My friend, Pastor Won Tae Cho, who is now a pastor in New York City, picked me up from the JFK airport and we had a fabulous Korean meal. I will stay with him when I return from Israel.
Then it was the long trek through security, check-in, more security, and then waiting for the flight. What was noticeable immediately was the number of Orthodox Jews who would be on this flight. All with black hats and full regalia. I shaved my sideburns before leaving Tampa; these men curled theirs. I'll guess half of the flight was Orthodox Jewish men and their families. The other half were people like us, Holy Land pilgrims.
Beyond the physical, I noticed the cultural differences. The men stood together. Close together. They talked a bit louder. Not rude, not angry; just louder. They laughed with their families and friends and were friendly to all around. I also noticed that there was a difference on El Al airlines verses, say, Delta Airlines. When a Delta flight attendant says, "Sit down," you sit down. When multiple voices on the loud speaker and one in person said, "Sit down," they kept on rummaging through their suitcase or whatever was they were doing. I wasn't sure we would get everyone to their seats for landing.
One cool event during the flight began at first light outside, which was five hours into our flight that left at midnight. The Jewish men put on their ceremonial attire (see photo above) for morning prayers. The two men I sat next to couldn't speak English so the one behind me who did explained they wanted to get to praying as quickly as possible because they would all pray but not all at once. It took nearly the remaining five hours of the flight for all to pray. We landed at 5:30 pm local time, in the dark. They were in a hurry because these were prayers to be said in the daytime.
Their praying was with prayer shawls, prayer books, chanting, facing a wall, and rocking back and forth. It was impressive to be on an airplane full of people in prayer. I felt like I was immersed into what this experience is going to be about for us. In America, many people say, "I'm not very religious. In Israel, particularly with travelers to Israel, they would say, "I'm very much into God!"
We made it to Tel Aviv, got our bags, loaded the charter bus, and went to the hotel for dinner. The hotel is two blocks away from the Mediterranean Sea so a group of us went to see it. Not wanting to miss any of this experience, I took off my shoes and, for the first time in my life, put my feet in the Mediterranean Sea. I'd like to say that it was deeply spiritual, but it was windy and cold outside and the water was waaayyyy below the 85 degrees required for me to really enjoy going in the water.
I'm tired and we're up early tomorrow. Thank you for your prayers... keep them coming!
The essential fact is I am safely in the land where Jesus walked... oh, the joy.