This is an open letter to my friends Esther, Mary, Jo, Rykie and many others like them who through all the years of my guiding have come to Israel because they love the Jews. It has been an honor for me to know them and I have learned a lot from them.
These tourists and tour leaders, unlike most other Christians or Moslems, are aware that the Jews gave them God. They are thrilled with their belief and overjoyed with the Jewish People who gave it to them. That is the truth; the Jews taught them about God. There is no knowing what religion, if any they would be following had they not been living close to Jewish communities in Judea, Babylon and South Arabia, where they came into contact with Jews and through the teachings of the rabbis in those countries, came to know God.
I love the way they love the land and the people of of Israel. I often have the feeling that they love Israel more than I do and feeling guilty I try to match their love. They are full of enthusiasm and become excited at every meeting with a Jew. They hug me and dance around me just because I am a Jew.
I realize that their love comes from their knowledge of me as a Jew, not as an individual called Leon. Their knowledge of me comes from long acquaintance with the Bible.
They always quote God’s promise to Abraham:
“I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." Gen 12:3
One of their greatest aspirations is to be among Jews and in Israel they enjoy a feast of meeting Jews. Here they see a greater variety of Jews than they could ever hope to meet in their home countries.
Unlike in their countries here they can meet Jews of every walk of life, not only Jews of occupations and social levels of the Diaspora. Here they can meet Jews, living in their own country, following every style of life found in any vibrant modern country. Here they meet the Jewish soldier, the Jewish policemen, the Jewish cobbler, the Jewish postman the street cleaner, the cleaning lady and so on.
I think that meeting Jews in their own land, like this helps them understand that modern Jews are indeed the Jews of the Bible reincarnated.
During times, like now, when tourism is slack I visit places which don’t feature on the regular tourist routes of holy sites. These are places where it’s not generally thought that Jesus walked or where David fought great battles. These are simple places where ordinary Jewish people have worked hard to establish a safe haven from persecution by Christians and Muslims who misguidedly hated Jews instead of loving them in the lands of the Jewish diaspora.
Here, safe from the hate that has plagued them throughout the centuries Jews are making a new life, with great success, attending synagogue, lighting the Sabbath candles, eating unleaved bread etc. as a daily routine, like eating three meals a day and going to work, without interference.
In many countries of the Diaspora these were considered heroic deeds, here in the Jewish State nobody need fear for their physical safety when practicing his religious beliefs. This is what makes Israel the holy land. This is why Jews come to live here.
Here the people live who my friends, Esther, Mary, Jo and Rykie want to embrace and flood with love.
Traveling with me to these places, my friends, Esther, Mary and Jo, would have a field day hugging Jews, so I’ll take them along in spirit and maybe, soon in the flesh.
In these towns they will truly be able to fulfill the prophecy of Zacharia:
"In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, 'Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.'" Zechariah 8:23
Last week I chose Petah Tikvah, a town where no tourist that I know of has set foot, although the name appears in the Bible, like most of Israel’s new towns, mostly because I was curious to ride a new and interesting bus route, bus 1, beginning at the Petah Tikvah Central Bus Station in Orlov Str.
Bus 1 looks like a tram and is as noisy as a tram and follows an immovable route like a tram, but without rails and powered by a diesel engine. It passes through the heart of Petah Tikvah then continues through Bnei Brak, Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv and Jaffa until it reaches Bat Yam, covering the entire length of the Dan area, a total distance of about 30 km for the price of a regular bus ticket.
The beauty of traveling this way for me and for tourists is that one can get off and on as often as one likes in the space of 90 minutes. Actually I got off twice, once in the crowded market place of Petah Tikvah, the second time was to take the bus back home from the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station.
I felt at home in Petah Tikvah; the big, leafy, eucalyptus trees covering Baron Hirsch, the main Str. of town, came to me as a pleasant surprise and together with the cars lining the curbs and bus 1, its silver color highlighted by the shady avenue made it look like a park with playthings for children, when really it was the busy center of town.
After getting off the bus on to the sidewalk, so crowded that there was hardly any space between the yellow, folding doors of the bus and the shops lining the street that I was forced to gently push people out of the way to find a place to stand on the sidewalk, I proceeded to my goal, the park which I had seen from the bus window and which was the main reason for alighting Bus 1 at this point, which turned out to be one of the heritage sites of Petach Tikvah, Founders Square.
Here I saw a young Ethiopean gentleman sitting on a massive cream colored limestone slab in the park in the shade of an old sycamore tree, checking out his smartphone and an Ethiopean lady walking determinedly on her way to perform some important task, both, obviously unaware that they, more than the stone slabs commemorated the fulfillment of the ideal which the founding fathers had when they came as the Bible promised, from the 4 corners of the earth to establish the town.
Joshua Stempfer, at the age of 17 in 1867 literarily walked to Jerusalem where he learned stone cutting and earned enough money to buy a small 3.2KM2piece of malaria infested land, on which Petah Tikvah was started together with Moshe Solomon, whose family had come to Jerusalem 100 years earlier, Moshe Shmuel Raab, Zerah Barnett, David Guttman and Aryeh Leib Frumkin.
I loved walking along the sidewalk, looking in at simple little shops, which didn’t have the glamour of big show windows with slick models, as one finds in the main boulevards of big cities, like Dizengoff Str. or State Square in Tel Aviv. Here shopkeepers sat or stood outside their shops waiting for customers, the way I remember my late father sometimes standing outside his shop in Krugersdorp.
One shop offered household goods, shiny pots and pans and another children clothing and toys.
Petah Tikvah honors both religious and secular Jews in the names of its streets; at the corner I came to Rabbi Haim Ozer, the founder of the extreme religious political party known as Agudat Israel, the first big street I’d seen in Petah Tikvah, with a grassy isle dividing the traffic lanes. It was in fact much more modern even than main streets in Tel Aviv and it surprised me, but I loved the feeling of spaciousness.
Not far from here there is a street named after A.D. Gordon the ideologist of the secular Labour Zionist party.
It’s obvious that the task of building the town overrides the religious and secular differences in the Jewish communities which unite in the common goal of rebuilding the Land of Israel.
King Solomon expressed the highest aim of Judaism, that the different nations of the world come to the land which the Jews have rebuilt to see the work of the Jews and to praise the Lord, each according to his own belief.
This is not a prophecy but a wish that he prays the nations will fulfill. They will only fulfill this wish if they love the Jewish People.
As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name. For they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched armwhen they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name. Ikings 8:41-44
Wishing you a great no news day