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I took this on November 21, 2012 - the day a bomb was thrown onto a Tel Aviv bus.
Somewhere along the lines when we’re kids someone tells us not just to believe whatever people say; not just to take someone else’s word for it, but to find out for ourselves. As you get older you have to start to back up things you present. Likewise, as you get older, if you’re in the habit of just believing what people say and make no effort to know the truth… something is wrong there. Funny, though, how when it comes to Israel, it’s not only acceptable, but if you don’t just believe what people say, even if it’s on the news, then there’s something wrong with you.
When I was about four years old I remember becoming aware of a plaque my mother kept tucked into the bottom left corner of the big mirror that went along with the big dresser in my parents’ bedroom. The plaque was a thin, black plastic rectangle, unassuming, that said in big, green block letters “SHALOM”. I had been seeing it all along, but at that age moments of cognitive realization have random breakthroughs. One day I became very aware of it and asked her what it was. I have this memory, but cannot recall from my then 4-year-old mind exactly what it was that she said. All I recall taking away from it is that it had something to do with Jews and peace and somehow I knew I love the Jews. That was 30-some-odd years ago. To this day, my mother still has that plaque tucked into the same corner of the same mirror in a different bedroom all the way across the country from where that memory was formed.
Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Tel Aviv.
I had another experience when I was four years old. I was sitting on the floor in front of the door to the carport trying to put on my shoes. My little 4-year-old dexterity wasn’t developed enough to counter whatever issue my shoe was giving me and, for the life of me, I couldn’t get it on my foot. I threw the shoe down and exclaimed, “You stupid shoe!” Just like that my mother came running into the room and said incredulously, “Emmy! Don’t you ever say that!” I looked incredulously back at her and said, “What? All I said is ‘you stupid shoe’.” My mother almost lost it laughing. She was barely able to choke out, “I thought you said ‘you stupid Jew!’” I just stared at her. Even with the plaque incident (though I really don’t know which one happened first) I didn’t even know what a Jew was.
And again, 30-some-odd years later, I find my Irish self living in Israel.
I grew up in the Pentecostal Charismatic Christian church. Biblical history is a big thing. My parents would read Bible stories for children to my brother and me every night. Looking back now, I have no idea when or how I became aware that so many of the people in Bible stories were Jews. I don’t recall anyone ever stating it, but maybe they did. I don’t know how else I could have put it together as a kid. In any case, that Jews were a part of my life was life as I knew it. I’m glad for that. As I got older I learned of the horrible, incomprehensible act against the Jewish Diaspora that was the holocaust. As I got older still and took an interest in actively pursuing an understanding of what was (and is) happening in the Middle East (to put it quite broadly), I became keenly aware of the State of Israel.
Israel is a name I knew, a place in the world I was aware of, I could connect it to Jesus, connect it to the Jews, connect it to the Bible, but I was otherwise pretty void of knowledge and understanding regarding Israel. All that changed, and here I am, living in the solitary bastion of freedom and democracy in the region.
Breathtaking Tel Aviv by night and by day.
Just a few days ago, I completed and received a certificate of achievement recognized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel. This achievement and certificate are a pride and joy. It was earned from the Ambassadors’ Club at my university, the Inter-Disciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, in conjunction with the pro-Israel foundation Stand With Us. I sat through many speakers such as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s PR spokesman, Mark Regev, and former Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Gavriella Shalev, as well as the likes of the founder of Palestinian Media Watch, Itamar Marcus. These people and others personally showed me Israeli pride, what it means to be Israeli, what Israel means to Israel, and gave me a foundation in how to speak about Israel and be an ambassador for the State of Israel in the face of ignorance, blind hate, and opposition.
Am I a Jew? No. Am I an Israeli? It is impossible to live here and not become Israeli, though I will never have that hair! Assimilation is not only unavoidable, but it is enjoyable. Am I a Zionist? Absolutely.
The awesome Negev Desert, full of wonders.
The number one thing that so many speakers at the Ambassadors’ Club pointed out that is crucial for people in order to understand Israel, and what is happening “over here”, and to really have a true personal sense and foundation of the existence of this land, is to come here. See it for yourself. One cannot come to Israel and not begin to develop a sense of what this land means to the people and why it is imperative that the State of Israel exists. Not just for Israelis and Jews, but for the region and the world alike. With that, one of the top things so many of the speakers encouraged us, as amateur ambassadors for Israel, to do is to invite people to come to Israel, to see it all for yourselves.
A beautiful neighborhood street of Ra'anana.
So, I invite you to come to Israel, not just to walk where Jesus walked, but to understand the importance of this tiny strip of land in the middle of a region that is riddled with instability and uncertainty, and sometimes disdain for this Zionist neighbor. One stroll up and down one busy city street, any city, and you are enamored of the culture, the shops, the breads and nuts, the fruits and vegetables, everything that is so different, and everything that is so familiar. And that is just every day life, let alone the famous sites like the Dead Sea and Old City.
I will take the liberty of saying that no one has ever come here to visit and regretted it. Even if a person believed every misrepresentation, dare I say lie, about Israel, if that person would come here, it would all melt away. A new vision, a new heart, and the truth would grow in their place. Politics, the media, the United Nations… don’t look to these places for truth about Israel. Whether you are a lover and supporter of Israel, or a skeptical opponent of Israel, I both invite and challenge you to come to Israel and see it for yourself.
The Dead Sea. I took this myself! Looks like a postcard.
Christmas in the West Bank