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The flight, drive through Jaffa, and overnight in Tel Aviv

I'm typing this from a computer at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv on a keyboard which has primary Hebrew characters. We landed at the Ben Gurion Airport this afternoon about 3:17 PM Israel time after a journey that began an hour late at LAX.

In spite of our delay for bad storms on the east coast, we made our connecting flight from Newark, NJ, and took off for Tel Aviv about 11:00 PM last night. We finally got here at 3:17 today.

The reality of actually going to Israel hit me full force as I walked down the boarding hallway into our first plane. I felt overwhelmed at the poignancy of the journey on which we were embarking, and the effect was enhanced when I saw the significant number of orthodox Jews on the flight with us. When we boarded the B-777 for Israel at Liberty International Airport in Newark, the effect was greatly enhanced.

A huge percentage of passengers were orthodox or ultra-orthodox Jews. In fact, two Jewish men asked us (in what I assumed to be a Hebrew accent) if we would trade seats with two of them so one of them would not have to sit by a woman. (Orthodox men are forbidden from touching any woman but their own wives.)

We traded seats with them, and I found myself sitting beside a cute young woman about 20-ish with a bright-eyed six-month-old son. Her husband, wearing the standard black pants, white shirt, prayer tassels, and skull cap (but minus the full beard and side curls of the ulta-orthodox) sat across the aisle from her.

When I asked, she told me that she is a student at university in Jerusalem earning a degree in special education. Her husband also studies, "but not in a regular school. He's a student at a yeshiva, a Jewish school, and he studies the Bible." It seemed as if half the passengers on that plane were Jews on their way to Israel.

We had a long night: sleep was fitful, I had begun to doze a bit more deeply when, all of a sudden, life erupted all around the cabin. The few window shades that were still up revealed the sun was beginning to dawn. By this time, it was about 2:15 Newark time and 8:15 Israel time. We were then flying over Ireland, and in that part of the world, the light was just dawning.

For the next hour Jewish men from all over the plane were rising and removing embroidered pouches from the overhead storage bins. Unashamedly walking into the aisles and into the area where the flight attendants sat or prepared food, they strapped their phylacteries onto their heads and upper left arms, winding the straps around their forearms and fingers. (The young man in front of me strapped two phylacteries on his forehead and two on his arm.) Then they covered themselves with white prayer shawls decorated with black stripes on the edge that framed the face. Even the husband of my seatmate, who appeared to be "merely" orthodox rather than Hasidic, finally handed his sleeping baby back to his wife and donned his prayer shawls and phylacteries.

They either stood in the spaces of the plane's cabin and prayed, or they sat back in their seats with their small prayer books. Each took about one-half hour to complete his prayers, and then he removed his prayer paraphernalia, returned it to the embroidered sacks, and continued with the day.

Richard poignantly summed up the entire phenomenon as he watched one young orthodox father stand at his seat and pray before the flight began yesterday: "It's really sad that they can't call God their father, only their Lord."

Calling God "Father" is a New Testament privilege for all those who have been born of the spirit and made alive in Christ. Calling God "Father" is something Jesus introduced to His disciples when they asked him how to pray (see the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 12), It is something further emphasized in Romans 8 when Paul explains that the Holy Spirit testifies to our spirits that we are sons of God after being made alive in Jesus.

We had one more cultural jolt at the Tel Aviv airport. As we neared the end of our seemingly interminable wait to have our passports checked at the Ben Gurion airport, a sizable crowd of orthodox men (minus the prayer shawls and phylacteries) gathered and prayed in the large waiting area by the security booths. The sun was just setting, and they prayed for about a half hour. Just as we were leaving they began to sing a Hebrew hymn together.

I realized with a jolt (and confirmed with our Jewish guide who met us at the airport and took us by tour bus to the hotel) that these men pray at sunrise and at sunset. Their morning and evening prayers replace the morning and evening sacrifices ancient Israel had to offer at the temple.

The words of Romans 2 were going through my head; honoring the law means nothing to any of us unless we have found the righteousness apart from faith, having nothing to do with the works of the law—righteousness that is only in Jesus.

Tonight, on the way to our hotel, we drove through Jaffa which is the place where Peter had the memorable vision of a sheet full of unclean animals when God told him to Kill and eat (see Acts 10). Tomorrow we will see Nazareth and other related places which I'm too tired to remember right now (Richard is already sound asleep where he lay across the bed...) the jet lag is bad right now!

I will post again tomorrow night. Thanks for all your prayers!


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IMG1848The "Continentals"--eighteen of us who flew together on Continental Airlines because of a problem with the group reservation on El Al.

IMG2191Our tour group was transported by two buses. Shown here is our wonderful driver, Bader, who drove for us in bus two.


IMG1870The Mediterranean Sea and the ancient port of Jaffa as seen from our hotel balcony in Tel Aviv.