There are some very beautiful places in the world on every continent. The nation of Israel is no different. There are striking locations in Israel to be sure . . . the waterfalls of Ein Gedi in the East, the rugged beauty of the Judean wilderness in the South, the tranquil beauty of the Sea of Galilee in the North, and the Mediterranean coastlands in the West. However, the most beautiful part of creation I saw in Israel was the people . . . one person in particular.
Our tour group had an Israeli tour guide. I learned about the land and its people through his experience and heard their story through his voice. Our guide was the most beautiful part of our trip. I mean that. He was generous, gracious, intelligent, and kind. He did not just show us the sites, he showed us his heart. His parents both lost their first spouse in the Holocaust. After World War II, his parents settled in Israel and he was born and raised there. Like most in Israel, he spent a section of his youth serving in the Israeli Army, leading a group of tanks in the 1973 war in Sinai. Given his family’s history, it is not hard to see how he always knew why he was fighting and the significance of the land he now feels privileged to give tours of.
When our guide was growing up, the Jews had no access to Jerusalem. Though they possessed part of the land, they could not ascend to Jerusalem for worship. It was not until 1967 that the Jews were able to once again return to worship in Jerusalem. It is hard for me to fully grasp the significance of the Jews regaining Jerusalem. Israel’s Temple was destroyed in 70 AD and the Jews did not regain control of the city for nearly two millennia! After the 1967 war, the Jews once again were able to worship in the city of Zion.
Our guide relayed the story of his first trip to Jerusalem in 1967 . . . walking up the Southern Steps of the city singing one of the Psalms of Ascent walking hand in hand with his father – a Holocaust survivor. He described it as one of the highlights of his life. I can easily see why. In fact, it was a highlight of my trip to Israel as well. Hearing the story initially brought tears to my eyes. Writing it down here causes me to cry yet again. It is just such a beautiful moment.
Our guide was so generous to share that experience with us; he even invited us to join him in walking up the Southern Steps – hand in hand – just like he had done with his father nearly 50 years earlier. He sang the Psalm in Hebrew for us – praying for the peace of Jerusalem.
The architecture of the Southern Steps is interesting. The steps are at varying heights and depths. This was not a flaw in the design, but a songbook of sorts. The different sizes indicating different parts of the Psalms of Ascent to be sung from each step. It was a joy to worship together.
Most people go to Israel to see God, and they look beneath the rocks and the ruins. I think it is probably better to find God in the face of those who were created to bear His image. Thankfully this is a journey we can take every day. God’s image bearers are everywhere on this planet, reminding us of the gracious God who created us.
Thanks Arie, for being the most beautiful part of our journey.
See a video of our guide talking to us from the Southern Steps: