33 Strangers in a Holy Land
I’ve been lucky enough to travel and learn about people who walk a different path than I do. Usually we travel independently and have not gone with a guided tour. We don’t like being part of a group and constrained as we explore. But the Groupon came via email with an offer we could not refuse for a bus tour of Israel, a place I’ve never been, at a price that was not to be believed or ignored. Tourism in Israel has dwindled with news reports (possibly exaggerated) of violence and terror so the Ministry of Tourism reached out to American travel companies to offer enticing opportunities. They had us at “hello, look at this price.”
We had low expectations, figuring the tour guide and our fellow travelers were unlikely to be compelling. Wrong! Thirty three strangers came together in that bus and within two days, we were a family of sorts. It was a diverse group in many ways, ethnically, religiously, racially, politically, generationally, background, etc. Our tour guide was a phenomenal teacher with a great deal of information to impart. He made history come alive as we stood in the center of so many ancient civilizations. Our differences fell away as we were surrounded by history in the present day of conflict and listened to an impassioned speaker share his life and his knowledge about the past, the present, and the future. We agreed we felt safer than we thought we would and hoped others who have the chance would visit Israel to see and feel what we did.
We came together to consider the price of peace and the toll war and conflict takes on the body and the soul. We watched the lands fly by the bus window, transformed from arid desert into fertile farm land by people who would not give up and who took ingenuity to new heights in order to survive and thrive in that punishing climate and terrain. The brilliance and hard work of those people resulted in their finding ways to make water flow freely in the desert. Miraculous? Definitely, almost to the extent of holiness.
The land felt holy, not just because of the history that happened there, but because we could sense the power of the potential for peace in the world that could flow like that water from that holy land if only minds and hearts and souls were truly open to it. Thirty three strangers, now bonded forever, saw the possibility for peace but felt its elusiveness as ingenuity meets intransigence in that region. I was awed by the land, awed by the determination of the people, awed by the fact that there is peace between Israel and Jordan and Israel and Egypt so it’s not impossible for these countries to come to agreement. I was awed by the beauty in the crossroads of so many rich cultures. I left Israel saddened. Maybe the others felt it too. We entered a holy land as strangers, we left bonded in a hope for the future with a deep longing for better times. Our tour guide said he didn’t think there would ever be peace. With respect, thirty three strangers hope he’s wrong. If you have a chance, go. Join us in a hope for peace.