At the age of twenty-six I travelled, with the girl who is now my wife, to Israel. We were there for six months, and every moment of the trip, from the flight from London on El Al to the return home on the “Magic Bus” was an incredible, spiritual time.
For the first three months we stayed on a Kibbutz called “Ramat Hakovesh”-a commune-north of Tel Aviv, and did what was loosely called “work” for about five hours a day. It really wasn’t work at all, and the locals made us feel very much at home, as did all the other young people staying there, who were from many different countries around the world.
From the Kibbutz we were able to travel around the country by bus and on foot. The most memorable times were our stays in Jerusalem and our exploration of the Old City, the Western Wall, the markets and the empty tomb. Equally amazing was our tour of Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea, and yes, you can float on it without swimming. On Christmas Eve we went to Manger Square in Bethlehem, and then, walking back to “Ramat Rachel”, the Kibbutz we were staying at for the weekend just outside of Jerusalem, we found a quiet piece of desert and slept under the stars.
No less wonderful was our time in Galilee. For a few days we walked around the lake as far north as Capernaum. For one of those nights we slept on a gravelly Galilee beach under a log. We spent another night in a cave on the hill-side, burning a small fire of sticks and dry grass for an hour or two, and later listening to the bats flying in and out of the cave above us.
The remaining three months were spent on a Moshav called “En Yahav”- a community of small privately owned farms in the desert several miles south of the Dead Sea. For our keep we had to work hard-and as time went on we were working in the heat of late Spring, but our time off was so thrilling it really was worth all the work. From the Moshav we explored the desert to the west of us (to the east was the border with Jordan), and took a bus down to Eilat on the Red Sea. In Eilat we slept on the beach, cooked in the sun, and watched the tourists. The photo (top) is of me, emaciated through hard work and not much food during our time on the Moshav, wandering around in the desert west of our farm. My wife and I were the only people for many miles around.
Leaving the Moshav, we decided to return to the UK an alternative way. We’d learned that we could get a dirt-cheap cruise on the Mediterranean to Athens by sleeping on top deck. This provided us with opportunities to stop at Cyprus and a couple of islands closer to Greece. After a week in Athens we took a bus through Europe, all the way to London.
Among the lessons I learned from my time in Israel was the fact that Israel is a tiny nation which needs to be constantly alert for attacks from enemies. But much more significant was the experience of travelling in the footsteps of Jesus, in the very places he had trodden and taught. Tourists to Israel say that the trip makes their faith come alive. I would agree with that, and I’m very thankful to my God for the experience, and to the people of Israel who made us feel very welcome and at home.