30 Days in Israel!

by - 5:42 AM

The Red Sea, Eilat, Israel.

Wow. I just realized that I have been in Israel for 30 days already! And with the Israeli-Palestinian war in it's 11th day now, it's a crazy, crazy time to be in Israel.

30 days, but it certainly doesn't feel like that long at all. And you know what, I've never - not once - missed Melbourne or Australia (apart from my family). In fact, I can't imagine leaving Israel. I don't want to leave. I have three more weeks in this incredible, indescribable country - and I don't want to leave yet.

In the last 30 days, I've wandered the chaotic streets of Tel Aviv, and it's complete contrast - the Old Port of Jaffa. I've gone swimming in the Red Sea at the tip of Israel in the stunning beach town of Eilat. I've crossed the Yitzhak Rabin Israeli-Jordanian border into the Jordanian seaside town of Aqaba - the complete opposite of Eilat. I've camped out with the Bedouin in the other-worldly Wadi Rum desert and hiked for a few days in the lost city of Petra. I've stayed in Nazareth the hometown of Jesus, and also travelled to the coastal towns of Caesarea, Haifa and Acre along the Mediterranean Sea. I went up to the Banias Reserve and the Golan Heights, where I could see Syria and Lebanon beyond the borders. I've taken a dip in the Sea of Galilee and had a ice-cream on an infernal day at Tiberias. I've woken up at 3AM to hike up Masada - Herod's fortress and palace - to see the sunrise over the Dead Sea and the Moab Mountains. I've floated in the saltiest sea in the world and rubbed the infamous Dead Sea mud all over my body! I've chilled out in the cool, sweet spring waters of the Ein Gedi Reserve. I've spent Shabbat (Sabbath) in the amazing city of Jerusalem and explored the Old City with it's eclectic blend of Jewish, Muslim, Armenian and Christian quarters. And 11 days ago, I've finally travelled up to the remote Druze village of Peqi'in for my volunteer stint teaching English and music to Druze children!

I can't believe that I managed to do all this in 30 days. On average, I have been walking up to 6 or 7 hours every single day. It's a good thing that my legs found some rest when I arrived in the Druze village, because there isn't much hiking to be done here. However, the hiking has been replaced by another tiring activity - visiting people! And - wait for this one - eating!

The Druze people are the most welcoming and hospitable people I've ever met. They really know how to treat a guest. They make sure you have everything you need (to eat) and more. I've had endless cups of strong Turkish coffee, shai (tea), fruit juices and cola. And there's always food to be served no matter what time it is.

In the last week or more, there hasn't been a single day that I've not been invited by more than two or three different families or individuals to visit their home and to have lunch or dinner (or tea or supper). I'm not kidding. And it can get tiring sometimes, when you don't have your own space and your own time to just be alone for a bit. 

Nevertheless, I thank God for the opportunity to challenge myself to adapt to a totally different culture and place, to have people around me all the time and be okay with it, but through it all, to still find time (early in the morning) to reflect on things, to journal, to read my Bible, to talk with God, and to play some music on my ukelele.

I think life will be different for me now. I will return to Melbourne with different eyes. I can't say for sure what I will do in the future, but I know that I will never remain in Australia forever. When I'm out here, when I'm experiencing new things, new cultures, new people and places, I feel 'at home' - in my heart, mind and spirit. When I'm challenging myself to get out of my comfort zone and to learn new things - like how I've been learning Hebrew and Arabic and trying to speak it every day - I feel alive.

I feel alive.

But there have also been times when I've felt far from God. Sometimes you could be doing so much and experiencing so much externally, but on the inside, your spirit is not being nourished and awakened to the full extent of life, of reality, of God. That is why even before my trip, I determined that I would wake up every morning at 5.30AM to spend time reading my Bible, journalling and playing some music if I had the space to do it. It is the best way to start the day.

One of the things that I've learnt for myself on this trip is that no matter where you are, you need to connect with God in order to connect with people. You need to receive God's love before you can love people - even people who are difficult to love.

I've also learnt that in order to establish good relationships with people and with the community you are serving in, you need to see beyond the person before you. You need to see beyond his colour, his culture, his religion, his past, his present, his upbringing. You need to see the precious God-breathed individual spirit within the person. You need to see the person within the person in order to make them feel that you truly care about them, that you truly value them, that you truly want to be friends with them. And this is the challenge of life. Seeing people as God sees them.

I've also learned that travel is easy when you're willing to learn, to talk to the locals, and to be creative - no matter what situation you find yourself in.

It is certainly a unique time to be in Israel - with a mini-war raging on and no signs of it abating. I've heard rockets fired from Lebanon (Hezbollah and another small terorrist orrganisation in south Lebanon) and there have been Code Red alerts and sirens in Nahariyya, Haifa, Rosh Hanikra, the Golan and Shlomi - which are only about 25-30 minutes drive from my village!

Nevertheless, I thank God for the opportunity to be in this place at such a time as this. I believe that I'm here for a reason, and it is by no small chance that I'm in a Druze village. I know that God answered the prayer I made two years ago when I first wanted to learn Hebrew and asked God to give me a reason to do it in the future if the opportunity arose! I can't believe I am now actually in Israel, before my 21st birthday. It's mind-blowing.

There's so much more that I could write. I've actually written in my journal pages and pages of my reflections on my experiences here and my plans and prayers for the future. Journaling keeps me sane. As I wrote before, 'Traveling time is thinking time.'

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