Israel day 4: the Shabbat

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It’s close to 12:30am here in Jerusalem and we’ve just wrapped up a traditional Friday night Shabbat meal with some great people here in David’s City.  The meal included several stages of food, blessings, readings from the Torah, songs, prayers, and kind play by play explanations from our hosts (BTW: all pics from the day are at the bottom).

The meal was a hybrid of food that our hosts, the Rivka’s, had prepared personally or had catered in for the evening.  Three of their ten children were with us last night, two of which were still in the Army and had been in Gaza recently completing the military campaign against the Hamas Terrorists.

If you’ve never had a traditional Shabbat Meal the easiest way to sum up the thought is in the word Remembrance.  I would spend more time on this here, but there are too many other thoughts and events to relate right now.  This meal was not the Passover meal, but rather a Friday night sabbath meal which the Jews celebrate every week. It’s a time to stop, and relax, to be still and “know that I Am God” so to speak. For an older post on the parallels between the Passover and Christ our Sacrificial Lamb, click here. 

Before I go much further in describing the day, I just have to note that one of the things that continues to leave its mark on me is how our hosts or speakers are continually saying “thank you for coming to Israel, thank you for being here.”

Despite the violence, the rockets, the mortars we’ve come here, and its meant a great deal to these folks on the ground – people from all walks of life.  Not a one has missed the opportunity to pull us aside and with profuse words coming from the heart say “thank you.”  What does one say to that?  They know we speak with people who vote for Iron Dome funding that saves their lives, and the lives of their children.  It’s a small thing for us to be over here compared to what they are going through.

One former IDF officer looked me in the eye and said, “Thank you for coming at this time, its very brave and it makes us feel stronger.”

You don’t just walk away from these encounters unchanged.  I was moved to tears more than once during the day.

This evening was more of the same. The hospitality and the love has been simply amazing.

Before dinner we went to the Western Wall (the Wailing Wall) again, and this time the atmosphere was very different than it was earlier in the week. Tonight it was a highly energized crowd – with many people there! The songs, the prayers, the smiles and the dancing all indicated a people who were in the midst of a celebration.

The time of prayer at the wall was, again, just wonderful. How do I describe something like this? It is like a deep breath, or a long cool drink in the midst of an intense sports contest.  It is refreshing and renewing – it refocused me once again on why I’m here and who my God is and what He has done.

Now I realize I’m I’m starting at the end and moving backwards…so bear with me. Earlier in the day we met with two groups and then a lady who is part of a Kibbutz in the south of Israel.  It is the south that is getting shelled today by the terrorists from Hamas.

The first organization was called ‘Shalva’ which means “peace of mind” in Hebrew and finds its origin in Ps. 123:7 were the word “prosperity” can be translated “peace or mind” or “tranquility.” UPDATE: Our tour guide wrote an article in the Jerusalem Times about our visit – HERE.

Shalva was simply an amazing experience.  It is a huge Israeli success story about a man and his wife whose first child was normal and healthy until he was vaccinated for Diphtheria and just got a bad strain of medicine which resulted in blindness and deafness.  This is the man who gave us the tour yesterday. His energy was infectious; his passion for Israel and for children brimmed over from every word used to describe their mission here. The story is that instead of just coping, the parents (founders of Shalva) took him to New York and found treatment at the Lighthouse.

We were able to meet this an amazing young man – probably 38 or so now if I had to guess. His is passionate about politics and world affairs.  He’s met President Bush, and can’t stand Obama, although he is thankful as all Israelis are, that the U.S. has stood by Israel in this most recent conflict.  He also asks a ton of questions via a sign language method where he places his hands in another’s and impresses Hebrew alphabet shapes into the other person’s hands in order to convey his thoughts. It’s very cool. The entire center is in itself a blog post. Needless to say, I was very moved by their heart for those who are needy.  They said “we’re just fulfilling the biblical mandate to care for those who are feeble.”  I include it here so you can see the fullness of the scope of this trip – we were meeting with parts of this society that were conveying the diverse culture of innovation here.

In conclusion on Shalva…They did such an amazing thing that the government has come to them and asked them to do it nationally.  They’re now building a $50million facility on 7 acres in the middle of the city of Jerusalem.  7 acres is a gigantic amount of land considering what they have and how much of a fight it is over every single pebble over here.  Pictures from our time there are below.

Next we met with former IDF soldiers who are working to help assimilate wounded soldiers back into society and a normal life.  It’s one wounded soldier helping out another.  To listen to their backgrounds really paints a picture of what the mentality is over here, ad how these men view their work and their country.  To hear the heroic tales of their bravery on the front lines, but then also in supporting and lighting a fire under these other wounded soldiers to press on, was just amazing.

One of the things that is key for these IDF Soldiers that stood out to me was how they take teams of wounded soldiers and go to the hospitals right away after a soldier is hit.  They come alongside their parents (with their own parents coming with them!) and help them get the best doctors, describe the rehab process, and give them hope for the future.  All the while promising not to leave until their process is done…that will be years considering the effects of PTSD on these guys and gals.

After meeting with the former IDF guys, we had what was probably the most intense and raw meeting of the day with a lady whose Kibbutz we had been scheduled to visit that morning.  We were unable to travel to the south where her village is because of the rocket fire that started up and actually wounded two people near the entrance to the village. So she came to us – leaving her 15 year old son to watch the house.  She was nervous and very tightly wound to say the least.

During her talk he goal seemed to just tell us about what life was like on the southern border with Gaza.  She did this by simply telling us her last 29 days during operation Protective Edge, and the fact that for their Kibbutz this reality had been haunting them since March when random rocket fire and mortars had been landing in their area.

One of the great things about Israel’s Iron Dome technology is that it has an over 90% success rate – its just an incredible system.  However, because it costs well over $60,000 per missile (vs. the $500 rockets Hamas is launching most of the time) to take down these rockets coming from Gaza, the IDF doesn’t take down every single one – they take missiles down that aren’t heading for population areas and are landing in “open fields.”  The truth is though – for those living in the south especially  – that the open fields are their gardens and back yards sometimes.  The stress these people are under was written all over this lady’s face.

As she began to describe her day to day life and some of the personal affects the last few months have taken, the toll was evident.  The meeting ground to a halt at one point from the raw emotion of what was being conveyed, and we all stopped and prayed over her.  Not a dry eye in the place.

Yet, she continued on.  She pulled up her Facebook account to show the village, her friends, her life and we saw first hand mortars in gardens and backyards, and began to realize the fears now of underground tunnels popping up in the middle of their homes or schools.  How do you ward off this fear?  She said she represses it as best as possible, but it is very hard.

The obvious question when you read things like this without being here is: why stay?  The answer was given to me by our tour guide (a former IDF soldier himself who was actually in mid-town Manhattan during 911) “you don’t leave because this is our home.  If she were to leave, and go north, and then shelling started there, what then? Does she pack up her home, leave again? When does it end???  No.  This is our home, we don’t leave, we solve the problem as best we can and we live our lives as best we can (paraphrase).”

This is the resilience of the Israeli people, and that was my experience from yesterday.

 

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