Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category

Snow in Jerusalem!

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Below are pictures I snapped yesterday morning. 

The first is on Jaffa road, a main walking thoroughfare through town.

This street is lined with shops and many of the store owners were standing out by their doors laughing.  It was a jolly atmosphere as I exchanged excited greetings with them: “Boker Tov – it’s SNOWING!”

Jaffa Street Snowy Jerusalem

Here are some Orthodox men chatting at the Wailing Wall.

Snow at the Western Wall

An Israeli youth throws snowballs at his friends with gusto.  Heck, I even got hit with a random one!

Israeli Youth Throwing Snowball

A miniature snowman built on top a pushcart in the Old City.

Snowman in Jerusalem

Hiking in the Footsteps of Jesus

Monday, February 27th, 2012

After walking from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth up to Capernaum, I wonder if Jesus got blisters on his feet too?

Nazareth, Cana, Capernaum, Bethsaida, are towns I walked through on my 70 km (~40 mile) stroll through the Galilee on what is known as the “Jesus Trail.”  In short, I hiked from Nazareth to Bethsaida by way of the Sea of Galilee.

The trail itself intersects several national parks, winds through fields, runs up the Horns of Hittim, down the cliffs of Arbel, and follows small paths, old gravel roads, and occasionally modern blacktop.

I don’t think I’ll ever read the New Testament quite the same.  Now when I see passages like the following I’ll envision the surroundings:

“Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum.” (John 4:46)

“Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people.” (Luke 4:31)

“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.” (Matt 4:18)

“When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida.” (Luke 9:10)

“Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.” (John 1:44)

After walking this trail I have in my mind a good first-hand idea of how far it is between those towns mentioned. 

Examine the map below and you too will be just as informed as myself; using the mere effort of your eyeballs instead of your feet, like me.

I1     The Sea of Galilee is a lake, not much larger than Cheney back home (though prettier).  In fact, the scenery surrounding the lake is gorgeous (no comparison to Cheney). 

The Arbel cliffs loom above the landscape on the Northwest side – the dominating feature of the locale.  Jesus would have been familiar with them.  The view from the top overlooking the lake is incredible.

Arbels from Bethsaida

Arbel Cliffs

After admiring the view from the top of Arbel, I followed a steep path down the cliffs.  Halfway, there are cave dwellings cut into the rock that date to before Christ.  In fact, the dwellings were used by Jewish rebels during uprisings in both the AD 30s and 60s. I think.

Many of the towns I walked through were either Arab or Bedouin (including Nazareth and Cana).  In fact, Nazareth is the largest Arab town in Israel.  In light of all the gentiles living in the area of the Galilee now, I find the following prophetic passage from Isaiah interesting:

“In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan-“ (Isaiah 9:1)

Speaking of the Jordan, I saw it too, at least the upstream side North of the lake.  It resembles the Cowskin back home.  If I didn’t know better I wouldn’t be able to tell the Cowskin from the Jordan.  Perhaps the Jordan was larger back in the day.

Sign of River Jordan

River Jordan

Supposedly half the drinking water in Israel comes from the Sea of Galilee (which is fed by both springs and melting snow from Mount Herman).  This intensive water usage has lowered the water level.  Fortunately, there has been a lot of rain this past winter (I’ll take credit for that) and so it looks pretty normal now.  I hear that several years ago there were actually islands appearing out on the lake as the water dropped.

At first I wondered why I didn’t see any fishing boats on the lake, but then someone told me fishing as been banned the last few years to let the fish repopulate.

Beside the Sea of Galilee there are shrines located every ten feet to commemorate some famous something or other and to make a buck off gullible tourists.  Most of the sites are no doubt geographically spurious. 

Halfway up the Mount of Beatitudes – where Jesus supposedly delivered his famous Sermon on the Mount – I noticed there were hills surrounding me on all sides, and began wondering how “they” knew the speech was given on THIS particular mountain??  Even if it were, I wondered why he would need to walk to the VERY top – where the chapel was – to start talking? 

After going half a mile straight up, only me and two hardy Asian tourists with their cameras made it to the tippy peak (of the hordes milling around below by the tour busses). 

Tour Busses

After reaching the pinnacle, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to get into the manicured grounds of the gated cathedral, though I could hear cherubic singing emanating within.  In actuality, I found the residence NEXT to the cathedral more interesting. 

Run Down HouseAnother Church

Those two structural incongruities side by side seemed a fitting picture of the “World” in all its messiness outside an unapproachable “Church” where everyone inside supposedly has it together.  Those on the outside don’t have time for such uppity-ness, and those on the inside don’t have time for the outer rabble.  Truth be told, everyone is in the same boat as equal sinners before God. 

After giving up trying to enter the church, I began the long descent down, trying to get into the mood of The Sermon on the Mount, what some have labeled Jesus’ Magna Carta, thinking what it would have been like to sit here and listen to Him teach.  Then I spied a naked bearded hobo-looking man at the waters edge taking his monthly bath.  This ruined the historic atmosphere, to say the least.

On my lengthy trek on the Jesus Trail, I passed by many touristy places.  Each one has an entrance fee, and all you usually see for your coin is the inside of some boring church edifice. 

For instance, somebody in the 4th century decided a certain house in Capernaum had been Peter’s, so built a church over it.  Then a millennium or two later the Muslim’s decided to build a mosque over that.  Now the original house is encrusted in so many layers of religiostic baubles I decided to pass by and save my shekels for cans of Coca-cola instead.

In Cana, I saw a sign advertising water just like the water Jesus used to make wine.  My backpack was already too heavy, or I would have bought some in a heartbeat. 

Special Cana Water

But a different miracle happened in Cana, of sorts.  I was walking by a scrumptious smelling bakery when the proprietor (an Arab man) spied me and began enticing me into his store with warm entreaties, in the persistant manner they are wont to do in the Middle East.  Usually I desist, but the chocolate filled croissants inside were calling my name, so I succumbed. 

After entering, he asked me where I was from and what I was doing.  I told him.  Then behold, amazement upon amazement, he began to fill a bag with pastries, even chocolate ones – giving them to me and refusing any payment!  Whatta guy.  Whatta Cana.  I’ve never in all my born days seen such generosity.  He bid me adieu, and off I went a very grateful camper.  May a blessing come to that man and his extended family and progeny to the tenth generation.

Cana Today

On the outskirts of Cana I met two Arab men returning home from work (one of them from a chicken factory).  We began talking about the Jesus trail, and they told me they were both Muslims, though they believed in Yeshuah (Jesus) as a good prophet.  I mentioned to them Yeshuah himself had said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” 

One of them didn’t speak good English so his friend was translating and after I finished the first bit (about Jesus being the way, the truth, and the life) the non English-speaker got his dander up and didn’t want me to continue, but his friend was curious what else Yeshuah said so bid me resume, and I added that bit about no one being able to come to the Father except through Yeshuah.  Then they both insisted they don’t believe in God having a Father or Mother or brothers or sisters or nothing no-how.  I humbly pointed out that’s just what Yeshuah himself said and they could take it for what it was worth.  Anyways, they were pleasant chaps, and we split ways on cordial terms.

At Bethsaida there were ruins of an old fisherman’s house dating from the time of Christ.  Maybe Peter lived there one night?  There were also ruins of an ancient arch that pre-dated Jewish influence with the engraving of a pagan diety upon it.

Later, hitch-hiking back to Nazareth I was riding with an Israeli guy and told him in passing I had visited Bethsaida that morning.  “Oh!  Did you see the arch with the pagan god engraved on it?”  Yes, I noticed it was there, why?  He pulled up his shirtsleeve and displayed to me a large tattood arm with the image of that god! 

He explained, “It’s the same one on the arch at Bethsaida: the pagan god Hadad.”

“Why did you do that,” I asked. 

“Well, some people are Christians and worship Yeshua, and others are Muslims and follow Mohammad – me, I’m a pagan.  So I wanted a pagan symbol tattooed on me.” 

To say most Israeli’s are secular would be correct.

Scenery

Galilee is beautiful.  Here are some pics from my hike.

On Top of Horns of Hittim

Open Fields

Wild FlowersFar Off Mountains

Arbel

Rainbow

Cave Opening

Animals

Ancient Caves

Sea of Galilee

Cliff Dwellings

Ancient Cliff Dwellings

Cave Dwellings

Inside Cave Dwellings

Shoes

I’d like to give a shout out to my Roclite shoes.  They have done good service so far in my travels.

RoclitesRoclites in Stream

(weird observation: I’ve been wearing rubber boots for two months whilst working with cattle on the Kibbutz, and they have made bald patches on my legs, which you can see in those two pictures above)

Camping

I slept outside in a tent three nights in the Galilee.  Each night was a different adventure.

Night 1 in a Field North of Nazareth

Night 2

Cooking in the Tent Vestibule

Night 3

Night 3 Next to Sea of Galilee

One night I stayed at a bread and breakfast with a room to myself, it was nicer accommodations than my tent.  I tried not junking it up too much.

Bed and BreakfastGear

Closing

Guess I’ll close this post with a picture of myself in the arch of some unidentified ruins.

Nick in Arch

It was fun.  It was adventuresome.  I learned some things.

Asylum Seekers in Levinsky Park, Tel-Aviv

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Asylum seekers from Darfur, South Sudan, and Eritrea have found their way to Israel seeking a better life.  Many are staying in a park outside the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv.

Yesterday I went to that park to help distribute food and talk with those who spoke English.  I’m planning to go several more times this week.

I was able to visit with several polite young men from Darfur.  Very heartbreaking as I was told about the misery they had left, the misery of their journey, and the misery they now face as illegal aliens in Israel, living outside in a park with no work at the mercy of government bureaucracy.

The following short video is a good overview of the situation.

What will happen to the refugees is unclear.  However, as recent as this month (February) Israel’s Interior Ministry announced South Sudanese nationals have to repatriate by March, arguing they no longer need protection since South Sudan gained independence. They will be given $1,300 and a plane ticket if they voluntarily resettle, but any who do not repatriate will be deported.  (source)

But what about the guys I talked with last night from Darfur in Western Sudan?  They told me they’d heard their situation would change by March, but I’m afraid that change may be for the worst (for them).

Among Israeli’s, there are some who are quite vocal in desiring the African’s returning where they came from.  Even last night one man came by where we were giving out dinners and began shouting at us to stop helping these illegal miscreants.  He wouldn’t leave us alone for quite some time, and it caused not a little excitement.

The ministry I was helping out with last night is called Voice in the Wilderness.  Their goal at the park is to show Christ’s love in action through providing physical care and at the same time tell people about Jesus, providing free Bibles, etc. 

The food we served was pita bread with soup (the soup wasn’t ordinary soup, but really good stuff).  After that was all gone (about 500 meals later) we made up three huge pots of oatmeal (sweetened to a dessert dish).  Tony, the organizer, told me his desire was to make the food good quality, and I think he did a good job.  I was also impressed with how orderly the whole proceeding went. 

The Sudanese I talked with were very respectful and nice.  Though there are reports of some causing problems (what do you expect with that many idle young men sitting around), I was struck with the pleasant good-natured dispositions of ones I was in contact with.  And some were quite educated as well, one man I was talking with (Michael) had a degree in Computer Science.  I told him my brother works with computers and he wanted to know what he did.  I described as best I could and he said he knew about SQL and Microsoft databases and stuff.  He said he wished he could study here in the park (he had been there two months) and if I had any computer books he would appreciate them.  The only book he had was the Bible, and he told me he was studying that, currently reading through the book of John.  He said he wasn’t reading it like a newspaper, but had to go slowly paragraph by paragraph understand it.  And he said he was reading an English Bible instead of an Arabic one because it was “those” people who had killed his family.

I didn’t take any pictures, but there is an EXCELLENT 6-minute video here, titled, “A Day in the Life of an African Refugee in south Tel-Aviv.”  You can can see for yourself what type of people these are and what challenges they face.  It’s kinda moving.

In regards to independent organizations stepping up to provide assistance, I found the following quote revealing:

Unlike the authorities’ unclear approach towards asylum seekers, Israeli NGOs support for this group has been clear and noteworthy. Since the influx of asylum seekers crossing through Egypt, numerous Israeli NGOs and civil society have been actively involved in advocating for this group’s rights, challenging government policies, placing the refugee issue issue on the political agenda, and providing social services such as shelter, food, and medical support. However, the NGOs’ determination and dedication to provide social services has to some degree permitted the Israeli government’s inaction on the asylum issue. (source)

It’s unfortunate every coin has two sides.  On the one hand, providing basic needs is necessary.  On the other hand, it enables the government to sit around and do nothing indefinitely and perhaps prolongs the agony.  But what do you do?

8 Things You May Not Have Known About Israel

Friday, February 10th, 2012

1. Toilets in Israel have two levers.  One for smaller duty flushes, and one for heavier duty flushes, I guess.  And I thought America had too many options.

Two Lever Toilet

2. Israel has the fourth largest Air Force in the world, after the United States, Russia, and China.  I see helicopters flying overhead all the time, including the one below, which I probably wasn’t supposed to photograph.

Helicopter

3. America sold Israel all their M16’s for $1/each.  At least, supposedly.  Maybe it’s not true, but I have seen the words, “Property of US Government” stamped on the side of M16 machine guns they carry.

Soldier Powwow

4. Both the Pentium-4 microprocessor and the Centrino processor were entirely designed, developed and produced in Israel. 

5. The concept of a “Tumbleweed Christmas Tree” was also designed, developed and produced here in Israel.  By us volunteers at Nir-Oz, in fact.  I bought the lights (which are too short), and the girls came up with the idea of wrapping it in toilet paper.  They also made the ornaments.

Tumbleweed Christmas Tree

6. There is no Dr. Pepper in Israel (what?!), only Coke cans with funny writing on them written backwards.  This lack of Dr. Pepper is a travesty of epic proportions, and I believe a significant factor in causing duress, hardship, et al to the populace at large. 

I have taken steps to combat this dearth of DP, this oppressive policy, by joining the Facebook group entitled, “Bring Dr. Pepper to Israel!”  So far I’m the third member, though technically my membership is pending approval by the admin. I’m hopeful our collective voice will be the harbinger of future change in this crucial dilemma. 

Down With Coke

7. In 2011, a total of 680 rockets, mortars and Grad missiles were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel (says Wikipedia).  I took the following “Sunset over Gaza” picture last Wednesday evening.  There were artillery explosions going off while I snapped it.  Unemployment is high in the strip, one of the chief occupations being digging tunnels.  I hear even cars are smuggled underneath the wall.

Sunset Over Gaza

8. Hummus is one of the chief foods of Israel. They pronounce it who-muss instead of humm-us, like is proper.  Here is a lunch I had the other day:

Pita and Hummus

What is hummus?  Who knows.  Some say ground chickpeas.  Others say processed bird snot.  Regardless, I think it tastes quite nice. 

At a hostel I stayed at last week, I overheard two ladies asking the owner if he would please recommend a good restaurant. 

“Sure, there’s a great one right down the street where you can buy pita and this great big bowl of hummu – “ at which point he was interrupted by gnashing of teeth and wailing, “Not huuuumus! you can get that anywhere, we want something different!” 

Taken aback, he suggested they board a bus to somewhere more exotic. 

Later, I overheard them asking the same man, “Is there anything to do around here?”  (we were at the Ramon crater, one of the most striking geological features in Israel, great for hiking) 

He said, “Well, you could hike in the cater.” 

“No, we don’t want to hike.  Is there anything else?” 

With the patience of Job, he explained options ranging from stargazing to horseback riding to camel tours, etc – but he highly recommended we all at least go out to watch the sunset over the crater. 

So we did.  Below are two pictures I took: one of the crater, the other surreptitously snapped of the ladies.

ramon crater sunset

ramon crater lady tourists

Music Conference and Cow-Wowing

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

I’m still here… lost somewhere between “fine” and “dandy.” 

Last weekend I went to a two-day music concert showcasing 100+ Christian songs written by local Messianic Jews during the last two years. (try saying that sentence ten times in one breath)

It was sponsored by the Messianic Jewish Alliance of Israel – and was quite relaxing for me because I didn’t understand a word of it (everything was in Hebrew). 

Music styles ranged across the board, here is a video clip I put together:

And here’s another short video, showcasing a special family.  I think they’re special because they’ve been nice to me.  For instance, the guy playing the guitar picked me up one weekend here at Nir Oz to take me to his church (about an hour away).  I also spent the night at his parents house and his Dad even paid my bus fare back because I had run out of Shekels.  Just so happens they are musical too:

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the hospitality of another family, the Gillepsies (name changed to protect privacy, hehe) who let met stay in their home one night during the music conference.  They also fed me a scrumptious homemade meal and even later took me out to a Lebanese restaurant and paid my tab!  What larks.  It was great fun spending time with them and their young daughters…..

Family of Hidden Identity

In other news, it’s been a long week at work.  Here are highlights:

1. A cow tried jumping a fence (I guess) and got the ankle of one of it’s back legs stuck through the top pole of said fence.  The end result was a cow hanging upside down by it’s back hoof for who knows how long before getting noticed and helped (by empathetic humans, not the ambivalent cows milling nearby).  With me and two others lifting on the cow, we still couldn’t even begin to get it loose enough to release its foot, so we cut the top pole off instead.  Poor thing… and here I thought cows could jump higher than the moon.

2. Today a young cow died and I had to drag it out to it’s final resting place.  Well, sorta final resting place.  I drug it to the spot where they do cow autopsies.  Yeah, kinda gross.  This one supposedly died because it had a tummy turn, which is where its stomach gets twisted around on itself such that it can’t digest its food.  Hope that doesn’t happen to me someday.

3. Several days this week it was cold and rainy – and of course I work outside…  but it could be much worse.  There is a big open space in front of one row of calves that has turned into a pond.  I figure their real estate value has gone up since they now have waterfront views.

4. There is a new volunteer working with me who is from Mexico-way.  He doesn’t speak English.  The upshoot is, I’ve learned more Española in the last week than Hebrew in the last two months.  My Spanglish is coming along quite nicely.

Here is a picture from the “Mexican/American Peace Talks” going on in Israel (taken today after work):

 Mexico & America Meet in Israel