I cannot describe the sensation I feel every time we look out the window and see the coastline of Israel from the window of the plane. Yeah, we are exhausted — 8 hours from Detroit to Amsterdam, 3 hours layover, and 4.5 hours from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv. Some who travel with us come from California, Texas or other states which add even more hours and layovers to their flights.
Yet, even though our eyelids are at half mast and our feet a bit swollen, the excitement of descending over the Mediterranean Sea with the land of Israel appearing below is beyond words. Janet and I have had this experience over 65 times but it never fails to thrill us.
I will never forget the first time our family landed here in 1995 a year after converting to the Catholic Church. It was the rustic old airport (gone now, rest its ugly soul). With my 40 pound backpack on my back I stepped off the plane, descended down the steps to the tarmac and fell to the ground sobbing and kissed the blacktop. I WAS IN THE HOLY LAND LAND — ISRAEL!
I was overwhelmed with emotion after reading the Bible for so many years and loving God and his land finally — I was here! The thrill has not abated after almost 70 visits.
Once I struck up an interesting conversation with a Rabbi named Friedman. He and I talked all the way from Amsterdam to Israel. He was suspicious of me at first — me being a gentile and all — but after he learned how much I loved the Jewish people and their Bible he opened up. He talked to me about the Psalms and the Law. He was insightful beyond description. This old Jew with his wagging beard and lively eyes thrilled me.
Toward the end of our trip I looked out the window, saw the shoreline and said, “Rabbi, I can see the coastline; there’s Israel!” He broke into loud sobbing, almost uncontrollably.
I said, “Rabbi, is this the first time you have come here?” Through his tears he said, “No, I have been here many times; but it is the land our Our God!” I will never forget that. I visited him in the US several times after that experience. He taught me many things about God and the land of Israel — and, unknown to him, about who I was as a Catholic.
It is now in the middle of the night — 1:30 PM Israel time — and we can now see the lights forming a crooked line along the sea as we approach the airport. We will soon arrive at the new and very modern Ben Gurion Airport, so much easier and convenient than the old place. I am already excited — I will soon be walking on the very ground where God walked. I will be opening doors of wonder to pilgrims who will be experiencing this land for the first time.
The Patriarchs and Prophets walked here. The Kings and Priests and Warriors of Israel lived here. Mary and Jesus traversed on the ground my own feet will touch. The Apostles and Apostolic Fathers walked here and some died as martyrs here. We will celebrate Mass at their sites.
I will go running each day (and put up several videos so you can enjoy the land too) in the very places where they lived, prophesied and died. Nothing is like this! I am proud to be Catholic, to love the Jewish people — our elder brothers in the faith — and the Palestinian Christians and religious orders like the Franciscans who have preserved these holy sites through the centuries against much opposition and against all odds. How could I NOT come here to support and encourage them!
Thanks be to God as tears well up in my eyes again — for the almost 70th time!