As I recently read through my emails one in particular caught my attention. The news of a terrible incident occuring in Jerusalem. I watched the accompanying news clip on video with some consternation. A Palestinian man had driven a bulldozer into several cars and a bus packed with passengers. Three people had been killed, many more injured. Two men climbed the vehicle in an attempt to stop the carnage. One a policeman. It was the other, a younger man who acted with permanency. I watched in horror as he pulled a weapon and shot the driver three times. The policeman finished the assault with a fourth. The attacker was dead.
For some period of time in parallel with the building of the wall meant to keep Palestinian groups from perpetrating acts against the Jewish state the city of Jerusalem had been relatively peaceful. But as has often been the case in the ‘city of peace’ the Jewish citizens found themselves drawn into conflict and once again plunged into mourning.
The news reports cited the official government position concerning this attack. The perpetrator was not mentally unsound…….
My apartment shook with the force of that first explosion. It was about twenty-five minutes past ten. In the seconds of time it takes to hear such a sound and come to a logical conclusion as to its cause, my mind turned over possible scenarios. For a split second I thought my gas cooker had exploded. But then as I examined myself I came to the conclusion with some relief, that I was still alive.
My next thought was that a Scud missile had landed somewhere close by. This particular train of thought was fueled by the fact that I had lived in Israel during those dark days when 39 Iraqi sent Scud missiles had ‘rained’ down on parts of Tel-Aviv and wider Israel. The explosion sounded like one of them. I raised my head and peered out of the large kitchen windows in front of me. I had expected to see other scud missiles falling, but the night sky over Tel-Aviv was clear. The stars shone in silent contrast to the deafening noise I had just heard. “Perhaps” I thought, “my neighbours gas tank has exploded.”
My thoughts were rudely interrupted by another massive explosion. The large apartment windows shook violently and the acrid smell of smoke and burning assalated my nostrils. This time I instinctively knew what had happened.
I really enjoyed my work amongst the poor of Tel-Aviv. It gave me a sense of satisfaction. That which comes from helping the most helpless in society. I loved Israel; or should I say I loved living in the Holy Land. There where certain aspects of Israeli life of which I disapproved. The narcotics culture and teeming sex trade were high on that list. But my social life was full. I had many friends. Jews and non jews. Sabres (people born in Israel) and immigrants. People from all walks of life. Some through their generosity donated items to be given to the needy; others were recipients of that kindness. Rich or poor, Israeli or non, I was into the people business. My work encouraged me to interact with all kinds of people and engage with them in the issues they faced. Conflict was one of those issues.
Bijou and Shira are two beautiful African children. As the years went by, I watched their slow but steady transformation into “African –Israelis.” Originally from the Congo they learnt with time to speak fluent Hebrew in addition to French. They arrived in Israel at a very early age together with their parents. The Congo had been destroyed by twenty years of civil war- a war which cost at least two million lives. I first became aquainted with them when I visited a church. Then from time to time these children would help me with the less difficult tasks associated with the Gates of Righteousness Humanitarian Distribution center.
I locked the office doors that particular night at appoximately ten o’clock. I thought I would say a quick good night to the children before heading home. As it turned out a drug addict, or so it was thought, had carelessly left a lighted cigarette butt close to some dry material and this had resulted in a raging fire. The excited children and their mother urged me to call for help because the fire was close to their rented apartment.
The fire service eventually arrived and the Israel firefighters with a precision honed by decades of practice putting out literal and non-literal “fires’ began to fight the blaze. Realizing there was nothing more to do, I made the decision to go home before I was caught up in endless discussion of the night’s events.
Tisha B’ Av is a sacred occasion for Jews the world over. It focuses attention on those treacherous, difficult and trying times in Jewish history that witnessed the destruction of the First and Second Temples. The first temple built by King Solomon met with brutal destruction and pillage at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian troops. The second Temple built by King Herod met with similar fate at the hands of the Romans. Both events were accompanied by mass slaughter of Jews and to this day the occasion invokes deep feelings amongst Jewish Israelis.
Not everyone understands and values these historical events in the same manner. Secular Jews while observing the occasion because of its national significance react differently from certain religious Jews who fast, pray and make their presence felt in synagogues across the country. For them it a mournful occasion to be observed with all seriousness.
Foreigners however may not be too symphathetic towards un-familiar Jewish practices. And while some might out of respect entertain the spirit of the occasion, many find the occasion a useful break from the hard work culture associated with Israels dynamic economy. So it seemed on this particular night.
The shops were closed and most drinking spots surrendered to a night and day of forced silence. I say forced because the central district of Tel-Aviv is an area noted for its stubborn resistance to Israeli national celebrations except for those occasions that offer a chance to serve the public with alcohol gambling and paid sex.
On this particular night one notorious bar was still operating. Loud music and raised voices of foreign workers, some jews and Arabs liberated by the downing of cheap beer, intruded upon the rest of the neighborhood which had been brought to heel by the strict insistence of religious Jews backed by security officials, that the fast be kept sacred.
The noise and bright lights from the bar shone in stark contrast to the dimmed lights and mournful silence of neighbood shops and stores. Even the brothels those places that incessantly beckoned the public to spend and be spent had been forced to close.
As I walk past the forty or so insistent revellers, I sensed an urgency to pray. I faithfully obeyed being sensitive to the fact that Israel was in my opinion,supposed to be the Holy Land and such scenes as I was currently observing were not in keeping with the spirit of this high calling. I was concerned for the peoples souls.
There they were sitting to my right as I passed in the middle section of Neveh Shannan.Tables and chairs dutifully served their human occupants who seemed unusually merry. One can imagine the conversations taking place. conversations ranging from work to politics, entertainment, sex and family. Conversations linked to the bar scene.
I was tired and hungry. My thoughts turned to other matters. My stomach grumbled as I climbed the stairs to the apartment and locked the two iron gates behind me. These were setup to keep drug addicts and prostitiutes from plying their 'trade' on my doorstep. I switched on two lights and opened two windows. I placed a bowl of rice on the gas cooker. Then I felt ready to enjoy a late supper and a quiet night alone.
For the sake of those uninitiated to the culture of near- by explosions, they are accompanied by a time lapse of some seconds of complete silence after the bomb explodes. Ones eardrums struggle to pick up familiar sounds. Then if all else remains constant you gradually begin to hear the screams. This especially so if the explosion is cause by a suicide bomber on target. As the screams penetrated my conscience, I knew that terrorists had struck my neighbourhood and struck it hard.
Quick as a flash I turned of the gas cooker and raced down the steps. I forgot to lock one of the gates but that did not matter as my heart beat faster in anticipation of the devastion I was about to observe...
The bodies of the dead and wounded lay everywhere. Bits and pieces of flesh flung far and wide dotted the landscape. Some on the sides of shops and high in the branches of trees. A man bent on all fours tried in vain to stop blood gushing out of a ghastly wound in his mid-section. Chairs,tables bottles and drinking glasses, lay smashed and scattered in a fifty yard radius. I raised my hands to heaven and held my head.
“Oh Jesus! Oh God!” I cried helpless for words
All along the street people began to peer over their high rise balconies down onto the street below. It was as though I was standing in the valley of the shadow of death turned real.
It had taken less than five minutes for me to enter my apartment and rush out again. In those five minutes I learnt how sacred and precious life is and how it can disappear all to suddenly. I witnessed the difference between life and death and the speed with which death can happen to any. Yet to my surprise I later discovered that I had lost my personal fear of death through this one event. To me it seemed as though death had reached out its long and icy arm but failed to catch me. I would never be shaken by it again. I ponder on those magnificent words!
“Ye though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me..”
I walked through that valley and He was with me!
The young man facing me and calling out was a tourist from England. He also walked through that valley. He had come to the Holy Land for a holiday and ended up addicted to drugs and alcohol. He noticed me first. He had just returned from treatment in a near by hospital after a nail from one of the bombs had gazed his forehead and left a slight gash. I had seen him in the initial confusion- the presence of security and emergency medical personnel dealing with the after effects of a double suicide bombing. As the crowds began to gather, I got into action offering what help I could here and there. Nick came to my attention because he was refusing to seek treatment for his injury on the grounds that his wound was light. I convinced him otherwise. Sometimes people do not known that their body has been penetrated by some deadly object. They make the discovery only after some symptom leads them to hospital. By then recovery can be to late.
One day a taxi driver showed me the scar left by a ball bearing tearing through his body and forcing him to undergo emergency surgery. He was fortunate. The offending material was removed. But sometimes a projectile may lodge in such a sensitive part of the body that the Israeli doctors refuse to take it out for fear that further damage may be caused. In this case death may come after a few years through metal poisoning. So I gave Nick sound advice.
It was now four thirty in the morning. The quiet night I had anticipated had turned into a night of terror and horror; noise and crowds instead of peace and quiet. But one thing was constant- the mourning. Israel together with many foreigners would mourn this Tisha B’ Av but in their own peculiar ways.
“You’re the preacher” Nick the tourist said. I stared at him trying to place the face. Where had I seen him before?
“Last year,” he continued, “ I came to your church and received Yeshua (Jesus) as my Lord and Messiah (Christ) Saviour.” He pulled a bible from his shoulder bag.
“This is my bible. I still read it but I must confess that I have slipped a bit!”
Suddenly recognition dawned on me. “Yes I remember” I exclaimed. “It's good to see you but what on earth are you doing here? You should be in Jerusalem!”
“Well, you'r right considering the circumstances I entered the rehab program with Pastor Jerry. But I left it after a few weeks. It was difficult but I did benefit a little”
“Nick” I said, "we could have died tonight. We have so much time on our hands. Maybe we live to seventy or a little longer. Tonight we have seen that even those years cannot be guaranteed. God has given us another chance. Let’s get our lives right and be ready to met Jesus any time, any day.”
He nodded his head in agreement. I continued to encourage him for a few more minutes. Then other matters pulled us apart. That was the last time I had a chance to impact on Nick’s eternal destiny. We never met again. Wherever he is I wish him well.
Each of us will experience death. Either that of a close friend or family member, even our own. God offers us a choice! Death followed by eternal life. Or eternal death- the lake of fire. Then in His kindness, He tells us how we can have eternal life. We are all living on borrowed time. God has given us the gift of life in this world. But there is no guarantee for a peaceful life in the distant future outside of the Messiah. We need to receive His offer of eternal life now. He gives us eternal life.
As it is written:
‘God has given to us eternal life and this life is in his Son. He that has the Son has life; and he that hath not the Son of God has not life (1 John 5:11-12).’