Through the eyes of a black woman
In 2011, I was invited on a trip of a lifetime by two of my closest friends. I was ecstatic to be going to the Holy Land. I mean, as a Christian, I was going to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, see firsthand the many places I had heard about from the pulpit on Sunday mornings, and read about in the Bible. Me, I was going to the Holy Land!
Now I must admit for years the thought of going to Israel sounded dangerous with all the news reports of explosions and bomb threats. It was difficult for me to wrap my mind around the idea of Israel as a vacation destination. In 2010 when my friends told me that they were going to IsraelI was afraid for their lives. I only knew what I had heard on the news about Israel, and the ever-present dangers reported by the media. But when my friends returned and shared with me pictures and their experiences, it changed my perception of Israel. I therefore looked forward to taking off to visit the cradle of Christianity.
Prior to boarding El Al from New York, I observed a group of Orthodox Jewish men praying to the East. On the plane, the joy and excitement was contagious. So was prayer time, which was called out while I was in a deep sleep. We arrived at BenGurion Airport in Tel Aviv on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, exhausted, but happy to be in Israel.
I was amazed at the energy, yet calm vibe of Tel Aviv—People waiting for buses, sitting at outdoor cafes, walking their dogs, on their way to or from the beach, many with peaceful strolls and expressions. The many mornings I sat on the balcony I could literally have heard a drop of water on the pavement. How do people who are surrounded by enemies manage to live with such a peaceful mindset? I now know. By living each day in the moment, and truly understanding through active practice that tomorrow is not promised, so why not be happy today. Sounds like a cliché and easier said than done. But if the people of Israel can do it, than what is wrong with us as Americans that we cannot do the same? This is something I wondered then, and pondered on my second trip to Israel as well.
I will always remember the feeling that came over me when I knelt at the spot where Mary gave birth to Jesus at the Church of the Nativity, and how overwhelmed I became just thinking about a man named Jesus who gave his life for my sins. When I stepped into the River Jordan, the music flowing as Pastor Tim asked me, “Do you believe Jesus Christ died for your sins? Do you accept Jesus Christ as your savior? Do you want to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ?” and I responding, “Yes, yes and yes!” I was baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and The Holy Ghost in theJordan river: it would be a while before the experience would truly sink in. Me. Baptized in the Jordan River.
Israel is not just about its rich religious history. Although, as it was pointed out to me, a visit to Jerusalem for a month would not be enough time to see the Old City and all of Jerusalem.Israel is a pilgrimage which must be taken several times in order to see all of its glorious history. Tel Aviv is a lively, fun, sophisticated and creative city, which unlike New York City, is an amazingly relaxed place. The Dead Sea, a wonder unto itself.
I guess it is natural for people not to be able to grasp the concept of Israel being a place of beautiful beaches, mouth-watering delicacies and literally a place of peace and relaxation, what with the media broadcasting terror threats as if the Israelis live in a constant state of fear, scrambling for cover. I say this because whenever I told/tell people that I have been/going toIsrael the look in their eyes is one of amazement, or fear, quickly followed by, “Were/Are you afraid?” I laugh, shake my head and say, “I felt/feel totally safe about visiting Israel. As a matter of fact, the thought of danger never entered my mind the entire time I traveled from Tel Aviv, toJerusalem to The Dead Sea and to Bethlehem, which borders on Palestinian territory. As a matter of fact I felt safer there than I do in the United States.”
I am not going to go off on a geopolitical tangent about issues about which I am not qualified to speak. However, I must point out that the Israeli Army is one of the fiercest, most prepared armies in the world. All Israelis, men and women, when they become 18 years of age, must and do serve in the Israeli army. Their commitment is unmatched and is one that I salute. I am proud to know a few of these soldiers. They may joke about an impending war, but make no mistake, they are ready to report to the front line to fight forIsrael.
As a black woman I did not feel nor experience any type of blatant or subtle racist behavior, stares or the usual discomfort that many of us experience in the United States, but seldom speak of. It was almost surreal as I walked the beach, waded in the water, strolled the streets of Tel Aviv, sometimes alone, and was genuinely greeted by store workers, and even spoken to in Hebrew. If not for the language barrier and the high cost of living, Israel could be a viable and mentally healthy place to live.
To the critics who may be wondering if in light of the terrorist threats by Syria, if I will go back toIsrael, my answer is, “Yes, of course, I will.” I love all that Israel offers and what it stands for. Why would I not want to go back to a place that made me feel so peaceful and happy?