Sunday, November 29, 2009

Day 2 Continues (Part 2)

Have you ever seen or heard something and thought, "That'll preach ...?"

When I was in Israel in 2007, the fabulous photographer Doron Nissim said to me (about photography), "Always shoot for the light. If you go for the light, you can't go wrong." To which I said, "That'll preach..."

Yesterday, my 2009 Israel traveling companion Larry Leech and his wife Wendy came over to visit with my hubby and me. Naturally, Larry and I talked about our many adventures in Israel. Larry made an observation about one of the days we'd spent there (can't remember it now...) to which Wendy replied, "Larry, that will preach."

It seems to me that everything in Israel will preach. Every chance meeting, every landmark, every holy site, and every rock ...

We were climbing Ein Gedi, heading toward the upper waterfall when I spied a rock in the cliffs. It seemed to me that it was standing alone, unsupported, and yet not budging an inch. I said, "Wonder how long it's been standing like that?" to which someone else said, "And I bet it's not going anywhere."

When David wrote about God being his Rock and Fortress, he wrote of unmovable rocks like those in Ein Gedi and a fortress which was a castle of defense against those hunted. David knew all about being hunted. This -- Ein Gedi -- was his hiding place against Saul. The place where he hid in the cave (the caves are apparent all along the way) which Saul entered to relieve himself. The place where David cut the corner of David's robe and then made peace with Saul. The rocks in Ein Gedi cry out this story and remind me that no matter my foe, to the safety of God is where I run!

Jesus said that if the people didn't cry out, the stones would. Ein Gedi proves that. The only difference is, is that in Ein Gedi (the Spring of the Kid/Goat) man does not need to speak. It's hard to speak. The beauty is breathtaking (so is the climb!).
My favorite spot in Ein Gedi is the lower waterfall. It's tricky getting to it at times. The first time I saw it, I climbed over a few boulders and crossed a stream without hesitation. This year, however, having spent so long in bed with my back, there was a little trepidation. Everyone else had gone on ahead, walking toward the upper waterfall. But this was my "spot." The place where God spoke and speaks to me in life-changing ways. I knew I had to take the chance and go to it ... and so I did. It was as glorious as I remembered it; the only thing pulling me away was Miriam's insistence that I "come on up!" (Photo above taken by Miriam Feinberg Vamosh, 2007.)

When I reached the upper waterfall, Robi -- who leaned against a boulder staring up at the impressive waterfall -- started singing "Oh Lord, my God ... when I in awesome wonder..." Little by little every voice joined in (except mine. I was now recording the moment on my camcorder.)

You see, Robi has just gone through the most difficult season of her life. She has climbed the mountain of heartache ... just as she had just climbed the sometimes difficult paths of Ein Gedi. Ein Gedi was teaching her (I think ...) and me that when we are faithful in the climb, the Living Water waits to bless us. To heal us. To draw us as we draw water.

Which reminds me of what it was exactly that Larry said yesterday. "Any time we found water," he told us, "we found things growing."

Here in Ein Gedi, the rocks and water, the cliffs and caves, tell me, "we have to climb difficult mountains to find the water."

But when we do ... Oh my ...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Day 2 Continues

After viewing the wilderness from David ben Gurion's grave, we embarked into the desert where the canyons rise high on both sides and where a stream eventually leads to water pouring from a rock, spilling down several yards and into a pool below. An amazing place to tell the story of Moses and his drawing of water from a rock ...

As expected, the cries of delight from my travel-mates was music to my ears. Miriam had turned me on to this Negev beauty in 2007 ... now I was sharing it with others. Every so often, I'd turn back to see one of the other reporters staring up at the canyon walls ... or enjoying the play of the ibex nearby.

The weather was warm, the shade a respite. But one cannot stand still long in Ein Avdat (the spring of Avdat). One is drawn by the water and its source, which is -- from what I read -- still open for scientific debate. Just what causes the water to spill from the rock -- could it be rainfall that builds up until there is no where else to go but out? -- is up for interpretation.

I say that perhaps Moses left the tap on. And, of course, I say this with a smile.

I heard someone say, "I'm staying here. Come back and get me in a few days." I wish I could now remember who. Perhaps it was Robi ... Tempting, yes, I think. But then that would mean missing the beauty that is the rest of Israel. No such doing! Not here. Not today!

What stands out at me as I read these verses of Scripture and as I stand in the canyon looking at the water and the rock is that the people didn't grumble against God. They grumbled against Moses. No good deed goes unpunished. Moses has led them out of physical captivity, but they'd rather have that than be thirsty.

Water From A Rock
Exodus 17

1 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.2 So they quarreled with Moses and said, "Give us water to drink."
Moses replied, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?"

3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?"

4 Then Moses cried out to the LORD, "What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me."

5 The LORD answered Moses, "Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink." So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"

New Thoughts

This leads to two new thoughts.

1. That leaders are often called to go forward while everyone else grumbles behind them and with only what they have in their hand. In Moses' case, it was a staff. Moses had already seen that with the staff in his hand, God proved faithful.

2. How like the early Hebrews I am. Jesus brought me out of captivity ... yet sometimes I actually look back and yearn for the days when everything was about "me." Walking the path of God is not always easy. It's filled with awe and wonder and miracles abound, but it's not easy. Eventually the path becomes familiar; we know what to expect. Still, the rocks can be difficult to climb.

One thing is for sure. The Rock doesn't move. I'll show you how I know ... tomorrow.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Israel Day 2

I am beyond excited to share the Wilderness of Zin with my friends and fellow writers. Joe says he has never been where we are going either, which really surprises me. This has been the big mystery: how anyone could possibly come to Israel and skip the desert. After all, this is a metaphorical event of leaving behind the desert and coming into the promise. This is also where Jesus began his ministry, near where he was baptized. Where John called out for repentance and where Elijah and Elisha crossed the Jordan one way and Joshua crossed it the other.

But so many Christians want to begin their pilgrimage in Galilee where Jesus spent the majority of his ministry, they totally forget where it all began. Miriam introduced me to this concept years ago, I introduced it to Joe (IMOT) and now we are going to introduce it to these five journalists traveling with us.

Nahal Zin/Ein Avdat is also the place where David ben Gurion is buried. We stop at his grave first. Several groups of IDF (Israel Defense Forces) grads are about to have their ceremony. Family members gather near ben Gurion's grave. Flags fly. Young people decked in green mill about. Young men stand in attention with the mountains of the desert as their backdrop. Before them is a table with M-16s and Bibles. A gun and a sword. How can they go wrong?

Our group feels privileged to witness this. We are also surprised to know that male soldiers have female soldiers for superiors. "If they can deal with this," Miriam quips, "they can get through anything."

Our group places stones on ben Gurion's grave -- the Jewish equivalent to flowers -- then walks over to a stone wall where we take photos of the land before us ... the land we are about to venture in to. I hear declarations of how impressive it is.

They have no idea.

(photo at bottom shows David ben Gurion's grave in foreground with graduating soldiers between it and the Desert of Zin.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Reporting from Israel

Internet reception at some of the kibbutz's being what it was, we were unable to post the words of our journey as we wished. Jerusalem was better, but by the time we got there, I was too tired to post. But I kept regular notes so that once I was settled in at home again, I could share with you the magnificence that is The Land of the Bible.

Day One

It was the result of years of praying -- Miriam and me. Months of planning -- Miriam, Joe Diaz, and me. Now the time had come. The Florida team -- Larry Leech, Cheri Cowell, Robi Lipscomb and I -- boarded Delta's 12:17 flight for JFK. Robi and Larry were seated together and Cheri and I sat directly behind them. Cheri spoke to our other seatmate. While she got the scoop on the fact that he and his wife were on their honeymoon and that she was seated near the back and the others on that aisle would not change with them, I was zeroing in on his accent. "Where are you from?" I asked.

"Israel," he answered.

It was like a gift we were given. Already God was telling us this would be a special trip. Cheri agreed to change seats with the wife so that they would be together and for the rest of the trip I was treated to photos of their wedding and the first leg of their honeymoon.

Mazel Tov!

We arrived at JFK on time. As the four of us left the jetway, I saw a man standing near the gate holding up a piece of paper with our names on it.


He gave his name -- Shim W. Lew -- and told us he was Chief of Protocol for Delta at JFK. By him we were escorted to the Sky Club near our departing gate for Tel Aviv. We settled in then left for some lunch at a nearby restaurant. As we nibbled on food and talked about our hopes for the trip, Sharon Decker from North Carolina joined us. After lunch, we returned to the Sky Club where each of us did our own thing until our flight was called.

At Gate 14, Ellie Kay met us, making our group nearly complete. Upon arriving in Tel Aviv, we would be met by Joe Diaz (Israel Ministry of Tourism, Atlanta office), my coauthor Miriam Feinberg Vamosh (who would serve as our guide) and Tzvika, our driver. I could hardly wait.

But wait we would. The flight from JFK to Tel Aviv is a long one. We were fed an okay dinner (for airline food) then catnapped the rest of the flight. At some point I stood up to walk around. From the shadows of sleeping figures I saw a hand wave at me. It was Larry, about six rows back. Next to him, Cheri slept. Across the aisle, Robi did too. I walked to Larry and received the news that we were landing a good deal ahead of time, thanks to a tail wind.

The Ben Gurion International Airport is absolutely spectacular to behold. Ellie and I seemed to walk faster than the others but still took in the sense of being "home." At the end of a long hallway called the connector I spotted a pretty woman holding a sign that read: Eva Marie Everson's Party.

That was us!

I greeted the woman with a smile and a handshake. We gathered everyone together. She escorted us through border patrol, then to get our luggage, then through customs. Because we were early, there was no one to meet us in the Arrivals Hall, a disappointment for sure. But it gave us a while to turn our dollars into shekels and grab a much-needed cup of coffee.

Of course all I could think was "Where is Joe" and "Where is Miriam?" A few minutes later, Joe arrived. We hugged, said, "We did it! We made it!" then waited a while longer.

Someone from IMOT reported that our driver and Miriam were waiting outside for us. My heart flipped. MIRIAM! I grabbed my luggage, slung my camera bag and purse over my shoulder, and headed for the outside doors.

I spotted Miriam across the way. She was on the phone. Next to her was the man I assumed was Tzvika. We made our way across. Miriam ended her call and looked up. Our eyes met -- having not seen each other for nearly three years -- and we both smiled. I ran the remainder of the gap between us. We hugged -- it had been TOO long -- and Miriam said, "It feels like just yesterday ..."

Crazy. She was right.

Tel Aviv greeted us with gray skies and rain. Miriam declared that this was supposed to be the last day of such weather -- although they were grateful for it -- and we all lifted a verbal prayer that the weather would be kind to us.

Our first night was spent in Ma'ale Hachamisha Hotel outside of Jerusalem. We were led to our rooms where a plate of fruit and a large bottle of water waited for us. I pulled back the heavy drapes and flung open the window.

The rain had stopped. The sun broke through the clouds. God was speaking. We were about to spend seven unprecedented days.

At dinner we were treated to a visit with Miriam's husband Arik. Arik and Miriam are Israel. Arik's father and mother were Holocaust survivors -- while other family members were not. Arik fought in the Yom Kippur War in which he was hit with shrapnel, which left him paralyzed from the waist down -- not that it has stopped him from living a full life. Miriam grew up in New Jersey but came to Israel at age 17 to see her brother, a Rabbi in Jerusalem. She fell in love with the country and decided to call it home. Shortly thereafter, she made aliyah.

This couple is like family to me. I love them, their family members, and their children as though I were born into their fold. I know they love me in this way, too.