by: Peter Fast, National Director of Canada
From the pen of Peter Fast, national director of Canada and the future CEO of Bridges for Peace International, comes an exciting new series of articles entitled the Quirks of Israel. Join Peter on a journey through the wonderfully peculiar culture, traditions, heritage and daily life of this singular nation as he unpacks, introduces and celebrates the quirky aspects that make Israel so wonderfully unique.
You are probably wondering: Why name this series the Quirks of Israel? The answer is simple. Every country, people group, culture, language and so on has quirks. These fascinating facets about a culture you will notice often only when you inject yourself into that culture. Israel is fraught with quirks because of its incredible makeup of diverse cultures.
The second reason that prompted me to lean in the direction of “quirks” is that when most people discuss Israel, they always talk about political issues, mull topics of security such as terrorism and Iran, or they regale you with matters of religious tension. But put yourself in the shoes of an Israeli. Would you want everyone in the world to think of your country purely in those terms? Do they even conjure up the essence of Israel? Not to disregard the frequently discussed issues, but there is much more to Israel than just conflict,
tension, politics and religious expression. Israel is also quirky. It is a truly amazing, truly unique nation.
You have a mishmash of people from over 70 countries living in Israel, not to mention sabra Jews. Sabras are Jews who were born in the Land of Israel, and as of 2020, the number of sabras amounts to roughly 78% of the Israeli population. The word sabra refers to the spiny cactus fruit that is prickly on the outside but soft and flavorful on the inside. I’ve heard it said that this term describes Israelis well: forthright at first glance, but sweet once you get to know them. Apart from the sabras, Israel is also filled with Jews who hail from the four corners of the globe, which sounds a bit like the prophetic words of Isaiah, Jeremiah and other Hebrew prophets in the Bible. Then there are Israeli Arabs, Armenians, Filipinos, Europeans, Circassians and a few others living in the land. Add to that the vast number of tourists—a whopping 4.55 million in 2019, before the onset of COVID—flocking to Israel during times of normalcy every year. The bottom line? This country is a beautiful hodgepodge of cultures, languages, traditions, beliefs and customs.
That brings us to the food. Imagine, for a moment, the most heavenly food from everywhere on earth converging on this little strip of land. The glorious fruit and vegetables that you buy from the market are probably freshly picked, and you can taste it. You haven’t tasted real fruit until you eat an orange, peach, banana or strawberry fresh from Israeli soil. Unlike in Monty Python’s epic sketch, in Israel you do not have to defend yourself against fresh fruit; you eat it. And you love it!
The composition of Israel presents the perfect recipe for quirkiness. Jews have returned from Africa, Europe, Asia, North America, South America, Latin America, South Asia, and you even have Jewish people with Australian accents. Some wear Hasidic Jewish attire and frequent the Old City.
Picture this. You’re on your first trip to Israel. You’re in Jerusalem on your first day. You’ve climbed the steep hill from the Kidron Valley, the Valley of Jehoshaphat where the prophet Joel says the Messiah will one day sit and judge the nations for forcing Israel to divide the Land (Joel 3:1–3). You’ve peered at the Mount of Olives rising up from the Kidron Valley, the mountain that the prophet Zechariah says will split from north to south when the feet of Messiah touch it (Zech. 14:4). You’ve passed through the 500-year-old Dung Gate and then walked alongside the archaeological gardens to your right, which lead to the ancient southern steps to where the Temple once stood, the same steps where Jesus (Yeshua) taught, the same steps where Peter preached his sermon and the power of the Holy
Spirit descended with fire and wind upon the early believers. Then you are funneled to a gate and pass through as you catch your first sight of the Kotel Plaza, the Western Wall. You see the Israeli flag flying and you feel your heart quicken. Jerusalem is united!
You see people of all ethnicities, cultures and creed going to and fro to pray at the wall. You hear people singing and see groups of Jewish youths dancing. You squint as you stare upward and catch a glimpse of the top of the golden Dome of the Rock. A dove flies by, and you imagine the site of Herod’s temple and the thousands of pilgrims and sheep that would have crowded the area. You fumble in your pocket with a piece of tightly folded paper containing a special prayer you’ve been meditating on for months. Now is your chance to place it between the stones of the Western Wall. As you touch those ancient boulders, a sense of homecoming washes over you. You smile, quietly satisfied. You pass a group of Orthodox Jews, and you remember that although this is a place of prayer for all nations, it is also the holiest place in Judaism, the closest retaining wall to the ancient Temple, where day and night Jews pray and cry out for Messiah. Just then, one of the Orthodox Jews catches your eye, smiles and says, “G’day mate.”
I invite you to join me on a quirky journey through this series of articles as we explore Israel. I want to impart to you the quirky, interesting things I have experienced in Israel, having lived there for four years and also piling on top of that a whole bunch of solo trips and tours. I have experienced the unique side of this glorious country, the reborn State of Israel, the only Jewish State in the world, the only democracy in the Middle East, and I want to share this all with you. Join me as we journey into the heart of quirky Israel and explore ancient and modern, geography and people.
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