Do not be afraid to cross over
(Written April 1st, the first official day of the tour. I am currently in Tiberias, my first chance at the internet since Newark.)
I have no idea if there is any internet out here at all. I know there certainly isn't any in our hotel room, but trading the internet for the resort we're staying in is fair in my opinion. I'm going to go with the likelyhood of there not being internet here and post this at a future date of the trip, probably in a few days when we go to Jerusalem.
So much has happened since I last wrote that I don't know where to start - usually that statement involves cause and effect, but in my case I am so brain-addled from the crazy flying that it takes me about ten seconds to completely focus down onto one thought.
So far today I have taken over 400 photos and several long video captures, and we still have a number of events to attend to this evening.
Okay, I believe my last post was from Newark, waiting for our flight to Tel Aviv. We never ended up encountering the people we were supposed to meet, though we've probably seen their face, or they haven't come at all. I had my first experience with a body search on account of my underwire bra, meaning that the lady had to ask if she could touch my bra. Disconcerting, but not terribly crazy. In Newark we also were interrogated by the Israeli official guy, who was a strange mix of charm and warning that someone in a position of such importance must combine. We were asked the common questions - what brings us to Israel, with whom, did we pack our own luggage, accept any packages from anyone... We cleared. The plane from El Al air was massive - only one story, but blocks long and wide. Our ten hour flight was a bit on the boring side. I got some sleep. My Aunt got some sleep. I listened to tunes and caught the second half of <i>Enchanted</i>. In a moment of plane-wandering, which is apparently common on Israeli flights and this one was no exception, I found out that there were to be about 70 persons in our tour group. That's about all the relevant flight information. Oh, wait, I forgot - our first taste of kosher food. Some company whose name ended with -stein caters all the food for El Al. My first taste of hummus in some time left me in a weird place of liking the taste but finding it awkward in some sense. All the kosher food tastes oddly to me, and I think it's because of the lack of salt in the food as compared to North American dishes, they use other spices instead and it takes a little getting used to, tasting the food as it is with spices instead of the food taste magnified. At least, this is my personal theory.
When we landed my ears didn't pop so well for a bit, which was very uncomfortable. There were a few moments when we descended fast enough to cause a few shrieks from female passengers feeling the effects of the sudden drop on their stomachs and ears.
Our luggage stayed with us, despite others not having the same lot. Our luck with things breaking hasn't been the greatest, though. Geen's purse strap came loose, and the left earphone on my Bose headphones cracked off in Newark - thankfully it's not an electronic issue, but now I'm faced with the challange of finding Krazy Glue in Israel. (I have to say, though, it looks like the whole place is held together with various adhesives. Or not held together at all. Israel is... haphazard. I need pictures of Tel Aviv to explain what I mean by that. Old and new are blended, but instead of seamlessly, there are seams everywhere, and most of them hold a corner of an Israeli flag.)
We made it to Ben Gurion Airport, which was very much a study in glass architecture, and after going through the checkpoint, we found a lovely person holding an unmistakeable sign for us to wait, then we boarded our busses through an avenue of sweet-smelling pink blossoms and instead of going to our hotel, we headed directly to our first destination - the Independence Hall in Tel Aviv. Geen and I weren't really prepared to go gallivanting in our three-day-old stench, but that ended up being our lot.
On our way to the Independence Hall, we stopped at the Tel Aviv Founder's monument, which was a nice relief carving with a neat fountain, which sported the passage from Jeremiah which talks about going from disaster to rebuilding.
The Independence Hall in Tel Aviv is where a few men during the Independence War had a window of opportunity to declare the State of Israel, and they did it. That was almost exactly 60 years ago. Our tour guide lady was amazing, and the building held so many secrets and reminded me of Pier 21 in Halifax because of the spiritual impact of the place's aura. We got to hear the words just as so many folks would have heard them over the radio, the blessing of the Rabbi for a new beginning, and the orchestra, which played from the second floor because there was no room with so many "secret" invitees. Of course, as our guide pointed out, expecting three hundred Jews to keep a secret is not a likely story.
After the Independence Hall experience, we finally had a chance to get out to the West Bank to Ariel and see our hotel, which is amazing. Geen has, as I am writing this, just laid down for the evening for the first time since Saturday night, and I am looking forward to such a luxury with nearly as much zeal as I look forward to tomorrow's lineup. The one thing about the hotel that has to be noted immediately is the tile chunks missing in a spot on the lobby floor. When the hotel was first built, a suicide bomber killed themselves there. It is a sobering thought to stand on that spot and think of the conflict here. It reminds me of the marks in my own bedroom window from a threatening time in my young life when someone used an axe on it.
We have a balcony with a fabulous view and I took a picture of it, so you'll get to see it too. After an extremely short stopover in which my Aunt had a shower and I had a record-time shower and shave, we headed off for lunch, which saw us eating pitas filled with the weirdest combination of stuff... Coleslaw, "salad" which is chopped cukes and tomatoes, onions, and humus - which is basically like ketchup here - and some other mystery stuff. Oh, and fries, which was the weirdest part because you ate them WITH the pita... Anyway, it tasted fabulous with either falafel or rotisseried beef (like the Greek version, gyros). It was basically some really awesome food, and I got my first three shekel coins, which amount to about a dollar.
After lunch we went to the "mountains of Ephraim" which are now Samaria in the West Bank. There is a special prophecy about planting vines overlooking the mountains of Ephraim, and in an act fulfilling prophecy, we each planted one of our own. I'll detail this experience later when I have more time and can show you the excellent photo and video documentation, I'm kind of rushing through things now because horizontal sleep beckons irresistably.
Next, because we're basically the most priveleged tour group type to ever enter Israel, we actually got a full-on view of the inside of the Israeli army outpost guarding Ariel and the surrounding villages from hostile Palestinian villages. I was allowed to take photographs, and if you're very interested and live in Saskatoon, I might be able to meet with you and show them off, but otherwise I ought to leave those off the beaten path. A good number of them will be a part of my thesis for my Conflict and Resistance class, indeed I may base my entire paper on the experience there. The guys there are kids. Younger than me. My favourite was the base commander, a soft-faced kid who added to our biblical discussion with quotes of his own. May God protect them all. They were cute, sweet, intelligent, and it made me so weary to think of what could happen to them at any time.
I have taken to touching the doorway scripture capsules, whose name I can't remember just at present. As a Christian I touch them because I believe the line of that scripture that begins everything. <i>Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.</i> The same one I serve. The put God on their doorposts to remember him, and I participate in the rememberance.
Lastly, tonight we watched first-generation Israeli children dance, a group called For Zion's Sake and then danced with them. In prophecy it says that God's people will come back to Israel from the North. Straight north of Jerusalem is Moscow, and many Russian, Ukranian, and other Northern Jews are coming to Ariel in droves and finding a good quality of life - most of the kids here were about ten, first generation Israelis with parents from Russia or the Ukraine - one from France. I loved these kids. And I thought about how, in six or seven years unless our Messiah comes again, they'll still be kids, but in uniform, getting injured like the ones we talked to, whose unit had been switched from the Gaza Strip shortly after their commander was badly wounded in duty. We danced and jumped together to a dance with the lyrics, in Hebrew, that I put at the top of this post.
There is a joy here which passes the understanding of the heaviness, but I mourn for this place of beauty shrouded in darkness. So many of the people here, the villagers at the bottom of the heap as far as societal say goes, desire peace deeply. I feel the yearning in the Israelis I have met.
And now that I have seen it, walked it, planted a strong vine in the soil, I understand homeland. Canada to me has always been more of a place of origin and historical context, but I see here the difference that makes a place home instead of a house, homeland instead of a designated identity from an accident of birth. I was here less than four hours before it hit me that I could make this place home too. I know it's not the path for me, but it is tempting all the same. I love this land. I loved it before I even came here, but now I love it far more.
It is now HIGH time to give in to exhaustion and get some proper rest on a REAL bed, in a PRIVATE room, with no seatbelts, no sitting, no smellyness from extended stops. Our hotel, the only Israeli hotel in Ariel, is called Eshel Hashomron. It's pretty cool.