You either love camping. Or you hate it. I love it. Now let your mind wander back millenia to the nomadic life of shepherds and pilgrims who lived in tents. Some very basic but others quite luxurious. Tents were the most primitive form of shelter and came in varying shapes and sizes across the world. They were made of natural fibre (usually animal hair or hide) and held all a family's worldly possesions, and sometimes animals. The Bedouins despite being poor had a reputation for exceptional hospitality. They still do.
Being now the end of the Feast of Tabernacles, my mind has wandered back to the last time I was in Israel, 10 years ago. I had returned for three months and joining many for the special Feast of Tabernacles, the Scriptural week extended to two as we put up tents up and down the country. From the shores of the Dead Sea way up to Galilee, and camping on a mountain overlooking the Sea. We ended, naturally, in beautiful Jerusalem - a bunch of easily 50 campers squeezed in.
But first! The Dead Sea. This time of year is the end of summer but still a scorcher. After hastily pitching the tents, a metre from the crystal surface of the famous Salt Sea we spent hours floating. Long after dark we dried off and flopped around the tents. It was unbearable inside. Early the next day we were off for a wallow in the healing mud of the Dead Sea. And then back in the waters. Of course.
Floating in the Dead Sea is the most remarkable sensation. The salt looks like a dirty diamond coating everything it touches in big white chunks. Certain shores are hazardous to attempt barefooted. Getting water in your eyes is also hazardous. But the healing power of the Seas are world renowned. Very tragically the cosmetic industries are buying into the benefits of both salt and mud and this world wonder is fast disappearing with ongoing mining. According to Scripture one day the waters will run sweet so I can only believe that it will never totally disappear.
Feeling rejuvenated we packed up camp and hit the road north. Israel is very small and you can travel north to south within one day. Despite having done so a number of times the fast changing landscape never ceases to take my breath away. From desert to mountain to lush forests. And often the sparkling Jordan river accompanies you on your travels up or down.
Israel. Land of war. Land of peace. Land of hope. Land of division. Land of promise. Land of controversy. Land of truth. Land of lies. Israel. A land where the old and the new are so mingled that the present becomes a surreal kaleidoscope.
No matter where you go in the Land, Israel is filled with her young soldiers. There is an expression in Israel that she is always in a state of alert - it's just the height that varies. Soldiers have to be ready at a moments notice to rush to where the threat of war is. The tension is palpable. And yet I feel far safer in Israel than I ever have in my own country, especially as the crisis in South Africa escalates.
While the humidity of the Dead Sea was oppressive, the heat in the Galilee was far more bearable. And the nights on our Galilee mountaintop were refreshingly cool. The men pitched small tents while all the women and children camped in a huge - though rather tired - army tent. The views were spectacular. One of the best from the privacy of the toilet!
The toilets are compostable. With majestic elk crazing around you. The oven is handmade of clay. Although we never used it as it is too hot. And there was a delightful herb garden. The Galilee mountain was wonderful for camping as it is totally offgrid.
We were taken on a short walk by the shepherd - yes, a genuine, modern day bedouin shepherd who spends all day with his flock (that incredible tale for another post). He showed us an ancient well. Some of the less claustrophobic climbed down into it. We were also taken to ancient water storage systems, carved by hand in solid rock. There was also a tiny but neglected olive press, mostly hidden under eroding rock.
The evenings began with a spectacular sunset filling the heavens. After a meal around the bonfire we would retire again to our tents and dream of nomadic wanderings.
Leviticus 23 contains the Commands of the Most High for His seven eternal Feasts. In verse 34 we read that "on the fifteenth day of this seventh month is Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles)...it continues to verse 42 saying "Dwell in tabernacles for seven days". And so at this time of year you will see Sukkas (Tabernacles/booths) dotted all over the place. And more so in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is said to be the centre of the world. It is the heart of the three major religions. And I find it the perfect example of a meeting of old and new as well as Scriptural prophecy and history. I lived previously in Jerusalem and I never tire of it.
Camping in Jerusalem is challenging. We pitched tents on the roof of one of the youth hostels. The older people stayed in rooms the younger and adventurous in the tents. We had in our midst families, businessmen, dancers, musicians and artists but such a sweet unity. While camping on the Galilee mountaintop was quiet Jerusalem seems to be the city that never sleeps!
Meal times during the Feast of Tabernacles is particularly festive. Everyone gets involved. It is truly a Feast! And a special celebration. For the rest of the week it is a blur of laughter, dancing, talking, studying, resting and of course exploring. I find the memory of Sukkot - especially in Israel - carries me on wings for weeks, even months to come.
In Israel, even in the city and on apartment blocks you see little Tabernacles being built. And used. As much as we intended to go camping even for a couple days, this year Sukkot on our homestead was nothing spectacular. In fact it was very challenging. My autistic stepson is regressing very badly. Our crops have had major setbacks (hopefully not total failure). With the continued drought I am again looking at selling some goats. To top it all, we have all been sick. And so I have dug into my photo albums which has allowed my mind to wander, like the nomads of old to a special Sukkot in a special place. Israel. Land of Hope. Land of Promise. Maybe next year....