Israel Museum, Machane Yehuda, and Farewell dinner
Pastor Nabors in regular type:
Sunday, November 2-
I rise for breakfast at 7, shower, dress and go out into the sunny 75 degree weather. We gather in the lobby and prepare to head to our bus outside. I’ve written personal cards to everyone, thanking them for participating in this splendid time together. At the same time, there is an effort on my part to assess and determine exactly how all of this will influence and widen my work and service at Second Baptist. After all, the congregation has given me two full weeks to make this Holy Pilgrimage. I am so grateful to our ministry team, Rev. Eddie, our church staff- Karen and Elizabeth, our officers- Deacons and Trustees and the congregation. To know that people have confidence in you, and that they are counting on you to bring something back, is exciting and challenging at the same time!
We board the bus and bid au revoir to this wonderful patch of God’s amazing earth. This is our last day. We are now heading back to Jerusalem, to visit the National Museum. We pass the government “section” of the city, the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Knesset are all a stone’s throw from each other. Our guide tells us they were built in this area (another hill) because some believed it would represent the “3rd Temple.” Just one block away is the Museum. As we enter the first exhibit is a very larger replica of the city of Jerusalem. It almost takes up a courtyard. We review it carefully and notice that it is a replica of an old Jerusalem, before the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. We look at a few other outdoor monuments and then proceed to an area housing the Dead Sea Scrolls. We go downstairs, as if in a cave (where they were found). As I review many of the fragments and other material found in the cave, I notice a familiar name “Dr. James Charlesworth.” Dr. Charlesworth was on a team (because of his linguistic expertise) that discovered a fragment containing part of the book of Exodus. Dr. Charlesworth was one of my professors at Princeton. He was known then to travel to Israel on a regular basis to study and assist with reading the scrolls as more layers became available. He made the discovery regarding the Book of Exodus about fifteen years ago. What a small world. Amazingly, I played ball with him during Intramural Season and recognized, “he had no left.” LOL.
We then had an extended period to explore the museum but it was not enough time. There are very large exhibits representing ancient empires and countries around the world. I was consumed with tree exhibits; the African Exhibit, the Canaanite Exhibit and the Roman Empire Exhibit. What I learned in just a few moments of exploring was mind boggling, particularly the Canaanite section.
Mahane Yehuda Market (or, the “Shuk”)
After the exhibit we made a short bus ride to the Outdoor Market of Jerusalem. If you ever go to Jerusalem and have even a brief stay, this market place is an absolute must. It is filled with life, people and energy. Thousands of people browse and shop among the more than two hundred and fifty vendors who sell their wares of fruit, nuts, seeds, meat and cheeses, spices, wine and liquor, vegetables, breads and desserts. In between these are shops and cafes for coffee, lunch, dinner and more. And liquor. There are more liquor stops (they don’t call them bars) in this marketplace than I have ever seen. While it is only about 2 PM, most of them are full! The sheer color and variety of the place is amazing.
I separate from the group and just walk for the next two hours up and down Agrippas Avenue to Jaffa Road. From there, I also walk, taking in every moment, looking at every sight, breathing every aroma and realizing that halfway around the world- the familiarity of humanity here is hardly different than any other place I have lived or visited. Young lovers stroll hand in hand, families walk in small groups with laughter and talk. Teenagers walk in larger groups through the marketplace, laughing, gesturing and talking loudly. Old couples walk hand in hand, slowly and with measured paces, enjoying every moment. After a few hours, we gather together as our bus comes to take us to the next destination, in the waning hours of our trip.
Dinner in a Palestinian Home in the West Bank
We are driven to the West Bank, deep in the West Bank. We pass the checkpoint into section C and it is a different world. The traffic was just horrendous and it took forever for us to get through to reach our destination. Finally, the driver pulls over to the side of the road next to a blackened alley leading up a hill. It is so dark, you cannot see your hand in front of your face. “We are here,” says Amit. And we all wonder, “Where is here?” “Our guest lives just a few hundred yards this way.” We get off the bus and begin walking up the alley hill in complete darkness, entrusting our very existence to these guides. The host is not home but is a co-owner of the tour company. We are met by two of his young sons playing in their courtyard. We go inside and a table has been beautifully arranged for us. We wash our hands and sit down. An upside down hicken/rice dish is brought out in two very large pans. Our guide Alaa takes the lid off one and very quick turns the pot over. Like an upside down pineapple cake, the food is before us in the shape of cake, with the chicken on top, with rice, tomatoes and potatoes. It is really delicious.
The arrangement is different from the dinner we had in our first days at the Jewish Rabbi’s home. Here, we are served and eat among ourselves. An older daughter and the wife of our host are in the background and I take for granted they have done the cooking. Later, I go into the kitchen to put my dishes there and see the oldest daughter praying on a prayer mat. I quietly back into the dining room until she is finished.
After dinner, a band performs Palestinian songs and we dance the night away. Daniel, our accomplished guitarist heard the band and actually went in and practiced with them. A surprise tune was then placed with Daniel at the guitar and lead vocals, “Kiss” by Prince. As I sat in that beautiful home in the West Bank of a Palestinian home, with our Jewish friends from Beth Emet, our Jewish and Palestinian guides and my African American self, I marveled to myself, “Jesus have mercy. Prince is all the way over here….bringing us all together with the universal langue of love.”
Rabbi London: This is an incredible way to end the trip—a half Jewish, half Palestinian band playing Palestinian songs in a Palestinian home. So much fun and so hopeful!
We soon departed and three of us were dropped off at the airport- Ted, Judy and I have the first flight out, to Brussels. We have a three and a half hour wait, as the flight is scheduled to depart at 1:00 AM. The flight departs on time and we are off to Brussels, where we have a nearly five hour wait. We find breakfast and I find myself writing. Finally, we board and I sit next to a young systems engineer from Brussels on his way to work for a few weeks in Phoenix. I watch movie after movie, not sleepy and the seat is too small to type comfortably.
Finally, we are minutes from O’Hare. I look out the window and see my beloved Lake Michigan and it dawns on me that I have just taken the trip of a lifetime. The destination points, the people and their hopes, the communities and their stories, the homes filled with love, the sights and sounds, are all part of this human drama we call life. Without yet processing the complete journey, I find myself taking away ten important lessons:
- Everyone possesses an essential and vital story.
- No one story is single and independent from others.
- Masses of people are suffering each day.
- Religion and ideology can be among the most dangerous instruments on earth.
- Nothing, nothing…is, as it seems.
- The most bitter seeds of hopelessness sown, often reap harvests of unrequited possibilities.
- If you listen to others while tuning out your own voice, opinion and agenda…oh the things you will learn.
- Using God to accomplish your means never works, but God using you to accomplish God’s will, always works.
- All human suffering is equally…insufferable.
- In the words of the timeless O’Jays, we must, of necessity, start a Love Train throughout the world. It is our only hope.
Rabbi London: I can’t say it better than my wise and articulate colleague. What a gift to have been on this journey of learning and discovery, to have these lessons reinforced, and to know that there are fellow travelers who are committed to living these lessons. I am blessed!
A Free Day and a Hike in the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve
Saturday, November 2-
Pastor Nabors (comments in regular type): A few of us are recovered enough to rise early and take a hike in a National Park Reserve. I don’t know where this energy has come from, but I thank the Lord for it. We board a van early and travel about twenty minutes to the reserve. We have an amazing tour guide who just celebrated his 53rd wedding anniversary. He is a Yemenite Jew, as dark as me and about 75. As soon as we enter we are met by a herd of Ibex who walk across our path at this early hour, munching on leaves and bushes. The animals are able to climb steep hills, which provides them refuge from predators. They were an amazing site!
The Ein Gedi Nature Reserve is located near the eastern edge of the Judean Desert on the shore of the Dead Sea. Two valleys run through the reserve. We go through the northern valley called the Wadi David. It is very dry, but our guide tells us during rainy season (soon to come) the rains fill the valley and there is flash flooding. He says many children have disappeared because they do not heed warnings. This ancient water source has been an attraction to people for millennia. A traditional story is told that this is where David escaped from Saul after being threatened in Jerusalem, when the King was intent on killing him. He came to one of the caves located in the mountains of the Ein Gedi. With a fresh water supply and beautiful waterfalls, he remained here for a short period of time. We hike to three water falls with shrubbery and greenery everywhere, this in the middle of the desert. It is astonishingly beautiful. One person said, “If you have to die, this is as good as any place on earth.” Of course I was thinking, “If one wants to live in the desert, this is as good as any place on earth.” We ascend about 200 feet, and find the largest waterfall. Some of our group jump in the water. Not me. I had my share yesterday! We hike back to the base and then take the van back to the resort. The rest of the day is “free time” and I am behind my computer, taking it to these keys and writing these words. Blessed beyond description.
Rabbi London: I love this hike (and I go into the waterfall!). I agree with Michael about how spectacularly beautiful it is. Daniel brings his frisbee which has gone everywhere with us o the trip. I catch a picture of the two of them tossing the frisbee. They are not just amazing colleagues—brilliant and committed to pursuing justice—but also just plain fun to be with.
After a couple of hours I go out with about an hour of daylight left. The sun sets at 4:45 PM today. I casually walk all over the resort- taking in cinematography that is mind boggling. The jutting mountain peaks are to the north and east of the Resort while the Dead Sea and its gentle waters are due west. Turn one way and there is nothing but desert and rocky terrain, strewn with mountains. Turn the other way, and there is nothing but the Dead Sea and on the other side, the country of Jordan. I am surprised but pleased that Wi-Fi is connected all the way here at the lowest place on earth.
We have a brief service ending Sabbath (Havdalah) in the courtyard under a Baobab tree. Rabbi Andrea has an impossible, difficult time making sure the candle is lit, as the winds pick up speed. After, we walk up the hill to the restaurant for dinner. Back down to Room 31 to pack and get a good night’s rest for our final day in Israel.
The Dead Sea
Pastor Nabors (comments in regular type):
We board the bus and make our way to the next hotel, driving along the Dead Sea. We arrive in the later afternoon at a resort- the Ein Gedi Spa Retreat, run by another Kibbutz. The location is very close to the Dead Sea where we will be going to the beach in the morning. We check in and a few folks get some rest. Others walk along the Resort, taking in its picturesque views, which are phenomenal. There are mountains to the rear of the resort and in the front lies the Dead Sea. Baobab trees grow along the pathways, along with palm trees. We gather at 7, before dinner for a discussion about the history of Kibbutz in Israel. Our guide, Amit is the lecturer. He was born and raised in Kibbutz, in 1985. He continues to live there with his own wife and children. He will soon become the Manager of Education, responsible for teaching all the children from six to seventeen years old. Amit shares that Kibbutz is a very socialist way of living. When thy began in the late 1800’s everyone brought what they earned from their jobs into the common treasury and each received “according to their need.” This was the common theme. His parents both worked and therefore he did not see them often. He saw them from 4 to 7 PM at most, and lived in an area for the children, where they were raised by those assigned to care for them. The Kibbutz began falling apart (over Israel) because socialism was no longer preferred. People earning money from jobs outside Kibbutz wanted to keep their own money. In danger of losing their people, the government interceded and privatized them. But they continue to have some struggle attracting new generations. Amit enjoys his life with his children and, at the age of thirty-five, has no plans to live anywhere else but in the Kibbutz.
We go to dinner in a restaurant that is the highest point of the retreat. It is a beautiful, circular-shaped and with in-door and outdoor eating. It is presently about 88 degrees. After dinner, we find a ping pong table and play into the night.
Rabbi London: Michael, Daniel, and I love to play ping pong together even if I always lose badly. Michael is the best player of the three of us, but Amit, our guide, beats all of us!
Masada and the Dead Sea
Friday, November 1-
Breakfast the next morning. Last night we discussed our trip to Masada. This morning we are prepared to visit this historic site.
The mountain is located on the eastern fringe of the Judean Desert not far from the Dead Sea. The plateau is 450 meters above the level of the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth. It is in what would have been a most remote area, but not far from two ancient routes where travelers would take their wares for trade- connecting Edom and Moab.
Eight of us decide we want to be adventurous and climb the mountain rather than take the cable car- Rabbi London, Pastor Dan, Robin, Diane, Ted, Michael, Jan and I rise early, grab a bite from the restaurant and ride to Masada at 7. The others will join us at 8. When we arrive, those of us who have not been here before, are impressed by the sheer size and magnitude of the mountain. The cable cars and people near the top are very small. Yet, we see a trail of people who have already been to the top and are walking back down. Undaunted, we pack our water bottles for the hike up the side of the mountain along Snake Trail. It is supposed to take about 30 minutes. The first part is a breeze, though there is no breeze and the weather is getting warmer by the minute. It is already 80 degrees. As we round a bend near the base, we see the first set of stairs, going nearly straight up. It is much easier to walk along a gradual path, rather than steps. However, we continue. About fifteen minutes in, everyone is winded. Our small group has stretched out and those in the rear cannot be seen by those in the front. We find a bench made for “weary travelers” and wait for the rest of our group.
Reassembled, we continue onward and upward- breathing heavier, winded and wondering what rationale we were using in deciding to climb the mountain. Another fifteen minutes and we were exhausted and drenched in perspiration. We rested again, taking a moment to gaze upon the open vistas around us. It is a beautiful sight. We see desert, mountains and the Dead Sea in the distance. After catching our breath, we move on and after forty-five minutes, we reach the summit. This is a hike, but as arduous and daunting as any you would ever make. We are literally climbing a mountain. Before leaving home, I went to DSW and invested in a pair of hiking boots. Okay, I know I could have gone to Dick’s Sporting Goods for a superior pair of boots, but I’m like that. Glad I made the purchase too! It is an exhilarating feeling! After scaling Masada, one feels as if he/she can win any battle and face any foe. We arrive 15 minutes before the rest of our group and guides arrive by cable car. We have traveled 2.3 miles, 5,000 steps and 88 stories according to my phone’s health app! It was a real challenge.
Masada has quite a history- both regarding the Maccabean Revolt and Herod the King. Herod had a palace built on top of the mountain that is extraordinary. It is a luxury palace, complete with three levels and a full bath house. Archeological finds have been astounding. There was not only a palatial fortress built by Herod, but also fortifications, camps and an assault ramp. We take a tour of the remains, noticing mosaic tiled floors and walls and sophisticated engineering which allowed steam baths, cold water baths and wading pools. There is an upper, middle and lower terrace. Each view faces to the North, and East where any intruders may attempt to attack. But really, it is impenetrable. Over nine hundred Jews lived there during the revolt against Rome. They were the final hold out. After the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 C.E., they finally captured Masada in 72 C.E. The Romans built a ramp to bring their artillery and men. Before arriving, the story goes that the Jews committed suicide rather than become slaves to the Romans. Both our guides- Jew and Arab, tend to think this is a myth, for different reasons. All of this mind you, in the desert.
As we leave Masada and return to the hotel, we are told that this is also the land of Christian monasteries. African cypress trees are in abundance and have a special relationship to/with the Dead Sea. It is remarkable that Egypt and Africa are really a stone’s throw away, across the Mediterranean and it is very easy to see how Joseph and Mary left Nazareth, escaping into Egypt, living there for a period of time. Perhaps more than any other time in the life of Jesus, this part is truly missing from the bible. One wonders where they lived, who befriended them, how long they stayed, what Jesus learned and of course, what impacted him in the motherland before we see him returning to Galilee as an adult??? Questions, questions, questions.
We want to change and shower after the Masada adventure but Alaa encourages us to remain “dirty” because we are about to get really dirty as we take a five-minute drive to a beach on the Dead Sea. For those who know me, I don’t like being funky and dirty and this is a very hard piece of advice to take. But I do, as does every else who hiked up Masada. We arrive after our short drive and go into a restaurant where we have lunch. We are given keys and a towel, place our personal belongings in a locker and take a “hayride” to the very lowest place on earth. We are being driven by a tractor for about a mile. We are told that just a dozen years ago, the waters came very close to the restaurant but the Sea is losing water at a very rapid rate due to erosion. Our guide tells us it is due to human pollution and is a serious environmental issue, all the way down here!
When we arrive at the Dead Sea, it looks pretty much like any other beach. There are people under canopies for shade. Most folks are in bathing suits. And then we take a closer look. The majority of the people in the water are floating on their backs. Almost as if in a rubber tube, except there is no rubber tube. The density of the water (thirty percent salt) is so filled with minerals until the human body is like a plastic ball. I am not crazy about water, but I did bring my shorts for this occasion. I begin walking into the water, but a woman looks at my feet, wags her finger and says “shoes”. The ground is sharp with pieces of salt. I look at many others who have no shoes and I’m astounded. I walk back over to my shoes and shirt and put my Nikes on. They will be floaters today since I am not intending to play any ball, later! I walk back in and see Rabbi Andrea and Pastor Daniel floating. They tell me to simply lean back and trust that the water will do the rest. We were warned not to swallow any water and to not allow our heads to go underneath the surface. I hesitate. Some folks are saying “Ouch” as they enter the water because the slightest cut or abrasion, or bruise on the body is filled with salt! Finally, I lean back and one second later I am floating on the water, in 90 degree weather, with the sun piercing its rays of heat upon my body, The water is very warm. I place my hands behind my head and for the next twenty minutes, I am a human tube…astounded by this natural phenomena that seems so much like a miracle. Sydni and the kids know I am not a particular water fan, so it goes without saying, this is something amazingly special.
They have to drag me out! It was, in a word, spectacular. I am thinking to myself- “How in the world can Second Baptist sponsor a trip for our members to come to this place?” The sacredness, the ancientness, the miracle of it- is incredible. Then too, I feel very similar about Ivory Coast, Ghana and Senegal. Perhaps we simply need our own Travel Ministry where those who are able and would like to, can visit spiritual venues around the world- especially bringing our young people and broadening their horizons along the way. As we used to say, “Nothing to it…but to do it!”
We return to the Resort and I am able to shower and rest after a truly inspiring and moving day.
Rabbi London: Watching Pastors Ruen and Nabors float for their first time in the Dead Sea is a hoot!
That evening we hold our own Kabbalat Shabbat service in a small sanctuary at the resort which is actually a bomb shelter. Every building in Israel has a bomb shelter. Often they are used for other purposes as well. It’s warm in there with all of us in there. There are prayerbooks for our use which are, as to be expected in Israel, entirely in Hebrew. What is interesting, however, is that the prayerbook Hebrew is translated into modern Hebrew. Yes, Israelis whose native language is Hebrew also have trouble understanding classical Hebrew. I point this out to the group. Diane Weill who is trained as a cantorial soloist leads the singing. It is a really nice and intimate service for all of us. We conclude the service by singing “Olam Hesed Yibaneh”—we will build the world on the foundation of love. It really feels like this is the purpose of our journey—to learn to listen and understand various narratives and to advocate for a world where people respect each other and work together to create a just and peaceful society. I feel very uplifted and hopeful and so glad to have been on this journey with an incredible group of thoughtful, caring, engaged, and loving people.