In our June monthly
newsletter I said that I would write a page telling more about my experiences
here in Israel. I'm participating in a 6-week intensive Biblical Hebrew
class that is equivalent to the first year of university-level Hebrew.
It is being held at a Christian retreat center called Yad-HaShmona which
has a Biblical garden containing fields of grain and terraced gardens
(gans) as well as bedouin tents, wine and olive presses, a mikveh, a synagogue
and other reconstructions of ancient tools and archaeological remains.
The Yad HaShmona retreat center is a moshav, which is like a kibbutz in that those who work have a share in it, although property is individually owned rather than in common. Also, many workers are volunteers who come from other countries for 3 months or more to experience life in Israel. They have free room and board but are only paid a few dollars a month. They can participate in Bible studies and Hebrew classes and are taken on trips around the country. Students after high school or college, or other adults who want to have a taste of Israel may want to consider this as a possibility.
class sessions are often held outside to experience the context in which
Bible stories took place. Currently we are reading the book of Jonah.
We spent one day at the Mediterranean Sea (ha-yam ha-gadol, the "Great
Sea") acting out the story and learning vocabulary dealing with ships
and the sea. Most biblical Hebrew classes focus only on translation, but
we are also speaking it to communicate in order to grasp the syntax and
form of the language. The theory is that the human mind forms structures
for remembering a language which are more extensive when it is spoken
in a useful way. Modern Hebrew is not very different, so we easily can
practice in real conversation on the street.
Taking the bus into Jerusalem is always an interesting experience. As we go through two ultra-orthodox Jewish communities the bus gradually fills with people of a very different culture. The men wear black hats and long beards and side curls, and long black coats and tzitzit. The women wear skirts and blouses to cover their legs and arms, and also wear hats or nets over their hair for modesty. Still, people are friendly. One afternoon a little boy sat by me whose name is Moshe (Moses in Hebrew) who was eight years old. His mother and grandmother were in the next row. With another woman translating they chatted with us in Yiddish. We couldn't practice Hebrew even though they understood it, because they feel the language of the scriptures is too holy for conversation. They even invited us to come to their home, but we weren't able to do so.
Last weekend I went with some classmates up to the Galilee area in a rental car. The route we took was biblical, because in order to get up to Galilee we drove far around the West Bank area, which is close to where Samaria was historically. In Jesus' day people would also go far out of their way to travel either east or west of Samaria (see John 4). From near Jerusalem we drove west to Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean coast, then north along the sea and then across to Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. The scenery rapidly changed from mountains covered in ancient terraces to shephelah lowlands, to coastal sands, and then the fertile farming country of the Jezreel Valley and Galilee area. It was amazing how much variety could be seen in the land in a four hour trip across the country. The most strikingly beautiful scene was when we approached Tiberias and the entire Sea of Galilee suddenly appeared, surrounded in mountains.
Over the weekend we visited several sites from Jesus' ministry. Because of the political tensions there are very few tourists, so sites of interest are nearly empty of visitors and easy to walk through. Although the news in the U.S. has many alarming reports, the areas that are not involved in the conflict are as safe as ever. The highlight from our trip was to watch the sun rise over the Sea of Galilee from Mt. Arbel and then to hike down in the early dawn. On the face of this mountain are caves where Galilean Zealots hid, only to be killed by Herod the Great.
This is only a small taste
of the rich experience that we have been having here.