Churches of Israel: The Wedding Church at CanaBy: C4i

 
As the birthplace of Christianity, Israel has many beautiful and historic churches. Some are magnificent feats of architecture known across the world, standing testaments to God’s glory and our devotion. Others are humble chapels you might pass right by without noticing but contain deep historic and spiritual value to this ancient land. 

Today we’re going to look at a church that is neither the biggest nor the smallest. A beautiful church with a history and significance all on its own - the Wedding Church of Cana.

Also know as the Church of the First Miracle, the Wedding Church was constructed in 1879 by the Catholic Church. The location was specifically chosen as it is believed to be the exact spot where Jesus worked the miracle of turning water into wine. The story is recounted in John 2:1-11.

"On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you.”

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So, they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”

And indeed, the Church celebrates this miracle by not only being a premier location for Israeli couples to marry, but by maintaining a small shrine/museum in the lower church. This includes artifacts from the time of Jesus’ life including a winepress, multiple vessels and containers, and the most important relic of the church, a jar that is claimed to be one of the six jars referenced in the miracle. This jar represents a direct connection to the life and actions of Jesus Christ Himself, a piece of physical history. The spiritual and cultural value of this kind of relic cannot be overstated. This is the kind of history that makes Israel such a special country. 
 
 

While the importance of the Wedding Church is obviously its historical and spiritual connection to the life of Jesus, it has plenty of other charms as well! The exterior of the church is simply beautiful. With a pure white face in a gothic style and covered with sculptures of angels and fine detailing, the church is stunning to look at. Inside, the church has two levels, the lower church with the shrine and museum, and the upper church. The upper church contains a number of wonderful decorations, chief among them a portion of a Byzantine mosaic dating back to the 5th or 6th century. The mosaic even includes a dedication in ancient Aramaic to the generous patron who commissioned the mosaic!

But how does a 5th or 6th Byzantine piece of art end up in a church built in the late 1800s? That’s because this was hardly the first church in this location! Historical documentation can verify that Empress Helena commissioned the construction of a church in the same location in the 4th century. Excavations below the church and in the surrounding area have revealed the ruins of houses from the 1st century and a 5th century atrium. There is also evidence of a Christian funerary building from the 5th century as the area was developed and redeveloped over the years. Indeed, the Franciscans obtained the area in the 1600s and built a church in the same location. 

The Church stands on layer upon layer of history. Each artifact and ruin uncovered tells its own story that leads back to the days of Christ. The Wedding Church might not be the most famous church in Israel, but it is an important and beautiful connection to Christ that should not be overlooked!

[Comment]

Creativity as praiseBy: C4i


How do you pray? When I was a young boy, our family had a very set routine. We’d pray before dinner, and again before bed after reading a devotional or a chapter out of the bible. When I entered my teenage years and eventually struck out on my own for post-secondary school, my prayer schedule became looser, more fluid. I’d try and fit a prayer into a quiet moment during the day, sometimes when I was commuting, sometimes just before drifting off. Both methods had their own positives and drawbacks.

When praying was a routine activity, I did it every single day without fail. But I have to admit that it could also become mechanical and route. It was easy to let my attention drift while hungry for dinner and just rush through the same muttered words of grace without thinking of them. Reading from the Bible provided more focus, but I also had a tendency to "play the hits,” re-reading a few familiar stories again and again. When I was just fitting it in whenever I felt like, prayer felt more intentional and spontaneous. Because I was taking my own initiative to talk with God when it seemed like the right time, I tended to pray about the most immediate things on my mind and really focus on what I was bringing to the Lord. But it also let me take that relationship for granted. When I got busy or things were going smoothly, it was all too easy to forget to pray at all. Nobody likes it when they only hear from someone when they need something, and that certainly isn’t the relationship you want to cultivate with God.

What I try to do now (and I don’t always succeed) is have structure and spontaneity. I have returned to regularly praying before bed, but I also try to communicate with the Lord throughout the day. Now though, I don’t just pray when I feel like it, I try to worship through acts of creativity.

Joyous Praise

We already know it feels good to worship through creativity. It’s why people enjoy singing in a choir or as part of the congregation during a service. It’s why we’re attracted to works of art that remind us of the glory of God. Why many of us will clip prayers or Bible verses and make them the wallpaper on our computer or phone. But even though we know this, when we think about "worship through creativity” your mind might turn to the great works. Things like Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel, or the incredible architecture and detail of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, classic hymns, and poems. Incredible masterpieces made by truly unique and talented people.

Thankfully, you don’t have to be a master to worship through creativity, you just need to open your heart!

But what does it mean to worship through creativity? To me, it’s about doing something that gives you joy and satisfaction while reflecting on God and this wonderful world he has given us. After all, God is the ultimate creator. Everything we have in this world was made by Him, just as we were. We were created in His image, and any act of creation we make is a celebration of his original artistry. 

An act of creativity is about manifesting an idea or an impulse into the physical world. When you sing you use the air in your lungs, the muscles in your chest, and the vocal cords in your throat that He gave you bring sound into this world.  When you paint you take an image in your mind and use your hands and the raw materials of a brush and some oils (made from things He created) to make it a reality. When you cook you combine simple ingredients God has given to us with labor, heat, and presentation into a delicious total that is more than the sum of their parts. 
Reflecting on this process and what God has given to us can be praise in its own way!

It’s a way to connect with the gifts He has given to us in a physical, personal way. When you’re kneading dough in your hands, reflect on everything that happened to that flour before it arrived in your kitchen. From growing as wheat in the field, to harvest, to refinement, to ending up on your counter and eventually onto your table. When you’re playing guitar, reflect on the callouses on your fingers, the wonderful ability he has given us to grow and adapt to take on new challenges and learn new things. When your arms ache after a day spent hammering together a new deck for your family, reflect on the scale of creation. You’re exhausted after hauling around some 2x4s and drilling in deck screws over an afternoon. God created the entirety of the universe in a week!

When you’re working on something that gives you a sense of fulfillment, remember to thank God for the opportunity. For all the million blessings and miracles it has taken to place you in this position on this day, able to do the kinds of things that bring you and your family joy. When you create, create for the Lord as well as yourself. 

This kind of focused reflection and celebration is all the more important when we are feeling lost or unbalanced. With the world in such turmoil today, an act of joyous creativity can be more than just a pleasant distraction, it can be a way to anchor yourself when things seem to be spinning out of control. Whether you are drawing a picture, or just writing down a few lines, having something of substance to hold on to and focus on can provide much needed clarity. A beautiful moment to pray and talk with the Lord, to let the soothing act of creation remind you of what is important and all of the many blessings you already have.

This kind of purposeful reflection can help even when we’re at our lowest. When we have dark moments where we doubt or feel like we’re alone. Step back and think about the pride and love you put into the things you make. Think about the care you take and how you treasure the end result of your labors. Then remember that in the same way God made us. He made us with care and love, and he treasures us as his children. He would never abandon His creation or ignore that love. 

While it may seem like just an idea, give it a try next time you are feeling creative. Whether you’re building a model, sketching a drawing, or just humming to yourself, take a moment to reflect on God and pray with an open and joyous heart.  

[Comment]

Helping others through a difficult timeBy: C4i

 
 
Last year was the worst year of my uncle’s life. He lost his brother and then he lost his mother within the space of a few weeks. An abdominal condition kept him in terrible pain and prevented him from eating properly for months until an operation removed a large portion of his intestines. All of this happening under the cloud of COVID which cost his wife. But worst hit of all came just before Christmas. He knew something was wrong and his doctor confirmed his worst fears – cancer.

Now, my uncle is a strong man. All my life he’s been a take charge kind of guy. The one who was always ready to drive out into a blizzard to help jumpstart my stranded car, who helps put in new floors, who always is the focus of attention during family events thanks to his big laugh and tall tales. When I came by around New Years to say hi for the holidays though, I barely recognized the man staring back at me through the screen door. I hadn’t seen him for months and now here he was, ashen, gaunt, and quiet. The year just hollowed him out. He was in such obvious, terrible pain.

And truth be told, it paralyzed me.

When we see a family member or friend in pain, it can sometimes be overwhelming. We spend so much time gliding through typical conversation, the standard exchange of "how are you doing?” "Oh, I’m fine” it’s not always clear what to do when the script changes and it’s clear someone is suffering. The fact is there is no roadmap that will work for every situation, but there are a few things that you could keep in mind when someone in your life needs your help and support.

Nobody expects a cure

One thing you need to break free from right away is the need to "say the right thing.” That terrible internalized pressure to say something that will be immediately comforting or provide closure for your friend. When someone is dealing with a serious blow like cancer or a miscarriage there is simply nothing you or anyone could say that would make that feel okay. It’s an impossible task and if you feel you can’t talk to your friend until you know just what to say, you’ll never speak with them again.

But here is the good news, your friend or family member doesn’t expect you to know what to say. Flip the situation, if you just experienced a terrible loss or received life changing news, would you expect your friends to make it all better with a single conversation? No. In fact, the idea would probably seem insulting. You would probably just want your friends to be there for them to listen and share. So, do that. Be the person who is there to listen, talk, and share. Don’t play repairman.

Show up

The number one best thing you can do for a friend in pain is to simply be there. This can look like a lot of things depending on the situation. Obviously in-person contact is best. There is nothing that will replace the reassurance of a loving hug and a sympathetic shoulder to lean on. But sometimes when someone is hurting, they might not be ready for that, and during a global pandemic, that might not be possible.

But it doesn’t mean you can’t be there. A simple text message checking in can help remind them they are not alone. An email, a phone call, a hand-written note left in their mailbox. All of these are great ways to make sure your friend has a lifeline they can call on. Keep the lines of communication open for when they are ready to talk.

Don’t wait to be asked

The thing about being hurt is that it knocks you out and leaves you empty. Everyday tasks seem unbearable or pointless. Simple questions become as difficult to respond to as an algebra exam. You may be tempted to ask a friend "what can I do?” and even though there are 50 things they could probably use help with they’ll answer "I don’t know” because they can’t focus on anything but their pain.

Instead of waiting on them to tell you what they need, try to anticipate their needs and what would help them. A covered meal can be a Godsend to a family overburdened with hospital visits and stress. If you can’t cook, give them some gift cards for their favorite take-out spot. COVID permitting, offer to give them a ride to an appointment, or to be there with them. Shovel out their driveway after a snowfall without being asked or take care of mowing the lawn so they don’t have to sweat it. Whatever you can contribute, big or small, it will be greatly appreciated. 

Don’t forget the kids while you’re at it. When mom and dad are hurting or dealing with a major issue, it’s easy for their children to suddenly feel rudderless. Most kids are used to being the focus of concern and attention around the house and it’s not easy to adjust when mom suddenly needs to go to the doctor’s office all the time and dad is worn down to the nub taking on extra responsibilities to keep the family going. A small gift like a Netflix card or credits for their favorite game/system can help keep them occupied and provide some welcome relief for their parents.

When I was very small, my mom had a serious health scare. A virus suddenly compromised her normally healthy heart and she was hospitalized for several days. When she came home she was very weak. I remember my aunt and uncle took us kids out for a night just to give her a break. We went out to one of our favorite restaurants, Kenny Roger’s Roasters (a big deal at the time usually reserved for birthdays). Not only did we eat our fill, our uncle also ordered an extra helping of chicken to take home and enjoy the next day (an outlandish extravagance to us, total boss move). We went back to their place and played a few games of NHL Face Off on his cutting-edge PlayStation, laughing and hollering as we fumbled with the new controller and spent more time cross-checking the air than anything else. It was a night of fun we desperately needed during a very dark time, and one that I still remember fondly to this day. 

That is the power of being there and stepping up. A simple meal and a few laughs can leave a lifetime impression when someone really needs a hand. When you have a loved one or friend in need, you don’t need to do anything fancy, just being there and offering support can make more of a difference than you can imagine.

I don’t know if there are any Kenny Rogers Roasters left any more, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t play games anymore, but you can be sure I’m going to try and find a way to repay the favor to my uncle all these years later now that he is the one in need. 

[Comment]

Heroes of the Holocaust : Virginia Hall (Part 2)By: C4i

 
What does it take to set up a spy ring made up of normal civilians in the middle of an occupation by the most determined and evil military force to ever march the earth? Ingenuity, diligence, and courage. Luckily, Virginia Hall possessed these qualities in abundance. 

Well read, a natural conversationalist, and a powerful personality, Virginia was a natural recruiter. From the minute she arrived in France under an assumed identity she began to make allies. Wherever she went she grew her team of contacts, messengers, and agents. From friendly Parisian police who resented the Nazis, to barkeeps and shop owners, Virginia gathered the useful and brave and rallied them into an effective espionage outfit. All of this under the watchful eye of the Gestapo. She possessed a gift for both identifying people who may be sympathetic and useful to the Allied cause and for sniffing out danger and enemy infiltrators. 

Virginia was picky about who she would work with. As the SOE sent more agents into different parts of France and homegrown resistance cells took shape, she did not just blindly make contact with these new allies as one might be tempted to in such a hostile situation. Instead, she would watch and evaluate them to see how careful they were, what kind of risks they took, how their ambitions matched their ability and if they were worth meeting. Some measured up to her standards while others didn’t. It was an excellent survival instinct that would serve her well as she watched several resistance networks compromised and broken while her tightly managed ring always managed to stay one step ahead of the Nazis and their French collaborators. 

She set up complicated clandestine communication routes.  A false brick in a certain building on a certain night might be used to dead drop a message to another agent. Walk into a friendly café and if you know the right people a little note might be taped to the bottom of your glass. Using her cover as a Post reporter, Hall would send stories and articles home that were peppered with secret code phrases for the SOE to interpret. 

As time passed, she became more and more hands on. She dispersed radio equipment to different cells and organized acts of sabotage. During her time in Lyon, she helped conceal Jewish families and prepare routes for them out of the country, literally saving their lives. She was a veritable one-woman intelligence department inside the SOE.

Perhaps most impressively, Virginia orchestrated a massive jailbreak that saved 12 agents from the firing squad. From having lockpicking and escape tools smuggled into the jail in sardine cans, to arranging a series of safehouses and supply drops to shelter the escapees, she masterminded the entire operation. On July 15, 1942, 12 men slipped their bonds and fled Mauzac prison into the dark surrounding woods. They separated according to plan and made their way to their contacts using the instructions given to them. While the Nazis scoured the woods and turned over every rock they could, Virginia saw them all safely accounted for and on a path out of the country by August 11th, a tremendous success. 

The German’s were furious, the prison break was a massive embarrassment. They knew there were covert networks subverting their efforts in France, but none were as effective as the one operated by the "limping lady.” The Gestapo turned up the heat trying to find her, and by the time wanted posters for "a lady with a prosthetic leg” hit the streets of Lyon, Virginia knew it was only a matter of time before she would be found.

So, she made her escape. But remember, this is occupied France and she was one of the top enemies of the German state, she couldn’t exactly head down to the harbor and catch the first boat back to Britain. All the ships and trains were watched and trying to drive a long distance to cross a border in a car was just asking to be stopped by a German patrol or Gestapo run check point. No, Virginia made her escape the only way she could – step by agonizing step.

Crossing the Pyrenees mountains is a monumental journey. Spanning over 340km across and rising higher than 3,400 meters in some spots, it is not a trip a normal person is typically able to do. Especially not a person making the journey in winter weather and dragging a seven-pound wooden leg, But, that was exactly what Virginia did. To the amazement of her superiors, she made it through those icy mountains on foot and into Spain where she was promptly arrested for illegally crossing the border. But safe in a Spanish jail, arrangements were quickly made to secure her release and bring her home.

But Virginia wasn’t done, she wanted to go back to France and told her superiors so. The SOE flatly refused. To them she was a burned asset, one lucky to have gotten away with her life. Sending her back would be serving her up to the Germans. Virginia didn’t care, she had made deep friendships and connections in France and wasn’t about to sit on the sidelines while their lives were at risk. While the SOE said no, the new American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) finally realized what an agent they had on their hands and said yes.
 
 

She was re-inserted back into France under another cover identity, this time posing as an elderly lady. She disguised her wooden leg as an old woman’s shuffling gait and got right back to work. She made her way posing as a milk lady (sometimes even selling cheese to the Germans) as she re-established communication lines and made contact with resistance fighters.

With OSS backing, Virginia helped arm and organize several resistance cells. Her efforts to outfit and coordinate different groups led to a massive sabotage campaign. Among their other successes, Virginia’s team was responsible for derailing multiple freight trains, blowing up four bridges, and undertaking operations that resulted in the deaths of over 150 Nazis and capture of 500 more. 

The impact these operations had could not be overstated. While the Allies were gearing up to launch the invasion of D-day, Virginia was making sure the German forces were depleted, frustrated, and unable to quickly resupply or reposition troops. It is impossible to calculate the number of lives saved by her role in paving the way for the successful invasion effort.

After the war Virginia continued to work in espionage the rest of her life and never breathed a word about her experiences to anyone. She quietly buried this portion of her life, seeking neither praise nor accolades for her actions. Even many of her family members did not know her whole life story when she passed at the age of 76 in 1982. 

Virginia Hall was a true hero. A person who put herself in incredible danger for the sake of others. Yes, she may have spoke several languages, yes, she may have been a calculating strategist, but her greatest asset was her sense of right and wrong. Virginia knew when it was important to stand up and make a difference and never let anything from a disability to sexism in the Foreign Service to the full might of the Gestapo stop her from doing it.

[Comment]

Heroes of the Holocaust: Virginia Hall (Part 1)By: C4i

In 1941, the Nazis occupying Vichy France had a big problem. An invisible foe that seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at once. One who orchestrated everything from jail breaks to train derailments and bridge explosions. One who kept Allied intelligence as up to date on German troop movements as the very Oberst who issued the orders. A hero begrudgingly regarded by the Gestapo itself as "the Allies most dangerous spy.”

The daring rogue in question? An unassuming woman in her 30’s with a seven-pound prosthetic leg. The Allies called her "Artemis” in their top-secret documents, the Gestapo called her the "limping lady,” and to her allies in the resistance she was better known as "Marie of Lyon.” Today, we know this hero by her own name, Virginia Hall.

Born in Baltimore DC, Virginia always excelled at whatever she put her mind to. Growing up she excelled in both athletic and academic arenas, approaching her interests with a boundless determination and focus that would become her signature personality trait. A woman of great intelligence and integrity, Virginia was a polyglot who studied several languages and could fluidly speak French, Italian, and German (an almost perfect skill set for a future Allied spy). She studied Economics in multiple colleges and universities across Europe as she sought life experiences in addition to scholarly acclaim. Her travels took her to schools in France, Germany, and Austria and after graduation she found work with several different consulates.

It was in Turkey where she was working as a clerk that the accident that claimed her left leg happened. A freak accidental discharge during a hunting trip ruined her foot and the resulting gangrene necessitated the amputation of the leg below the knee. Prosthetic technology at the time was rudimentary, and her doctor’s strapped a seven pound wooden contraption to her leg.

Dauntless as ever, Virginia took this turn as well as anyone could. While her days as an athlete might be over, she was still determined to travel, work, and enjoy life to its fullest. Her wry sense of humor showing through in the nickname she gave her new leg, "Cuthbert.”
Virginia returned to work as a consular clerk in Venice, but her real ambitions rested elsewhere. She applied several times over the years to the U.S. Foreign Service as a way to put her unique skills to work and see more of the world. Unfortunately, she was repeatedly shot down, eventually receiving a rejection letter that made it clear the service was simply not interested in hiring a woman no matter how talented she might be. Eventually growing tired of the Foreign Service’s stubborn refusal to know a good thing when they saw it, she returned to Paris to work as an ambulance driver. An occupation that would land her square in the middle of history.

When the Germans marched into France in 1940, Virginia was there to see it happen. She saw firsthand what was happening in the country and the vulnerability of the people there. As the French government capitulated to the Nazis and America still hedged and debated across the Atlantic, it was clear who was going to suffer. Having extensive travel experience, Virginia knew and was friends with many Jews. She knew them as good, honest, regular people and found the Nazis propaganda about them and their fraudulent racial science repulsive. She recognized injustice for what it was and refused to quietly tolerate it. 

Escaping to London, Virginia made no secret of her disdain for the Nazis. Her opposition to the Nazi regime was total, and she was not shy about letting others know exactly what she thought they had coming to them. It was during a heated discussion about just that topic at a party in London when a stranger took her by the hand and passed her a piece of paper. "If you’re really interested in stopping Hitler, come and see me” the stranger said and then walked away without a chance for Virginia to respond. 

That person was Vera Atkins, the British spymaster. Vera was actively recruiting talent for the then fledgling Special Operations Executive (SOE) and unlike the U.S Foreign Service, Vera recognized potential when she saw it. When she looked at Virginia she did not see some young helpless woman with a wooden leg. She saw a multilingual genius with firsthand experience in both the French countryside and the halls of German academia who would slip beneath suspicion from even the most vigilant Gestapo vulture. Could you ask for a better secret agent?

In 1941 Virginia stepped foot in France again, this time under an assumed identity and a fake job as a New York Post reporter. She immediately set to work building one of the most effective and efficient spy networks of WW2.

Find out how in Part 2 later this week!

[Comment]

The Ayalon Institute: A museum for a secretBy: C4i

 
What’s the strangest museum you’ve ever been to?  Was it one of those fun science museums where you can interact with all the experiments and equipment? Was it a modern art exhibit that had you squinting at abstract shapes and bizarre sculptures? Wherever you’ve been, it probably isn’t as strange as the Ayalon Institute, a museum dedicated to illegal ammunition production!

Don’t worry, this isn’t a blog celebrating crime or war. There is a good reason this museum has been preserved and curated for generations. The Ayalon Institute represents the proud Israeli tradition of determination and courage in the face of oppression and hostility.
The origin of the clandestine operation goes all the way back to the 1930s, back when Israel was fighting for independence and still part of the British mandate. The relationship between Israel and Britain wasn’t always so rosy and the political situation was such that Britain was acting as a governing body over both Israel and Palestine at the time. While they interceded to prevent conflict between the two groups, they also did not want Israel to gain too much independent power at the time. There were laws put in place regarding the formation of Israeli militias, armies, and the production or stockpiling of arms designed to undermine and prevent Israeli independence.

This left the young nation in a tight spot. Jewish immigration was exploding due to the rise of Nazism and anti-Semitism in Europe. As Jews fled oppression in one land, they were coming to a new home under a different thumb. One with hostile neighbours and frequent attacks. No nation that longs for self-determination and independence can allow themselves to depend on another for protection. While the British were content to say "if you have a problem, come to us and sort it out” this was cold comfort to the families who lived under real threat of attack. This wasn’t a school yard where you could go running to the teacher when a bully hit you, real lives were on the line. 

The solution was to set up an underground arms smuggling operation, one that was tremendously successful. The Haaganah (the paramilitary Jewish organization that would later become the IDF) were able to create a pipeline of imported and locally produced weapons. Particularly the Sten submachine gun (which the British themselves would use in the millions over World War 2). Despite the British Provisional forces’ best effort, the Haaganah had more than enough weapons to protect themselves. There was just one catch.

They didn’t have any bullets.

It’s one thing to be able to import or produce a simple machine stamped firearm like the Sten. When you get right down to it, it’s a very simple item that can be produced by almost any metal shop. But ammunition on the other hand is a different story. One that involves volatile materials, precise measurements, and tricky to obtain materials. And that’s where the location codenamed "the Ayalon Institute” fits in.

Located in Rehov, this underground munitions factory was built right under the nose of the British military, neatly disguised as a kibbutz for new settlers. It was pitched as a place for new immigrants to get their feet wet when it came to kibbutz life and get used to their new normal. This was a clever way of explaining away a constant stream of new faces and shipments coming in and out of the community. And it was at least partially sincere, only a certain segment of the population knew what was really going on underground. There were some kibbutz members who never had a clue what was going on just below the surface.
All of this secrecy was conducted with good reason. Because near Rehov, barely a stone’s throw away was a British base. One that made it their business to randomly inspect trucks and businesses for anything suspicious. One that contained armed troops with equipment and resources that far outstripped the small little kibbutz. The slightest mistake would have given the Haaganah members away, and the punishment for their crime would have been death. No wonder they were careful.

Piece by piece, the factory parts needed to assemble the ammunition were brought in, often by Jews who served with the British (sometimes using British transportation!)  Of course, concealing an operation like that is a huge undertaking. The factory was built 13 feet underground with extra thick walls and ceiling to help limit the noise generated by the machines. Overtop, a seemingly normal looking kibbutz took shape. Looking around you wouldn’t notice anything different, they had houses, common gathering halls, barns and livestock, even a laundry service.
That laundry was key to the operation, providing cover in more ways than one. First, the heavy machinery of the laundry allowed the team to smuggle in more factory parts when needed. Secondly, the ventilation and steam of the laundry allowed them to conceal ventilation pipes to the factory underneath. And lastly, it provided a kind of social cover, the laundry was frequently used to clean the uniforms and personal clothes of the British officers of the nearby base!

So how do you keep an operation like this hidden? Flattery and trickery.

Copper was a vital component for the manufacturing process, and one that was monitored and controlled at the time. Why would some settler kibbutz need to import so much copper? To answer this, the team came up with a little side business – lipstick. Premium Kosher lipstick, handmade, and packaged in gorgeous copper tubes. And they were so generous with them! British officials visiting the Kibbutz were often given cases to give as gifts to their wives and daughters. Of course, the British gladly accepted these gifts and never questioned why so many shipments of copper seemed to be coming through the area.

But how to avoid those pesky random inspections and drop-ins from the British? One soldier or officer coming through at the wrong time, who saw the wrong thing, could spell doom for everyone involved. How could it be prevented? Good old fashioned hospitality. When a group of British soldiers came to the kibbutz they were given beer. Warm beer. Naturally, the soldiers were grateful but remarked how much nicer it would be out in the hot sun if those beers were cold.

"No problem” said the kibbutz members "just give us a shout before you come next time and we’ll make sure we have some chilling in the fridge!”

Can you believe this worked? Soon they were getting regular calls that some troops would be coming over and it sure would be nice if there were some cold ones waiting. The inspectors reliably told on themselves! 

This is the legacy that the museum today celebrates. Not the war or the conflict of the time, but the resourcefulness and spirit of the Jewish people. The fierce demand for independence and self-determination. The charming mix of brilliance and humor that allowed them to not only create an underground munitions factory, but keep it secure by being unfailingly kind and hospitable to their occupiers. 

[Comment]

What the battle of Jericho can teach us about faithBy: C4i

 
You’re probably familiar with the story of Jericho. In a time of strife, Joshua led the Israelites against Canaan, but they were stymied by the fortified city of Jericho. The city was a hardened bunker, with towering walls surrounding the entirety of the city and thick securely held gates barred any entry. Breaching the walls or gates was not an option and scaling them would have been a torturous bloody affair. Normally in this kind of situation, the solution would be a siege. A brutal war of attrition where the city and its people would be slowly starved into surrender after months of blockading by the attacking army. It is a horrible kind of war that maximizes suffering for all involved while drawing out an inevitable ending.

But the Lord spoke to Joshua and told him of another strategy, one that could only be accomplished through the grace of God. Joshua relayed the orders he received from God to his men. They were to march around the walls of the city once a day for six days straight, playing trumpets and carrying the Ark of the Covenant the entire time. On the seventh day, the soldiers were to march again, this time making seven circles around the walls and at the end of the march blast their horns and cry out in a loud roar. As soon as they did, the great walls of the city fell, reduced to rubble in an instant. Fully exposed, the Israelites easily stormed the city and emerged victorious.

Like I said, this is a familiar story, and like most familiar things it’s easy to take the story of Jericho for granted. On it’s face, it’s an impressive miracle and a testament to God’s ability to make anything happen. But if you look closer, it is also a story about the importance of faith and obedience.
Try to imagine it from a less familiar point of view. Put yourselves in the shoes of one of the soldiers serving Jericho. Once you do, it becomes a much different story.

A Different Point of View

You’re a footman soldier in a brutal time. You’re one of the lowest ranked members of the Israelite army, armed with a simple spear and a flimsy shield made of layered leather and wood. War is not pretty and survival is the exception not the rule for someone in your position. Even at the start of this campaign your thoughts turn to home and what you’ve left behind. Hopefully, this can all be settled quickly and with God’s mercy you’ll be able to return home healthy and maybe with a bit of coin in your pocket to bring home to your family. 

But then marching into Canaan territory a hush falls over the assembly of armed men as soon as the towering walls of Jericho come into view. Over 11 feet high, 14 feet wide, capped with an even taller stone slope. These are impenetrable, unscalable, massive walls, and everyone knows what that means - a siege. 

Your heart sinks as the men begin to mutter amongst themselves about the task ahead of them. Maybe you’ve already been a part of a siege, or maybe you just know other soldiers who have been through them. What they are telling you about them is not good. As soon as you see those walls you know you’re going to be here for months, and that’s if you’re lucky. Sometimes a siege could stretch into years if the city were prepared with enough supplies. 

That’s a year of misery. A year of baking in the sun, waiting. A year of foraging for food and firewood in a sparse and increasingly picked over desert. A year of throwing things over the walls and dodging rocks and arrows coming back. A year of looking over your shoulder, ready for the day an ally army of Jericho tries to ambush you from behind.  

You settle in, the experienced captains are already giving some basic orders. Dig a trench here, start setting up a barricade there, take an inventory of supplies and a headcount of the men. Everyone has to report in now so they can keep track of the inevitable deserters and casualties of attrition that are sure to add up in the coming months. 

But then you get word that Joshua, the commander, has different orders for everyone. Drop the shovel, stop what you’re doing, and line up. You’re part of the advanced guard, get up to where the Ark and priests with trumpets are, we’re going to march around the city. Oh yeah, and no shouting or chanting, unless you have a horn in your hand keep quiet. 

What is this? A show of force?  A declaration of some kind? But hey, fine, I’d rather march than dig I guess.

Then the next day the same orders are repeated. And the next day. And the day after that.

What is going on? We should be fortifying the perimeter, making sure they can’t get any spies out. We should be harassing them with slings and arrows, not shuffling our feet and babysitting priests.

Maybe you start to grumble to the other men. It isn’t exactly unreasonable to have some questions in this situation, but one doesn’t ask such questions too loudly either. Most of the other troops don’t understand what’s going on either, but then you hear it from an older captain – Joshua is getting his orders from God. You ask around, Joshua is well respected. They say he went up with Moses on Mount Sinai when he made the first tablets with the commandments. They say God talks to him directly. 

As a footman soldier with little education and maybe not many hours in temple, what do you do with this information? You have two choices, you can either believe in Joshua and follow his orders, or start looking for an exit opportunity, a chance to desert.

On the seventh day things get even more strange. Today you’re told you won’t just be marching once around the city, but seven entire times. And at the end, everyone is going to yell. It seems like a cruel joke. Walking around the city seven times will take the entire day, no breaks. You’ll eat and drink while keeping pace. You’ll shiver in the early morning as the first light of dawn creeps across the cool sands, and scorch in the heat of the sun in the afternoon as your sandals bake to your feet. 

But finally, the seventh cycle is complete. A cheer erupts from the exhausted army, the trumpets sound, brighter and crisper than ever before. There seems to be an extra force with them, those old priests summoning up something deep from within themselves, stronger, bigger than they themselves are. 
Like a bolt of lighting, you hear a sharp, loud crack. Then it all happens at once. The walls tumble down, reduced to bricks, then stones, then rubble as they collapse. Those thick proud gates fold in on themselves and splinter like matchsticks. Over the din you hear Joshua himself, "charge!” and in that moment you know the city is yours. It is yours because God wanted it that way and no other reason.

Imagine how it would feel in that moment, to go from frustration and confusion to utter jubilation so quickly. To emerge from uncertainty and doubt to complete success. We can have it in our lives too.

The Lesson of Jericho

The lesson from the battle of Jericho is that faith is difficult. That it is impossible to understand God’s plan. Like the footman told to march around the city, we simply don’t have the perspective to see God’s will in motion. What may seem arbitrary or pointless to us in the moment could be the most important thing in our lives, the very path to our success and joy.

It also teaches us that we must put in the work ourselves. It’s not enough to say, "I trust in God” and then do whatever you feel is the best way forward. We need to listen for God in our lives, whether that voice comes through scripture, your pastor, or His will working through you, and then obey His instructions to the letter. 

What would this story look like if Joshua hedged his bets? What if Joshua heard God say "take all your men and march around the city” and thought "sounds good, but just in case I’ll spare a few men for guard duty. And maybe a few to dig some fortifications. And well we should probably reserve our best men, so they are ready in case of an attack. How bout I just have half the men march around the city?” Do you think God would have thought that was following his will? No. Those walls would be standing today if Joshua waivered liked that.

Jericho teaches us that obedience to God is not something you can do in degrees. You must place your faith fully in Him, even when it’s hard to do. Even when conventional wisdom rails against it, or when the people around you begin to grumble or doubt. Faith can work miracles, but it must be true and complete.

[Comment]

Tikkun olam in 2021: Repairing the worldBy: C4i

 
This past year of COVID has been difficult for many of us. Sure, some of us probably did something productive with all the extra time in-doors. Maybe some of us learned to bake bread, paint, or finally built that home gym and have spent the past ten months or so working out and getting fit. Probably. But for many of us, this has been one long grim year of disappointment. We’ve burned through everything half-way decent on Netflix and developed a first-name relationship with far too many pizza delivery men.  Suffice to say, we haven’t been at our best.

Thankfully, the new year is a time to change that. With a vaccine on the horizon and the promise of a return to normalcy, 2021 should be a year about appreciating what we have and making the world a better place. It should be about tikkun olam.

What is tikkun olam? 

Tikkun olam is a term that dates back thousands of years to what is called the Mishnaic period in Jewish studies which means to "repair the world.” In its earliest incarnations, this repair referred to legal amendments, updating the laws of the land to make things more fair and just, specifically to try and protect the vulnerable in society. But the term has taken on a variety of meanings in modern times, morphing into an active responsibility to improve the world God has given us. It’s the difference between a duty to not cause harm to the planet or to another person, and the duty to heal harms that have been committed, address them, and improve the world going forward to prevent those harms from happening again.

It can sound a little hippy-ish, and there are definitely those out there who chant "tikkun olam” without truly considering their actions, but the core idea is very affirming for Jews and Christians alike. God has given us this world and we are all brothers and sisters in his eyes. What kind of family let’s their home run to wreck and ruin? What would God think of us if we ignored a brother or sister in need? Repairing the world starts at home and it starts with all of us.

How do you practice tikkun olam?

There is a Jewish concept called "mitzvot” which roughly translates into "good deeds.” These good deeds can be religious (such as observing the sabbath) but can also be ethical actions of any sort. Feeding the hungry would be a clear mitzvot, as would holding the door open for someone with their arms full. Great and small, any kind of good deed contributes to a more whole and perfect world.

Obviously, this is a very broad interpretation, which is why tikkun olam can sometimes be the subject of debate. One person’s idea of what is best for the world may differ from another’s. So, it’s difficult to draw a roadmap that says "this is how you practice tikkun olam.” That answer is going to be a little different for everybody.

But while the specifics may be hard to pin down, the overriding principals are not. Do good wherever you can at whatever scale you’re capable of. If everyone does their own small part, we can make the world a better place, a place that treats the gifts God has given us with the respect and reverence they deserve.

Best of all, it’s good for you! Practicing tikkun olam isn’t just about helping others, it’s also about helping yourself. When you approach every day looking for ways to make the world a better place you gain a sense of accomplishment and purpose. There is a drive behind every day that guides and sustains you, replacing apathy and fear with caring and excitement. We don’t have to take the world as it is, every single one of us has the power to make some small change!

Could there be a better answer to the cloud of negativity and uncertainty that has hung over us through all of 2020? Let’s escape the shadow of COVID and strife and fill 2021 with a renewed (and distinctly Israeli) sense of optimism and purpose. Look for mitzvot opportunities in your life and commit to repairing the world in this new and better year.

[Comment]

Celebrating the holidays under COVIDBy: C4i

There is no denying it, 2020 has been a bummer year. For the last ten months we’ve all lived our lives holding our breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sanitizing after every interaction, wearing a mask everywhere you go, home schooling the kids, dealing with workplace disruptions, we’ve been through the wringer! But by and large, we’ve handled it well! By and large, we’ve come together as a community and a society and have done the unpleasant but necessary things to protect ourselves. 

But now it’s Christmas and it’s getting harder.

It’s one thing to adapt to a new normal of masks and disinfectant in April, we dealt with it like champs. Having to avoid the beach and campgrounds during the summer to stay safe was no fun, but we all understood that you must have the right priorities during a pandemic. But now, after almost an entire year of playing it safe and doing what was necessary, we face a Christmas that barely resembles Christmas. A holiday season with no major gatherings, no sharing a meal with old friends, no getting together with the extended family, and a vastly different church experience than we’re used to. Even the most stoic among us beginning to feel the strain.

I heard someone describe COVID as not just a virus of the body, but a virus of loneliness, and I think that is absolutely true. It’s hard to comprehend the full emotional and spiritual damage this year of isolation and fear has done to us and now we face our greatest challenge yet. For so many of us, the Christmas season is a much-needed restart button, a chance to refresh, recover, and focus on the year ahead. But under COVID, Christmas isn’t bringing joy and peace, it’s bringing fear and uncertainty.

Don’t let the virus ruin the season for you. While things are definitely different this year, there are still ways to find comfort and joy at the end of this crazy mixed up year.

Connect as best as possible with your loved ones

I get it, after ten months of this mess, nobody wants to hear "maybe you can connect with the family on a zoom call!” Being able to talk and see family and friends over the net is a blessing, but it’s no substitute for the real thing. God made us as social creatures, and there is no way a conversation with a computer screen is going to fill in for what we’re missing. That said, there are ways to bring the virtual connection a little closer to home!

Instead of just getting together for a chat, try watching a movie together. Services like Netflix Party let you synchronize a Netflix viewing session and chat together in real time. It’s not the same as being in the same room together, but it’s something! There are also a wide variety of party and social games out there that can be played by people of all skill and comfort levels with technology, from the 12-year old mega gamer in the family, to the recently retired Grandma. Try the mystery guessing game Among Us for some laughs or go old-school and play charades over Zoom. There are plenty of ways to make a Zoom call more fun!

Focus on the people close to you. Those of us living with family should take extra care to appreciate each other over the holidays. Take the time to do something extra special for your spouse. Give the kids an extra squeeze in the morning and ask what they want to get up to over the break. Take the dog for an extra long walk in the snowbanks and give your cat some extra ear scritches. In the absence of others, it’s more important than ever to foster close, deep, affectionate relationships with the people closest to you.

Create new traditions to fill the void

There is no replacing some traditions. Many of us will miss the Christmas Eve and day services at church this year depending on what your personal church is doing and comfort level. Across the country, families will be going without their traditional "everyone’s invited” dinners. No getting together with the grandparents and all the aunts, uncles, and relatives this year. No ice skating over the break, no visits to the mall Santa for the little ones, no Christmas plays or presentations, nothing. There are things we are going to miss this year and there is no way to dress that up as a positive. 

But that doesn’t mean we have to mope through the season. Instead of giving in to sadness and disappointment, we can accept the reality of this year and start new traditions in the family.

First, focus on the traditions and yearly treats you can still enjoy. Things like baking Christmas cookies with the kids, putting up the decorations, watching your favorite holiday movies, you can still do these things so go big! Bake that extra batch of cookies, watch some baking videos online and get inspired to try some new ideas! After putting up the tree, deck the halls of your home with all the Christmas cheer you can muster. Make the good popcorn with extra butter and settle in for a double feature of It’s a Wonderful Life and Jingle All the Way (ok, fine, maybe not Jingle All the Way, but some fun Christmas movie).

Then think of what else you can do. If you have kids that need an outlet for extra energy, get them outside to make a snowman family. Use this homebound time to try out some new board games with the family, see what they enjoy. Nobody will be caroling this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have an impromptu living-room karaoke night with your spouse! Make a 2020 Christmas stocking and fill it with "coal” made out of balled up pieces of paper on which you’ve written everything lousy and disappointing about this rotten year. Send it off with better hopes for 2021!

Put some extra love into the season. If you don’t normally send out Christmas cards, or only send out short cards with little more than "Merry Christmas!” and a signature, consider going deeper this year. Take the time to tell the people in your life how important they are, how much you miss them, and what you’re looking forward to in the future. These could be Christmas cards, but they could also be New Years wishes. After all, we could all stand to start 2021 with a little boost.
 

Refocus your celebrations

Most of all, the best thing you can do to make Christmas meaningful and invigorating this year is to turn your focus to God and the true meaning of the season. As Christians this is something we should be doing every year, but it’s all the more important in this challenging and unprecedented time. 

In a time when it’s easy to feel discouraged and alone, when you can see chaos just outside your door, and it’s all too easy to question God’s plan.  Christmas is a wonderful reminder that we are never alone. God loves us and cherishes us so much that he sent us his own Son to live among us and ultimately die for us and then rose triumphantly, so we can have eternal life with Him. The birth of Jesus and his sacrifice was the greatest gift ever bestowed on humanity and is proof that God is always with us, even in the darkest times. Reflect on that in this difficult season and hold that thought as we enter into a new year.

Bring your family into it. If you can’t safely attend any services this year, be sure to hold your own. Have the family read the Christmas story together (make it fun by trading off readers every couple of verses), take the time on Christmas Eve to sing some hymns together. Make sure you all have a chance to reflect on the true meaning of the season.

Even when everything seems hopeless and we don’t know what tomorrow is, we know we can depend on the redemptive power of Christ. While things may be very different this year, that fundamental truth hasn’t changed a bit. Make God the focus of your Christmas and you’ll have a wonderful and enriching holiday no matter how weird this year may be.  

[Comment]

The beauty of the Ein Gedi Nature ReserveBy: C4i

The oasis in the desert is an enduring image. The serene beauty of clear running water, green plants, and lush shade in the middle of a harsh, arid climate is something dreams are made of. But in the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, it’s no dream - it’s reality.
Translated as "the spring of the kid” Ein Gedi is made up of two parallel canyons near the Dead Sea in the Judean Desert. The surrounding area is every bit as dry and sandy as you would expect with vast stretches of empty desert extending in every direction. It’s a landscape where it’s hard to believe anything could survive - all of which just makes the vibrant plant and animal life in the reserve all the more entrancing! The canyons are fed by two separate springs which create waterfalls and streams running along the canyon floors. The water from these streams allows for one of the most beautiful and captivating micro ecologies in the world! 

The first spring, Wadi David, is considered the main spring and is one of the most popular hiking spots in the country. As soon as you arrive prepare to be struck with the contrast between the spring and the desert around it. Along the length of the stream are lush green plants growing freely along the banks and walls of the canyon. The breeze is cooled by the water and the tall canyon walls and vegetation provide plenty of shade. It’s truly a respite from the desert surrounding it.

Suitable for people of all hiking skill levels and health (the first section of the trail is even wheelchair accessible), Wadi David provides everyone the chance to witness an oasis in real life. Along the main path (a circular hike that can be completed in about an hour) you’ll come across the beautiful David’s Waterfall and crystal-clear natural pools that you can swim in and enjoy.
For those who are more adventurous and don’t mind some climbing, you can explore the upper section. This is a longer more challenging hike, about three or four hours depending on your pace. Hard work in the heat for sure, but well worth it! This path will take you from David’s Waterfall out into the larger reserve area and along some rocky climbing routes. Along the way you’ll have the change to see even more incredible sights, including Dodim’s cave. This spot has a special reputation with hikers, from the alabaster stone that makes up the entry way to the cave, to the aquamarine pools that form in it, to the waterfall inside, the cave a certain magical quality to it. No doubt this is helped by the relative distance and isolation. While the main trail of the Wadi David is always bustling with visitors, few make it out to Dodim’s cave, making it the perfect spot to relax and take THE picture of your trip to Israel.

The second stream, Wadi Arugot, is also beautiful but features a more challenging path for intermediate hikers. There are two separate paths leading to the hidden waterfall and each offer their own sights. The easier option is the path through the riverbed, so be sure to bring waterproof shoes! Reward your long hike with a swim in the pool of the waterfall and cool off!

The wildlife of Ein Gedi is something to behold. As one of the few permanent sources of drinking water in the area, the streams support an entire localized eco-system. Wild Ibex dot the surrounding area, resting in the sun and preserving their strength. Cute little Hyrax or "rock rabbits” make their home in small tunnels and crevasses in the area, careful to hide away from the foxes, wolves and occasional leopard that also live in the area (don’t worry, those animals are nocturnal and the trails are closed before sundown). An untold variety of frogs, crabs, and birds also call the Reserve home, making it an ideal place for bird watchers and photography enthusiasts looking for something unique. 
The Ein Gedi Nature Reserve is an incredible natural wonder. There is no better place to explore to understand the true beauty and splendor of what Israel has to offer.  

[Comment]

Contact Us

C4i America

L - 4097

Columbus, OH  43260-4097

USA

Tel: 1-888-206-1986

Fax : 1-519-720-6905

Email: info@c4iamerica.com

mastercard visa amex discover
All funds charged in US Dollars

The PURPOSE of C4i is to call Christians to express love in action to the people of Israel.

Our MISSION is to present a biblical perspective of God’s plan for Israel and the church.

Our VISION is to see God’s truth proclaimed so that nations will support and bless the people of Israel.

 

C4i America is a 501(c)(3) organization.  Tax Identification Number 46-1508029

Privacy Policy