Tel Aviv and Jaffa

Tel Aviv

Monday, October 28-

Noah Efron, Jewish Professor

Pastor Nabors (in regular type); We wake for breakfast at Hotel 65 and walk to our first appointment for the day.  It is a couple of blocks away in a modern office building.  We have a meeting room on the first floor where we meet a Jewish Professor who teaches the History of Science, Noah Efron.  He also has a podcast called “The Promised Podcast” which is podcast about arts, culture, and politics in Israel. He is very personable, warm and ingratiating.

Rabbi London: As he begins his talk, he pulls three sandwiches out of his bag and proceeds to tell us that he heard that Pastor Ruen didn’t think there were any good sandwiches in Israel. Pastor Ruen’s good friend is a rabbi who officiated at Noah’s sister’s wedding. Daniel jokingly texted his rabbi friend that he was enjoying Israel, but couldn’t find any good sandwiches. This message got to Noah who then brought Daniel the sandwiches. Israel always feels small to me—two degrees of separation at the most—but it’s funny to have this happen to my non-Jewish friend who has never been in Israel!

For the next hour he shares his own story about being an Israeli Jew.  He frames the discussion within the context of a politics of emotion versus politics of true care.  His 21 year-old son was home for the weekend.  He is an Israeli solider (a requirement).  He was slowly dressing and Noah observed that he saw him literally transforming from his boy, his son, into a solider.  There was a metamorphosis.  Noah then shared that he also arrived in Israel when he was 21 and that he was also conscripted into the army during the Lebanon War.  He came to a land he didn’t really know, speaking a language he didn’t really know, holding a gun he didn’t really know how to shoot.  He came because he wanted to participate in changing the land and being changed by it.  After college he joined a rock band and traveled throughout the country. 

As Kibbutz grew, they became privatized and inequalities in Israel deepened.  He spoke about the Madrid and Oslo Accords.  He left the Kibbutz he had joined and became a professor.  His view of Israel is that it is in sharp decline because of its corruption.  He talked about racism, sexism and so much more.  He went through a difficult phase of overcoming despair.  Having arrived with such high hopes, it was difficult for him to handle unrealized hopes and dreams.  He mentioned that he “lost his talent for despair.”  Very interesting phrase.  Was it a hormonal change?  Part of it was in seeing his children grow up to be unmistakable Israeli and beautiful at the same time.  His children are different than him because of how they have been raised in Israel.  He began looking with new eyes and seeing the things that matter.  “Children of the Dream” is how he describes his children.  He quotes Golda Meir who once said, “There are no Palestinian people.”  There are Israeli Jews who still believe this. Noah believes this is part of the difficulty in Israel. He strives to teach people to overcome this thinking.   

He mentions that improvements in Israel have been astonishing.  He gives the example of his own sister who realized her own sexuality (Lesbian) when she was 20 and fell in love with her roommate.  Her sister felt there was no place in Israel for her because of the nation’s views.  But the last Gay Parade in Tel Aviv drew 150,000 supporters and the Mayor of the city performed multiple same gender marriages.  This is an example to Noah, about the transformation.  On the other hand, there was an effort recently to physically deport the Sudanese people (50,000) from Tel Aviv and return them to their own country.  It did not happen.  There was such outrage until the effort ended quickly.  In Tel Aviv, Noah learned that a building that was once a Disco Club, then a brothel, now functions as a Synagogue.  In Israel, 1/3 of Reform Jews are funded by the government while 100 percent of Orthodox Jews are funded by the government.  There is growth and creative energy is bubbling over everywhere.  

The hotel sites on the widest boulevard in Tel Aviv called Rothschild Boulevard.  Rothschild money helped build the city. Part of the amazing growth, expansion, and modernization of the city lies in wealthy contributors who offered aid in its formative years.

Pastor Ruen: Amit and Alaa talk about the high cost of living in Tel Aviv. In 2011 a tent city arose on Rothschild Boulevard to protest the economic conditions in Israel. One of the factors that caused the protest was the rise in price of cottage cheese which is a very popular staple in Israel. Alaa talks about how he felt like this protest was happening on another planet because, as an Arab, he wouldn’t be able to protest without fear of being attacked. It doesn’t seem like the demonstrations worked. The cost of living, especially in the Tel Aviv area, is still prohibitively high for many.

Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 as a small community just north of Jaffa.  Aviv means spring, indicating the newness of the city, and Tel means mound, usually referring to an archaeological site, indicating ancient. Tel Aviv is a new city built on an ancient land. Nothing is at it appears.  Just outside Tel Aviv and before Jaffa, was a Palestinian town that was destroyed and buried.  All that remains is one building that is utilized now by Israel.  The freedoms found in Tel Aviv (like LGBTQIA) does not mean Palestinians or Sudanese enjoy inherent freedom for themselves.   Ethnic cleansing of the area to prepare for building Tel Aviv was supported by the British.  They cleared Jaffa of nearly 70,000 Muslims and also cleared another 40,000 Muslims who lived just north of Tel Aviv (Jaffa is just to the south).  Our guide Alaa tells us his family was from Jaffa. During the War of Independence in 1948, most of his family was exiled to Gaza. His grandfather went to Akko in the north where Alaa lives.

Pastor Ruen: Alaa discusses how all the names of port cities in Israel are Akkadian or Phoenician names because they were the people who mastered the seas. We also learn about the Armenian monk who brings a new species of orange to the region. Because it has a thick skin, it can make the trip successfully to Europe. This is the birth of Jaffa Oranges. Now it’s a Spanish company that owns Jaffa Oranges.  

The Port City of Jaffa (Joppa)

After the lecture, we go back to the hotel and check out.  We then drive to Jaffa and spend part of the day touring.  The city is the oldest part of Tel Aviv and is an ancient port city.  Jaffa is famous for many biblical references.  We visit the home of Simon the Tanner.  It is an ancient brick home in the oldest part of the city.  This is where the Apostle Peter has a dream about all things being clean that are made by God.  The angel then tells him to travel to Caesarea Philippi and share the gospel with Cornelius.  Here, the gospel was shared with Gentiles for the first time.  Jaffa is also the port sailed from by Jonah and there is a story about Solomon and Jaffa as well.  We also visited the shore where, at some point, Jonah struggled with God.

Rabbi London: Pastors Ruen, Nabors and I discuss the story of Jonah. Jonah attempts to evade God’s call to go to the people of Nineveh and tell them to repent, but he cannot run and he cannot hide! Jonah is a reluctant prophet, but the only prophet who is successful—the people of Nineveh actually repent and are spared. We contemplate what it means to be called by God today, and then we take a picture of ourselves standing in a life-sized picture frame with the words, “Love is Love” on it, looking out at the city of Tel Aviv. It seems that our question has been answered for the moment.

There is an ancient mythological story about Andromeda and Perseus.  Andromeda was chained to a sea-cliff to be devoured by the sea monster. But Perseus, son of the mighty Zeus, noticed her as he was sailing and fell in love with her.  He slayed the sea monster Gorgon Medusa and won the approval of Andromeda’s parents.  Why did he fall in love with her?  The answer is evident; “She was a sister from Ethiopia!”  You have to love these ancient Greek myths, with so much truth within them.We find a place to eat lunch and board the bus for Haifa.  We arrive late and exhausted.  Though Alaa informs us of very nice places to go downtown for music, excitement and sights, it falls on deaf ears for me.  This is by far, the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in.  I sink into the bed exhausted and thankful for the continued journey!  I saw what Jonah saw thousands of years ago.  I saw the roof top where Peter has the vision to break down walls of faith and stretch out olive branches to all people.  A good day indeed.

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