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This time is different from the others. I've been to Israel several times since my first experience in 2003. I even worked in Jerusalem for two years with the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ). But when I flew back to Israel in April of 2009, I came back to actually immigrate to the Holy Land. My husband is Israeli. We married just over two years ago and after living for a season in my home country, the US, we both decided to return to Israel and embrace the incredible life that this place has to offer. And let me tell you, there are far more than deserts, donkeys and dangers here.
If most of your information comes from the mainstream media, I suggest getting better acquainted with Travelujah. Israel is one of the greatest most diverse places in the world to visit. Though it is about the size of the state of New Jersey, it is possible to ski Mt. Hermon one day and drive a few hours and arrive at the lowest point on earth to have a little float in the Dead Sea. There are beautiful desert scenes here, but also fertile fields and beautiful vineyards. Then of course, there are the many extraordinary people with incredible stories just waiting to be discovered and told. But still the most significant thing to me about Israel is that it is God's own land.
Sure, God created the world and it all belongs to Him, but Israel is something special because God made it his own home and chose to reveal himself to the world through this little piece of land. God said through the prophet Isaiah:
I will make you [Israel] as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. Isaiah 49:6
The apostle Paul wrote:
They are the Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Messiah who is God over all. Romans 9:4-5
Israel is the foundation and home of all that I believe and hold dear. Now it has become my home too. It is an extraordinary situation because I am neither Jewish nor native born. It is only through my marriage that I am able to obtain citizenship. I did not expect to stay in Israel for more than a few years when I came to volunteer, but I guess God had other plans. It was in this amazing country that I met and married the man I so dearly call my husband.
There is much to share with you about this country. On one hand it is an immensely spiritual experience and on the other hand life is very ordinary, though usually quite entertaining and full of color. I look forward to bringing you all the different aspects of what life is truly like living in the Holy Land.
Autumn has always held a special charm for me - the changing leaves, brisk breezes and warm drinks! It induces a rather festive feeling that excites the senses and makes one feel like a child again. Here in Israel it is slightly different being that there is no real feel to the change is season, but there is a difference in the air. And the fruits of the harvest are very much part of the celebration - though it will take some getting used to, substituting pomegranates for pumpkins!
Last year in my Hebrew class I learned songs for the holidays, and just yesterday as I was shopping for groceries I heard them being played throughout the store. I noticed that I was actually singing along to them and that my pace was much livelier and my shopping much happier. It was then that I realized that this year I really feet part of the holidays in a very keen way.
We are entering the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. It is a beautiful time of year when families come together for feasting and fasting. I appreciate how Rosh Hashanah is celebrated with apples and honey to bring in a sweet new year (as it is the beginning of the Jewish New Year) and how it is then followed by 10 days of repentance leading into the Day of Atonement of Yom Kippur when most of Israel spends a day of fasting and prayer. Then comes Sukkot which is a week where God commands celebration and joy. It is also a very international celebration as the prophet Zechariah speaks of a day when ALL nations will come up to Jerusalem and worship the God of Israel.
All through Jerusalem you can see people of different nations and tribes coming to the city in anticipation of that day. One year I was at the Garden Tomb with a group and we were singing a worship song in English. We were soon joined by people singing in many different languages the same song, the same tune, in multiple languages. It was a moment when I really felt the power of God's word to transcend and envelop every culture and creed. It was stunning and I really felt that it was a small glimpse of the Kingdom to come.
I love the Holy Days and am reminded yet again of the privilege of living here in Israel and in sharing such rich traditions that strengthen my own Christian faith.
There is much being said about Jerusalem in the news these days. It is Israel's capitol city, though most of the world does not recognize it as so. I lived in the city for a few years and though I now live in Ra'anana (a city north of Tel Aviv), I still make it to Jerusalem about once a week. It is a weighty city with a beautiful yet violent history. I like to walk the ancient streets and try to imagine the many events that occurred there. It takes a bit of imagination because the reality today is quite different.
In Jerusalem there is tension between the vast varieties of people, yet it is a product of the openness of the city. Only under Jewish control of Jerusalem has there been religious freedom for all people. And it comes at great risk and a high price as Jerusalem has been one of the hot spots for terrorism. There is no other place in the world where I can walk the streets and find myself brushing shoulders with not only multiple sects of Judaism, but also the Eastern Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Armenians, even the Mormons have their spot here. The list could go on and on. Sometimes I feel like I am walking around the ancient version of Manhattan! Walking through the old stone streets of Jerusalem are monks, Imams, and my personal favorite, the evangelical tour groups who are occasionally found singing hymns.
Within the ancient walls of Jerusalem's Old City lie four ancient and distinctive cultures. The Old City is divided into four quarters--The Jewish Quarter, Muslim, Quarter, Armenian Quarter and Christian Quarter.
Constant streams of pilgrims visit the most holy site to the Jewish nation, the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall. Five times daily, one can hear the Muslim call to prayer being sounded from the El Aksa mosque located right above the Western Wall. Armenians fulfill their daily ritual prayers in the Church of the Holy Archangels--a structure dating back to the medieval period. And throughout the year, Christians retrace the steps of Jesus, visiting the temple ruins, Gethsemane, The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Garden Tomb.
The diversity of the ancient city of Jerusalem rarely, if ever, makes headline news, but it should. While Israel's so called "intolerance" toward its Arab citizens dominates the mainstream media focus, individuals of every race and creed are granted cultural and religious freedom throughout Israel and most visibly in Jerusalem -- the most holy city of the Jewish faith. This can hardly be said of any other country in the region and certainly not Saudi Arabia which will not even permit a Jewish person entrance into their country or any non-Muslim/ infidel in Mecca.
Jerusalem is a shining example of religious and cultural freedom in an area of the world where religious persecution is practiced regularly and quite brutally. Jerusalem has seen much bloodshed in the past from religious conquests to dominate the region and the minds of her citizens. Thankfully today, there is freedom of conscience for all peoples. I am thankful to Israel and the Jewish people that I, as a Christian, can come here and celebrate the life of Jesus and worship freely without fear of intimidation or persecution.
Living life in the Holy Land