The most common question I was asked was “why Israel?” Which was followed with; “What made you want to visit Israel? Why is it called the Holy Land? What is your opinion on religion, celebrating shabbat and on the current political situation in Israel?”
All of which I tried to answer with respect and honesty but soon realising that I have not actually asked myself these questions when preparing to visit Israel.
During these conversations it was clear that each person came with their own story, their own desires and their own [passionate] understanding of religion and politics. I tried to avoid the topic of politics as best I could and found it helpful to ask more of the other persons story and desires than to talk about my own. Its definitely worth asking oneself the question to ensure you really do seek what your heart longs for when visiting the Holy Land.
My answer I guess you could say was a combination of my faith and my wonderlust. Like many, I have always had a desire to visit the land where my Jesus was born and lived, where preached and performed countless miracles. BUT… I also chose to visit Israel simply to experience, to observe, to embrace and to taste all that it has to offer as a country. And in return I wanted to offer love to all, no matter their age, religion, history or race.
Some of the answers I got were: ” for spiritual awakening and healing, to seek answers, to pray and worship” or “to learn more about my Jewish roots”. For others it was to “visit friends and family, to experience Tel Aviv night life and the vegan cuisine” [juuuuuup, Tel Aviv was voted one of the top vegan friendly cities in the world in 2018 ;)] And then there are those who simply came to find rest, to explore and to admire the ancient ruins and unique architecture.
This time I was “less of a tourist” and I volunteered at Tiberias Hostel for 3 weeks. Tiberias is a small, layedback town next to the sea of Galilee. On the mornings when I felt particularly active, I would be greeted by a beautiful sunrise over the sea of Galilee.
Do not be fooled by the word “sea” my dear South African friends, it is actually a lake and to my naive suprise, there was no white sandy beach where I could spend the day working on my tan and reading my book. The most common touristic thing done in Tiberias is to take a boat ride on the sea [on which Jesus walked on the water] and many have reported it being a magical experience. Tiberias is also a nice place to base yourself and do day trips to many historical sites and ruins and go on some hikes.
I absolutely loved my time volunteering at Tiberias Hostel. We were a group of 5 volunteers, all from different parts of the world, each with their own accent and expressions. Together we made sure breakfast is served with a smile and some background music; the rooms, toilets and chill areas were nice and clean and every night we served unlimited popcorn, sold some drinks and took turns playing DJ. The competition for the best DJ was a serious affair [somewhat anxiety provoking for some] but its safe to say the title will have to go to good old Jacky boy from Ireland.
It was a time where I was almost always garunteed conversation, music, food and a good story. The hostel attracts a vatiety of people: backpackers, married couples, families, solo travelers, groups of friends and local Israeli tour guides. Everyday was filled with new faces, new stories, new dance moves and a lot of laughter. Apparently Afrikaans people or South Afrikans are recognized by their “ja” and “ag shame”, and of course again my name was a bit of a tongue twister but brings so much laughter into every greeting and exchanging of names. Rolling my “rrrrr” has become somewhat of a party trick for me and I love it. Dankie Ouma Ronél.
The hostel has a wonderful group of permanent staff/management team who are all from Israel and welcomed me with so much enthusiasm and appreciation. They tried their utmost best to make our time with them enjoyable and memorable. Mamma Polona and Adi made sure we were entertained, well fed and looked after. Eden ensured we didnt work too hard and have scheduled off days, Fadi made sure we had some good conversation during the evening and Omri made sure we had food every evening by supplying us with an unlimited supply of Zucchini and Aubergine. Omri also took it on himself to teach us how to make the best Tahini [sesame seed butter] for the guests, but was later challeneged by Adi, Polona and Edens method… And we still dont know who’s is the best! Mixing Tahini with water, salt, pepper, cumin and some lemon juice in the correct ratio is how the Israeli’s enjoy this expensive[only in South Africa] sesame seed butter spread.
For all the veggy and fruit lovers, Israel will wow you with their magnificently big and scrumptiously delicious fresh fruit and vegetables. The produce is amazing and made me look like a crazy person everytime I got excited about the size of some of the vegetables. When you find a beetroot that is as big as the size of your head, then you know the land is blessed! Not to mention that I found myself in what felt like a mejool date heaven… No lunch for me, just a bucket of dates please sir!
Sadly you can believe ALL the rumours folks, Israel is indeed very expensive, and not just for this young South African, most people will tell you that Israel is very expensive, wether you are earning Ponds, Euros or Dollars. A bowl of hummus and a falafel pita or a shwarma[according to the meat eaters] is well worth every Sheqel spent. Lip, lek, lekker indeed!
One thing I struggled to get used to was the armed men and woman you would sit next to on the bus or pass by in the streets. It definitely made me feel very safe yet slightly on edge. It is a strange feeling seeing my peers and girls/guys younger than me in their military attire, armed, proud and yet seem so serious and perhaps a little trapped. After school, Jewish students dont have the luxury of going straight to university/studying/working or traveling like most of society nowadays does, but rather they get sent off to serve in the military for a minimum of 2 years for girls and minimum of 3 years for guys. During that time I can only imagine the difficulty they are exposed to, the physical and psychological training they have to endure and the level of responsibility they have to accept at such a young (not so keen) age. After their time serving 90% of the girls and guys go traveling the world to have fun and break free from the “seriousness” they have been surrounded by for so long.
When planning my trip to Israel, I really wanted to join a tour group and wasn’t that keen on volunteering at first. But after trying to join 3 different tours, all unsuccessful for various reasons, I realised that perhaps God had a different plan for me and that doing Israel solo was what I should do. At first I was unsure of how I would truly be able to experience what my heart had desired if I did not join a “religious” tour and have those “wow, spiritual moments”. Nevertheless, I accepted the time set before me and my prayers were thus for guidance, courage and for fellowship.
Yet again I can testify of his unconditional love and care for me. Man, we serve a loving and gracious Father who is so faithful!! And His ways and His plans are bigger and better than our own ways or plans.
I met some wonderful people in ways and places that could only be God orchestrated. I attended 2 messianic Jewish church services, each delivering a powerful message and a great experience. I felt so welcome and seeing how others worship Yeshua in their language and manner gave me goosebumps. I also met up with some friends of my parents from South Africa and joined them for a day touring Jerusalem, doing some shopping and followed by a teaching about the Tabernacle hosted by Hebrew People Ministries.
I also met 2 ladies from the Netherlands who radiated with light and spread words of love and encouragement everywhere they went. They were my spiritual mammas for well over 10 days and together we chatted, prayed, testified and wondered the streets of Jerusalem while speaking in Afrikaans and Dutch. Not to mention the fact that they had felt lead by the Holy Spirit to gift me with a shofar, and for sharing so much of their knowledge and wisdom with me. Their obedience wad inspiring and I am so so thankful for the moments I shared with them.
My most favorite part of my time in Israel was to celebrate Shabbat. (Excuse my “not so perfect explenations” I am still learning) On the Hebrew calender, shabbat [day of rest] starts from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown and its quite fascinating to see how half a country can come to a complete stand still in order to respect and celebrate Shabbat,and in turn allow for rest and rejuvenation before the next week. On Fridays around 16:00 public transportation comes to a sudden hault and all the shops and restaurants close their doors until Saturday evening. Its a strange yet peaceful sight to see, with only a few tourist wondering the empty streets in search for some food on a Friday night while the rest of civilization is in their homes feasting away with friends and family. But come Saturday evening around 20:00 the streets light up, restaurants chairs gets packed out, music start playing around every corner and and the town comes to life again, ready for a night of festivities and sales.
For many it is seen as a holy time, as a time of rest and of thanksgiving to God for the past week and His light He shines into our lives. The Orthodox Jewish communities have certain believes and rules of what food can be prepared, in what combination [eg: kosher food] and in what manner. Once shabbat starts, they believe that they are not allowed to work, meaning they are not allowed to make fire or use electricity and thus many of their preperations occur on Friday morning/midday.
For others who believe in Yeshua, they still celebrate Shabbat and deem it as a holy time, that needs to be respected as a day God has instructed us to keep, but they are not restricted to what they eat or the way in which they prepare it. And yet for others its simply seen as a day spent with family once a week around good food and conversation.
It was special everytime I got to share it with the people I found myself amongst and I got to experience various different ways of celebrating it.
After 3 weeks in Israel, my current answer would be “why not?” There is so much to see, so much to learn and to experience and simply not enough time. Its safe to say you will see this girl again. Toda lach Israel!!
I have arrived safely in Turkey and excited for the next month.