Anyone who knows my mom and I know that we are homebodies at heart. We don’t travel far. In fact, until recently, the furthest either of us has been from home was Colorado for a youth conference. She went in the 1960’s and I in 1992.
We’ve been to Florida twice, and we would regularly travel to Washington D.C. as a family when I was in school.
But in recent years, going to Binghamton to visit my uncle has been as much traveling as she has done, while my husband and I go to Chincoteage for a few days each year. We’re happy being home.
So it caught most people by surprise, not the least ourselves, when we announced we were traveling to Israel for 11 days. Both of us have had a desire to go for as long as either of us can remember.
And my mom has almost every book written by Brock and Bodie Thoene (Tay-nee). Bodie used to work for John Wayne, and he encouraged her to write her heart, and while some of her stories take place in the mid-West and Ireland, the majority is about Israel.
Stories capture Israel of 2,000 years ago, the Jewish people during the Holocaust and about their efforts to return to Israel and make it a nation once again.
Their research and descriptions have made both of us want to see it for ourselves.
This first article will hopefully set up some of the things for you: who put together the trip for everyone, how things were organized and so on. The following article will talk about a few of the places we visited and some of what we learned.
Our recent adventure began with mom receiving an e-mail in February from Chuck Swindoll about a trip he was taking in 2018. We talked about it, and decided against it.
A couple days later, she forwarded another e-mail to me from Gov. Mike Huckabee. He was also planning a trip … in April of this year.
For some reason, this one seemed like one we should try for. Why that one instead of another we would have more time to prepare for? I don’t know.
But we got the ball rolling, ordering the correct birth certificates, then passports, making down payments and researching and talking with people who have been.
Mom tells people she prayed that if we were to go, each obstacle we encountered would easily be dealt with. And they were.
We got the birth certificates with help from State Rep. Tommy Sankey’s office, the passports came in good time, everything fell into place and, almost before we knew it, we were on our way to Pittsburgh to catch a connecting flight to JFK and then onto Tel-Aviv, Israel.
For mom, packing up and traveling has been a bigger operation than in the past. In very recent years, she had back surgery, hip replacement, two minor procedures and another back surgery.
Thanks to Rheumatoid Arthritis, her bones are slowly deteriorating, especially in her spine. And also thanks to some very good and caring doctors, she has done very well in the past 20 years. We felt, if not now, the opportunity might never be so good again.
We learned early on that the Huckabee’s (Gov. Mike, his wife Janet and son, David were all with us) have made it a mission to bring as many people to Israel as they can so that they can not only have the experience, but can also learn about the country first-hand from the people who live there.
To that end, the company Blue Diamond Travel was created, and they take two to three trips every year with up to 600 people or more.
Our group was quite small at 125, and that proved just the right number for us to feel like we could make friends and know most of everyone by sight. Also on the trip were Maurice and Devora Sklar.
Maurice is a professional violinist, a Messianic Jew (as is his wife) and he often travels with the Huckabee’s. And another treat, especially for me, was Al Denson and his son, Gabe.
When I was in high school, Al was a “big deal” in contemporary Christian music and had, in fact, been the musician at the conference I attended in 1992.
We had three tour guides, one for each bus, and each of them were also Messianic Jews. (A note of explanation: this appears to be their preferred term for Jews who have acknowledged Jesus as Messiah and have become Christians as a result.)
Each bus has claimed to have the best tour guide and driver, but ours, the green bus, really did. Our guide was David Tal, a man of vast experience and many talents.
He is a tour guide now, but he was a graphics designer as his “day job.” He is also a tank commander in the Israeli Army, something he has done since serving his three years as a young man, and he now does as part of the reserve army.
Our driver was a young man named Yosie, and his skill getting us in and out of places and avoiding very difficult and sometimes dangerous situations was praised by everyone, including Tal.
Tal explained to us that there are three types of sites: A, B and C. A sites are someplace historians know for certain a certain event happened.
B sites are places where there is a good probability it is the place, but maybe not. C sites most likely are not the place, but tradition usually dictates it.
We have places like this in the United States, as well. The A sites and many of the B sites would hit most of us pretty hard, both intellectually and emotionally.
It is one thing to read about some place like the Pool of Bethesda, but to actually see it? That’s amazing.
Israel is a very small country, smaller than New Jersey. You can drive from one end to the other in about five hours. It could be argued that there has never been a more important, or more fought over, piece of real estate in the world.
It doesn’t look like much, but as Tal showed us on a map, for thousands of years Israel sat on the main routes to the world … along the Route of the Sea from Europe to Africa along the Mediterranean, it was the meeting point of roads coming from the East … everything eventually passed through Israel.
It is also the site of what both Gen. George S. Patton and Napoleon Bonaparte referred to as the best battlefield in the world, in the eyes of a tactician: a portion of the Valley of Jezreel known as the Valley of Megido or Armageddon.
In the United States, we think of history in terms of hundreds of years … just over 200 for our country, a few hundred more beyond that for colonists and explorers … the thousands of years belong to the natives and archaeologists.
For the mid-east, and especially Israel, much what happened 4,000 years ago is as relevant to today as last week.
Over the next several days, we were to get a taste of what that is like. We saw evidence of stories of resilience, and touched things that were older than we could even comprehend.
Many of us found ourselves in tears almost every day, mostly from the sheer awe of what we were slowly comprehending in that there is a reality to all the stories we had read.
Even if you are not a Christian (and most of the people on our tour were) to stand in places that old, and older, to touch a wall built to hold a temple, or to stand just outside of a house known to have been the home of Simon Peter (St. Peter) is staggering.
And that is only a small portion of what we experienced. I am happy to report also that my mom did great, she even rode a camel!
So many people helped us, including David Tal, Yosie and Janet Huckabee, who walked with her along the Via Dolorosa. Several people made it their mission to make sure she, and a couple other people on our trip who needed help, were looked after.
The second part of this story is long … I have included as much as I could, but there was so much that happened that I couldn’t get it all in. I hope, though, that you will someday be able to visit yourself, or take the opportunity to read about the many places we visited.