Shalom, tree!

When I was a little kid, I attended a couple of years of “Sunday School” at the temple to which my parents belonged. They couldn’t afford the whole Hebrew school business, which would have put me on the fast track to a Bat Mitzvah at age 13. The temple offered religious education on Sunday mornings for the kids who weren’t going to be Bar or Bat Mitzvah-ed. I’m not sure how much religious education went on in class, but I did learn a few things about modern Israel. We heard about a lot of contemporary Jewish heroes in those classes, people like Moshe Dayan and Golda Meir.

But one of my most vivid memories is of receiving cardboard folders with a bright green picture of a tree on them. We were supposed to fill the tree’s slots with quarters, maybe a couple of bucks’ worth, before bringing them back to class. We were told our quarters would be used to plant trees in Israel. At the time, I remember briefly wondering if the quarters would somehow be planted in the ground and one of those vivid 2-D tree silhouettes pictured inside the cardboard folder would spring up like magic as a result.

This simple act captured my imagination, and it imprinted something more on me. Filling the slots of those folders with quarters connected me to Israel in a very powerful way. I didn’t care a lot about Golda Meir when I was a kid, but I always took pride in knowing I had some bright green trees waiting for me to climb in Israel.

A friend who visited Israel a couple of years ago reported that there are mature groves of trees in Israel with little plaques nearby noting that the trees were planted by Jewish schoolchildren. My tree is there!

Last week, Bill and I purchased tickets for our long-awaited trip to Israel. I will walk where Jesus walked, in a land full of my people. I will pray at the Wailing Wall. I will eat falafel. I just might try to climb my tree.

In the midst of making these plans, I had an opportunity to receive a review copy of a glossy gift book entitled Reflections of God’s Holy Land: A Personal Journey Through Israel (Nelson). This coffee-table volume was penned by Eva Marie Everson, a Christian author, and Miriam Feinberg Vamosh, a Jewish author and tour educator who specializes in Christian tours of Israel. The book is a picture-filled devotional orientation to the land for Christians – from the Judean Wilderness to Capernaum to the Upper Room – created with a sensitivity not only to the Old Testament sites it captures, but with a deep desire to honor the Jewishness of Christianity.

The co-authors’ interfaith friendship is foundational to this hardcover book’s tone. Vamosh’s historical perspective and Everson’s lilting prose blend seamlessly throughout the book. Each of the 38 sites detailed in Reflections of God’s Holy Land is given a similar treatment: Scripture referencing the place comes first, follwed by a section entitled “Did You Know?”, a couple of pages of historical and geographic information. The section concludes with a devotional exploration of the place that is meant to help readers connect with the spiritual story of the site, whether they ever leave their armchair to visit Israel or not.

Even with a fair amount of text in the book, the format – one or two large pictures per page, captions and lots of white space on the glossy pages – makes it unmistakably an inspirational gift book. My only gripe about the book is that all of the pictures in Reflections have blurred-out, faded edges reminiscent of the kind of pictures you’d find in a Reader’s Digest gift book on a nursing home coffee table.

That said, the book certainly helped to whet my appetite for my upcoming trip. It would also serve as a great reminder of a trip for a Christian pilgrim who has visited Israel.
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