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Arriving in Israel 🇮🇱
I’ve traveled through more than 40 countries, yet I still find great joy in arriving in a country for the first time. The sights. The sounds. The smells. Exploring a new country stimulates something deep within.
Israel was no exception, especially since Israel was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to see and experience the setting of the biblical stories I grew up reading.
My flight arrived into Tel Aviv in the early morning.
Our group wouldn't arrive until late afternoon, so I posted up in the departure lounge and undertook a serious bout of people watching. It became quite obvious that we were in a land where the Jews are able to freely express themselves through their unique dress. I quickly realized I had much to learn.
Particularly interesting were the men arriving in black woolen trench coats with two curly locks framing their face. I would later learn these locks are called 'payots' (pronounced pe’ot - פֵּאוֹת) and are typically worn by men and boys in the Orthodox Jewish community based on an interpretation of the Tanakh's injunction against shaving the "sides" of one's head. [To clarify for Christian readers, the Tanakh is the Hebrew scriptures that we call the Old Testament.] Almost all of these men also had long beards, trendy glasses and large black hats of differing sizes and shapes. Many of the men also carried a black oversized hat box. For someone like me, who had recently condensed my entire life down to the size of a backpack, the thought of lugging around a large box for the exclusive purpose of protecting one's hat made me chuckle inside.
The second notable group of people that I noticed were the men wearing all black. Unlike the free-flowing beards and side-locks of the Orthodox community, the men in this sect were all clean shaven with fresh fade haircuts and tight jeans. If it weren't for the four white knotted strings peaking out from beneath their black jackets, one might easily mistake them for Antifa's latest gang of gothic hipsters. After some research, however, it would be revealed that these are observant jews wearing 'tzitzit' (specially knotted ritual fringes, or tassels) attached to the four corners of their undershirt. We see the same four tassels on the corners of any Jewish tallit gadol (prayer shawl).
Mixed into the teeming crowds were obvious groups of Muslims and Christians. Boundaries seemed established and not crossed, but for the most part, all seemed to get along together. This is going to prove to be an interesting and engaging journey.
Several hours later, the group that will accompany the journey over the next ten days arrives one by one. While they arrive, I am consulting locals on the Hebrew language, doing my best to pick up a few ingratiating words to show these people that I care about their language and culture.
The name Tel Aviv tells the story of old and new coming together. There were many options for naming this international port city; the name Tel Aviv was selected in 1910 as a nod to Theodor Herzl who championed the idea of political Zionism (the returning of the Jewish people to the land of Israel) in his pamphlet 'Altneuland' or 'Old New Land'.
In Hebrew, a 'tel' is an artificial mound created over centuries through the accumulation of successive layers of civilization built one over the other and symbolizing the ancient. Conversely, 'aviv' is the word for a spring or source of water symbolizing renewal. The name Tel Aviv, therefor, points to an ancient high place near a fresh spring.
In antiquity, these two factors are key in selecting a prime location to inhabit. Height of land on a hill or mountain brings security as it is easier to defend, but without a source of fresh water it is uninhabitable.
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