Faith MAG

By Unknown, Unknown, Unknown

   A year ago I went to Israel, thoughmy family didn't make the long journey just to sightsee. Half my family is Jewishand the other half is Russian Orthodox; as a child, I was given the option ofchoosing which religion was right for me. Visiting Israel was supposed to help medecide.

Israel is an extraordinary country, full of the most extraordinarypeople. That summer was extremely difficult for them; anti-Jewish terrorists weresetting off bombs while the rest of the world stood by. The U.S. was among thefirst to lend a hand.

You must remember when a bomb blew up in amarketplace near the mall. Many people were killed and hurt in an event that wasagain explained as in Sha Allah - God's will - by the Hamas terrorists. I was inIsrael during that tragedy, which coincided with the suicide of a Hamas leader. Ifound that for the terrorists, and for those supporting them, the land andeverything built there during the last 50 years is more important than peacefulcoexistence.

Considering the circumstances, I was amazed at how joyful andfriendly the people still are. Kids and teenagers are so lively and welcoming.Although so much lay on adults' hands and in their hearts, they are always readyto lend a hand. What amazed me most is how the people stick together; no matterhow bad the news, they won't allow themselves to give up. True faith?

Idiscovered my parents' strategy in taking me to Israel when I found out it's thebirthplace of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Wherever I went, all roads led tohistory - whether Roman, early Christian, Jewish or Muslim. Every stone I steppedon and every wall I saw told the story of a civilization that has profoundlyinfluenced many lives. In Jerusalem, I saw the Western Wall (also known as theWailing Wall), the most sacred place for Jews since it is the only remnant of thetemple built by King Herod. It was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. In itsplace King David built another temple which, according to the Bible, was inspiredby God himself.

Right above the Wailing Wall is the Dome of the Rock, asacred place for Muslims. How ironic that the same place could be sacred forthree religions! The whole experience of modern Israel shows that people ofdifferent religions can come together and stay true to their beliefs. I gotchills looking upon the mass of people worshiping. I will never forget thatsight; it portrayed true faith.

Wherever you go in Old Jerusalem, you alsoview places sacred to Christians, whether Russian Orthodox, Catho-lic orProtestant, and meet with scenes from the New Testament. The well-known sitesinclude the Mount of Olives, where Jesus taught; Mount Zion, with the room of theLast Supper; Via Dolorosa, the street on which Jesus carried his cross toGolgotha [Calvary, in Latin]; and most importantly, the Church of the HolySepulcher, the site of Jesus' burial and resurrection. Unfortunately, the Churchof the Nativity, built over the grotto thought to be the birthplace of Jesus, ison Palestinian territory and was closed to visitors for safety reasons.

Israel not only embodies the past but embraces the 21st century. Tel Aviv is muchless historical than other parts of the country, and is known as "the citythat never stops." It is the center of commerce, entertainment and fashion.Skyscrapers reach the clouds, and clubs light up the night. Israel is verymodern, and one of the most developed countries in the world; everyone older than10 seems to have a cellular phone. Old Jaffo, an ancient fortress restored andturned into a park with artists' workshops, jewelry stores, restaurants andtheaters, was my favorite example of how time can modernize theancient.

Eilat is a city much like Tel Aviv. It's a great resort andentertainment center, especially for kids and teenagers. The beach activitieswere amazing; I went scuba diving in the Red Sea and rode on a banana boat, anair-filled rubber bench pulled behind a motorboat. We sped and bounced over thewaves, but the fun part was falling off!

I met Joshua in Eilat. He was 16and enjoying his summer before going back to the army. I thought he was jokingwhen he first told me he was in the military, but seeing the expression on hisface and his brother's, I knew they were serious. How could a boy my age - twoinches shorter than me - be in the army?

It frightened me, but at the sametime reminded me that Israel is involved in a war. The happy faces and brightlights had distracted me from this truth. While I was swimming and enjoyingmyself, teenagers in full uniform with weapons were guarding tour buses, beaches,roads and hotels. They never leave their arms, even when they go home to visittheir mothers and friends with flowers. I realized that the people of Israel arefighting not just for their country, but for the right to live. Again, truefaith.

Leaving Israel was hard. Still undecided on my own faith, I headedhome with a heavy heart. I couldn't stop thinking about how much Israel hadaffected me, and how much I'd learned about myself. I knew more about the thingsthat made a difference to me and those that worried me. The experience helped meunderstand that it is important to maintain hope. After a visit to Yad Vachem,the Holocaust museum, I watched the movie "Schindler's List" with awhole new perspective. Now, I understand the prejudice that national andreligious intolerance can lead to.

Israel truly opened my eyes to whatfaith really is. It's not something you can change your mind about every week. Istill haven't decided my religious identity, but Israel showed me that true faithis tolerance, love for others and a belief in something greater than ourselves. It's not war.

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