was cloudless.

I stood on the balcony and watched the branches of the trees being blown back and forth by a strong, cold wind. It looked like a landscape of worshippers. Below me, people were walking their dogs or scurrying to the bus stop wearing sweaters or windbreakers for the first time. It is like Maine in October. Fall has descended on Jerusalem.

Someone in the apartment complex is already preparing their Shabbat meal. It smells totally delicious.

I was going to say more about Daniel, but decided it wouldn’t be prudent to say anything more about his personal life and our time together. I need to respect the fact that he is being considered for a position in Israel’s Special Forces. This forum is too public. After I made some remarks a few blogs ago about the Law, I received a long comment in Arabic. It’s probably only spam, but that let me know more people might be reading blogs than I thought.

I’m getting packed to leave later this morning to spend my last Shabbat weekend with Danny and Judy in Ma’ale Levona. I plan to return by bus to Jerusalem on Sunday afternoon.

A big happy birthday to Martha Weaver tomorrow. To the CCP Box Office: give me an update on how everyone is doing there. To the Perrys and Newbolds: I may be home really soon. Rebekah: give Charlie a hug for me. If I return to Tennessee, I’ll come visit.

Update: It’s now 9AM. The wind has died a little but is still blowing. Rain clouds have moved in over the City. I might just be able to use my umbrella for the first time ever. Received an email this morning from a teacher in China with whom I have been communicating. He is one of the main reasons I’ve turned down all the contracts China has sent me. But, this morning, he wrote saying I should reconsider China: “Maybe I was too strong in my negatives about this place.” Maybe…

Daniel

The weather has turned cool and is expected to turn even cooler in the next few days. And, for the first time in my experience living in Jerusalem, the sky over the city is filled with beautiful, white, puffy clouds.

Yesterday I took Daniel on a walking tour of the Old City. He has recently become interested in the history of Israel and the Bible and so I agreed to be his guide. He knows little about the Bible and even less about the history of Israel. So, everything was new and exciting for him.

Daniel is my 21 year old roommate. For being so young, he has done more things than just about any young person I’ve ever met, with the exception of my own children.

Daniel ran away from his wealthy Lithuanian family when he was 17 and joined the army. After two years in the Lithuanian Army, his father paid for him to go to college. But ever since he was a little boy, Daniel had a nagging sense that life had meaning beyond making money and owning property and doing what everyone else was doing. If there was a meaning to life, he had to find it on his own.

He bought a bus ticket to Paris where he lived on the streets. Because of his previous army experience, he was accepted as a volunteer in the French Foreign Legion where they trained him as a sniper. After he left the Legion, he made it to Israel where his family had lived several years ago and where he learned to speak Hebrew as a child.

This young man is a deep thinker and we have had many conversations. He speaks 5 languages fluently and that has helped him get around as he’s traveled throughout Europe and Russia. A month ago he received a letter inviting him to join the Israeli Special Forces and tomorrow he will take the entrance test to see if he qualifies.

Daniel has more stories than most old men. If the rest of his life is anything like his first 21 years, his autobiography will fill several volumes.

We took the bus to Jaffa St. and walked from there to the Jaffa Gate. Then we walked around the walls outside the city and, while we walked, he began telling me about his hero, Oskar Schindler. At one point we passed the little Christian cemetery that is on the Old City side of the Kidron Valley and I remembered that Schindler’s grave site was in that cemetery. Daniel was overwhelmed when I led him directly to the grave where Daniel placed a stone, just like at the end of the movie, Schindler’s List.

From the grave site we walked down to the City of David and watched the wonderful 3-D movie of the history of David’s City. Afterwords we walked further down to the entrance of Hezekiah’s Tunnel and sloshed through the 1,750 feet of cold water until we came to the end at the Pool of Siloam. Of course, the tunnel is way underground, and I forgot a flashlight, so I had to purchase a tiny light for 3 shekels that didn’t help much as we walked.

Daniel wanted to see any of the Christian sites I knew of and so we discussed Jesus putting mud on the eyes of the blind man and sending him to the Siloam Pool to wash and be healed. This story is made even more special since the Pool was discovered “by accident” only a couple of years ago and we stood in it while reading John 9.

We then walked along the edge of the Kidron Valley and talked about the tombs in the Valley and how the Messiah will come and place His feet on the Mount of Olives. Then we crossed the valley for a visit of the Garden of Gethsemane.

From the Garden we entered the Old City and spent some time walking around the Pool of Bethsaida (or Bethesda) and read John 4 about Jesus healing the crippled man. Then we walked the Via Dolorosa and back out of the city to Ben Yehuda where we ate a shwarma, got on the bus and returned home.

Since then, Daniel and I have had long talks and I’ve really gotten to know him. He has never believed in God. But that is changing…

More next time.

Infected by the spirit of Law here

“Not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God”–Romans 10:3

As I come to the end of my time in Israel, I have nothing but sadness for the people. There is little joy in their hearts and the frustration everyone feels about everything sometimes reaches the surface and you never know when it will boil over.

Two days ago I was walking in the city and had to purchase some items. I went to a drugstore to buy some things. I stood in line; but, because I had left about 3 feet between me and the counter, that was enough space for someone to step in front of me. This is a very typical thing for Israelis to do. Lines mean nothing to Israelis. If you can get in front of people and get away with it, then good. Then the cashier began to wait on those behind me in line. I had the thought that I was invisible. I put my things back on the shelf and left.

In a store, if you approach a counter where the cashiers are having a conversation with one another, you either have to wait until they are through talking or you have to interrupt them to be waited on. No one ever smiles, and when you pay your money, they literally throw you a bag to put your purchases in.

I decided to visit a couple of youth hostels yesterday to find out about their accommodations for next year’s groups. Not the first person smiled at me and I had to interrupt conversations behind the counters to be recognized as a potential customer.

In the mornings I walk up the street and pass others walking or jobbing. No one says “Hi” or “Good morning”, even in response to my greetings. No one ever makes eye contact here.

On the bus the other morning, I stood in the aisle because I had given my seat to a lady (men never give up their seats to women unless the women are elderly or have a baby in their arms). The bus was very crowded and many of us were standing in the isle. Two women were yelling at the driver over something I couldn’t understand. It was about 7:30AM and I thought, “It’s really early to be so angry.” A little boy got on the bus with a backpack almost as big as he was. At one point he turned to the side and his backpack brushed against a lady sitting in a seat. She spoke sharply at him for touching her with his backpack. Just then she looked at me and I smiled at her. She must have thought I was making fun of her because she glared at me and said something angry in Hebrew. I responded to her glare, “I can’t help it”, I said, “I’m happy!” I guess she didn’t speak Hebrew.

Yesterday, a whole group of soldiers got on the bus. There was one empty seat and one of the soldiers was a girl. All the guy soldiers encouraged her to take the seat and she kept refusing. It was as if she was saying, “Don’t treat me any differently than yourself. I may be a female, but I’m just as tough as you!”

Two days ago I was returning to my apartment on a very crowded bus. I got into a conversation with two Israeli men. One was a soldier who was standing across the isle holding his rifle and the other a big guy standing next to me. Both looked like they were in their early 20’s. Next to the three of us in the isle were two big guys who looked Arab, also in their 20’s. At one point the soldier said something to one of the Arabs that must have made him mad because the Arab responded to the soldier with an angry remark. The big guy standing next to me said something back to the Arab and, in the next few minutes, their voices grew louder and louder and their body language more and more aggressive.

I knew something was about to happen so I stepped out of the way. I was the only one of the 5 of us wearing sandals and I knew I was about to get my toes stepped on. Suddenly the big guy next to me lunged at the two Arabs throwing punches at them. The soldier then threw himself at the two Arabs and the next few minutes was a free-for-all fight with the 4 men charging up and down the isle throwing punches and grabbing each other with all the women and children on the bus yelling and screaming.

The bus driver immediately stopped the bus and opened the doors. The fight ended with the Arabs getting off the bus. The soldier returned to where I was standing and indicated that his arm was seriously hurt. People scolded the big guy who was trying to defend his actions to them and, at the same time, they were trying to help the soldier who was obviously hurt. It seemed that his arm was broken.

The whole thing made ME angry and I said to the big guy, “That was REALLY STUPID!! You endangered an ENTIRE BUS full of people over some WORDS. How dumb was THAT!” He didn’t seem sorry at all and ignored me. I wanted to throw a punch at him.

The soldier and the big guy then exited the bus at the next stop. The big guy helped the soldier with his rifle and the two of them hobbled up the street together.

When I got off the bus I walked to my apartment and began thinking how much the atmosphere was affecting me. I was getting grouchy which is not my nature. I wanted to find someone and start a fight. There was all this pent-up energy in me and frustration that I wanted to get out.

People have alternatively disliked and hated the Jewish people. They can be charming, hospitable and giving. And, they can be rude, arrogant, defensive, dismissive, and cynical. Think about it, though: that’s the way life is under the Law. The Law does that to people whether they are Jewish, Muslim OR Christians. A Christian who lives under law is no better off than a Jew or Muslim who lives under Law.

This morning I was praying and I said to the Lord, “I know the Jews have to suffer under Law in order for people like me (biblical gentiles) to enter into a place of grace (‘…a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in’–Romans 11:25); and, ‘From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake….’ (v. 28); and, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ (v. 19). But, Lord, isn’t this vine of Yours big enough, and sturdy enough, for all of us? I hate to see people suffer under this Law and have no grace in their hearts, while I–someone who never sought to know You in the first place–get to know You and your grace! When will it be their turn?”

A member of our last group told me she cried every day once she realized what the Jews go through, and we dance through life forgiven and able to live in the freedom for which Christ set us free.

What a contrast! I can testify (having lived it here in Israel) that, as the Bible says, the Law really does kill…

Tour is over

Am back in Jerusalem after saying “goodbye” to some really special families. They made me miss my own family and wish they could have been with this group.

For those interested, I will give a rundown of where we went, with pictures. (I seem to take fewer and fewer pictures now-a-days, so I don’t have many to show here). FYI, if you want to see the pictures in large format, either click on the red word(s) or wait for the thumbnail picture to load and double click on it.

For those only wanting to know what’s going on with me, personally, skip down several paragraphs. This blog may be a little on the long side. And, for those of you who don’t care about either, just click the red “X” in the right hand corner of your screen.

I will begin when I rejoined the group on the evening of their Day 8. Danny drove me into the Judean Desert and I met the group as they were finishing up visiting tel Arad (where the king of Arad first saw Moses & the tribes coming up from the south). We went from there to a Bedouin camp where the group all rode camels and ate in the tent. Got up the next morning to watch the cute camels gather around their breakfast. Question: what 4 things would you have to take with you to survive in the desert for several  generations?

Day 9: we meandered northward through Hebron to visit the tombs of the Patriarchs and then to Emek Haelah, the valley where David killed Goliath. Hot and sweaty, we visited the home of one of the older Israeli homeschool families. The mother had invited several other homeschoolers and we all ate dinner and fellowshipped. Then it was on to spend the first night in Jerusalem.

Day 10: Long, hot day. Got up early and walked to the Old City where we went down through the archaeological dig against the Western (Wailing) Wall, walking the entire length of the wall underground to see the construction work of Solomon and Herod. Very cool. Then we walked to the City of David and saw where his palace stood and walked the length of Hezekiah’s Tunnel (water was cold. brrr). At the end of Hezekiah’s Tunnel is the newly discovered Pool of Siloam (artist’s rendering) where Jesus healed the blind man. We saw everything in Jewish Jerusalem, but were denied entrance to the Temple Mount because it was Ramadan. That night we decided to take a walk to the Wall. It’s really different seen at night.

Day 11: Visited the archaeologists who are sifting through Temple Mount rubble, looking for treasure from under the Temple Mount. It’s too long a story to tell as to why they are going through Temple Mount debris. Our group worked alongside the young archeologists and found no less than 3 ancient coins and one of the youngest girls found a lady’s pendant! Very exciting stuff. Then we visited the Children’s Memorial at the Holocaust Museum, one of the most moving places to visit in Jerusalem. Then we went to the Shuk, Jerusalem’s huge outdoor market to see the crazyess of what it is like to shop just before Shabbat begins. Here many young Ultra Orthodox Jews try to sell brochures evangelizing their particular form of Judaism and lots of people panhandle.

Day 12: It was now my time to begin as tour guide, Yoni having gone home. I walked up to Abraham’s Overlook where the bus and group met me to see Jerusalem from where Abraham first saw it. Then we went to a hill overlooking Bethlehem and discussed Jesus’ birth. Then to the Mt. of Olives where we could see the Temple Mount from the east, the Garden of Gethsemene, the Via Dolorosa and the Pool of Bethsaida, where Jesus healed the crippled man. We ended our day at the Garden Tomb.

Day 13: This morning was a surprise in that we were allowed on the Temple Mount where we walked around the Dome of the Rock. The rest of the day was spent driving to Jericho where we discussed all the fascinating history surrounding that area (Moses’ death, Joshua’s crossing, Jesus’ baptism, Elijah’s death) before heading north to the Sea of Galilee. Ended up at the National baptismal site where several of our group were baptized in the Jordan River where it flows from the Sea of Galilee.

Day 14: We stayed on the Sea of Galilee at the place where a museum holds the Jesus Boat. After seeing the boat, we went around the Sea to visit various places of Jesus’ ministry: His hometown of Capernaum where we stood in the synagogue where Jesus gave His “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood” sermon. The Mt. of Beatitudes (where we sat and read the Sermon on the Mount) and ended the afternoon taking a boat ride to the middle of the Sea where we could view all the shoreline. Some in the group danced on the deck of the ship as the captain played worship music. Check out my Chaco tan! (I know, I know: it’s time to cut the toenails). We returned to the Kibbutz and had a refreshing swim in the Sea.

Day 15: Today we went all the way north to the lush area of Dan where all the kids climbed into the great Pistachio Tree. Then on to Caesarea Phillipi where Jesus talked about the “gates of Hades”. We visited Bethsaida, where all the fisherman disciples lived. On the way we passed the River crossing where Naaman washed in the muddy Jordan and was cleansed of his leprosy. Then we rafted the Jordan River and splashed each other until we were soaked. What fun! Back to the Kibbutz for a swim in the Sea.

Day 16: Around the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee to view sites of Jesus’ ministry. Early one morning, I got up and took this picture across the Sea of Galilee. The sun is rising over the hill where Jesus healed the demon possessed man and sent the demons into the pigs who then ran down the mountain and into the Sea. The place is right next to where He fed the 4,000 gentiles (He fed the 5,000 Jews in Bethsaida). Then to ancient Tzippori and Megiddo (where 25 civilizations have been unearthed, one on top of the other). Here, our littlest traveler agreed to lie down in an authentic “manger” so we could take pictures of him. I worried about Lucas for the entire first week; but, he proved himself a game kid and kept up with all the grownups. One of the neatest things is the Canaanite, circular stone sacrificial mound found at Megiddo. After dinner at our lodgings, we had a talent show. Here is Jacie acting out a Proverb she had memorized. She won the show by acclamation.

Day 17: Took the families to Ein Harod spring and acted out the drinking of water from the place where God whittled Gideon’s army down to 300. All the kids drank the way they were supposed to drink, so they were allowed to go to battle (continue on the tour). The great swimming pool had just closed so we were bummed out about that. But, we went to the top of Mt. Carmel to tell the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal and take more pictures of the Valley of Armageddon (where it’s almost always hazy) from the western end of the valley. We spent a lot of time at Caesarea (that’s you, Jacie, on the Aquaduct). We reenacted Paul’s arrest and captivity in Caesarea from the Book of Acts. Finally we stood on the docks of Jaffa Port as the sun set and read the book of Jonah from the spot where he boarded the ship to sail away from God’s purpose.

Took everyone to the Joffa Youth Hostel for a parting dinner where everyone shared their most memorable mements. I said my goodbyes and returned to Jerusalem. There were many tears and hugs. This group had really gotten close and the kids didn’t want to part.

Re: my future. I am still in contact with people in Izmir, Turkey who want me to come and live there. They are trying to get me a position in one of the schools in town. Just a few minutes ago I sent my resume and other pertinent information to the head of the English Department at UKLA Academy in Izmir.

I am pretty ambivalent about staying in the Middle East. It would be fine with me to return to Nashville where Blake now lives. And, I would be in the States to visit James at his theater in Wisconsin Dells. Maybe even fly out to see Seth.

So, you see, whatever the Lord wants is fine by me. If Turkey, then OK. If not, that’s OK, too. But, the Lord will have to let me know soon as my Israel visa expires in about 2 weeks.

Tour–first week

“Whoever wishes to make himself a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God”–James 4:4

It’s now Monday and I returned to Jerusalem for a couple of days while the rest of the group travels to the south.

This is a most unusual group of homeschoolers. They are from Australia, Canada and the U.S. The kids range in age from 22 down to 6. I worried about this 6-year old, but he is an awesome little guy. When the group spent 4 hours climbing a mountain in the Jordan River Valley in the heat of the day, Lucas was one of the first to the top and one of the first back down.

There are three 22-year olds singles who came without parents. They are amazing, being like older brothers and sister to the younger teens as well as an encouragement to the homeschooling parents who are still wondering if they are doing the “right thing” to homeschool.

Only one of these families knew each other before the trip but the kids became fast friends by the second day. The top of this blog shows the girls (plus Lucas) acting silly during the second day’s bar-b-que.

Saturday was a day when we sat around and talked about homeschooling. Some of the adults shared their hearts and struggles and we ended up praying together. It was a healing time, especially for one mother whose husband left her and her daughter just before they came to Israel. The mom and daughter came by themselves and the daughter is finding real friends in the group.

I only took one picture. It is the valley where Abraham first entered the “Land of Canaan”.

I rejoin the group tomorrow when we will all spend the night in a Bedouin tent in the desert. Then I bring them back to Jerusalem for 4 days. I will try to take more pictures, but may not be able to blog for the next couple of weeks.

Still no news about work over here. If nothing turns up by the date of my return flight (Oct 8th) I will most likely return to Tennessee.

On tour

“The Lord accomplishes far more through a people who have entered His rest than from a multitude of people doing works in His name”
paraphrased from a word recently shared with me by a friend

Tonight my hosts, Scott and Theresa (seen here sitting on their patio) will be leaving for the States for 5 weeks. They leave their apartment to the 2 Lone Soldiers who live with them.

The soldiers are good, young men. Very responsible and hard working and always hugging you. In this picture, the one on the right is the youngest. He will enter the Israeli Special Forces this November. He is from Lithuania and has already served a term in the French Foreign Legion. He speaks Lithuanian, English, French, Russian and Hebrew. The man on the left is from Russia and has completed his IDF service (so, technically, he’s not a soldier any more). His name is Vladimir. He is from Russia and also speaks several languages. Both men are Jews. Vladimir is flying to the States in a week to spend some time with Scott and Theresa.

I will be leaving tomorrow to be on tour until next Sunday. On Sunday and Monday I will have internet; but, after Monday, Sep 8th, I pick back up with the tour group and will not have internet again until the 20th.

I can think of so many of you I would love to have joining me on this trip! Biblical Israel is awesome. I will try to take pictures to whet your appetite so you will join up next year.