by: Charleeda Sprinkle, Assistant Editor
As we entered the room, there sat two young Jewish men, bearded and clearly religious though not dressed in the traditional Orthodox black and white: Akiva Gersh with a drum and Eliezer Blumen with a guitar. Just months before, they had started Holy Land Spirit (www.holylandspirit.com). Their Web site states they offer “a unique and exciting program for both Jewish and Christian tour groups visiting Israel that gives a taste of the ancient and modern Jewish spirit. The experience weaves together music, storytelling, and Jewish teachings on brotherhood and peace and is designed to inspire and to touch people’s hearts (and get their feet dancing as well!).”
Akiva,who started the group,emphasizes that it is an “experience,” not a performance. The two are good at involving the group in singing, dancing, dialogue, and prayer. Since most of the songs they sing are not familiar to English-speaking groups (because many of the songs they’ve written themselves and are in Hebrew), they introduced us to a Jewish worship mode called niggunim.
Niggunim means “melodies” or “humming tunes.” Instead of using words, one just sings sounds like “bim-bim-bam” or “ai-ai-ai.” This way the worshipper can sing with eyes closed and concentrate on connecting with God without having to think about words. Before it ended, Akiva had us out of our chairs dancing as Eliezer played the guitar.
How They Found Us
Akiva told us how he was first introduced to Christians. As an American college student, he participated in a trip to San Francisco. It was not a religious group, and he was the only Jewish person. As part of a “cultural” experience, the whole group attended a church—Akiva’s first. There, he saw people holding hands, singing, and genuinely happy to be there. He thought, “Wow, if my synagogue was like this, I’d go!” Several years passed; he reconnected to his own Jewish roots and took on a traditional Jewish life, married, and made aliyah (immigration) to Israel.
Sometime after his wife’s grandfather, Dr. Bernard Resnikoff, died, they visited her grandmother in Jerusalem. There he noticed copies of our Dispatch from Jerusalem magazine. This was Akiva’s introduction to Christian Zionism. Why did Mrs. Resnikoff have copies of our Dispatch? Dr. Resnikoff—a former head of the American Jewish Committee and being very open to Christian–Jewish dialogue—was a great friend of Bridges for Peace and spoke to our tour groups for many years. That is how Akiva found Bridges for Peace and offered to bring Holy Land Spirit to our headquarters. We are thrilled to bring this full circle and now have him as the subject of an article in a Dispatch!
Emphasizing the Positive
The goal of Holy Land Spirit is stated in the words of Psalm 133:1 posted on their Web site: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” From the beginning of our evening, Akiva emphasized what Christians and Jews have in common: our love for God and love for Israel. At the end, he invited us to pray together because it’s a “powerful experience,” as he put it. He complimented and blessed our work, and we spoke blessings on them as well. We encourage any groups visiting Israel to add them to a tour itinerary if you want an “experience” connecting with God andHis people at the same time.
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