Thursday, March 19, 2009

Day One - The Way to Jerusalem

Liberty University's Israel Tour 2009 as Experienced by One Student
Monday, March 9, 2009

Coming up from the airtram station at JFK from my connector flight and making my way through the throng of people, I am greeted by a loud "Elke!" - and, much to my surprise, pronounced properly ("Elka" for all you non-German pronouncing Americans). As I look up, I see Dr. Gary Yates, my Old Testament course professor, coming at me, saying hello and pointing me to a temporary station by our travel agency where I need to go pick up my travel information package. It is about 8:30 pm, and we are getting ready to set off on a ten day trip to Israel with about 180 other students from Liberty, constituting four big tour buses, plus another three busloads of Thomas Road Baptist Church attendees. Oy vey. I have never been on a trip to Israel with that many people, and I kind of dread the things to come.

Mercifully, I had a previous opportunity to meet Dr. Yates and his daughter Erin as well as Dr. Leo Percer, New Testament professor at Liberty University, and his wife Lisa on a trip to Lynchburg just prior to us leaving for Israel. So I know I will know at least four people on this trip - that's a start!

I am taking OBST592, Old Testament Survey II, on this trip as an "Israel Intensive", but am not quite sure what that will mean in practical application. Of course, Dr. Yates sent out a syllabus, but this is a new way of traveling to me. No time to think about this now as I get in line with Dr. Yates and Erin to get our luggage checked in. The wait is a lengthy one as the line, based on the number of travelers, is appropriately long. I suddenly understand why El Al wants passengers there three hours in advance. The line moves inch by inch, but due to the company, we have plenty to chat about. As soon as we reach the roped-off area where scrutiny gets serious and first document checks have occurred, we see a table being set up with "men in black" (Orthodox Jews in traditional garb) placing boxes and plates of cookies as well as drinks on it. They start speaking to passing people and giving them cookies. Tonight starts the Purim holiday, which is evident by some of the young Jewish men having put on make-up and wigs. As much as we want a cookie, too, it is not a good idea to get out of line at this point.

We finally make it up to the main check where a serious-faced young man introduces us to El Al's legendary security by asking us many questions. Dr. Yates immediately gets pulled out into a special area, and the young man comes to collect Erin as soon as he realizes she is Dr. Yates' daughter. With the attention on them, I manage to bypass the special "please open your suitcase" section and proceed straight to the check-in counter. I am totally delighted with this as I am usually the one getting pulled apart. I must have gloated a little too much (read the last blog for why).

Once we are all checked in, we stop by the Purim table and have a brief conversation with the young Israelis staffing it. Their English is limited, but we manage to gather that they are Lubavitcher and part of the Chabad movement. The Lubavitchers' last rebbe is Menachem Mendel Schneerson who is still revered after his death in 1994, and their objective is to convince Jewish people of the benefits of living an Orthodox life. According to Google, "(f)ollowing the initiative of the sixth Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson spurred on the movement to what has become known as shlichus ("serving as an emissary [performing outreach]") after becoming Rebbe in 1950–1951. As a result, Chabad shluchim ("emissaries", sing. shliach) have moved all over the world with the stated mission of persuading non-observant Jews to adopt Orthodox Jewish observance. They assist Jews with all their religious needs, as well as with physical assistance and spiritual guidance and teaching. The stated goal is to encourage Jews to learn more about their Jewish heritage and to practice Judaism."

Getting our first practice in speaking Hebrew, we repeat the blessing for our food (Hamantashen and some more snacks to take with us in a box). Dr. Yates even gets to wear the first kippah of the trip. Checking the time, we realize we need to go to our gate and board the plane. On the way into the plane, I run into Darren Keithley, whom I had "met" on Facebook before leaving. Once aboard the plane, I also meet Shari Kanehl, another Facebook buddy prior to our trip. Next to me are two other Liberty undergrads. We quickly settle into our seats in a very full plane, and off we go to our adventure! The Scriptures we have all studied so diligently are now begging to jump off their 2D pages and become 3D reality to us. God is ready to allow us some of the greatest insights of our lives.

1 comment:

  1. Nice blog again...lots of work involved ...I always enjoy reading your blogs...greets from Germany Birgit