The Synagogue

Earlier today our group experienced a new part of Israeli culture- the Orthodox Jewish Synagogue. As we entered into the traditional style synagogue men and women were separated, as usual. But it was even more strict than other sites. The women have to wear dresses or skirts while the men have to wear dress clothes and a kippa. Upon entrance, we departed from each other. The men disappeared into the crowd of other men, while the women went up several staircases to the high balcony. From that moment on, I knew that this service would change so much about my views of men and women.

As I sat in a hard wooden seat in the balcony, I leaned in as much as I could to try to hear the soft voice from below. But I was also distracted by the men staring up the girls from our group. They were not staring out of lust or desire- not even curiosity. The women in the balcony did the same. Upon our group’s arrival to this area we have been nothing but Gentiles in the land of the chosen people. At this service I felt “unclean”. I was a Gentile.

I tried with so much effort to listen and pay attention to the service, but I had many issues that I dealt with. Aside from the stares of everyone at the service, the location for the women was enough of an issue on its own. The balcony seating for women allows for little to no understanding of the service below on the main level. Kids were like animals running around the balcony while their mothers had not a care in the world. Some women fervently were praying and silently reading the scripture to themselves. However, most women were in the midst of conversation with the women around them. The balcony was high up therefore hearing the rabbi was rather difficult- no microphone was used [it was also only in Hebrew]. The only moments I could actually hear the service and halfway understand what was occurring was when the men below would sing songs which echoed beautifully in the building.

Throughout the entire service, I thought of several things. In 1 Corinthians [several chapters], Paul reverences how women need to remain silent. In today’s Christianity, but more specifically because of my current location, Judaism, scriptures such as 1 Cor. 14 have been misinterpreted and used incorrectly. At the synagogue, so much became clear to me. Historically speaking, the reason women were not allowed to speak was for the reason I listed above: women were in higher balconies therefore not a being able to hear clearly what the rabbi was saying as well as the distractions of children. Frankly women were uneducated and had no idea what was occurring and that is why, back then, depending on the setup, women were unable to speak up. Once again, by scripture and now history, my calling as a female preacher is validated. No one can dare tell me otherwise- I know who I am in God.

But even further I sat there wondering even more. Do these women sit here and wish things were different? Are these women captive by the law and their rigid structure or are they captivated by it all? Do they even care because they know nothing else? They survive in this world full of structure. I am not sure what to think. I take this even further. These Jews seem so focused on rules and ritual and yet do they even feel anything? After almost 2 weeks of being here in Israel I know the answer. It would be so hard for me to think that their worship, obedience and discipline would be all in vain. I definitely feel that these Jews, these orthodox believers, love God with their heart and mind. They have a reverence, obedience, and honor for God that I have never seen before, even among Christians. I have learned something so profound here: regardless of ritual or structure, God can meet the needs of those that ask. God does not reside in the law [alone] nor does he remain bound to structure. Even this, I believe, that if these men and women are content in their ways of life, I encourage them to remain obedient and disciplined. If God can meet me in America at some suburban church, God can surely meet these Jews in their synagogue. Just as He hears my prayers, He will hear the prayers of anyone desperate. The veil has been torn, as I saw in the Temple, but the Holy of Holies is still present. I can feel God here so much, in ways I could have never imagined.

I know Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to Father except through me.” But as I asked earlier, is their worship in vain? I honestly don’t think so. I firmly believe Jesus is the Way, but will God accept those that are so devoted to Him [God] without having not accepted Christ? I have no idea. I struggle with this. Jews are the chosen people. So to this I leave up to God entirely. I cannot make a judgment. I pray that their Hebrew songs are a beautiful aroma before God. As God says throughout the scripture, he will restore his people.

Yad Vashem: The Memorial to the Holocaust

Later today, after leaving the Wailing Wall, we headed to Yad Vashem. Yad Vashem is the Holocause Museum on Mt. Herzel. Yad Vashem means “a hand and a name. a hand to help those in need and a name to remember those who are no more”. It does not matter how many Holocaust museums and memorials I go to- I still weep everytime. It was very emotional on so many levels. 6 million Jews were killed, 1 1/2 million of them were children. It was so hard for me to grasp today because here I stand, in the land of the Jews God’s chosen people, yet 6 million of them were slaughtered in one of the most brutal massacres in history.

Dr. van der Laan said something that meant a lot to me. Before we went there he told us a quote from a conversation between two people. It said “‘How can you believe in God after something so terrible?’ ‘Well how can you believe in man after something so terrible?'” They resounded in my head while walking through the museum. But all I can say after this is never again, never again.

The Wailing Wall

So today I experienced my first visit to the Western Wall of the old Temple. For many people it is commonly known as the “Wailing Wall”. The reason for that nickname is rather interesting and something I never actually knew. After years of captivity and pain, the Jews were allowed to mourn for the Temple outside the Temple. Cries of sorrow and heartbreak resounded. Now Israel is its own nation. Jews have their freedom to come to the Western wall of the Temple to pray, to weep, to cry…to wail. For what? For some it is for provision; for others it is for personal healing; for others it is for weeping of things they do not even know.

One must know the layout and setup of the Temple and this specific area to really know the affect it can have on someone. Walking into the side where the Western Wall is, men and women are separated. Men must wear a kippa/yamuka or a hat. Women must be dressed modestly. Walking toward the wall now, men go to the left where they have the freedom to pray, to enter libraries, tunnels, etc. They celebrate bar mitzvas for the boys at age 13 right there by the Wall. That is where those boys are considered men and, for the first time, they can read the Scripture and Law publicly. Women on the other hand, I got a closer look at. The women’s section for the Wall is directly on the other side of where the Holy of Holies was located. The Holy of Holies is where the Name [the LORD] dwelt. Only the priest could enter. The women, especially very orthodox Jewish women, pray will such reverence. It was a reverence I have never seen before. They prayed for hours, I am sure. The women would read privately from the books of the Law, or other writings. They would pray at the wall gently placing their hands on the stone. As they leave the Wall, women, rather than turning around to walk away, they back up from the wall. Many of the women went as far as walking backwards to the gate of the women’s section. What is the reasoning for walking backward? The women feel that by walking backwards they still honor the LORD in the Holy of Holies- they refuse to turn their back to Him. Both the men and women place pieces of papers, usually rolled like a scroll, into the cracks on the wall. Those papers are never thrown away. When the papers fall from the cracks in the wall, the papers are collected separate from trash, and buried with old Bibles, Scriptures, etc. The Jews strongly feel that they cannot disrespect the name of God. If God’s name is written on any paper, they cannot throw it away. Since the papers are not read, all are buried as sacred.

This morning was an opportunity to see a world outside of anything I could have ever known elsewhere. The presence of devotion, dedication, and reverence to the LORD is beyond anything I have seen. What would happen if every Christian prayed to God with the same attitude? With the same reverence? What would happen if we would each have our “wailing wall” and cry before God to meet Him? What would happen if we each recognized the Holy of Holies was nearby and we would refuse to turn our back on it? I leave those answers to you. But I will tell you this: the world would be very different.

First Impression

So here I am sitting in our bed & breakfast in Jerusalem, Israel. We got to Israel around 2pm Israeli time after over 24 hours of traveling. It is so beautiful. The main languages are Hebrew, Arabic, and surprisingly English [though not great English]. To the Arabs we are customers for their markets and the Jews we are Gentiles and need to be avoided. That is a weird concept to me and something I am not used to. It is Shabbat [Sabbath] from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. We just happen to be staying in the Orthodox Jewish community. In the Arab market today, we saw a fight and two of our girls were asked for marriage. We went to the Jaffa gate and ended at the Damascus Gate of the Old City. When we were lost, the Arabs gave us incorrect directions. We won’t be asking them again. Oh and the food so far is incredible! I can’t wait to try more! So here is my brief update of the trip.