by CHARLIE SCHULER
On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was created by the UN. What do you think about when someone mentions Israel? People usually think of the ongoing war between the Israelis and the Palestinians. A few years ago, Marianne and I got the opportunity to tour Israel. Let me share some of the highlights that I walked away with.
We flew into Tel Aviv and took a bus to Jerusalem to get to our hotel. But first, we had to pass through security to be allowed into the country. They didn’t use a lot of scanning devices, but rather personal interviews. The security staff would talk to you, ask questions and determine if you were a threat.
Bright and early the next morning we took a tour on the Sea of Galilee where the crew demonstrated how fishing was done in Jesus’ time. After tossing the net in, they pulled it up empty. Marianne suggested they try the other side as Jesus had done with the disciples.
Later in the day, we got to see where Jesus gave His Sermon on the Mount. It was a perfect location to talk to thousands of people without electronic speakers. When we went ashore, we got to see the octagon church built in 1938 to honor the Sermon on the Mount. We learned that they would build a church over sacred spots so they would always be remembered.
Three things were very special for me on this trip. One was the Mount of Olives. Jesus walked there and prayed there, and the fact that it was among olive trees means that some of them could have been there at the same time as Jesus. Wow, that was truly special!
Another thing that was special and a Holy place was the Western Wall, known as the Wailing Wall in the West. It was built about 19 BC, about 60 feet high, and part of the Temple Mount. This is the holiest site of the Jewish faith. In the sixteenth century, when Jewish pilgrimage to the Temple Mount was prohibited, the Western Wall would serve as a place of prayer for the Jewish people; a symbol of longing for the Temple. The Wall is built from enormous, quarried stones, whose mass ranges between two to five tons.
We prayed for our Sunday School class there. We had written their names on a piece of paper and inserted it into a crack in the wall. It was a very powerful experience. There were separate areas for the men and the women, and you had to have your head covered as you approached the wall. Paper yarmulkes were available to use. The Temple Mount is there as well. All visitors, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim people are welcome when it is open. “Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad ascended to the Divine Presence on the back of a winged horse.”
We also traveled to Nazareth where we found a town recreated to the time of Jesus. They had all the things that Jesus would have, while He lived among them. Carpentry shops with tools of the time, a rock grinding wheel, wine and olive press, sheep, and a sheep pen. They explained how they would carry a small sheep around the shepherd’s neck for weeks so the sheep would learn the sound of the shepherd’s voice.
I would be greatly remiss if I didn’t share information about the Dead Sea scrolls. They were discovered in caves in clay jars around Qumran. This is a very dry area near the fortress of Masada. There were over 200 manuscripts found, with some of them dated from 250 BC to AD 68. We actually got to see these scrolls in a separate part of the museum in Jerusalem. We get to read many of them when we read the Bible. The experts have studied them and have found that the words we read today are almost exactly what was written 2,000 years ago. No wonder the Bible continues to be the best selling book year after year.
Let us move on to Masada, an almost impenetrable fortress on top of a mountain. We took a cable car to get there. Masada gained fame as a point of refuge at the end of the Jewish, Roman war, 73 AD. It was built by Herod the Great, King of Judaea.
The Jewish people who survived the war escaped and sought refuge there. The Romans wanted to finish the job, so they attacked Masada. Their plan was to build a ramp up the mountain and bring up a wall breaker. A huge undertaking with a lot of hardship. The Jewish people had the advantage of shooting down on the Romans. Eventually, the Romans put Jewish slaves on the front line. The Jews would not shoot at their people, so the ramp proceeded. When the Romans breached the wall, they were shocked. Everyone was dead. They all had committed suicide except one, who was left alive to tell the story of Masada.
There is so much more to the story of Israel, but we will have to save it for another time.
May God’s peace be with you.