Wednesday, 14 December 2011

My Sar El volunteer experience in Israel, November 2011

November 2011, Volunteer with Sar El

This was my fourth visit to Israel in 3 years! I was drawn to Israel to volunteer, did for 2 weeks, and went solo!!  Always in life there is a first time for this or that, isn’t there?   But there is always some company along the way, starting with the air flight.   Met and chatted with people on a pilgrimage to Israel or visiting relatives in Italy (flight was Alitalia with stop over in Rome).  Returning home, it was similar, some people interested of where I was going or been and doing what.  A couple of ladies were interested in the volunteering and we exchanged email addresses.

On arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, the program co-ordinator provided me with a sticker that had the army base name and number, which was near BeerSheva.  I was fortunate there were other two ladies who arrived in the afternoon, we became roommates at the base.  Majority of our group was made up of Americans, others were Italian, Swiss, British, French, me and another Canadian.. A group of Jews and Gentiles.  Our base was the logistic centre, where they maintained and serviced trucks and other transport vehicles, including storage for the reserves’ equipment.

Our FantasticTeam

Morning Flag raising ceremony was mandatory. Volunteers got to raise the flag alongside a soldier. Daily we were divided into groups to whatever tasks was scheduled for that day.  I volunteered to do kitchen duty on the first day.  It was easy peasy, mop the floor, wipe the plastic chairs, set up the table, slice bread, other cleaning as requested, all before lunch.  After lunch, clean the tables, mop the floor, put away cleaned plastic mugs, and was told to take the afternoon break until half hour before dinner!  This soldier was very kind, he didn’t let us help in chopping veggies.  The second week’s soldier let the volunteers do quite a bit more J   I learned one does not mix utensils – blue for dairy products (breakfast and dinner), red and white for meats (lunch). Neutral items would be glass, plastic and paper.  Meals were good, I ate a lot of fresh veggies and I love eggs.

Work week is Sunday to Thursday.  Tasks were:-  sort the truck tie downs (heavy duty tarp rope with mechanical locks) and check the locks, if in working conditions roll the rope, tie together, and plastic bag 5 such units together.  At another warehouse, place different tools in containers as a kit for each truck. Outside where the trucks were lined up, check tool cabinet, remove anything in them and place in front of truck for pick up.  Another day, paint the tool containers and tie labels to them.  Check fire extinguisher dates, sort by dates, clean them to re-label with new dates.  Other volunteers did other tasks needed in the different storage warehouses, eg, check reserves’ duffel bags were a complete set, clean warehouses to make room for more stuff, build new shelves, paint, etc.  We would finish our work sooner and wait for the next assignment. We used the wait time sunning ourselves. J  So, it was a relaxed work environment. J

After dinner we had a get together.  At these meetings we learned, well, first evening was a welcoming by a commander, explaining about the work of the base, second evening was going through volunteer rules and regulations, again (already heard at airport). We learned Hebrew alphabets and numbers, and some words using English sentences that had words that phonetically sounded Hebrew, would be paired to what that word was, which was really neat.  (Didn’t take any notes in these meetings, da!).  In another session we learned about the history of the flag, coat of arms, anthem (the Haktivah), and we got to do some exercises based on these 3 things!  Another evening we learned a little bit of the IDF, what unit the colour of the berets represented (later were quizzed by placing the colour with its corresponding logo), and the ranks of the soldier. Our madrichot kept us busy in these sessions.  We were always engaged in some activity on the theme of that evening.

During lunch breaks or returning from the ‘field’ (read ‘warehouse’ or ‘trailer’), or after dinner, there was time of interaction with the young soldiers.  I enjoyed discussions with them.  They were curious about me, openly talk about their future, honestly tell you what they feel, and tease each other a lot.  They are fun kids.  Some couldn’t believe I would pay my own fare, use my vacation to work at the base for free!  I was glad I took Ontario and Canadian pins with me.  They were a hit.  The young soldiers just loved them, especially the tiny Canadian flag pins.

Ontario's Flag & Trillium and Canada's Maple Leaf & Flag pins

For the Shabbat weekend (Friday to Saturday), we had to stay away from the base. My roommates and I chose to go to Jerusalem.  On Thursday after lunch, we were bus’ed to BeerSheva where one could take a train to Tel Aviv or bus to Jerusalem.  It was wonderful to meet other Sar El volunteers from another base.  One group came from South Africa, their first time to Israel.  They spent their Shabbat weekend in Jerusalem attending the different prayer towers.  How commendable.  They would tour Jerusalem at the end of their volunteer commitment.  Wished I had asked of their agenda, would love to attend those prayer towers.  They had an amazing time in one prayer tower with a round skylight, where while it was raining all around Jerusalem, their skylight showed blue sky and sun shine!  Wish I was there.

It was wonderful to be in Jerusalem again.  Brought back memories of this Spring’s trip.  From our hostel on Yafo, we were very close to Mahane Yehuda (open market), short walking distance to Old City, and on the way there, dropped in Ben Yehuda.  My roommate and I walked the Rampart Walls, only the northern part.  It rained a lot on Saturday, so for the afternoon we decided to head back to the hostel to chill out and dry ourselves before heading out again in the evening.  Pretty quiet except for the Old City. Sunday early morn we took the light rail train(free before Dec 1) on Yafo to the Central Bus Station to catch a bus to Tel Aviv to meet up with other volunteers and head to our base.  It was a sunny day !

Rampart Wall
The Kotel

We had a day trip (escorted, that is, with guns) on Tuesday of the second week.  We visited Ben Gurion University in BeerSheva first.  Got a guided tour by the PR who was from Richmond Hill, Ontario.  Stopped for lunch and shopping at Beer Sheva’s central shopping mall before heading to our next visit, Kibbutz Revivim.  This kibbutz was the earliest settler in the desert.  Got quite a history on agriculture, water reservoir and defending during the early war.  It is now a kibbutz with olive tree groves, .... in the desert! 

Kibbutz Water Project - to contain rain water
Olive groves in background

On our last day, worked the morning, then bus’ed to Jaffa at the Sar El hostel, where we could park our luggage, freeing us to visit Jaffa before heading for the airport. Thursday seem to be a favourable day for weddings.  Along the sea front promenade, we saw quite a lot of wedding parties on photo shoot.  It was a lovely afternoon, very quiet too, hardly any pilgrim group encountered!  After retrieving our luggage, we stood at a bus stop that would take us to the Central Train Station in Tel Aviv.  Well, different buses would pass and we wondered if our bus would come this way!  A bystander waiting for a bus offered to help us, saying we follow her as she was going the same way.  We sat together and it was a wonderful time of chat, about life and culture.  She told us where to get off, with the bus not going straight to the train station due to road diversion. The young fella sitting beside me offered to take us there, saying he was going that way.  It was already dark.  We engaged in conversation with him and learned about him.  I was glad he helped us as we both had no clue where we were. Streets look different at night. He also lugged my luggage!!  At the train station, we knew what platform to board, but which train?  The notice board didn’t have ‘Ben Gurion’, so look for passenger with luggage that does not board the train, we do likewise J.   Good thing, a commuter heard us talking and told us we could board with him on the train that would take us to Ben Gurion.  We sat together. He and his family had made aliyah from South Africa 3 years ago.  We learned a little bit more about life in Israel from his perspective.  I handed him a couple of our Canadian flag pins for his kids, before getting off the train.
Jaffa promenade looking towards Tel Aviv
As much as I enjoyed the volunteering work, I enjoyed even more meeting the people and interacting with them.  Our madrichot were amazing.  For such young ladies, their leadership skills surpasses the adults’. The Base Commander’s letter to each of us, thanking us, was a lovely and heartfelt letter. For our service with Sar El, we received a Sar El certificate, Sar El hat, Sar El pin, Sar El t-shirt and the blue insignias (in Hebrew “Mitnadev Sar-El” or "Sar-El Volunteer”, worn on the shoulders). The experience was worth it, and we had in our group, repeaters with 18, 8, 4, 2 times on volunteer duties.  I hope to return.  If you are interested to know more, visit


Thursday, 28 April 2011

Fantastic Experience on the Jesus Trail

Had to break my story into two sections!!!  Please read the first section 'What a Wonderful Experience' then read this one.

Nazareth Old City is a very small version of Jerusalem Old City, I found.   The free Old City tour starting from Fauzi Azar Inn led us to the White Mosque, the best ‘Middle Eastern’ style pizza shop, open air fresh produce market selling all sorts of veggies, eggs and tiny chicks.  Oh so cute these chicks, reminded me of my childhood when we had chicken and the mother hen with her baby chicks.  When they were not feeding she would gather her chicks under her wings. In Matt 23:37b, Luke 13:34b, 37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.
Yeshua(Jesus) used this scenario as a metaphor to describe how G_d longed to provide protection for His people.  I believe He does protect Israel, since 1948.
                                                                                          Where's my Mommy?

Nazareth Village is beautiful in spring!  What a different landscape from the autumn season! Travel from Jerusalem to Nazareth was a time to get acquainted with our driver.  Since he spoke Arabic, I tried to practice Arabic from the phrasebook in the Jesus Trail guidebook.  He would correct my pronunciation, which I appreciated. I didn’t get the ‘r’ correct.  He also taught me how to call the sheep to come to me.  ‘rrrrrrrrrrr’ he said, “Really!” so I would practice, and he would correct me on that too. The gals burst out in laughter, he was laughing and so was I, trying to get it right.  We had a very good long hearty laughter, only to be increased much more when I said I will have the opportunity to call the sheep at Nazareth Village. Well, guess what?  I “rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr” while approaching the corral.  You should have seen the big eyes on the guide and the squinting eyes of the shepherd and the laughter from my friends. The sheep just ignored me!!! I explained what I was doing, but the shepherd told the guide that he was in fear!!! When my room mate ‘rrrrrrrrrrrrrr’ed in the morning at TLV, I thought she was snoring, but it was a wake up call to me, in lieu of the alarm clock that didn’t sound!!! It is now a wonderful memory of fun learning Arabic (and am so gullible). Yeshua, the Great Shepherd pointed out, “My sheep know my voice.” That happens when sheep and shepherd have a very close relationship, do I?  I still have a long ways!  Many times I don’t pay attention to the still small voice, later regret it!

John 10
The Good Shepherd and His Sheep
 1 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
 7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.    11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.    14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.
  I am very thankful, grateful, privileged to be one of His sheep.

A sunny and warm first day of walking the Jesus Trail, a 60km 4 day hike from Nazareth to Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee.  Orientation on the trail gave some pointers on trail blazes, what to watch out for, where to detour from deep muddy patch, etc.  Oh, before I talk on that, let’s hear about the local foods.  We so enjoyed the wonderful different varieties we consumed, breakfast and dinner, from Nazareth to Moshav Arbel (our last day on arranged meals). Different kinds of salads, meats and chicken done in different ways, of course, hummus, pita breads, pickled veggies in small bowls, cheeses, etc, etc. We were offered herbal tea, fresh herbs from the garden, that was just so refreshing.  I wonder if I can recreate those teas here in Canada. Their welcoming hospitality is so caring and loving, offers of nice hot herbal tea with pastries is just what we need on arrival at each location.

Look at this photo:-
                        On the Jesus Trail

Looking at the trail in the above photo, imagine, us, 5 certain-aged (I used to refer to us as “old”, I was told “speak for yourself”), picture us, 5 excited, rambunctious, fun loving, full of laughter, loud, Canadian ladies walking this 60 km trail in 4 days, ...... lugging our luggage with us!!!  I wish I knew how to draw caricatures, this would be a treasured piece of drawing. Someone actually wondered that!  But, thanks to Jesus Trail Tours’ “We’ll take care of the details, you focus on the journey”, transported our luggage from accommodation to accommodation leaving us with no “heavies” to carry, but not as Jesus instructed His disciples in Mark 6:8-9 8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt.
Btw, we did have a lot of laughter on this tour.

I love the Spring season.  Along the trail, so obvious is the lushness of the land, so green with healthy plant life, colourful flowers, birds singing, cows mooing, and sheep grazing quietly in the fields. On higher ground looking into the valley, it’s covered in a sea of yellow flowers, a patch of olive groves, to one part is a forest, another, a cultivated field.  The quietness and tranquility of the country is so calming to one’s senses.

Brings to memory:-
Matt 6:25-34    25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?     28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Even the villages we passed through were quiet!  I’m drawn to this land.

Check this picture:-

Look at the foreground
When I browsed the Jesus Trail website last year, I noticed they have a project, Cleaning the Trash,   Sure enough, trash does mar the beauty of the land.  It’s sad that residents would not take their own initiatives for whatever reason, to not litter in their own environment!  Some areas in the town/villages are clean and others just filthy. So I’m fund raising for this project by selling the new in pristine condition, “Hiking the Jesus Trail and other Biblical walks in the Galilee” Guidebook. As a non-hiker, I totally am impressed with this book, it is so inclusive of so many themes and topics that I have to keep referring to it, even now that I’m back.  It has tons of info.  It actually is very cheap at $24.49.  I’m asking $25.00, and will accept your generosity for more than the asking price, it goes to a very good cause.  You can check the sample page in the above website.  If you donate online and show me the receipt, I will hand you the guidebook and throw in the Jesus Trail map as a "Thank You" for your support.

Help the trail look like this:-

Wheat fields along the way. But they were not ready for harvesting this early in the Spring J 1 At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. Matt 12:1

Overall, the trail was actually easy on the 2 days we covered. The terrain is friendly.  Since we did encounter rain from day 2, on day 3 we took a bus to a junction (J20 in the guidebook) and then walked to our B&B at Arbel, which we walked along the highway, not the trail. On day 4, with the downpour, the taxi took us to Tabagha, it was sunny there and we finished our journey walking on the sidewalk to Capernaum. We just didn’t want to walk on mud again and our shoes were not mud friendly or rain proof. I would like to go back and walk it all the way.  If a 85 and a 91 year old can do it, so can you and I J

Want to touch the Sea, come over....

Walking the land brings such an understanding of Yeshua’s teaching.  He used what was common in the area, the sheep, the shepherd, the goats, the open fields, the wheat, the thorns, rocky/sandy/fertile soils, wide trail, single file trail, etc, etc.  There is a meditative nature on this trail.
I just cannot speak enough of the quietness, serenity, peacefulness, beauty, of the land we covered. The scenery is just awesome. I love it.  Even the dark clouds around us looked non-threatening. They seemed to just be in the distance, and we didn’t get rained on until we arrived at our destination, then it down poured.  Looks like G_d held it away so we may be dry, He cared! 
Talk about divine caring!  Day 1, from Nazareth to Cana, the pedometer clocked 22 km, when the distance is 13.5km. Well, we knew from the hill, we had to get to the highway down there, according to the guidebook, so took the trail that would take us there, but later found out it was a wrong trail, so had to back track on the highway to join the Jesus Trail.(lesson – take a good look at the guidebook or retrace back to take another trail) When we arrived at Cana, just outside our B&B, we heard fireworks, in the afternoon!! (Host said some celebration was taking place).  I interpreted the fireworks were for us, as “YOU MADE IT, WELL DONE” J
At Yarok Az Goat Farm, Ilaniya, it was very quiet. Our wet feet were cold after walking in the rain and mud, and the cell phone acting up, there appeared a young fella!!  He offered to dial the owners with his iphone. Then another young fella came by and mentioned about luggage inside the tent!  They were ours, so this is the place we stay the night.  These soft-speaking, kind, gentle, respectful and helpful young men just finished their IDF service and were hiking the Israel National Trail. They fired up the heating stove in our ‘igloo’, they called the domed tent.  They shared their hot food with us.  So the wait for the owners to show up didn’t matter, we were being looked after already!!  I wish I asked for their contact address. I salute the mothers of these young men and others in the IDF. In their civilian clothing, they looked soooo young. I just can’t fathom them being in the army, defending their country, it’s heart breaking, really is. Yet, here they are, so kind, respectful and soft speaking gentlemen.

Next leg, we took the modern transportation to a junction to walk to our next destination.  Using the J20 page of the guide book (this section is a different trail section), we decided to walk along the highway, thinking we would see the Jesus Trail sign!!! No JT signs, consulting the guidebook, who shows up?  Taylor, with our luggage!!  Told us to keep on this highway and turn right at the next junction to Arbel. Great, don’t have to retrace. He pointed the Horns of Hattin to us. Appreciated that info.
                       Horn of Hattin


How about animals?  We had dogs who guided us!!  At Yarok Az Goat Farm, the gentle dog just knew where we needed to go.  For dinner, it(I don’t know much about dogs, except blessing their owners who don’t scoop after their dogs, ‘Revenge is mine, saith the Lord’, I figure my part is to bless), it turned to the left to lead us to the restaurant. Next day, heading out on our 3rd leg, it turned to the right, walked on the sidewalk, crossed the road to the bus shelter (just knew we were going to take modern transportation instead of walking). 

Lead us, buddy

At Arbel, before the taxi came to pick us to Tabagha (it rained the whole night and drizzling in the morn), we had just enough time to walk to Mt. Arbel. We walk out and there is this “spotted” dog,  walking with us. We were trying to find the trail which our host said was better, and tracing back, the neighbourhood dogs came out, walking in front us, I should have taken a picture of them.  This spotted one stuck with us, finally we find a trail, he would lead us.  At one point, the plants were so tall and it was a single file trail, he jumped onto a mount to see if we were following him!!  We didn’t get to Mt. Arbel as we came across plowed land, not wanting to walk on mud, we turned back.  This dog led us at our door!!  His company was truly appreciated.
 Dog wants to lead, catching up after we checked the Ancient Synagogue and moving on..

Meeting people always has a flair about it.  At Leket, so wonderful to meet Natalie face to face after all the emails between us.  At the field, those school children were a delight, and a Leket staff conversed with us. He is a Messianic believer who lived in the kibbutz nearby.
At Fauzi Azar Inn, Nazareth, Anna Landis welcomed us, finally meeting her face to face, and her husband, David, took time to wish us well on the trail.  We enjoyed chatting with JT volunteers and staff, who were local people, from the States or Europe.
On the trail, kids sensing us being at a lost as to which turn to take would let us know where the blaze was. The hosts of our accommodation gave us some insights on the area. The 6 Mexican ladies walking the Jesus Trail on their own was a delight to meet with and exchange notes. It was so wonderful to see them again at the end, us walking out of Capernaum and them coming in. Meeting the young IDF’ers who seemed to be enjoying themselves walking near our next destination.  We asked for direction, and only one could speak English.  Told him we walked from Cana and wonder which route to take since we came followed a different blaze sign, he told his comrades so, and exclaimed, “From Cana? Mama Mia”!!!  J
Getting to know our bus/taxi drivers.  Our JT shuttle driver nicknamed ‘Chiki’ was a delight to know. He informed us that the rain they had will extend farming for the next 2 months.  Well, we looked positively at the situation by telling ourselves that we ‘brought the showers of blessings’! J  Chiki was very open about what he believed and how he leads his life. We met his wonderful wife, and how proud he was now that he was going to be a grandfather, good excuse for him to get a bigger cell phone to show off his grandson’s pictures to his friends, now that he won’t be the only one with no grandchildren!! He was funny.  He mentioned he shuttled an 85 yr JT hiker who told Chiki that he would come back and walk the JT again. We do too, to walk ALL the way.
Our bus driver from Tiberias to Tel Aviv invited us to his home at the base of Mt. Tabor (Site of Transfiguration of Jesus) for herbal tea, Arab coffee and sweets. Driving into his village, I blurted out how clean it was!!  We really enjoyed the visit, meeting his wife and 2 kids (boy & girl, expecting a 3rd one) and, being such a teaser, mentioned about Bedouins having 4 wives, that is, after examining one of his rooms that was set up with floor cushions in Bedouin style. You should have heard us! He was kind enough to adjust his schedule in order to take us to the airport the next day, I didn’t have to arrange for taxis. Mt. Tabor, said to be site of Jesus' transfiguration.

Tel Aviv, a wonderful seaside city.  Check out the beach.  Can’t swim, or don’t want to, can still get your exercise at the seaside gym!

Now that we are home, we can’t wait to get back to Israel (3 of us, singles)!!  It has become a vacation spot for me.  Next year in Israel, Amen.

Toda and Shalom,

What a WONDERFUL Experience!

This is my third time to Israel in two and half years! A lot of firsts for me in this trip and learned a lot too. A truly wonderful experience for a first time independent traveller, with no guides or group leader to depend on.  I knew we were covered in prayer tho. Thanks much, we came back alive, healthy and with a strong desire to go back again.

First lesson: how does this work, that is, the rented cell phone!! Yeah, I know I live in the 21st C, but I like the 19th C, ok, 20th C. I don’t own one and saw a need to rent one, since I have 4 ladies with me on this trip. Need to call Canada to say we arrived safely, but the call is not going thru!!  Saw some text messages but this is a cell phone, not those i-something gadget!!  Finally had to solicit the hostel’s receptionist to help me.  Good thing, she had relatives in Canada and so knew the country code and showed a better way of dialling. The instructions that came with the phone didn’t help.  When I picked it up I asked to be shown how to operate it, but I didn’t do a dry run before leaving for Israel, da!  Further to my ignorance, spent so much time trying to find how to get to those text messages!! And then see there was a voice mail!! A couple of days later, a friend in Jerusalem walked me thru this phone.  I mentioned to her that how come I didn’t hear any ringing!!  Cause the phone was not switched on, daaa!  I like a land line phone, don’t have to check for low battery, or remember to switch on or off, and ..... Well, that cell phone did come in handy.

First evening in Jerusalem, we attended the night show inside the Old City at the Tower of David Museum.  It was incredibly interesting to learn the history by lights and shadows, with music. It was so cold and with such wonderful music, I couldn’t fight the sleep, nodded on and off, so missed out a lot J  Jerusalem was cold the first 2 days.  And at Mamilla Str with shops and restaurants but no cars allowed, there were these heaters!!! Couldn’t believe the open air was being heated!!! 

At Jaffa Gate, there was a Food Festival.  Ate a lot of the deep fried stuff,(sold by weight).  I can’t tell you the names, can’t remember them in Hebrew, however, main ingredient was potatoes, plus whatever, was tasty and didn’t get sick.

Volunteering with Leket. Leket staff, Natalie, picked us up in Jerusalem to Rehe’vot where we picked turnips at a farmer’s farm.  School kids around 8-9 years old were gleaning too.  It was fun interacting with them, with their curiosity of where we came from, practicing their English and me trying to learn Hebrew. What a wonderful training of youngsters to be considerate of others, especially to those in need. (BTW, I just received receipt of the money order from the fund raiser for Leket Israel’s Sandwiches for the Schoolkids.  Will send it to you soon. Once again, Thanks Much)
It was heart warming to know that a filled bin (400 kg) would feed 200 families. We visited Leket’s warehouse in Ra’anana.  From their warehouse, soup kitchens would receive what they need.  Later, in a round of visits dropping some dry foods, was at a Women’s development centre, mainly African women, where they learn skills and do some hand crafted items. At the time they crochet baskets for Ahava.  Onto a couple of apartments that housed the Dafur refugee men, where rice, spaghetti, breads, etc, would feed them for a while.  A young man, Ibrahim, a refugee himself, sought to set up shelter for them and help his countrymen start a new life in Israel. Didn’t expect to see the men in the apartments for the afternoon, but they have no money or know anyone or the language to be outside their premises.  Some were sleeping covered up head to toe, under a blanket.  These men have been traumatized in their own country! At the children’s centre we dropped 3 boxes of goodies that would keep the kids occupied, besides the snacks.  It was also used as a workshop for adults and there was a list of workshops with volunteers’ name against it.  It was a delight to see all the workshops had a volunteer to offer the course.  I was impressed with Leket, that it is an inclusive humanitarian organization, working with other NGOs and helping other peoples besides the Jews. It was a day well spent. I intend to go back and spend some days gleaning for the poor.
Matt 25:31-40 :-
    31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
   34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
   37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
   40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

School kids:- Where are you from?

Fill up the bin which carries 400 kg
Fyi, there is a Canadian registered Leket - Christian Friends of Leket -  where you can donate and receive the tax deductible receipt.

Another volunteer function was sifting dirt at the Temple Mount Sifting tent in Jerusalem, down in the Zurim Valley National Park. We took the bus to Mt Scopus, dropped off at the Hebrew University and find our way down the valley to the sifting tent. Mt. Scopus was a beautiful vantage point to see the Old City.  I think I have now covered all angles to see the Golden Dome at the Temple Mount. At the sifting tent, after a presentation explaining the history of Jerusalem, etc, using a hose to squirt off the dirt, we had to look for items that were glass, special stones, metal, bones, pottery, and mosaics.  I had hoped to find some 1st temple era item, but found a 2nd temple era fresco that the archaeologist used for show and tell J  At the end, with another presentation on our finds, we received a certificate as having “participated in the Temple Mount Antiquities Salvage Operation and took part in revealing the ancient past of Jerusalem”, inscribed with a biblical quotation from Ps 102:15 “For Your servants have cherished her stories and favoured her dust”.  Btw, it cost 15 NIS to participate.  It was worth the experience.
Zurin Valley to Temple Mount Sifting
                             Items from different eras

Did a lot of walking in Jerusalem.  It seemed time stood still for us!  Checking our watch we marvelled how much we covered in a short time!! Hey, that means, we can do lots. 
From the Temple Mount sifting tent, we walked towards the Old City. Since we were in close proximity to the Garden Tomb, we went looking for it. The area it was located looked like an Arab area, just by the shops’ names written in Arabic and English, is enough revelation of its residents. 
Getting first entrance to the Garden Tomb, (many sites close between 12 noon to 2pm), it was great to see the area without crowds.  While waiting for the door to open, we chatted with other pilgrims.  Wonderful fellowship and exchange of experiences. Mentioned our next itinerary after Jerusalem was the Jesus Trail, and the leader’s wife cautioned us to watch out for insect bites, with her hands over me, prayed for us (we didn’t encounter insect bites on the trail). Their guide let us go in ahead of her group, we were there first J but without appointment!!

Since I don’t like crowds, it was so wonderful walking those Old City alleyways with no hindrance.  Can see down the alley and items displayed knee high on either side!!  It was great!  So was going into those churches, a 3rd time, but this time, I was able to roam around and see other parts that I hadn’t known existed!! At the Pool of Bethesda, beside St. Anne Church, the gate was open to see the excavated (in part) from the other side then what I had seen the first and second time I was there, which was limited.  We were able to roam the area, unhindered by crowds J and take lots of pictures with no bodies in them.  Church of Holy Sepulchre, again, able to climb upstairs where it was said Jesus was crucified.  Big difference when visiting in a guided tour, however, the guide’s commentaries would be very helpful if one did not pre-read on sites intended to be visited.
Pool of Bethesda

A day trip to the Dead Sea proved a wonderful time of relaxation, a sunny warm day too. Got to see Qumran by the road side, first time!! In previous tours, the guide didn’t point it out!! Dropped in at the Ahava factory for a shopping spree. At the Dead Sea, we got a shade by the water, ‘cause no big crowds yet J   There was ample time drying in the mud and finish off with soaking in the nice hot sulphur smelling spa, in which one floats, just like in the Dead Sea. Brought home some salt rocks I chipped off from the sea. At this location there is evidence of how much the Dead Sea has receded.  The life guard station closer to the entrance compared to the current one by the sea, is a long distance. Check the photo, I’m not good at scaling distances or anything else.  I consider the Dead Sea to be one of the earth’s wonder. When in Israel, a dip, er, float, in the Dead Sea is a must! Where else can one float and enjoy its therapeutic minerals? 

Old City vendors are very helpful. Asking “which way to...” is responded with “straight ahead, first left” or “go back and 2nd right”. However... this day we had walked the length and breath of the Old City, included climbing up the steps, walk the alleys, go down the steps, it’s a maze! It was time to have dinner before it got dark. Earlier, along the way, we had found a restaurant which offered falafel. We decided to get back to that section where it was located. Back to climbing those steps and walking the alleys, etc, etc, down to the level that would lead us to the Kotel, which direction to take? to the left were more stores, to the right, the alley looked foreboding! Hey, why not ask which way to the Western Wall (the restaurant was close to the Wall).  This man asked his young boy to lead us, and we went back up the steps, down some alleys, up some steps, down some other steps, at a quick pace too, to the gate facing the Wall! The boy persisted my friend for more shekels (which he saw she had)! From there we knew where to go ‘cause earlier that was the way we came into the Kotel.  After dinner, we made a left turn to return to the hostel.  Less than 30 seconds later we saw the man and the boy,... at the spot I asked for directions.  Imagine my shock!! I was n o t amused. And he had the nerve to ask if we were happy with the boy’s help.  If you had prayed that my tongue be restrained in certain situations, it worked. My friend responded, kindly.

                               Entrance from M. Qtr

The Temple Institute was on the agenda for one of us, and what a surprise to come across it at one turn in the maze!  While the others went for the presentation, been in there  twice already, and didn’t want to pay 25 NIS, I decided to sit outside on the cement bench, watching people walking by.  There was this door that people opened and threw their bags in.  A few boys passed by with a shopping trolley and stroller with bags of recycle-ables, opened this door, went in, came out, closed it and went on their way. From time to time someone would come along and use it, throwing in a bag.  Even when someone does not use it, will close the door tightly and apply the latch.  Hmmm, what’s so special behind that door? What were in those bags?  A kind gentleman approached me and asked to move away, something from the roof would be coming down. A huge bag of garden waste, like cacti leaves, plants, came crashing down, some spilled out onto the street but his son picked the pieces, not all.  Well, that bag went in thru that door.  Ah! It was a trash holding room!!! No wonder the street was clean as was the rest in this part of the Old City. The kind gentleman invited me to see his roof top garden, had to turn him down, not wanting my friends be alarmed not seeing me around. A sweeper came by. He noticed tiny bits of green, looked up in the direction of where that came from (seemed he just knew) and showed disgust! I had to smile.

Last day in Jerusalem, before heading off to Nazareth. The itinerary was to walk to Gethsemane and spend some quiet time for meditation and prayer. Walked through the Old City to the Dung Gate, passed City of David, down the Kidron valley to Mt. Olives. Never been down this part before!  Got to see the Absalom Pillar and some tombs beside it.  While waiting for the Garden of Gethsemane to open, we crossed the street to look inside a church, but it was closed as well.  We found a good spot to rest, away from traffic!! I thought we would find some olive groves where we could rest and meditate, but that area below Mt. of Olives was gated and locked!!  It was a very warm day.  After the garden visit, head back via Lion Gate to the hostel.  Outside Jaffa Gate, last chance to drink some pomegranate juice!  Didn’t have one last year, so better drink the freshly squeezed juice this time or live to regret it! Hmm, refreshing. Didn’t have any stomach upset. That speaks of the water in Israel too.  Their water is safe, I can attest.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, a safe, safe, safe city.  Loved the location of our hostel, loved the shops, loved the food, Oh yeah, halva! Ate this for the first time!!, loved the early morn walk, evening walks, day walks, bus rides, and everything in between. Can’t wait to get back!  Still have a list of some sites to visit next time.