“Walking the streets of this Holy Land will change everything for you.”
Said the tv preacher.
“Seriously, Mom? Actually, no, it hasn’t really changed everything.”
Said the older son, as he rolled his eyes.
“I feel sorry for the people of Jerusalem, you know? Everyone comes here to make money off the place they live but who really cares about them?”
Said the younger son.
Just like that tiny arrows of light pierced my heart and I knew they were right.
This land, this city, isn’t a marketing ploy or a social experiment or the UN fodder it has become; a guaranteed media storm no matter upon which side you find yourself.
“They sell little bottles of dirt, water, and air from here.” She said, perched on the edge of the living room chair, after dinner as we engaged in lively conversation. It seemed she was trying to figure the weirdness that we know as Christian subculture.
I was mortified and couldn’t help but roll my eyes and laugh at us.
Really? We, as Christians, we are really that lame?
How do you answer her? We really do things like this.
Buy AIR in a little bottle.
I am in the wrong business… If you can sell air, maybe, I should scoop up a bucket of pottery shards like what we found at a dig over near Beit Shemesh and sell those for $5 a bag.
Yet, for all the laughing, somewhere inside, it makes my head hurt and shows how far removed we’ve become from what Israel is all about.
Israel is found within the hearts and lives of her people.
A kaleidoscope of humanity from all over the world bringing more stories than you could count, the freedom to observe diverse religions within the oppression of the Middle East. You can find brilliant and mundane thoughts, opportunities for affordable education, a wide variety of standards of living and the transformation of refugees into valued, cared for people. Crammed into this tiny country they are making it more beautiful, more impressive, more productive, just MORE every single day.
You might think of Temple Mount, the Dead Sea, Church of the Holy Sepulchre when you think of Israel. Maybe the golden dome or buildings covered in Jerusalem stone.
Israel is about people.
This land is full of PEOPLE with such rich history and dreams, heartbreaks and successes, that $49.95 for the box set of sermons from the most special places of the HOLY BIBLE starts to look like the marketing gimmick that it is.
One of the benefits of coming and staying in one place for longer than a 12 day tour is when you begin to find it familiar. You know that coffee shop, that stop on the train/bus, you integrate into the society in which you find yourself until suddenly, it becomes brilliantly obvious that nations aren’t about the people who visit but the people who live there.
People here in Israel like the guy who drives bus 66 like Mario Andretti and the Bedouin selling suitcases, scarves, and miscellaneous things in his shop as his family has done for generations. It’s about the girl at the coffee shop with perfect American English and flawless Hebrew and the displaced Arab in full hijab who sits awkwardly on a bus filled with men in black hats who sit awkwardly next to secular Anglo women who sits awkwardly next to the Holocaust survivor and yet we all get where we are going in one piece and the shuffle of feet at every stop in the ebb and flow of living.
This is about the little orthodox boy, kippah barely secured, furious and tearful, who is held back by an off duty IDF soldier barely old enough to shave as the little Jewish boy taunts and is taunted by the Arab boy in black, green, and red who hides behind a few young men in jeans and t-shirts while his own brown eyes are wide in a face strikingly similar to that of his orthodox neighbor. They wrestle with an ancient animosity while everyone around them stands in their places, uncomfortable, and praying it doesn’t escalate. Because really, we all just want to go about our business and go home to our families at the end of the day.
That’s what this place is about.
The second you make that paradigm shift, the realization of what makes this land remarkable will be appreciated in the crowd of 12 arguing over the best way to get you where you need to be because you asked someone how to get to that one place and the bus driver who makes sure you get off on the right stop.
It’s the unbelievable number of young, fresh faced, beautiful pregnant women and their small children navigating narrow stony streets and filling the marketplaces with laughter and, often, the tired cries of little ones carried on a light breeze in a late, hot, afternoon. Orthodox scarves and wigs, English voices mingling with Arabic, Hebrew, Ethiopian, as moms everywhere do all the same things.
It’s the banter in the shuk (market) while one vendor yells, “Banana, Banana, Banana!!” to let us all know that the oblong yellow fruit piled a meter high on his table is indeed, the most preferred fruit of baboons and Japanese tourists while the other one across the street yells “Banana, Banana, Banana” even though he doesn’t even have any and then laughs with his neighbor at their inside joke.
The irrepressible treasure in this place reveals itself while watching the kindness of young people standing as they see an elderly person or pregnant lady get on the bus or train to offer their seat. The young man who makes sure the blind man finds his seat and the bus driver who waits patiently for the wheelchair to get off the bus and waves goodbye, “Boker tov!”
Honestly, there is something rare and marvelous about the people who live here in this ancient city. The depth of conviction that means people stop and put tzedakah (charity) into the ever present plastic cups of the poor, the infirm, the widow, more often than I’ve ever seen in the States, prompts me to be kinder and to always have a few coins available to give.
Sometimes, the sharp edges of a narrow worldview will challenge me to question my own conviction. Even when that viewpoint means that prejudice spills over and makes me the object of criticism and judgment from a cultural bias I don’t quite understand.
When you get the chance to come here? Don’t just visit the sites or the museums.
Gaze deeply at the face of Jerusalem in all her varied beauty.
Take a walk through the Old City in a small group without being constrained by a timetable or mission impossible mindset.
Stop and drink a cup of tea or coffee at the shuk, rub shoulders with the folks there.
Barter and banter with the shopkeeper in the spice shop.
Offer your seat to the little, hunkered over, old woman who has seen a world transformed through war and peace into a home she came to as a child traumatized by hate and the worst sort of humanity. She’s the senior citizen with the giant shopping cart that she holds onto with both hands.
Extend your heart beyond what benefits you or what you want to GET from Israel and open up to a whole new world where currency is life and the magnificent gift of humanity around you.
Perhaps, you will learn to apply this to the town where you live and see it for more than a municipality which exists to serve you but an opportunity to see God’s face hidden beneath it all.