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Sunday, September 30, 2012

LAND OF MIRACLES

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I am filled with anticipation of MIRACLES. Soon, I will be again standing on the stone streets of Old City Jerusalem at the Jaffa Gate. While at first glance it is but a very old place of commerce crowded with traffic and loads of international tourists, a deeper look reveals much more. There is an elderly couple from Ukraine fulfilling a lifelong dream of a religious pilgrimage to the Holy City. Four young Jewish college students from Indiana laugh and playfully jostle one another as they take in the sights on their “Birthright Israel” trip. A young Palestinian Arab works hard to entice passing people into his father’s store filled with colorful scarves. A no-nonsense pair of Israeli solders stand casually to the side, chatting, relaxed, but automatic weapons at ready and eyes moving across the crowd. Religious pilgrims, students, children playing, honking taxis, moneychangers, deliverymen; its all there.

The very existence of a peaceful afternoon in a city where modern world/ancient world, worldwide religions, deeply imbedded prejudices and hatreds, political opponents and a cornucopia of ethnicities collide is a miracle. And perhaps, this miracle offers us all a teachable moment; even when differences collide, if self-interest motivations of those present are strong enough to not want to risk the loss of the opportunity that moment holds, they put aside their differences and focus on the reward.

Israel has many miraculous lessons for us all.

I have seen a nation reborn from the ashes of the Holocaust as Jews gathered from around the world after a 2,000-year Diaspora. I have seen the miracle of “premies” in Assaf Harofeh Hospital where premature babies who would die in any other place are nursed through three wards and returned to their parents healthy and strong. Assaf Harofeh is a center of caring in a region filled with deep prejudices where no concern is given to the ethnic or religious background of the patients or their families. Miraculous. I have seen the deserts bloom with the help of amazingly simple but ingenious technology, providing needed water to dry soil, producing some of the finest fruits and vegetables in the world. I have seen the miracle of sprawling banana plantations, huge groves of fruit trees and abundant wineries on the rocky hills of Galilee.

And what does all of this teach us? Miracles DO happen, and we can be a part of them if we choose.

So, as I wait for my flight, I think of the miraculous place that awaits me and I pray for a miracle, I pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Friday, September 28, 2012

BITTER SOIL


The words of Israel’s Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu are still hanging in the air as I write. He spoke of a past generation’s failure to act in time to save millions of Jews who perished: “Those who opposed fanaticism waited too long.” While patience is a vital element of peace, there can be no delay when dealing with those who have made their destructive intent known and have the capacity to carry out their threats.

My heart longs for the fulfillment of the angelic song announced to shepherds on the hills outside Bethlehem: “peace on earth and goodwill toward men.” Those hills and the surrounding lands have since known little peace, especially its close neighbor, Jerusalem. My most constant prayer is for its peace, yet Jerusalem lives under the continual threat of division and devastation. The Israelis do not want war with anyone, but I am deeply concerned that the world continues to allow Iran to plunge both Israel and other nations toward inevitable conflict.

Additional thought-provoking words delivered to the United Nations General Assembly by the Prime Minister were these: “The masses of our people never gave up the dream of returning to our ancient homeland,” he said. “We will never be uprooted again.” Having spent much time with current and past Israeli leaders and citizens in Israel I am absolutely sure they will not be uprooted again. They have the geopolitical standing, military means and conviction of Biblical Promise to hold their ground.

Finally, the Prime Minister spoke of: “The bitter soil of intolerance.” He was speaking of the ground out of which hatred springs. This ground is not physical but rather in the souls of men. It is not on only one side of this conflict. Hatred spreads from heart to heart and becomes the basis on which destructive decisions are made.

This bitterness may only be expunged with God’s help. The political leaders of nations must determine the course of action they will take, but each of us who believe in the power of God must also decide; will we sit idly by or will we pray?

As commanded by God to do, I pray for the peace of Jerusalem.