Impressions of Israel (2011)

My Israel story so far….

So I keep being asked for updates from friends in other countries and my impressions of Israel so far by people here.  All along I have said that I do not want a ‘Christian tour experience of the Holy Land” – it’s been about having an Israeli experience of Israel –and I am blessed, spoilt, indulged in that I have Israeli friends or friends married to Israelis which means I get to do this! I don’t mean this to be disrespectful or dishonouring of people who do come here seeking an experience of God – at all.  A secular Israeli (wish people at home would so readily and willingly identify their spirituality without fear of offence) who has been taking photos of the Western Wall since 1997 as a part of the project said to me, whilst he is not spiritual, he has been amazed at the impact of stones on people’s lives and the responses that stones elicit.

For me, this sums up brilliantly in so many ways the “holy or sacred cows” we ascribe to a place. Yes, Israel has history and significance internationally on multiple levels.  It also holds meaning in the biblical sense in terms of suddenly seeing places and architecture in the physical which up until now only had a shape in my imagination.  In further discussion with this photographer, I said to him something must move him to keep him coming back – and the response was there is something.  For me, it’s a spiritual response to something that physically holds meaning to us.  I am not a good rule keeper with things like this –being in awe of places and ‘things’, so my experience of Israel has definitely been interwoven all along with there here and now, the past and the place where my understanding of God intersects with the physical experience of day to day life as I have experienced it here, in Israel – Modern day Israel.

Israel is almost the same size as the Kruger National Park – yet when you walk around here, it feels so much bigger.  There is energy in this country that is different –yet similar to Africa – and I like it.   Today for the first time I feel the need for an introvert day – and I know in part this is due to the constant movement of people, sharing of lives – everyone seems to speak at once and to more than one person at time – and the awareness of people everywhere all the time and the other part due to not having really rested at all this holiday!  You can hear noise, sit in traffic forever – it’s faster to walk than it is to drive.  The freedom from travelling into Jaffa from where I am staying on a motorbike made me realise that if I were to ever live here, I would want a bicycle and a motorbike…in SA I love my bike, but wouldn’t consider using it as a form of transport – our taxi’s would make every day the ultimate rush 😉  A motorbike means that you see, feel, smell and have to be wide awake all the time…..but you are very much alive in that space (until you trust your friend who is driving you so much, that the contentment of a full tummy means you ready to fall asleep whilst in transit – true story!)

If you had to ask me for words to describe my time here so far, the list would have to read as follows:

Food, passion, family, purpose, chemistry ,energy, love, determined, direct, aware, vigilant, defined, searching, alive, empty, connected, paradoxes, life.

I spent Christmas Eve in Jerusalem – a VERY cold n wet Jerusalem with a South African friend who has relocated to Jerusalem from Johannesburg.  Christmas Eve service was held in English, Arabic and Hebrew – I loved this – as much as it was good to be able to understand everything (translations also happened), it also made sense for me of what Jerusalem is.  It’s a city inhabited by Arabs, Jews and Christians.  It’s a city which has so much history in it, yet is still very much alive.  It’s also a city which makes me understand why people think religion is to blame for much of the unhappiness in the world. Yes, it was amazing being at the Western Wall, seeing the lights being lit for Hannukah –it was also so reminiscent for me of being in junior school where we constantly had army presence around, an awareness of threats and a sense of not always knowing who to trust.  It’s ironic that when you stand on the roof of a former hospice, now a hotel, you can see the green lights indicating mosques, church spires and Hanukkah lights in all directions.  All that echoed through my mind was God we need peace.  Not just in Africa – but as beautiful as this city is, how much blood has already been shed for this?

Before I left for Israel I had a few different conversations with different people who all had clear stances on the State of Israel and Palestine.  It amazed me how many South Africans were ready to paint Israel as being the same as South Africa under apartheid – without having been here, or actually speaking to people who live here.  Everything we read or receive at home will be either pro-Israel or pro-Palestine.  The reality is that walking around Jaffa and Tel Aviv, Israel is nothing like SA was under apartheid – communities here are mixed.  People engage with each other – and not under armed guard.  No, I haven’t been into Gaza – and yes I know that there is a lot in the news and separation that happens here too.  I also do know that when reports about SA are made in the international news, little is well contextualised.  I am not always sure why we don’t offer the Israel the same opportunity to contextualise some of what we understand or lack understanding in – and yes human rights violations aren’t okay – but not in any context.  Gender issues in Israel are influenced by religious stances – and even flying into Israel, I was initially seated next to an Orthodox male –and very aware that he may not like sitting next to me so much.  Walking around the streets of Jerusalem and different parts of the country, there is an awareness does exist of the different groupings of people, secular, religious, Arab, Christian, men and women YET, even in this space, in Tel Aviv, it’s not an issue – I feel safe on the streets at night.  The biggest hazard thus far has not been stepping into dog poop in the dark!  (People keep hounds in apartments and walk them – big n small ones – and don’t always scoop up poop – eeuw).  It’s amazing not feeling concerned about being in the dark or worried about getting lost.

On a much LIGHTER note, or not – depending on how much I walk before flying home….Israel is a land filled with FOOD – even while El Al security in Johannesburg was working out why on earth my laptop was triggering their alarm systems – ask Dell, I still have no clue – I was being told by one of the security chaps that I would love Israel – and the food is amazing.  This is before I even left South Africa – in fact as they phrased it ‘was being a guest of El Al’ – I did inform them that I may have considered it more hospitable if they helped me pack the first time around  – so not my favourite thing to do!  Foodies amongst my friends…you would relish Israel – from Hummus (in back streets, not the main shopping areas) to falafels in Jerusalem at what appeared to be a locals use more than tourists shop to pastries, to spices, to more food…Israelis love to eat – and love to feed people too.  The breakfasts for one at times look like the equivalent of 2 and a half or a full day’s meal for me some days (would only need to eat once a day if I ate like this every day!).  Walking through the market in Jerusalem meant drooling at fruit (strawberries which look like apples, giant mangoes, huge bananas – enough said!), being told to watch donuts being made for Hannukah (only eat them fresh), coffee shops EVERYWHERE with good coffee, and salad with every meal.  I keep waiting to only be able to wear my stretchy leggings, but fortunately, my jeans and I are still friends…and my cheekbones haven’t disappeared into apples!  The reason for this is that we WALK here – a lot.

Leanne, who I am staying with loves walking – and before coming here we agreed that walking would be a definite daily event.  Leanne and I walked for 5 hours yesterday, into different parts of Tel Aviv, markets, and looking for the sea J I love the walking everywhere –regardless of the hour of day or night.  Christmas eve, or rather night at 10pm was spent traipsing to church through Jerusalem in rain: cold, wet  and dressed in multiple layers – think Cape Town winter, without gale force winds and you will have the sense of “wet”.  Arriving into a church hall in time for mulled wine, cookies and the late night service was not only warm, it was like stepping into another world for a moment – English with various accents was being spoken – it was a little surreal actually.

Travelling around Israel is easier than people in SA would expect – the busses and trains go almost everywhere and transport here, despite the rand: shekels exchange rate is relatively cheap.  This is a good thing especially when you catch a train a good 50 min train trip away from where you should have reached!

The one place I REALLY want to see is the Negev – and we planning to do that this weekend – I miss the Richtersveld often – and miss the sense of space and awe that comes from being so small in such a big space…… the Negev holds much history.  I wish that instead of listening to people tell stories there were ways that we could get places to tell us stories –  and not just what we think we need to hear, but the unspoken stuff too – so much earth child I know 😉

Coming to Israel was a spontaneous decision for the most part- but also a needed to do thing.  I have in some ways avoided coming here – I was afraid – not of the conflict that surrounds the middle east, but that I might find love with a place outside of Africa – that somehow the chemistry and connection I have at home, may happen elsewhere…..my first week here I realised that what I feared came true.  I love the chemistry of this country – but think that in part that has to do with the fact that we are all the same and all so different in so many ways.  Over the past 3 years I have chosen words that I want to see characterise the next year.  These have included the following:

Being Brave

Wild Abandon life

Hope

I won’t bore you with the rationale behind each of them….but my word for 2012 is love.

I finally feel brave enough to put it out there.  To simply say I want 2012 to be characterised by love.  That all the encounters I have, the adventures that are lived and the dreams dreamt are characterised by real, tangible love.  A love for life, for people, for hope, for boldness, for living life with wild abandon and to allow that love to be reciprocated into my world too.  This makes sense in the midst of Israel.  It made sense when in the middle of north Tel Aviv I came across a baobab in flower – something I have never seen in Africa –despite having seen loads of baobab trees.   It makes sense when I realise that I love the exotic and the different and I often feel transplanted regardless of where I am in geographically, but can still grow and flourish and flower. It just makes sense.

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