May 13th, 8:00 P.M., Kennedy International Airport, New York: On our 707, which would fly to Jordan, the “FASTEN SEAT BELTS” sign lit up. Could this really be happening? I could scarcely believe it . . .
As a summer missionary in training for The Friends of Israel, I began my summer in no other place than Israel. The tour entitled “Insight Israel” by Philadelphia College of Bible, was of special significance to me as I would be guiding a sightless person through the Holy Land attempting to offer insight, while gaining a deep insight for myself, of the land of my forefathers, and even more so of my Saviour.
Ironically, while growing up in a Jewish home and attending synagogue on a regular basis, I never once had the desire to visit Israel as I felt no strong ties or attachments. There was a gaping hole in my heart in the spot where there should have been love and a burden for Israel and her house. Yet it is when I received Christ as my Lord and Saviour, that the hole was “masterfully” filled in.
Having had a truly unique and thrilling tour through Israel and Jordan, I am excited to take this opportunity to share with you my own impressions and some of the highlight experiences. Hopefully, you will get a glimpse of the land and its inhabitants and the rich flavor which they possess.
After a 17-hour flight, our group arrived rather sleepy in Amman, Jordan, where we were escorted into the terminal by not less than a dozen rifle-bearing Jordanian soldiers. At this point I felt about as kosher as a pork chop in a synagogue! We were to spend the night in Amman and proceed into Israel the next morning.
“Passports, please,”’ commanded the Jordanian army officer. We were making an early morning crossing over the Allenby Bridge at the Jordanian-lsraeli border. After our passports were inspected, the bus was permitted to cross over the “mighty” Jordan River, which at this point was only several feet wide. The bereted Jordanian soldiers and the flag of the Hashimite Kingdom faded, and the blue and white flag sporting the Mogen David and the “sabra” Israeli soldiers came into focus. A cheer of excitement went out from our group as we entered Eretz Yisroel (the land of Israel).
The bus entered the Israeli camp and we unloaded and departed again—three and one-half hours later. All groups coming from Jordan into Israel are forced to undergo a strict security check, hence we were detained as we hungered to get to Jerusalem. Here we had the privilege of sharing Christ with two young Israeli soldiers, and listening to “Jerusalem of Gold” being sung by a female soldier. Back on the road and still miles away, we beheld the ancient capital of Israel, David’s City — Jerusalem! While in Jerusalem, I was to have some unforgettable, if not unimaginable, experiences.
It was like stepping back in time as we stepped into the walled city of Jerusalem after having explored Solomon’s Quarry and wandering through the sheep and goat market. The years fell away and the present seemed to be hiding.
Inside the Crusader – built walls on the narrow winding streets one finds an abundant array of odors, tastes, and sights. The Arab cafes, bizarres with their wares and curios displayed, and the open markets with swine and goats hanging from huge meat hoods, were fascinating. All this did not overshadow the conglomeration of peoples: the lame and blind beggars, Arab children balancing platters of hot “pita” bread on their heads, the Hasidim (the ultra-orthodox Jews) strutting briskly to and from the Wailing Wall clad in their fur hats, beards and earlocks, with their children holding on to their coattails.
It was here in Jerusalem that we stood on the pavement in the courtyard where Jesus was tried; stood in the Garden of Gethsemane where our Lord prayed; and visited the traditional sites of His death, burial, and resurrection. Not soon enough, the moment I had been waiting for arrived — our visit to the Wailing Wall. I don’t think that I can adequately describe what each Jew feels as he beholds this, the holiest place of Judaism. For me it was a feeling of awe, the feeling that I’d finally seen Israel, and a time when my heart was deeply burdened for the lost sheep of her house.
While snapping the Wall on film, so I could take it home with me, a hand flapped down heavily on my arm. “Were you born a Jew?” inquired the Hasidim. When I answered affirmatively, I was promptly whisked to a table about ten feet from the Wall. I was asked if I could read Hebrew and then given a set of prayers to read. As I concluded the prayers, I realized that it was for the wearing of tephillin or phylacteries. This is a custom which the Orthodox Jews follow based on Deuteronomy 6 where the Jews were commanded to bind the Law on their arms and on the frontlets of their head. This they take literally and, therefore, write the Law on small parchment scrolls and put it in small black boxes to which they affix leather straps. As they wrapped the tephillin around me, I looked about helplessly for a member of our group to get me out of this predicament. I was sent to the Wall with a prayer book in hand and a shawl over my body. I had always thought the Hasidim were hypocritical, likening them to the Pharisees being so legalistic. It was at the Wailing Wall that God gave me a real understanding. Romans chapter 10, verses 2 and 3, states that Israel has a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge; and not knowing God’s righteousness they seek to establish their own. Indeed, the Hasidim are of the minority in Israel who truly believe in God and in a personal Messiah, They try to be righteous through their legalism, yet not realizing that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believeth (Romans 10:3, 4).
As we traveled through the land of Israel, I was impressed with the richness and diversity. God is certainly keeping His promises to Israel and yet the people. in their blindness, give little credit to God. They believe that it is their determination and zeal which has made Israel into a land of “milk and honey” and warded off the Arabs. At the Sea of Galilee, where we stayed on Kibbutz Ginosar, the Israelis celebrated the Jewish festivals and did no work on the Sabbath. When asked why, the answer is given in one word: TRADITION!
Traveling by boat from Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum, where Jesus taught, culminated the feeling in me that the Bible was truly coming alive. It is by being in the land that one gets a unique perspective of the geography, and life is born into the names of places.
Archaeological excavations provided even more insight about the land and our ancestors. Masada, at the Dead Sea; Ashkelon, the Philistine stronghold on the Mediterranean; Jericho; and Megiddo were among the many sites visited. When we returned to Jordan, we traveled by horseback and spent the night in the caves at Petra; formerly known as Sela, where the Edomites lived. It is here, tucked away in obscurity, amidst the magnificent facades of temples carved into the rainbow-colored mountainside, that the Jews are expected to flee during the time of the Great Tribulation.
Throughout the tour, God provided ample opportunities to share His living Word and promises with Jew and Arab alike. We could reflect on how truly accurate the Word of God is as we beheld the land. As I picked a stone from the very brook from which David drew his, I thought to myself: He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep! I thank God that I was chosen to be part of the remnant of Israel, which believes. I know in my heart that a return trip to Israel is imminent. It is not a matter of “if” or “how”, but “when”. Soon, I hope!