If you have had a look at my blog recently, you will know that Alan and I had the privilege of visiting Israel for a few days earlier this month.
I wrote a short blog entry for each day and posted a few photographs too – I guess it’s a kind of travel log.
It is by no means exhaustive but it does cover some of the sites we visited.
While there, we had the immense privilege of having an excellent tour guide who was an orthodox Jew. Josh not only knows the geography, history and culture of the state of Israel, but he loves his country. His passion shows through and is almost contagious. Not only that, but he is also passionate about his religion and his God. We discussed theology all week with him as we viewed the different sites, often pausing to look up relevant Scriptures which brought it all to life – almost in three- dimensional perspective.
It would be difficult to visit Israel without being struck by the religious nature of the country. It is not uncommon to see people reading the Scriptures in the streets, nor is it uncommon to see people praying in public. Of course there is the famous place of prayer at the Western Wall – the Jews come here to pray because it is the nearest they can get to the site where their temple used to be, and therefore the symbol of the presence of God. Whole families come to the wall together to pray – the men on one side and the women on the other. I saw some women who, when they were ready to leave, were walking backwards from the wall because they would not turn their backs to the wall, as a mark of respect.
We stayed in a beautiful hotel in Tel Aviv for a couple of nights, one of which was sabbath-eve. It was a normal busy hotel restaurant, serving lots of delicious food. But in the midst of it all, we could see families who were eating their sabbath meal. The father/husband would stand up with a glass of wine in his hand, read the Scriptures and pray a prayer of blessing over his family, before passing the cup around. I couldn’t help but think that we as Christians often do a funny eyebrow-scratching kind of thing when we pray in public. There was none of that here. When we had lunch with our guide, he quietly excused himself before the meal to go and wash his hands in the ceremonious way they do; and after the meal he once again quietly excused himself so he could read some Scriptures before leaving the table.
All through the city of Jerusalem, the old and new go side by side, the religious and secular are normalised. It is an interesting, fascinating mix of cultures and religions.
Looking through this gate in one direction, you see the Arab quarter; in the other direction, the Jewish quarter.
On this, the eve of the 65th birthday of this fascinating country, we could do no better than pray for the peace of Jerusalem.