It’s about 5am local time here at the Sea of Galilee and I’m pretty much wide awake. The sun isn’t quite out, but there’s no way I’m going to miss a sunrise in this place!
Day 6 involved a lot of travel and a lot of history and geography. As you might recall, we arrived into the northern part of the country the night before and stayed in Tel Aviv – right on the beach, I might add. Sunday morning, day 6, we got up and did several things in Tel Aviv that were interesting.
First we went to see the Israeli Independence Hall, which sits in a former museum, and former home of the first Mayor of the city – ironically the first Mayor’s name was “Meir”, so he was effectively “Mayor Meir”…and to make things worse, he could usually be seen writing a female horse…a mere! To cap it off (yes there’s more) the name of the horse? You guessed it! Mere! Mayor Meir meandered Tel Aviv mounted on Mere the mere.
Tel Aviv is really unlike Jerusalem or any of the other cities in Israel. It was founded by 60 families who left the ancient city of Jaffa, which is just outside Tel Aviv, and bought the land (then a plot of sand dunes) from the Ottoman Turks for 600,000 gold pieces (I have no idea how much that is in today’s dollar) around 1909ish. Their goal was part of a vision of a man named Weis whose inspiration was Theodore Hertzel (the founder of the Zionist Movement), which specifically was to plant a city that was a Jewish New York. They wanted wide streets, modern amenities, and a thriving economic hub. Today, that is exactly what Tel Aviv is.
One of the things you learn at Independence Hall in Tel Aviv is how the Jewish Nation State came together in 1948. I won’t be able to do it justice, but the basics are this… The leader of the people at the time was a man named Ben Gurion (who their airport is named for), and the timing of the formation of the state came upon the heals of the holocaust, and the ending of WWII. There was a thirst by the Jewish people to come back to their homeland, and there was an international recognition at the U.N. that the Jewish people should have a place in Palestine to call home.
The British previously held the land and were now withdrawing. So the U.N. took a vote on giving Jews a partitioned part of the land of Palestine (that is the Roman word used for the land of Israel). The members of the U.S. voted to do this, with most everyone voting either in abstentia or in favor of the plan – only the collective Arab states voted against the resolution. There is more nuance to this, but that is the gist.
Ben Gurion and leaders of the Jews declared their independence literally as Britain was pulling out of the region – the timing was well executed. Unfortunately, the next day they were attacked by all 5 of the surrounding Arab states….the next day! So as they sat in Independence Hall they knew that the hour was grave, and that the future was uncertain. Yet there was hope, and courage to do what they needed to do, and for the first time the Jewish people declared their independence.
One of the things that will strike you, perhaps, when you look at my pictures of Tel Aviv (which is loosely translated “old-new” to signify Theodore Hertzel’s and Weis’ dream of creating something new from what was their thousands of years before, and what had always been their dream) is the fact that it is not simply a city of sand dunes. It’s one of the most modern cities in the region, and a thriving metropolis. Microsoft, Google, and many others have R&D sites here. The Intel chips in your computer, flash drive technology, smartphone chips, surface to air missile defense, and so many other technologies we live with each day were pioneered (and in some cases manufactured) in Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv itself is densely populated. It’s so dense that there aren’t even 400,000 people in the immediate city’s borders. Real estate is at a premium, and because there’s no place to go but up, many tall buildings and cranes dominate the skyline. The greater metro area is sprawling with suburban communities that promise the good life to technology experts and business entrepreneurs, with several million people calling this metro area home.
Before we left Tel Aviv we visited a trauma center that deals with all the aftermath of the constant rocket fire into the country. Here in Israel, and in the region as a whole, you essentially have an entire generation of people under the age of 25 who have never known a time without the need to run to a shelter due to rockets. This creates a massive chunk of the population (they were saying 10% or so) that suffers from a form of PTSD. However, as our AIEF guide Becky rightly noted, its not really “post” trauma, its “ongoing” trauma. The lift that has to be done here is enormous, and it isn’t simply inside Israeli borders. One of the things the folks we listened to continually brought up was the people of Gaza, and what they must be suffering without the ability to get treatment for trauma. All told, its taking a massive toll on the people here in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. The entire region has a generation of men and women who are scarred from growing up in this way.
Next we went further north out of the city to visit an Israeli Youth Village. The Youth Village concept/movement is an Israeli success story, and was really a heart warming and interesting place to visit. You can read more about that concept online, but the gist of it is to take in children who are refugees from all around the region and grow them up in an “institution that has been de-institutionalized.” What that means is that they try and imitate the family atmosphere and a normative life as much as they can without making kids feel like they are just being processed through a boarding school until they reach 18. It’s “a deal/promise for life”, they stressed. And its this trust and this promise that actually leads to great independence and success. There are numerous success stories here in Israel who’ve graduated from this community (so to speak) – including three commanding colonels in the IDF in Gaza during this past war.
In a war-torn area the need for innovation and investment in future generations was the hallmark of the Village concept as well as the trauma center we visited earlier in the day.
From there we headed to the northern border with Lebanon. The drive was very beautiful as we snaked our way through the mountainous region of Galilee. Village after village in these mountains lay amongst vegetation similar to the Biblical time period. There was wild hyssop and fig trees growing alongside the road, and the trees weren’t re-planted evergreens (as in the southern part of the country). The region is simply beautiful. After some time spent on the border discussing the very real, and quite astounding threat of Hezbollah, we continued our trip north to Tiberius where we ended the night. I won’t get into our briefing here, but needless to say, it gives you goosebumps to look down one hill onto several villages that you know for a fact are housing thousands of rockets all aimed in your general direction!
Our next stop, as I mentioned, was to be Tiberius which is on the Sea of Galilee. As we headed down into the valley from the mountains the views were simply amazing. The first time I took in the view of the Sea of Galilee from the bus it was as if my breath was taken from me, and an emotion quickly arose that choked me up. The combination of the spectacular view and the knowledge that the Lord Jesus’ ministry was all around me finally settled upon my mind in one instant.
Coming down from the mountains around the Sea of Galilee into Tiberius felt like coming home to a beautiful vision. Hard to explain what that means. As awe inspiring as the views were, there was also a sense of calm and familiarity or comfort, perhaps, with what I was taking in. It relaxed me to see it with my own eyes and realize how beautiful it is here, and how very peaceful it would have been to daily gaze around you and call this home.
This has been a bit of a long post, and today – in the coming hours of day 7 – we’ll be spending the first half the day looking at some key sites where Jesus ministered. I’m really excited about this, and can’t wait to tell/show you how it went.
Until then, enjoy some pictures from today’s adventure!
Soli Deo Gloria