Monday, June 23, 2014

Looking for Jesus

We never ease into our Israel trips.  Fighting through jetlag, we spent our first day on and around the Sea of Galilee.  Beginning the first morning with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, we oriented ourselves to the geography around the Sea, read Scripture, and prayed.  We visited the museum at Nof Ginnosar to see the "Jesus Boat" which is the remains of a first century water craft.  Then we spent time at a number of holy sites commemorating events in the life of Jesus: the Mount of Beatitudes, Tabgha (the traditional site of the multiplication of loaves and fishes), the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter (the traditional site of the post-resurrection breakfast on the beach mentioned in John 21), the church in Capernaum (the traditional site of the healing of Peter's mother-in-law), and the synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus heals the demoniac in Mark 1.  Then we ate a unique lunch at Kibbutz Ein Gev where we dined on St. Peter's fish.

After lunch we visited the Valley of the Doves, drank at the natural spring and heard a bit of history on Mt. Arbel.  Next we headed to the baptismal site in the Jordan river just south of the Sea of Galilee.  While the traditional site of Jesus' baptism is well south of here, this place has been used by tourists and pilgrims for baptisms. 

At the end of the second day, we went to the top of Mt. Arbel to get a panoramic view of the Sea of Galilee.  It was a stunning view and I am always amazed when I see it in perspective. 

From this overlook, one sees easily the entire northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  The buildings on the lake closest to the base of the mountain are ancient Magdala, the town associated with Mary Magdalene.  As one continues on a northern and eastern path around the sea, one finds all the churches we visited the first day, the major city of Capernaum, and the small fishing village of Bethsaida.  In a territory that our bus could cover in fifteen minutes, Jesus spent 90% of his ministry.  Think about that.  In this small, limited area, Jesus taught, healed, and delivered those in need.  In this out of the way, tiny corner of the globe, God in flesh appeared.  And everything changed.  Jesus and his disciples were perceived as primitive and uncultured, being Galileans.  But God can use the small, overlooked, out of the way things to confound the world.  And the world will never be the same.

I leave the first day of our trip wondering how my life can contribute small things that God can multiply for his Kingdom.   

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Israel: My Home Away From Home

It is 6:50 pm on our first full day in Israel.  I'm drinking Turkish coffee in my room so as not to fall asleep before our 7 pm dinner.  Waking up at 2:30 am is not great preparation for a full day of touring around the Sea of Galilee.  I've been asked many times today by members of the group how many times I've been to Israel.  I suppose that is something I should know off the top of my head.  But I don't.  If you count the types of Holy Land tours that I am on right now, I think the answer is eight and I think the total number of trips here is 11.  But what began my deep appreciation and love for this land was an exchange I participated in my senior year of high school.

In November of 1986, I was one of three students from the Milwaukee Public Schools who joined a 56 student delegation from all over the US that participated in the Young Ambassador Student Exchange sponsored by the America-Israel Friendship League and the Greater Council of City Schools.  Because of that incredible program, I spent November of my senior year in Israel, living with host families in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem.  What I learned about the history, geography, culture, religions, and politics of Israel in that month surpassed anything I could do in classroom in two year's time.  The relationships I formed with Israelis and Americans from across the country changed the way I understood the world and my place in it.  It caused me to study Hebrew in college which led me to focus on the Hebrew Bible.  My work in Hebrew and Old Testament gave me the opportunity to be a teaching assistant for Hassell Bullock, my teacher and mentor at Wheaton, who encouraged me to apply to graduate school at his alma mater, Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.  That led to my eventual teaching at CHCA and my desire to give my students the experience of travel as part of their education.  In 1999 I was able to take 17 CHCA students on the same month long exchange to Israel that I experienced.  And soon JTerm gave students the opportunity to travel around the world each year.  And most summers, I bring a group of students and their families to this special place.

So why do I keep coming back?  One reason would be that as a Hebrew Bible scholar, the subjects and topics that I love the most are rooted deeply in this place.  Another reason is that over the years, I have become passionate about the modern day conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, both in what it means for the people living here and the broader geopolitical effects it has on the world (and I'll talk more about that in another post).  But finally, and maybe most importantly, every time I come to this place, I am not only reminded of my own journey that shifted in this land, but I am filled with excitement to share it with students, families, and friends year after year.  The awe of the place is hard to describe.  But watching others experience it for the first time gives me that indescribable feeling every teacher knows, when a student catches the passion you have for a subject and you know something is being created inside of them because of it.  As a teacher, all I can do is bring my students to a place or a topic or an issue.  I can share it with them, prod them, hopefully inspire them to dig deeper into the matter.  And then it happens.  They are hooked.  They make new connections, constructing new ways of thinking and understanding.  And then we engage.  I share what I have come to understand.  And then I learn more by hearing what they now see and what strikes them as unusual or unique.  And my love and appreciation for this land grow.  And when the trip is over, I can't wait to share it again the next year. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Re-introduction to the Blog

Over the past few years, my blog has been dormant.  I've begun using Facebook and Twitter as a way to keep in touch with my students, alumni, and parents past and present.  But having touched down at Ben Gurion Airport outside of Tel Aviv yesterday, I thought about the possibility of reflecting and sharing thoughts on this trip that go beyond 140 characters.  I am beginning a tour today with 32 people, connected in some way with CHCA.  I have high school and middle school students, alumni, parents, their family members and friends.  We will have an incredible 11 days in Israel and some will continue on for 3 days in Jordan.  I will be using this site to share our experiences.  I hope it gives you a sense of being with us.  Until you come for yourself in the future!