by Julia Johnson
I remember well the first trip I took to Israel in 2015. I had just finalized my divorce after 24 years of marriage. I was numb. I didn’t know why I was going, but I felt Father tell me I was to go. So, I stepped out in faith and obedience.
My brother and sister were going to Israel to participate in a B’ney Yosef Congress and after feeling the nudging of the Father, I asked if I could “tag along.” I had not heard of B’ney Yosef or Ephraim and Rimona Frank. I guess you could say I was “along for the ride.” And what a ride it was!
I’ll never forget when we touched down in Tel Aviv, the cheering, and the crying – I can see why those who make aliyah kiss the ground. It is hard to explain, but I had a feeling of “being home.” After going through Israeli customs, we caught a shared taxi called a “sherut” that took us into Jerusalem. It could be likened to a Disneyland ride called “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.””. Wow!
We had booked rooms at Christ Church, just inside the Jaffa Gate in the Old City right across from the Tower of David. I remember sitting out in the courtyard every morning as the bells, birds, and the city came alive with a cup of coffee, my Bible, and my journal. The sights, the sounds, and the smells were all fascinating to me.
We toured the Tower of David, Ben Yehuda Street, the Burn House, Machaneh Yehuda Market (better known as the “shook”), and the Mamilla. But going to the Western Wall was a highlight for me. To be so close to where the Temple actually stood – where Yah’s presence was felt (and in my opinion, still is felt today). To see the ruins that have stood for thousands of years amidst terrible aggression.
We then took a taxi up to Ariel, located in Samaria – the heartland of Israel. I was surprised to see the scenery turn green with trees and lush vegetation because the area I had seen coming into Jerusalem was very rocky. Of course, between the lines of trees (mostly olive) there were lots of rocks as well.
While we were in Ariel I got to take a day trip to Shilo (where the tabernacle stood for several hundred years) and saw old wine and olive presses and shards of pottery near where they think the tabernacle stood. We also got to go up to Elon Moreh (where it is thought that Yah spoke to Abraham and told him that the land was promised to him and his seed for as far as he could see) which is located on a mountain just east of Shechem (modern name is Nablus – an Arab city now). We could gaze across the valley to Mt. Gerizim on the left and Mt. Ebal. Remember the story of Moses dividing the tribes and asking them whom they would serve? Mt. Gerizim is known as the Mt. of Blessing and is fertile and green. Mt. Ebal on the other hand is the Mt. of Curses and even with the naked eye, you can see the differences between the two mountains. There is something about seeing places mentioned in the Bible. For me, it completely blew away my preconceived ideas of what the land and the people were like.
I was concerned, having no knowledge of Hebrew, about communicating with the people I would meet in the Land, but there was no problem. In most of the tourist places and shopping areas, they speak English – broken at times, but it was easy to communicate.
Another first for me was the food … I’ve traveled out of the US (Canada, Mexico, and Australia) but this was my first time to really experience what I would call “culture” food. I got to experience Falafel and Shawarma, and the bakeries were fantastic! Breakfasts usually were composed of fresh fruit, fish, vegetables, and bread. And the fruit (pomegranates, mangos, pineapple, apples, etc.) … oh my, they are twice as large and twice as sweet.
Although I was ready to return home to my own bed, I was saddened to leave. I fell in love with the Land. I fell in love with the people. My heart hungered to return … that is for another story …
BYNA Executive Secretary