"Leave your country... and go to..." - Genesis

Trip Start Sep 19, 2008
Trip End Sep 23, 2008

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Flag of United States  , Florida
Saturday, September 13, 2008

"Leave your country and go to the land that I will show you."  Genesis 12:1

I'm really off to Israel this time!  I would like to tell you that I'm looking forward to the 14 hr. plane trip, but the truth is I'm prepared vs. anticipating.  My main prayer request this week has been a less than full flight so I can out-maneuver the other passengers for an empty row.  I have medicinal assistance for sleep (God help those around me) and a good book or six.  I plan on reading 'Abraham' & 'Walking The Bible' enroute & in between winks.  Along with my requisite library of guidebooks, I've also brought along 'Pillars of the Earth' and one by Fannie Flagg- always got to bring a little of the South along with me!  
A word to those of you who, when I told you I was going to Israel, replied 'Alone?'  'Is it safe to go there?' and who think I am mashugana (Yiddish for crazy) for going to Israel-  I may well be meshugana with respect to many things I have or will attempt, however likely not this one.  There is virtually no street crime in Israel and intifada activities are usually organized in the West Bank and Gaza strip, which I won't be visiting.    No, seriously I won't.  If it is like Egypt & Jordan, chances are that I'll feel safer on their streets than on those of most of the big cities here in the US and to tell you the truth, I rarely feel uncomfortable in the US.  As long as a Jihad doesn't break out, I'm good to go. 
Israel is about the size of NJ here in the US, so I should be able to cover a good bit of it in my 10 days of touring.  It has been described in the guidebooks as both an old country yet a new one for although it's been in existence for 6,000 years, it has only been in the last 50+ when it was declared a Jewish state.  It is a parliamentary democracy with a parliament of 120 members chosen by election.  Like us they have 2 major parties the Labor (socialist) and the Herut (conservative).  There is no separation of church & state here.  Shoot, there's not even much separation of church and food!  The Jewish laws regulate the Kosher diet and the Muslims can't eat pork and don't get to eat much of anything at all during Rammadan (taking place currently).  The only foodies with freedom are the Christians and if you've ever been to a Southern Baptist covered dish supper, you will see that they eat it all and then some.  What those Baptists can't do with a Jello mold! 
There are 3 main faiths in Israel: Jewish, Muslim & Christian.  Having hoods (as in neighbor, not thug) mixing with those faiths spells t-r-o-u-b-l-e.  No Rodney King, it would appear that they can't all 'just get along'.  If they could there wouldn't have been the long, bloody history that Israel has seen.  The song 'This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land' is not happily sung by schoolchildren here.  Their rendition would go: 'This Land Is My Land, And That Land Is My Land'.  The Jews win out in terms of population, 85% are Jewish and the others comprise the remaining 15%.  There are 3 main sects of Jews: Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Oriental.  These 3 are broken into other types as well: Samaritans, Hassidim, ultra-Orthodox (10%), modern Orthodox or traditional (15-25%), reformed, conservative, etc., etc.  Heck, the Jews can't even arrive at a compromise amongst themselves, so how do you expect them to mix peacefully with the Palestinians?  There are about 700,000 Arabs in Israel and 90% of them are Sunni Moslems. 

I am really interested to see how Israel compares & contrasts to its neighbors that I visited last year: Egypt & Jordan.  One of the things in particular that I am anticipating to be different is the personalities of its population.  In Egypt and Jordan I found the people to be VERY welcoming, cheery, extremely amiable and humble.  While I think I will meet many nice people in Israel throughout my trip, I also expect them to be different than their neighbors- perhaps a bit cantankorous, intense and stoic.  Israelis are often described in guidebooks as 'blunt', 'brash', 'self-confident', 'direct', and 'always in a hurry'.  They are also said to 'love an argument'.  Yes, yes, I may not be clairvoyant, but I can already guess what/who many of you are thinking about, however read on...  I have heard them described like a cactus: tough and prickly on the outside, but soft on the inside.  It is said that once you get past the surface impression, you will find them to be, and I quote: "warm, open, interesting and extraordinarily generous and helpful when in need'.  Hopefully you are still thinking about the thought you had a minute ago,  if not, then perhaps you still need to dig beyond the 'surface impression'.  Scratch hard!   Just remember, when things are looking bleak and you are in desperate straights, against all odds in the desert: What do you seek out?  That's right... the indomitable cactus that will sustain you and help you persevere onward!  The cactus is a survivor amidst a desolate, hard, and unforgiving environment.  It is the cactus that has learned the secrets to survival and thrives regardless of circumstance and it is the cactus that is there to help other creatures survive as well.   You just remember that the next time you are complaining about the cactus's 'thorns'.  There- I feel better now!
I am also expecting Israel to be far more advanced than Egypt & Jordan in terms of its economy, infrastructure, literacy, and overall standard of living.  Perhaps a little less delineation between the haves and have nots.  One thing I noticed right away during my pre-trip planning was the difference in the exchange between the Israeli shekel and US dollar, as compared to the currency exchange rates in Egypt & Jordan.  They may be immediate neighbors, but Israel is more expensive to visit, albeit nothing like Europe right now.  The rate in dollars to shekels is- $1= 3.6    The rate between dollars to Egyptian pounds is- $1= 5.6.  Couldn't they just round up and make it easier on those of us who are mathematically challenged?

 Samuel Johnson once said, 'The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.'  As I travel throughout Israel, I'll try and report back things exactly as I see them to be.  My perspective should serve most of you just fine as I have this uncanny tendency to always be right.  It's a curse- I can't help it.     By the way, one thing I learned last year while traveling alone, is that it's very nice to have 2-way communication while abroad, so feel free to email me back.   By the way, I don't mean some trite sentance like 'I'm really enjoying your emails.' or 'Sounds like you are having a good time.'  Yes, I know you are enjoying them- that's why I'm writing them.  Of course I'm having a good time- I'm with me for crying out loud!  I also don't need an Apostle Paul-like epistle.   Trust me, your lives aren't that interesting.  (Oops, thorn alert!)  Your replies might be the price you pay to obtain emails on my next trip plus, at night, emailing serves as a nice diversion from watching TV in a foreign language (and many of you know my enjoyment of TV- not)!  
Lastly, as I set out for the Holy Land I am reminded (by a paragraph in 'Walking the Bible' vs. my own normally insightful thoughts) that Abraham was not originally the man he became.  He was not an Israelite, he was not a Jew.  He was not a believer in God- at least initially.  He was a traveler, called by some voice not entirely clear, that basically said: 'Go, head to this land, walk along this route, and trust what you will find'.  As I head to the land of Abraham, I trust that I will find great things in store about which to tell you (and if not, never fear- I'll take literary license and resort to WILD fiction!).
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