We have believed the lie. Who started it matters not. It has been carried on the shoulders of the talking heads and honeyed voices of agenda makers since its inception. It has whispered its way through the hearts of commerce, tourism, religion and government. The lie is propped up by a foundation of fear. 'Don't go...' it breathes in seductive tones. 'It's not safe...the wars...the hatred...they can't get along...they don't want to get along...they shouldn't exist...' A lie is still a lie.
(c) November 2013
Our journey to the land of Israel begins with an email. A friend of a friend of a friend hits the send button and strings of words are spewed throughout cyberspace to those selected. We are on that list. Is it a miracle that we find our calendars free for the two weeks needed? I would say 'yes'. We send our own message—a firm acceptance and the adventure begins.
Hal and Rosemary are our fearless leaders and the organizers of many spectacular surprises. Through multiple and detailed emails they have tried to prepare 21 people from across the continent for a journey across the globe. We count down the days until it is justifiable to pack and then we do so with care. Departure morning greets us—November 10. Some of our fellow travellers meet us at our front door. Jim and Rose, Leslie and Bev. We cram our luggage into the van and head for Toronto Pearson International Airport where we will meet most of the others.
It is as though we are meant to take this journey. Travel, parking, check-in—it all goes smoother and quicker than any trip we've ever taken. Hal and Rosemary herd us together at the airport and tell us we will meet the remaining five of our group in the Tel Aviv airport. We board, another tight fit, and sit through eleven hours of movies, TV, newsprint—anything that will distract us from desperate muscles. We touch down and cluster together again, greeting our remaining sojourners. Luggage in hand, we head to the car rental desk.
The rental company seems eager to please. We find out why quickly. Trying to pour large North Americans into dinky European cars is a practice in lunacy. The company has phased out its mid-sized rental cars. We find ourselves with a smattering of what I refer to as 'toasters on wheels'. The renters see our dilemma and do their best. Because we are short on drivers we try to fit 21 people into five cars. Luggage is shared among the vehicles. We are assigned our chariots and our call names. Five cars—five Eagles. Jeff, Jim, Rose and I are Eagle Five and someone thinks I should have the walkie talkie. It is one of five which will link the convoy. Since I come from an army family it is assumed I know army lingo—I suppose via osmosis. I don't mind having the job. It will keep me busy.
We are the tail car—the final of the five—and have the job of keeping a visual on all the other cars. It is my task to inform Eagle One—Hal, Rosemary, Leslie, Lillian and Bev—that we have made it through a stop light or turned at the correct intersection. I realize right away that the choice to give me the walkie has more to do with my lack of shyness than my ability to do the job right. Jeff is our primary driver. Jim is our back up. Neither Rose nor I have any desire to experiment with traffic in Jerusalem. We go through roll call.
"Eagle One clear."
"Eagle Two clear." Russell, Anne, Delores and Mary Ellen make up the second car
"Eagle Three clear." Hugh, Eleanor, who has flown in from Europe to Tel Aviv to be with us, Clyde and Jan.
"Eagle Four clear." Larry, Laurie, Michael and Judy are fondly dubbed 'the Americans' since they are the only US citizens in the group. They are the remaining four who joined us in Israel.
"Eagle Five clear and ready to roll." I might as well accept my reality right away. I'm going to have the most to say.
It is clear by the walkie banter that we are a jovial group and there will be many cheesy jokes. We clear the airport and head east, Canadian flags flapping from rear driver windows. As I view the four cars ahead, I joke that we are a Canadian delegation. I'm not far wrong. We fly the flags—even the Americans are adopted into the folds of the maple leaf—and we know that impressions will be left. I'm surprised by the first horn honk and realize the Israeli driver is waving at us, a smile plastered across his face. It will be a regular occurrence on our journey.
Our first night will be spent at Neve Ilan just outside of Jerusalem. It is a clean and hospitable complex and we settle and meet back at the cars for a quick trip through Jerusalem to the summit of Mount Scopus. It is a spectacular view for the four car loads that choose to go. I mess up my call signals because Eagle Five has temporarily become Eagle Four. Hal doesn't make that mistake again. Darkness descends quickly and we realize that we need to get back to Neve Ilan before supper. The convoy is harder to see in the shadows and the rush hour traffic reminds us of the 401. The drivers are put through their paces and come out of the foray with nary a scrape. Our meal is a buffet affair and we wolf it down having missed lunch. Our days are short and the list of things to do is long. We have a choice to make--eat three meals a day and miss some sites or fill the day with adventure and skip lunch. It's not a hard decision. A time of debriefing takes place and we settle in for the night.
November 11 dawns in warmth and sunshine. I ponder the importance of the day—the end of two world wars and the salute to veterans. We grab our first meal, pour into the cars and truck up the road into Jerusalem. We park at the Jaffa gate and walk to the Temple Institute for a guided tour of the rebuilding program for the third temple. Land is at a premium here in the world's capital so the institute doesn't waste space on frivolities. We are told about the golden Menorah placed in the courtyard under bullet proof glass. It is seven feet tall, weighs 900 lbs. is made of gold and awaits its place in the future temple. It is here that Jeff and I realize we have forgotten to bring our camera from the hotel. No photos today. Our guide talks about the history of the temples of Israel and shows us the garments made for new priests—garments which, when they are worn out, will be used as wicks for the Menorah. White linen is used in worship to indicate humility—an awareness of the awesome responsibility. There is a replica of the ark and we are told of the significance of the gold lining inside and out—like the heart of a person; what is inside shows outside. There is a tall table for the show bread and the guide points out the unusual shape of the bread—it folds in on itself. We are allowed to smell temple incense that has only half the ingredients. It has a strong scent. Our tour finishes and like good Canadians, we offer our thanks and move out of the exit in orderly silence.
Our next stop is the ancient City of David and Warren's Shaft, a tunnel bored down to intersect with Hezekiah's tunnel. We found ourselves standing in roughly the same area where it is presumed Abraham met with Melchizadek. We are stunned into silence. We will find that mode of expression common over the next week and a half.
Jim finds the dry air of Israel overwhelming. His electrolytes drop and he collapses before we reach the bottom of the shaft. God is there with us and we discover that a couple behind us has medical training--a doctor from Ottawa. He asks for juice and I bellow to the group ahead of us for help. A bottle of juice is handed back and Jim recovers. He is taken through the exit and we all pray for his welfare. Our group moves on knowing the best thing we can offer is whispered words of petition to our Maker on Jim's behalf. Jim recovers while we press on.
We fold ourselves in half and duck into Hezekiah's tunnel. Hal has planned for everything. We all come with head lamps and water shoes. The tunnel is long, winding and somewhat claustrophobic. A steady stream of water keeps us wet to our knees. We try to sing hymns but are drowned out by a group following us.
The tunnel's end appears and we take a collective deep breath as we straighten stiffened spines. A small stretch of Herod's road intersects with the pool of Siloam at the end of the tunnel. Daylight blazes in that small courtyard, but it is left behind as we take the 2000-year-old road and then duck off into a drainage tunnel. It leads back to the higher elevations near the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.
How does one describe a market place that traces back thousands of years? Yes, it has evolved with the times, but there is still an air of the ancient world about it. Hawkers and swindlers and honest vendors all swirled together in the dark alleys. We change our dollars into shekels and again the silence strikes as our minds travel to Biblical stories. The city is unchanged. The currency is unchanged. The lie of the present lingers. Who can dispute the ownership of this great city when it is stamped through all the pages of history?
Our cars and our leader take us to, Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. If one can categorize the depravity of humanity it is in such a place. I stand and stare at the pile of shoes left by those who are now ashes and names on plaques. I silently rage at the ones who try to deny that it all happened. I vent my fury through the halls of my mind in words against Christians who either stood by doing nothing or who helped it happen. I dig deep and ask myself if I could have been one of them. Would I have risked all in their defense? I pray that the answer would be 'yes'. When the heart and soul and senses can take no more of the suffering, we move on, hoping that what we have seen can be carried with us always—a living memorial to those we betrayed.
Our day ends with the return to Neve Ilan, dinner and another debriefing with Hal and Rosemary. We are learning quickly that the days will begin early, will not include multiple bathroom breaks or lunch stops and will be packed full of things that most tours don't offer. Hal refers to the schedule as 'old army'. Sir! Yes Sir!
Eagle Five in the nest. All Eagles landed. Over and out.
We set out at 7:30. The itinerary is brutal, and yet we are excited and scared and unsure if the lie is actually a lie. Is it safe for us to venture through Arab villages? Will the site of Joshua's Altar be secure? We are about to find out. We meet our Israeli guide, Mickey, and scramble to make our rendezvous with Israeli Defence Force troops heading up to the excavated site. We travel through Arab towns and receive a few tentative waves. I don't see the hatred, but, perhaps my eyes aren't attuned to it. Perhaps it is a hatred that comes from beyond the nation's borders.
We meet up with two IDF trucks and find ourselves wedged between them. A friend of Mickey's joins our car and tells us our tour of the site is historical in a sense. In the past we would have been in a bullet proof bus. There would have never been five cars together like this. It is a sign of some level of peace in the land. We climb up and through a desolate paradise. I have never seen more rock in my life. I am shocked that trees can grow in such terrain, and yet groves are planted and thrive.
We arrive on the waves of adrenaline. Yes—it really is the altar that was built by Joshua and the armies of Israel when they entered the land. It rests on the side of Mount Ebal and we learn that our English word 'evil' might be derived from this place. Joshua handed out the curses from this place, but that is a different event than the building of this altar. We wind our way to the head of the trail leading to the excavation. The altar sits there like a silent challenge to all who see it. It is parked in the midst of a low lying rock wall which is shaped in a 200 yard long footprint. Mickey and Hal tell us about Joshua's command to build giant footprints across territory they claimed. It's a reminder that God would give them the land where they tread. Israel has a number of these footprints. Jerusalem rests in the instep of another one. The west bank is itself a footprint. These monuments speak volumes without uttering a sound.
Mickey's wife, Ann, has joined us and we are delighted with her company. It is a poignant moment as Jews and Gentiles sit together and listen to the history lessons. We are overcome together—in the moment. As we return to our vehicles, Ann starts to have muscle cramps and can't continue her uphill climb. The IDF comes to her rescue and drives down the rutted track to pick her up. It is surreal for Ann as she watches them shift around boxes of ammunition to find room for her. It is that ammunition that keeps the peace in the region. It reinforces Israel's motto: Never Again.
A visit to Mickey and Ann's synagogue is on the agenda. Mickey tells his story. He shows us a helmet—his helmet. There is a bullet hole blown into the front. We hear the story of how Mickey's unit in the Six Day War was harassed by a sniper. He radioed headquarters and asked for a sniper to counter the enemy fire. Instead, a sniper rifle arrived. Mickey became the sniper but as he fired, the kickback threw his helmet over his face. The enemy sniper had fired too—a shot that hit Mickey in what would have been his face had the helmet not dropped. Mickey is alive today because of that kickback.
We leave Mount Ebal, our escort and our extra passengers behind at the checkpoint (Mickey and Ann excluded) and head to Shiloh. Again our words stick in our throats. Who can utter sound in the presence of the foundation of the first tabernacle? It is a place where faith is stamped further in the soul's soil--where Samuel heard the voice of God--where it whispers still if one is willing to listen.
We cannot linger much as we wish to do. Hal wants us to get to the water tower in Bethel. From there we can view the spot where Jacob dreamed of the staircase to Heaven. Hal suggests we all sleep on a rock in hopes of having a similar experience. We let the opportunity slide. Darkness drops quickly in this land and after one last lingering stare at the horizon, we follow the stairs down to the parking lot. Traffic snarls again and we compare, once more, to the chaos of the 401. Our drivers are quickly becoming our heroes. We arrive back at the hotel and chatter over supper. The debriefing this night carries profound undertones—echoes of events that are 5000 years old.
Eagle Five out.
Mickie joins us again and we are disappointed that Ann doesn't come with him. Our cars putter their way to Bet Shemesh and we hear the story of how the Philistines chose to return the ark to Israel. There is something powerful about standing on a crest and overlooking the valley and the same road where the cows brought the ox cart carrying the Ark of the Covenant. It is almost like living our way through history. The story comes to life. I can almost hear the soft call of the bovines as they take ponderous steps, tails swinging like lazy pendulums. The creak of the cart whispers up the valley and I shiver.
We drive to Hebron and the lie, for me, draws its final breath here. Yes, there are plenty of Israeli guards here. With all that police cover it has the appearance that it might not be safe. We park outside the monument that covers the tombs of the Patriarchs. This is an all-Arab community. Some of the local boys are hired to watch the cars even if it isn't needed. There is a strong IDF presence and the cars would be safe without the bribed mini-soldiers in place.
Arabs can enter the tomb to pray any time they want using a separate entrance from the Jews. We are given the privilege to see the entrances to the tomb caverns and see some of the Jewish prayer rooms. Hal softens his hard military heart and allows us twenty—no wait—fifteen minutes for lunch at a nearby cafe. We tease him for his tenderness. Jeff sympathizes with Hal. He says rounding up our group is like herding cats.
Our rest is over and we head to the cars to find there is double the number of Arab boys and they are insistent that they all need to be paid—again. We try to enter our cars. The boys begin to push and insist but the IDF soldiers step in and scatter them. There is no harm done other than one Canadian flag snatched from Rosemary's hand. She decides it is a small price to pay and we leave for Ruth's tomb situated on another hill. My sense of safety slips a little.
We park and walk up a street. Hal tells the story of a Palestinian Arab who once aimed his gun up the street and fired upon a troop of soldiers gathered around a coffee urn. We are told that the coffee urn was shot up but no soldier was injured. 'Nes' means 'miracle' and 'cafe' means 'coffee' so for the soldiers it was 'Nescafe'. Scepticism worms its way between intellect and faith in my mind and then someone spots the coffee urn propped on the railing of one of the homes. Scepticism flees and incredulity steps in. Only one bullet has penetrated through both sides of the bright metal. Dozens of holes riddle one side. The story is no story—oh, maybe the Nescafe part could be—but not the rest. It is truth. I see the evidence before me. I swallow hard and let the moment grip.
We move up the street to the excavation of David's Gate. Modern day pillars support the homes that straddle the site. Present day existence is not sacrificed for the sake of the exploration of history and visa versa. As Mickey talks to us, an Israeli soldier approaches and asks him a question. The conversation flows in the Hebrew language and we wait. Smiles and handshakes and nods complete the banter and we resume our history lesson. Out of the corner of my eye I spot the approach of an Arab resident. His clothing is pristine—traditional—and I feel I have been yanked back in time. He is compact and sober yet curiosity lights the dark eyes. He approaches the soldier without hesitance and speaks a stream of words in a low tone. The give and take is cautiously friendly. These two appear to know each other. Jew and Arab stand together and discuss the odd phenomenon of Canadians and Americans visiting their community to talk about history. The Arab leaves and Mickey tells us a truth that chokes out the lie we have been told.
This is a mixed community. Jews and Arabs share the neighbourhood and would like nothing better than to live in peace. They don't want another nation within the nation. Both peoples are content knowing that they receive protection from extremists, good hospital care, good government. Mickey shakes his head that the loud minority—those who prod the war machine—say otherwise. I can only repeat what I see and I see a country trying to be a country, defending itself in the same way that the US defended itself after 911. They both face, after all, a common enemy—terrorism.
Our tour leads us to Ruth's tomb and the soldier there offers us fresh figs still hanging on the tree. We are hungry and enjoy the sweet fruit and the small hospitality. We ask multiple questions and learn much about the Lone Soldier program.
Our next stopping point is at Kfar Etzion where we learn the history of the massacres in 1948 during the defense of Jerusalem. The land deeds here have been in Jewish hands for at least 300 years and these people are determined to populate what is legally theirs.
After a sobering tour we line up the convoy again.
"Eagle Five rolling."
We follow the road that passes Rantis and a large US military equipment installation. Our brief glimpse as we pass shows us a fraction of the full size. We press on to our final site—a lookout where we can stand and see the ruins of King Jeroboam's home town. What can I say?
The convoy rolls in to Eschel Ha Shomron Ariel in time for a six thirty meal and the habitual debriefing. We are adapting to the rigorous travel and the missed lunches. We are improvising when we can—and we've learned quickly which gas station franchises offer brewed, filtered coffee. Few of us have adapted to the instant coffee and even fewer to the idea of having the grounds settle like pond sludge in the bottom of the cup. Sleep comes quickly.
We depart at 8 a.m. There is no complaining. This day, we will meet archaeologist, Adam Zertel, at one of the digs. It is a spontaneous arrangement made by Hal and Mickey. Doctor Zertel is the one who discovered Joshua's Altar, a number of the giant foot prints and a multitude of settlements. I am fascinated by his talk to us. He is warm, down-to-earth, one of us. He tells us that of all the 1,532 sites he has found only ten percent were previously recorded. He tells his story of being secular until he began to find the Biblical sites. He is no longer secular. The site he is working on shows a dam built into the rocky mountainside. It dates to the early iron age by Israelis—this is Joshua's era. Adam has done a wonderful job of proving many of the Biblical stories through his work in archaeology. Unfortunately, he struggles with financial support since his proof validates the right to the land and there are far too many nations unwilling to concede that point.
We head out of the desert of Samaria toward our next destination. We pass a Kibbutz surrounded by barbed wire. A band of Bedouins are settled in the crotch between two craggy hills. I am, again, feeling the sense of whiplash as the time warp happens. We arrive at Itamar and enjoy some homemade yogurt and a tour of the remains there. The coffee addicts in the group top up. This place was started by Messianic Jews in the early days of Israel's fight for nationhood. There is a wine press there from the time of the Biblical Judges. Again the chills of emotion assault my skin. We visit the synagogue there and comment on the beautiful craftsmanship of the place.
Our next stop is Mount Gerazim although there is suspicion that it isn't the same Mount Gerazim of the Bible now that Joshua's Altar has been found. We are able to stand on a look out point and see the spot where Joseph's tomb is located. We can also see the great stone set up by Joshua as a reminder to the nation of Israel. A church has been built to cover Jacob's well--the same well where Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman.
Mickey takes us into his community of Kedumim and up to a hill where there is a beautiful park. A church in the US has sponsored the building and maintaining of this park. It is their way to show love to the people of Israel. We stop at Mickey's home to drop him off and meet his daughter Ruth. This evening begins Shabbat so we head to the hotel early to prepare.
Our host, Mennachem, has a surprise for us. He owns the hotel and has a Patriarch Garden he takes people through. This region is believed to be where Moses saw the Promised Land and the first piece of the garden contains a large statue of Moses peering out over a small garden. The different sections have been built by those who have come to visit. Mennachem ends his display by showing us a life-sized model of the Tabernacle complete with original materials. It is overwhelming. Our meal is Kosher and the night ends with a debriefing.
Jeff, Jim, Rose and I realize we have passed the half-way part of our trip. The Americans will stay an extra day beyond us and the rest of the group is there until the 25th. We will miss the tour of Petra along with other treasured sites but we are resigned to it. Our breakfast begins Shabbat morning for us and we look forward to a talk from Mennachem.
He leads us to a small reception room and begins to tell his story. His hotel was the place of a suicide bomb years earlier. A man walked into the lobby and blew it up. Mennachem's wife was badly burned but survived and recovered. Six months later another suicide bomber arrived at the gas station with the intention of blowing up two bus loads of soldiers. Mennachem saw the bomb under the man's shirt and tackled him to the ground. The man was shot twice in the head. The errant bullet of one of the soldiers hit the bomb just as Mennachem had turned to walk away from the body. He was blown through the air. He showed us where some of the shot still sat under the skin on his arm and leg. As if he knew that his story needed proof, Mennachem had kept the crime scene photos. They are startling in the brutality of the moment captured in full colour. The image is stamped on my brain and reveals how badly Israel's enemies want to erase them. Any other nation would be defended by the UN. I am horrified that hatred can be so strong. Mennachem was awarded a medal of heroism. He insists on living amidst his Arab neighbours knowing that most of them are not filled with this kind of hate. His hotel still struggles because of the pervasiveness of the lie, and yet there are a few—like the artists who have contributed to the beauty of the Patriarch Garden and the murals in the hotel—who strive to help.
And the crazy Canadians and Americans who choose to stay there.
Mennachem takes our vehicle information and calls ahead to the checkpoint we will cross so that we have a smooth passage. It is his way of thanking us for coming to his hotel. We are humbled.
We bounce out onto the highway and prayers go up that the luggage in Eagle One will stay put. The trunk latch has jammed and it is obvious this isn't the first time. There are signs of a previous hasty repair job. Hal packs the trunk, straps the luggage in and drops the door, hoping its weight will be sufficient. I can almost imagine a mighty hand holding the trunk closed as we jostle along the road to Carmel near Haifa. We comment on the razor wire along the highway. It is used to keep terrorists from sabotaging the road. The sad part of it all is the disregard for life in general. These terrorists target Jew and Arab alike. The checkpoint is passed and we continue on to Kehilat HaCarmel.
We arrive at the Messianic Jewish church in time for a brief visit with the church minister. He tells us about the drug rehabilitation program and the women's shelter they run and how it has been a ministry in the community. They have a mix of believers. Jews, Arabs, Germans, Poles, Russians, Ukrainians and most recently a large influx of Sudanese. This is Christianity the way I think God meant it to be. The songs are sung in Hebrew with a variety of linguistic interpretations posted on the wall. Liturgical dance adds to the beauty of the service and the minister talks of unity in Christ. I cry in the joy of the moment.
The service is just winding up when we leave. We have another commitment. Our schedule is in jeopardy as Hal looks at the flat tire on his car but the group flexes its prayer muscles again. Jeff joins Hal and they change the flat in record time leaving us with little delay. We line up our convoy and head to Nazareth Village. The drive through Nazareth has redefined the term 'hair-raising' and we all agree that Mary and Joseph would have made better progress on their donkey.
Nazareth Village is the excavation site of the community wine press for the Nazareth of Jesus' time. It is an eerie feeling looking at the press that Jesus likely used. In that day, the whole community would work together to press the wine, taking turns treading on the grapes. He would have been part of that.
The village is run by Arab Christians. We have fun connecting with them and enjoying the bantering back and forth. There is role playing done and we watch a man in period costume tend his sheep. There is a carved tomb such as a rich man would have owned and most of us duck in to view it. Another man gives a demonstration of olive pressing—complete with a donkey pulling a mill stone. We see the carpenter at work. It is here we learn that Joseph and Jesus were more than just carpenters. The original language indicates they were workers in wood and stone. Our guide suggests that they would be able to build complete houses. He demonstrates the use of some of the tools. Lillian has a try at working the hand drill. She's a pro. The group nudges Michael into trying spinning, a skill taught by a woman named Hannah. He does a good job and receives a cheer.
Part of our visit to the village is the tour of the Greek style synagogue. We are taught that a synagogue was an adaptation of the Greek community centre and not the religious 'temple' as we assumed. It evolved into a house of religion over time while still being used as a school and community centre throughout the week.
During our day we ruminate over some of the things Mickey has taught us. We rethink the story of the 'Good Samaritan'. Mickey informs us that the original language doesn't use the word for 'Samaritan' but rather 'common man'. He tells us that a Samaritan wouldn't dare go to the place to which Jesus referred or he would have been stoned. He teaches us that the point of the story is this: The priest and Levite had an excuse to avoid the body. It would make them ceremonially unclean and prevent them from serving in the temple. They had the right to pass by. The common Israelite would also become unclean but he understood that a person's life was worth more than being clean. It made Jesus' point even more profound. We are to choose life.
At the end of our day, we head to the kibbutz at Ma'agen near the Sea of Galilee where we share a communal meal and debrief before bed.
Jeff and I take an early morning walk along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. We kick off shoes and wade into the water as we wait until the dining hall opens. It is another surreal moment. After a brief reflection, we join the others for breakfast. The convoy is rounded up and we head off through Tiberius to Gennesaret. Hal and Rosemary have booked a ride on a boat. We tour the Sea of Galilee. When we arrive at the docks, I am surprised to see what looks like totem poles and wonder if they are the Asherah poles spoken of in Biblical times. Was it something so simple that side-tracked the faith of a nation? The contrasts scream here in the land of God's chosen ones.
We are charged with emotion as we set sail. I am a tinder box and work to keep all of my feelings in check. It is one thing to read about the stories of the Bible but to have them validated before my eyes is quite another. Here we sing songs and are given a demonstration of shore fishing which is amusing since we are out in the middle of the sea. We are taught some historical lessons by Hal that we can take back to our Bible reading. Fishermen fished at night here because the nets were made of linen or cotton. The fish could see them in daylight. The fish came to shore in winter so the boats weren't needed. In the summer they went out into the depths so the fishermen used the boats and different nets. Our perspectives shift yet again.
Larry is a minister and shares some insights about Jesus' invitation to get into the boat. He tells us the invitation was to everyone but only the disciples and a few others in boats joined him. Larry points out that upon obeying, the followers are thrust into chaos and yet in the midst of that chaos they see Jesus' power. Those who didn't follow stayed safe but never saw the miracle.
We arrive back on shore and continue our day's journey. It will take us into the Golan Heights. Capernaum, or Caper Nahum, is the next stop. The foundation for the synagogue is there and it is dated to Jesus' time. There is a foundation for a fisherman's house and it is assumed that it belonged to Peter.
Our next stop is Gamla, which means 'camel' because of its shape. This ruin is known as the 'Masada of the North' because the Romans destroyed it in the same era. The zealots held out until they no longer could and then committed suicide rather than become slaves. It was abandoned in 70 A.D. and rediscovered in the 1960's. The region is a nesting site for vultures. It was here that we heard artillery fire from across the Syrian border. It was just one more reminder of Israel's history and the ongoing fight for survival.
We head back to the road and Mount Hermon. A tank battalion is on manoeuvres on the side of the road and the tank soldiers wave at us from their turret. We pass a UN delegation and wonder how they can drive through this land without recognizing its ownership and the blood price paid to reclaim it.
The climb up Mount Bental begins. It is the best way to see Mount Hermon. Hal decides he likes the traffic circle--so much that he drives around it a handful of times. I'm sure it was quite a sight--five vehicles sporting Canadian flags, continuing to drive round and round and round. The laughter and bantering over the walkie talkies goes on for a few moments as we finally exit and continue our ascent.
The view is spectacular. We climb onto the peak of Mount Bental and stand in sober silence. The bunker and trenches are a reminder of yet one more reclamation of land. Hal tells us the recent history of the Golan Heights and how it was purchased from the Turks in the late 1800's and early 1900' by the Rothschild family. They bought it all and then deeded it as a gift to the state of Israel in 1948. Again, I wonder how a body of external countries can expect Israel to give away land they own.
We move back down the mountain, dubbing the traffic circle 'Hal's Ring' in honour of his driving obsession. Hal explains to us that the village we are going to drive through belongs to the Druze. They are Arabs who are pro-Israel and work in the Israeli army. He tells us cheesy jokes to keep our minds off the twisting narrow road and we decide that Rosemary has our sympathy. She gets a steady diet of these jokes.
We stop at Banias Springs (Caesarea Phillipi). It is also known as the Gates of Hell and was the centre for Pan worship in Biblical times. Earthquakes have collapsed the cave leaving what was, at one time, a gushing river, now a small trickle. A part of the temple built by Herod still stands. The temple was placed there to honour Caesar Augustus.
Our journey continues. As we leave the Bania Springs I see a sign on the fence by the road. Danger! Mines! I wonder who laid them and hope no one finds them. The Hula Valley stretches out beside us and the border of Lebanon beyond that. The mountains divide the two nations. We are driving close to the border to visit the nature reserve that is home to Tel Dan. The largest spring fed river in the world is here. So are the remains for the high place where a golden calf was worshipped.
We walk the trails and marvel at this oasis in the desolation of the Golan Heights. The temple stands on the crest of a hill beneath an ancient oak tree and I shiver at the thought of the cruel practices done on this hill by the adherents to the ancient pagan religions.
Another site is visited. We stand on the ancient street which overlooks the main Israelite gate. At the far end of the excavation site is the Canaanite gate where Abraham rescued Lot. It is 4,000 years old. The sound of gunfire echoes across the mountains and we look to Lebanon. We are grateful for the military presence in this place and ponder the peace held within Israel's borders.
There is one more stop Hal offers but time won't allow it. We tell him that we will have to return some day and see the market place where Neot sandals are made. Night will drop onto us soon and we don't want to be driving in it. We have an hour or more to drive to the Kibbutz and have no desire to be descending into the valley without light.
We end our day with our meal and debrief.
Eagle Five in the nest.
Today is baptism day. Several in our group have chosen to have the experience. We are near the mouth of the Jordan where the water is still clean and deep enough. Irrigation has dropped the water levels of this historical river to the point where it is now a muddy track in spots. Gone is the raging torrent of the past. Larry and Michael are both ordained and take joy in baptising each other and their wives. Jim and Rose are baptised together. Dolores and Mary Ellen also have made that decision. We stand by and enjoy the moment.
A quick return to the hotel and a change of clothing has us ready for another busy day. Jim, Rose, the Americans and Mary Ellen opt to stay at the Kibbutz. The rest of us load up four cars. We remain Eagle Five. Call me stubborn.
We head south along the Jordan valley and I can see the colours and markings on the Jordanian flag atop the border tower. To our right is the mountain fortress of Belvoir. It is a crusaders' fort. A contrast of landscape blurs past. Desert rock, rolling mountains, swatches of green where lands have been irrigated and now produce in abundance. Mount Gilboa stands as it has for millennia.
We arrive at Herod's Spring where Gideon chose his 300 men. Hal explains the military tactics God used here. A company of soldiers normally had one man with a Shofar for each 100 soldiers. Instead, God told Gideon to use the 300 men and give them each a Shofar. The sound deceived the enemy into believing there were at least 30,000 soldiers attacking.
The cars await us and we continue into the desert. The nation is waiting for winter and the rains with it. We are thrilled with the continual sunshine but the land is beginning to look parched. We are heading into the valley of Megiddo. Megiddo itself perches on a mountain like a wounded bird. We climb to the lookout and survey the valley. The Roman garrison was parked in that valley and housed the sixth Legion. It has been excavated, verified and reburied so that a farmer can continue to grow food. This valley has housed 7,000 years of civilization. Megiddo has been destroyed and rebuilt 25 times. King David conquered it in the 16th civilization. The waterworks built by King Ahab are there. The place is covered with the names of the great. It oozes history.
Our next stop is Caesarea where Herod's summer palace still stands in bits and chunks. A stone rests in a courtyard and declares the existence of Pontius Pilatus—Pontius Pilate. There is more physical proof of this man than there is of Julius Caesar. After an hour of exploring the palace, the amphitheatre and the hippodrome we move on for a brief photo of the aqueducts which brought water from Carmel to Caesarea.
Zippori National Park is our next destination. This site is assumed to be a place where Jesus and Joseph would have worked. The site was in need of so many workers that it was likely they would have been hired. It was the capital of the Galilee.
We wandered through the ruins and saw the mosaics depicting worship of Aphrodite and Dionysius. A crusader's fortress rested on the site and from its roof we have another spectacular view of the land.
Our day comes to a close and we need fuel for the four cars. We stop at the gas station and while two cars are filling, Hal tries to explain to the gas attendant that he will be paying for all four cars. The man doesn't speak English. I have gone in to buy a coffee and realize he is answering Hal in Russian. My Russian is rusty at best but I at least make a connection and explain what we need. It doesn't take long to realize something is wrong but I can't understand enough to get the details. Three men come into the store and the attendant asks if they speak English. After some conversation we discover one speaks French and his wife, who is from Montreal, speaks English. The relay begins. The attendants speaks Russian to the customer who then speaks French to his wife on the phone who then speaks English to me. My answer is relayed back. I discover the problem. The credit card has been blocked because of the size of the large purchase. The pumps won't turn on for the remaining two cars. Hal winds up the purchase and we decide to fill up the others elsewhere. The bunch of us have a bit of a laugh and say our goodbyes. Who would think getting gas could be so challenging and entertaining? We are hungry and weary when we get back to the Kibbutz.
Eagle Five zoning out.
The cars are packed and ready to go. We all feel like sardines in a can—once again. Someone decides we need to change our call name to Chipmunk or Squirrel. This comes from Hal's offer to feed us sunflower seeds for lunch since it has become a regular occurrence to miss the noon meal. The change lasts for two minutes and then old habit takes over. The Eagles are flying once again.
The Americans lose their window flag. Eagle Five has nothing to say since we lost ours a few days earlier. Hal had a replacement for us and Jeff had the foresight to bring a few extras from home. We give ours to Eagle Four and put our miniature version in place. All is well.
We stop at Bet She'an. It was a large Roman and Byzantine era city. We climb to the temple site and see the whole expanse of the excavation. The bodies of King Saul and his son Jonathan were nailed to the city gates several thousand years ago after the defeat of their armies and their death.
The 100 Huntley Street tour buses are there and Jeff and I meet Norma Jean Maines outside the gift shop. We have a pleasant conversation and then head to our cars. Our next task is to see another giant foot print built by the original Israelites. This one is near Argaman at the entrance to the Tirza Valley. There is something strange about standing in the midst of such a colossal monument as though giants live among us and at any moment will reveal themselves.
The cars beckon and after a few moments of reorienting ourselves we leave the footprint in the dust, pass Jericho, smile our way through another checkpoint and pull into Almog Holiday Village where we will stay one night.
Our compound is in the West Bank and is surrounded by a high fence topped with razor wire. Strands of electric wire run horizontally around it all. The place is well protected. Half a dozen police vans sit parked in the compound. It says much.
We drop our bags and meet back in the parking lot. Today is camel day. Jim and Rose decide to stay on the Kibbutz. Lillian joins Eagle Five again and we are off to 'Abraham's Tent'. We arrive to find that our booking wasn't written down. The man doing the bookings is more than apologetic and suggests we visit a wadi down the road for a half hour and then we would be able to have our tour. What seems like a disappointment turns into another exhilarating hike ending in a beautiful historical site from the Byzantine era complete with a white mosaic floor mostly in tact. The water there is cool—an oasis in the midst of a very dry land. We arrive back at the camel yard 45 minutes later and are introduced to Eleazar, Abraham's servant. He gives us robes to wear and we head for the camels. They are clustered together in a small area where their leads are pegged into the ground. All are reclining and seem content. We are told that one has had a calf and the calf is part way down the hill in a pen with other camels. We mount our trusty steeds and follow the camel driver's instructions.
"Lean back first. They will lift their back end. Then lean forward."
He isn't kidding. Jeff and I are on a white camel. We lean back and after much cajoling the driver convinces her to rise. It is the slow motion sensation of a bucking of a horse. I know the feeling but have never felt it in such a smooth way. She lifts onto her hind haunches, then her front comes up, then she finishes bringing the hind up. It's a teeter totter ride. The drivers lead us all down a gentle slope to a series of tents made of heavy cloth. We are welcomed by 'Abraham' who explains the traditions of the time. We are given fruits, tea and coffee after the ceremonial hand washing. The group is taught how to make pita bread over an open fire. When the presentation is finished we mount up again and take a different trail back to the parking lot. We are able to look out over the valley below. Our trail is nothing more than a foot wide dirt track carved into the side of the mountain and our drivers are uphill of us. The camels know their way. The dismounting is a strange experience. It is almost as though they drop from beneath us except that we don't leave the saddle. It is more of a stomach sensation than anything.
We return to the Kibbutz for the rest of the afternoon. While Jeff buys some dates, Judy and I knock pool balls around on the lobby table. It's a fun and light distraction after so much activity and information. Hal decides it might be a good use of time to debrief before supper and we find ourselves with an evening free.
The Eagles get a chance to rest their weary wings.
We pack the cars for what is the final day for Eagle Five. We are ready to fly by 7:45 and we head for Qumran. At this point we are 300 metres below sea level. It explains our ability to maintain the rigorous exercise without the usual exhaustion. The oxygen levels are higher here. We are able to walk through the excavated community and are surprised by the number of ritual baths. The men here liked to be clean. The caves are nestled on the sides of the mountain and some of the more ambitious try to get close to them. We are content to stay where we are. There is a gift shop. I'm hoping to find another English translation of the scrolls but have no luck.
We head off to En Gedi. This is the oasis where David hid in the caves and cut off the corner of Saul's robe. We learn that it was actually his prayer shawl since he would set it aside while relieving himself. The symbolism of David's action is glaring. A Jew was buried in his prayer shawl after a corner was cut from it. In essence David was telling Saul that the man was as good as dead. It explains his remorse and repentance afterward.
It is a long climb up to the waterfall and the oasis there. We see Ibex—not an animal to be taken lightly. The horns on the alpha buck are at least as long as my arms. We don't have the time to climb to the caves. Jeff wades into the water to refresh tired feet before the necessary photo-op and then we all head back down the trail. As we leave, we notice the warning signs for sink holes. We are next to the Dead Sea and the Biblical tar pits are actually giant sink holes. Bitumen has been known to bubble up out of the water at one end of the sea.
We are all eager for the next stop. It is a swim in the Dead Sea. We take no more than an hour, but it is enough. The steep path leads us to the rocky, salt-encrusted shore. We need take no more than half a dozen steps before the salt buoys us up. Most lay on their backs. Jeff and I figure out how to stand up and even do a basic front crawl. It makes it easier to get out when the time comes. Where others struggle to their feet, we walk out. It is a strange feeling to stand in 20 foot deep water and still keep the upper chest above water without the need to move. The water feels oily and we rinse off well before drying and returning to the cars.
Masada is our next destination. The historical site is incredible. Herod's palace is there and the great cisterns which kept the zealots in water for so long. We can see the foundations of the Roman encampment and the break in the city's wall made by their battering ram. It is a hot, dry place filled with haunting memories of the ages. We have ridden the gondola to the top and look over the edge to the many who have decided to walk back down. We are made aware of our weak and lazy lives as we follow, with our eyes, the track that zig zags down the mountain. Myriad slaves carried on their backs the tools and accoutrements of a king's commands. They clawed their way up this mountain. We drift on mountain breezes and have no desire to walk the path back to the valley. The gondola is our chariot back.
Back in the tourist centre, we reinstate our caffeine levels, use whatever facilities are needed, shop until we drop and then pile into the cars.
Our next stop is a sobering one. The artist's name is Rick Wieneke. He is a Canadian and although he isn't present while we are there, his most powerful sculpture is. It is called the Fountain of Tears.
We enter a non-descript building on the edge of Arad and meet Rick's wife, Dafna. This is a special moment for Hal because his brother has worked with this artist. Dafna invites us to view the sculpture and we are overwhelmed. There are seven panels, seven bas reliefs within the panels, six pillars of stone which weep and ten striking, bronze statues. I immediately see two things. The bas reliefs are Jesus on the cross. The cross is not shown—only his upper body and his legs. I also see that seven of the bronze statues are victims of the concentration camps.
Rick's wife shows us a DVD (http://www.castingseeds.com/fountain.html) and each panel is explained. The display begins with a bronze of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. He is hunched over a rock and his willingness to die is shown in the full cup of God's wrath held in his hand. The first panel comes into view and we are told that each of the six pillars between them represent the six million Jews exterminated. The artist has drawn a parallel between Jesus' willing suffering and the Jews unwilling suffering. Each panel shows the emotion behind each of Jesus' statements as he dies. Each bronze statue mirrors that emotion and many in the room are crying by the time we reach the final panel. The panels are as follows:
1. "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." The bronze struggles with his choice to forgive.
2. "Today you will be with me in paradise." The bronze struggles over the identity of Jesus just as the two thieves beside him did. Is he the Messiah, or is he a fraud?
3. "Mother this is your son." The bronze takes up a gaunt form on his shoulder. It is all the mothers and fathers, daughters and sons who share the camps.
4. "My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?" The bronze mimics the stance of the bas relief in a duplicate cry.
5. "I thirst." The bronze holds out a hand in a silent plea for water denied.
6. "It is finished." The bronze is dead and signifies the extermination of Jewish Poland—of identity lost.
7. "Into your hands I commit my spirit." The bronze is a camp survivor and across his back is the spirit of a lost prisoner.
The Fountain of Tears is a love song and a lament from Jesus to his people. It is his acknowledgement of their pain and suffering. The final two bronzes are horrible and beautiful. The first is the oven door. A child's arm is reaching through to grasp a butterfly. The door swings around on a pivot and on the back side is the child huddled behind the door. It is a picture of Israel's hope—its birth out of the ashes of Auschwitz. The final bronze is the resurrected Jesus embracing the risen concentration camp prisoner and we see the deep love there again—and the triumph.
The DVD ends and the lights come on. Rick's wife tells us stories of Israelis who have come and seen the wall. Their first reaction is fury, but as they listen they are struck by the purity and beauty of it. They see the artist's love and sorrow for the plight of Jews. They see the stark comparison. Many return.
The cross is not shown in the panels out of kindness to a people abused by a corrupted interpretation of it. I am reminded of a conversation with our guide, Mickey. He explains the Jewish version of Isaiah 53. The man of sorrow and suffering symbolizes the nation of Israel and they are abused by the world yet salvation comes to the world through them. I stare at the Fountain of Tears and can't help but agree. Too long, Christendom has wielded this chapter against the Jews like a bully's club—calling them Christ killers—using it as an excuse to carry out the Evil One's agenda. It is also part of the lie. The Jews didn't kill Jesus. We all did. It is driven home in the stance of the six prison camp bronzes. But it goes deeper. It wasn't really us who killed Jesus—our sin did. And deeper still. Jesus wasn't really killed. He chose to die. There is a mighty difference. The choice was His not ours. It was a choice made out of love because our sin was so great a wall that we could never know real love—His love.
I want to tell this all to Mickey and the millions like him—Jews who have been blamed and persecuted for a death to which we all contributed. And I want to tell him and them that he is right. Out of his nation comes our freedom. And in many ways, I want to turn back the clock and right the wrongs. I can't do most of these things. I can only stare and weep at the great sacrifice made by Jesus and by his people.
I am quiet as we travel back to the hotel. I do my duty. Eagle Five cleared the intersection. There is little heart in my scant conversation. I am too saturated by the display we have seen. My silent tears mingle with the silent cries of a now silent people.
We return to Mizpe Ramon and our hotel. It is our last supper in the Holy Land. Our debriefing happens in the lounge and it is filled with final jokes and goodbyes before Hal and Jeff leave for a gas station in order to fill our car up. We will leave early in the morning for the airport, abandoning the chance to see Petra and a half dozen other sites. Hal thanks us on behalf of the group for our part in the tour. I am told my voice will be missed over the walkie talkie. In response, all I can say is "Eagle Five. Over and out." We all hug and then disperse. I am exhausted and sleep well.
The bags are packed and in the car by 6:30. Jeff takes a picture of me beside our tiny but faithful vehicle. Hal and Rosemary show up on the scene and we decide to visit the Ramon crater before breakfast and departure. Jeff, Jim, Rose and I follow Hal and Rosemary's car to the site and I find my empty hand itching to click the button on the walkie talkie. Eagle Five cleared the circle.
Israel has its own Grand Canyon. It is immense and beautiful in the early morning light. Another photo is taken and then we return to our departing. The six of us eat as others of our group trickle into the restaurant. A final round of hugs sees us off and we take the direct route northwest and home.
Eagle Five done.