Land of Miracles

Today’s “quote of the day” on touched a topic dear to my heart–Israel:


Israel is truly a land of miracles. David Ben Gurion, the main founder and first Prime Minister of the Sate of Israel, knew that first hand.

Israel was established in 1948 and was attacked by Arab armies on the same day. With only one tank, twenty-eight scout planes, and no war planes, the odds were against this newborn state. Even the experienced British Field Marshall, Bernard Montgomery, predicted that Israel would last only two weeks, and yet it miraculously survived.

Israel is smaller than New Jersey, with a population half the size of Metro New York. It is only sixty five years old, and yet…

  • Israel’s scientific research institutions are ranked third in the world.
  • Israel is the largest immigrant-absorbing nation in the world per capita.
  • Israel has more museums, orchestras, and published books than any other nation per capita in the world.
  • Israel has the largest number of start-up companies per capita in the world.
  • Israel has the highest number of engineers, physicians, PhD’s, scientists, and technicians per capita in the world.
  • and the list goes on…

Israel is the only nation whose people have returned to its land after 2,000 years of forced exile. It is the only nation that has revived a dead language. Israel is a fulfillment of the prophecy in Jeremiah 16:15: “The Lord lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north and from all the lands where He had driven them. For I will bring them back into their land which I gave to their fathers.”

Their Anthem

Jerusalem Sunrise

Meeting Holocaust survivors in Israel was an experience that I will never forget. Dad, Mom, Amy Grace, and I were volunteering at Ichlu Re’im, a soup kitchen in Jerusalem, when the director came up to me and said something in Hebrew, waving his hands in an attempt to explain. Since I spoke minimal Hebrew, and he spoke even less English, an English-speaking employee translated, “He wants you and your sister to come along with him to deliver the meals to the Holocaust survivors.” I was shocked and excited. He extended the invitation to Mom, and soon we were seated in the backseat of his car and riding through the hectic streets of Jerusalem.

After arriving, we grabbed the packaged meals and hauled them up the flights of steps to a room where the Holocaust survivors were seated at tables. I was surprised to see only one man among a dozen ladies. They were all delighted to see young people, and exclaimed over Amy Grace and me as we stood there shyly listening to the Hebrew banter. I introduced myself as “Gila,” which is “joy” in Hebrew. They asked my age, and I replied in Hebrew that I was fifteen. They declared that Mom did not look old enough to be our mother.

“Ayfo ot garah? (Where do you live?)” They queried.

“Bey America (In America),”  I answered, “Bey Alabama.”

“Oh! Alabama,” they told each other with heavy accents.

The soup kitchen director remembered that Amy Grace and I were pianists, and motioned toward the upright piano in the room, insisting that we play a song. Amy Grace sat down first, her fingers deftly playing by memory the beginning of “Invention Number 13,” a classical composition by Bach. They were impressed and nodded their approval, remarking to each other, “Bach! Bach!”

Next was my turn. I began to play one of the only songs I knew by memory, “River Flows in You” by Yiruma. I played along rather smoothly until the end when my fingers forgot their part and I improvised some sort of ending. I wished I could have given them a better performance, but they were a receptive audience and cheered anyway.

Presently, a lady sat down at the piano, and her fingers began to soar across the keys, playing the majestic strains of “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem. I recognized the patriotic tune, and reveled in the sound of the Holocaust survivors singing along heartily in Hebrew. Their faithful voices swelled on the chorus:

“So long as the heart of the Jew beats
And his eye is turned to the East
So long does our ancient hope
Of returning to Zion still live”

It was a priceless moment–a glimpse at the faith that lies within the Jewish heart. “Hatikvah”  was no longer a hopeful song for these courageous souls. It was reality. They had endured the Holocaust and returned to the soil promised to their forefathers. Hatikvah was their anthem.


Machane Yehudah Market

Pita Bread

“Ten shekels for pitas! Ten shekels for pitas!” bellows a shop owner in Hebrew, slamming on the counter for emphasis. It is Friday, and the din resounding at the Machane Yehudah market in Jerusalem crescendos as a horde of shoppers streams into the market to buy supplies before the Sabbath.

The high noon sun beats down on the hustling shoppers on the main strip of the kosher market. Floating through the air is the lilting music of a street musician. A stagnant cloud of heat looms around a bakery where pitas are constantly being flipped out of ovens and packaged. A shop owner wildly swats at the ever present flies hovering over his desserts, a grocer hurriedly attends to a continuous stream of shoppers, and a clothing store owner skillfully haggles with determined customers.

Machane Yehudah Market

Under the canvas covered portion of the market, a weaving mass of shoppers push through the walkways, often bumping into each other–the more courteous offering a polite “slechah”–and prodding forward. Despite the gyrating hanging fans, the air remains dormant and thick. Rows of fresh, Israeli fruits and vegetables including large, juicy carrots, plump tomatoes, bursting clusters of red grapes, and pitayas, the colorful, prickly fruits of cacti line the storefronts.  In front of a deli, a man wearing a decorative crown offers cubes of cheese to passersby. Standing in front of a juice stall is a line of shoppers waiting for freshly pressed carrot, orange, or pomegranate juice. The appetizing smell of fried fish wafting from a bustling fast food joint is later prevailed by the musty smell of fish in pails at the nearby fish market. As the afternoon wanes, the crowd dwindles, and the clamor gradually diminishes. By late afternoon, the market is closed for the Sabbath, the squeaky metal storefronts are pulled down and secured, and the smooth, stone walkways are ready to be hosed down after nightfall.

 April, 2013

The Snake Path

Snake Path

The blazing noon sun beat down on us as we ascended the daunting Snake Path slithering up the side of Masada. After hiking a third of the way up the exhausting trail, we spotted a covered picnic table and sat down under its shade for a water break.  I took off my ball cap and let the wind whip through my sticky hair and cool my damp forehead.

The view before me was captivating. The remains of a Roman garrison marked the desert below. The Dead Sea, which looked more like a river, lined the horizon before me, and the Jordanian hills loomed in the distance. To my right were the sulphuric remains of the destroyed cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. After catching our breath, we tore ourselves away from the view and continued our trek.

We weren’t the only hikers on the trail that day. People from all over the world–Germany, England, and France– traversed the infamous Snake Path with us. Some of the passersby spoke English, enabling Dad to strike up a conversation with them.

Near the end, the trail changed from an inclined path to full-fledged steps. My legs were burning from fatigue and my clothes were sticking to my perspiring body. We indulged in a short break, took a few sips of water, and continued prodding up the dusty steps terracing the side of Masada. We could see the end, yet the stairs kept winding in a seemingly endless zigzag.

Finally, we staggered over the last step and collapsed onto benches under a pavillion. The top of Masada hummed with activity. Tour groups paraded the historic plateau, viewing the ancient storage rooms, cisterns, and baths. A noisy band played Israeli folk music nearby.
Since Dad and I had toured Masada on a previous trip, we were soon ready to leave. Dad proposed that we ride the cable cars down to the visitor center. I balked, “If we hiked up, we are going to hike back down!” Dad reluctantly consented, and we began our descent.

I practically flew down the sloping path. Since there were no railings along most of the trail, I attempted to slow myself to a sensible pace. We had made it back to the start of the trail in about a third of the time it had taken us to hike up. Exhausted, we covered the short distance to the visitor center, anticipating the delightful greeting of air conditioning.

May 2013
Revised: August 2013

The Kotel Overlook

Wailing Wall (Kotel)

The sun was sloping toward to the west as Dad and I read the psalms at one of our favorite vantage points in Jerusalem, the Kotel overlook. An elderly woman sitting on the bench across from us echoed the peaceful undertone of our surroundings with her pleasant smile at me. Turning my gaze toward the railed overlook, I observed silent onlookers inhaling the beauty before them. Joining the observers at the railing, I too stood captivated by the view before me. There, parallel to me, stood the Kotel with a faithful number of men and women gathered in reverent prayer. No longer was the Kotel only a sacred landmark so often heard about, it was before my own eyes and locked in my heart forever.

 March, 2012

The Promise Land

The Promise Land

When I think of one of my favorite memories from my trip to Israel, I am swept back in time to the final leg of our lengthy flight from America to Israel . As we soared over the Mediterranean Sea, the flight attendants moved mechanically down the two aisles of the airplane, lifting all the window blinds — a sure sign that we would soon be landing. Situated in the back of the sparsely filled Israeli airplane, I anticipated our approaching arrival to Israel.  After three layovers and what seemed like days of flying, a strange mixture of excitement and exhaustion swirled inside me. I was awestruck by the massive cumulus clouds, fluffy and as white as snow, that hid the sea beneath us as we bobbed through them. In my mind I could almost hear my little sister, Sharon, exclaiming over the magnificent clouds. Oh! How I missed my family already! Anxiously, I peered through the hazy window for the first sight of land.  All of a sudden, the encumbering clouds parted, revealing my first glimpse of Israel. My eyes locked on the small strip of land, barely visible through the clouds, as it reached up and squeezed my heart. Tears of joy welled in my eyes as I, at long last, beheld the Promise Land.

February 2012