Divine Travels: Tel Aviv, Israel (The Holy and Explosive Encounter) & An Episode of Grace (Part V)

At the 66th Celebration of the Independence of the State of Israel.  Photography By: Vincent Garrucho

At the 66th Celebration of the Independence of the State of Israel.
Photography By: Vincent Garrucho

My apologies for the über dramatic title. This is kind of an “action-packed” post. :p

INTRODUCTION

I had the privilege to host at the 66th Anniversary of the Independence of the State of Israel last May 5, 2014 at the New World Hotel in Makati City. At first, it was quite an intimidating evening since I’m not into such social functions. About four hundred people including dignitaries and known personalities also graced the event. Nerve-wracking? Not so much. Eeeerrr, uhmmm…

I know how special that night was so I didn’t let my tiny frame absorb such fraught and overwhelm me (I tried). It was a significant evening as I felt the strong and deep connection between the nations of Israel and the Philippines. How these two countries helped each other in times of difficulties.

That evening, His Honorable Albert Del Rosario, Secretary of Foreign Affairs in the Philippines shared three points about the relationship between Israel and the Philippines. Philippines were among the 33 countries, and the only Asian nation that supported Israel to be a State. We also assisted a thousand (not sure about the exact number) of Jews in our country during the holocaust period. The last point was something personal for him, which was related to his grandfather who helped two German women. And who could forget the devastation that Typhoon Yolanda left our country? The Israelis were one of those nations who offered immediate help to us. While these points were shared, I just nodded in agreement and marveled.

Old Jaffa

Jaffa’s Clock Tower (made of limestone) at Yefet street.

Sorry for the long introduction. But I just thought that the perfect follow up to my blog series “Divine Travels” would be about Israel since it’s timely for this month’s celebration of Israel’s Independence Day and Mother’s Day. Israel’s Independence Day and Mother’s Day, you may ask? Yes, there is an unusual and unexpected connection between these two. This Divine Travel post is also a continuation of the Episodes of Grace.

This connection made it difficult for me to compress my first visit to Israel in one article. For this particular entry, kindly allow me to backtrack and start this series from how it ended.

(Warning: This post is very long and personal since I want to remember and document this significant part of my trip and season of my life.)

3 months, 2 weeks, 3 days…

This is about those last three days.

The Clock Tower after the siren and when a missile was intercepted
(I learned that this Clock Tower is also a memorial to the Israelis that were killed in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. 1948 was the year when my mama was also born.)

 

THE EXPLOSIONS

How can I forget the 16th of November 2012? It was a day before my departure from Tel Aviv back to Manila. It was also the day when our group who conducted a financial seminar for our Oversees Filipino Workers (OFWs) went around, and saw the Old Jaffa in South of Tel Aviv. This was where I experienced two “explosions” in a day.

Jaffa was a good contrast to explore from the usual character of Tel Aviv. It was a nice afternoon for a leisure walk around the Old City. We were looking for some trinkets and souvenirs to give as a present to family and friends. Suddenly, a siren began to wail. The long and loud siren warned us that another rocket was fired and we need to take cover.

THE FIRST ROCKET

You read it right, “another”. That wasn’t our first time to hear that kind of siren. A night before that afternoon, as we were walking around the city to get dinner with an Israeli friend, we heard the first siren during our trip. It was one of those incomparable experiences to any traveler. I felt like I was part of an action-packed and adrenaline-rush-kind-of-a-movie set. It was surreal. Minutes after the siren, a couple of friends saw the intercepted rocket in the sky that looked like a huge spark and “BOOM”! It somewhat looked and sounded like a firework! As if nothing happened, we continued the walk to our dinner.

One of the people who calmed us down was our Israeli friend. I’m so surprised on how cool he was. We continued to walk until we reached a Mexican restaurant. At that time, drinking shots of tequila would be logical. Is this kind of incident just normal in Israel? Hmm…yes and no.

For our Israeli friend it may seem normal since hundreds of rockets are being fired to Israel day in and day out. We can only imagine their every day situation. But we also heard that in twenty years, it was the first time that a missile was fired and reached an Israeli metropolis. And we were there. We were there not just during one, not even two, but three sirens and Iron Dome-intercepted-rockets. (Intercepted – thank God!)

THE TWO EXPLOSIONS

I must say though that the biggest two consecutive “explosions” that I experienced was in Jaffa. After the first siren that we heard that day, birds went crazy at the town square. We also encountered kind and concerned people at the store where we were. Upon hearing the siren, the sales men at the shop immediately invited us to go inside their store to take cover. After a scene of us haggling, we swiftly saw ourselves taking cover at the same shop.  We took cover until the siren stopped and the rocket intercepted. Thank God! Praise the Lord! Oh my dear! What an experience…

I was already feeling uneasy that time. In my heart, it was more than the intercepted missile. I felt like there’s another one coming. This time, it was something that I won’t be able to control in my head. It was something that cannot be intercepted by any human hand, time, and mind. I wanted to leave the place and go back to our hotel. But we stayed a little longer.

Another set of crazy birds. This time I felt like it's very different... I already had a feeling it's something personal....another explosive news

Right after the siren, the birds went crazy again. This time I already felt that something was deeply wrong. Then I got the call…

Right after the first siren that day, the birds went crazy again. This time it took place at the opposite side of the Clock Square. Then something sounded familiar. It was another troubling sound. This time it was coming from my phone. It was a call from my brother.

You know those times when you just know something terrible happened or will happen? Your ear is prepared to hear the news but your heart is never prepared to receive nor your mind prepared to perceive. You try to fight the fact and the reality.

“Hello sis, I’m calling because Mama is already saying goodbye”, my brother calmly said. “Do you want to talk to her?”, he continued.

Three months 

Before the trip…

It was 2010 when my desire to go to Israel started. It was also the year when we discovered about Mama’s colorectal cancer. Strange…just strange how these two things always get connected. Israel and my Mama (read more about this here). Two years and a number of months passed by and we saw ourselves (my family and I) at the four corners of a hospital room for three months (wrote our detailed hospital miracle experiences here). Those three months were definitely the toughest season of our life as a family.

Two weeks 

Before the trip…

Within those two weeks before my travel to Israel, my place was already prepared for Mama’s homecoming. Upon receiving a discharge order from Mama’s doctor, we prepared every thing that she need, from her hospital bed to her personal nurse, and other medical essentials. We were expectant for her homecoming with us. I was at peace knowing that she was coming home even before I leave for Israel.

On the day of my trip, I wasn’t able to say goodbye. There were so many things to do and accomplish both at the hospital and for my trip. The mental and emotional tension was there. Just a few hours before my flight, I went at Mama’s hospital room. Everyone was there. I wanted for everyone to leave that time but I just couldn’t speak nor move. I just went to her bedside and told her, “Mama I’ll be back, okay?”. I didn’t even kiss her because I was sure that I would have a hard time holding back my tears. I wanted to go back but I never had the chance.

I was sure that during that time, it was hard to comprehend why I needed to leave when Mama was still in the hospital. I couldn’t explain it too. I just know that I need to leave. Upon closing the door at her room, I couldn’t stop crying. I cried from the hallway, to the elevator (where I saw one of Mama’s nurse and told her to take care of her), from the parking lot and even up to the point when I accompanied my brother to buy our Mama’s medicines. I thought I would stop crying. But I never did, until I reached the airport.

I left in peace, but in my heart the emotional and mental anguish was there. It was the hardest time and decision to leave. When I left the hospital and Manila, I know that I needed to surrender Mama. As I left for Israel, I prayed that God would take care of Mama and my family. I just know that I needed to go. Whatever the purpose or reason was, I just needed to go.

The last three days…

Before our departure from Israel

(This wasn’t the first time that I got a call from a family member. A day or two before our stroll to Jaffa, I got a call from my sister-in-law that my Mama is in need of prayers. Her heart was getting weak. I couldn’t believe it. She was still in the hospital while I was in Israel. The morning prior to our Skype prayer time, I learned that Mama was revived.)

After my brother passed the phone to Mama, I started talking. I started thanking my Mama, telling her how much I love her. I talked and talked even when I couldn’t hear any response. I talked some more until my brother got back on the phone and we hung up. As I walked towards the Clock Square, I decided to call my brother again. I wanted to talk to my Mama for the last time even when I could no longer get any response.

I called and this time, I didn’t know what to say anymore. I used to pray in faith, for miracles and for healing. I didn’t know what to pray anymore. Should I pray for a miracle? It wasn’t that in that instance, I  already stopped believing in miracles. I was actually imagining that maybe God will do what He did to Lazarus when he called him back to life. Maybe it was going to be one of the death-to-life-kind-of-a-miracle? He can do that to my Mama, right?

My tears just flowed during that second call. They weren’t tears about the explosions, but it were tears of surrender. I didn’t know what to say nor pray anymore. Until I reached the square and heard my friend Vanny weeping more than I did that time. She was weeping while trying to comfort me by embracing me on my side. That time, I just cried, “Mama, Mama, Mama…”. I cried and prayed. It was a prayer of surrender…. I surrender. My heart just died. I surrender.

Since I’ve been wanting to go home even after the first siren, I told our group that this time I really wanted to go home already. I was willing to commute alone while they can still stay, but they all walked with me. We waited for our bus as we head home.

THE FINAL KISS

When we got on the bus, I swiped my card but it didn’t work. That was strange. My friends and I paid and had the same balance on our pre-paid bus cards. My card didn’t work while theirs worked just fine. I’m grieving, mourning, and in pain for goodness sake!

The bus driver then pointed me to sit in front. I was thinking maybe he wants us to settle it later on instead. I sat in front while my friends sat at the back where we usually sit. I didn’t want to be bothered at that time. So I sat near the window, placed my camera purse beside me so nobody can disturb me.

Then another strange thing happened. Of all places and of all people, an old lady came inside the bus. She was carrying a grocery bag and a bag of bread. Our eyes met then she pointed her lips on the seat beside me. I didn’t have a choice but to let her sit beside me. So I moved my purse.

I looked outside the window and in my head I exclaimed, “Wow, Lord! Of all people why would you let this old woman sit beside me? Why Lord, why? And she even had her grocery bag with her! You even remind me that I can never do the groceries ever again with Mama. She also gave some bread to the driver. You remind me how Mama was. Why Lord, why?”.

I was trying to fight my thoughts. I don’t want to cry inside that bus. So to divert my attention, I reached for my purse, grabbed and sprayed some organic hand sanitizer on my hands. Eeek, wrong move! Something that I feared the most happened. The old lady started talking to me, and in Hebrew!

She was moving her hands directing where I bought my hand sanitizer. I told her I didn’t buy it there. I bought it back home, in Manila. Then I just couldn’t help it. I tried to keep my tears from falling but she noticed it. And she asked why. I told her through hand gestures and in words that my Ima (one of the only few words that I know in Hebrew) passed away earlier and she was in the Philippines far away from me.

With gentleness and kindness in her eyes, she told me that I could stay with her when I get to visit Israel again. I gave her my card and thanked her. I didn’t have time to get her name and contact details. In just a split second, my friends called me that it was already our stop. It was time to leave. I hurriedly said goodbye to the old lady. Then as if our world paused, she gave me a warm hug and a goodbye kiss.

I couldn’t help but think that in that brief moment, God made a way, drove the bus that afternoon, played with my pre-paid bus card, pointed me to the perfect sit, and let me and my Mama talk, hug, and kiss me for the last time through that old lady. Is it just me who find this bizarre? Just minutes after my Mama’s passing, this happened.

Waiting for the sun to set at Tel Aviv Beach.

 

THE SURRENDER

As we headed back to our hotel, I told my friends that I wanted to be alone. I went to my room, closed the door and just wept. I wept and wept until I felt my eyes getting burned! I wept, I prayed, I knelt, and I cuddled myself. After weeping, I talked to my friends and asked them to excuse me that evening. I wanted to be alone even for a while. I walked along the beachfront near our hotel (which I’ve been aching to do since we arrived). I wanted to walk and see the setting of the sun. So I went there and Vanny accompanied me. I was hurting…. I was in terrible pain.

finally was able to walk at the beach and this time with vanny a girl who lost her mama when she was still young.

Who could have planned this? Vanny who lost her Mom at a young age was the one who was trying to comfort me at the Clock Square and the  one who accompanied me to this walk to the beach.

I asked Vanny if she could join me in prayer. I wanted to pray for my Mama and commit her to the Lord. I prayed and lifted my hands of surrender in front of the calm sea. I surrender! There was nothing that I can do but to thank, praise and worship God! I always pray that He would be in control. And I was certain that He was. I committed my Mama and my heart to the Lord. I prayed for Him to let me understand…I know that He will let me accept and understand.

Waited until sunset

The beautiful sunset and calm Mediterranean Sea.

*Related Podacast: “Where’s the best sunset?”

As I prayed and faced the Mediterranean Sea, God gave me a picture of the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. It was so beautiful and serene. The sea was also very calm. God gave me tranquility, a sense of peace in my heart. I just know that I can rest on Him. In pain, in grief and in mourning, I can rest on Him. I know that healing will take time but I chose to rest. In loss, I know I gained more of Him. I gained His grace and His grace became my strength in such weakness.

“The Lord knows my weakness. And He’s the only One who can also give me such strength in such a time”.

 

DEATH AND LIFE

I pictured, if this view was already spectacular, how much more the place where my Mama is right now? And her face and body, I can only imagine how beautiful she is at this moment. I find it sad to think that our life just ends here on earth. You know, you just live and die, that’s it. I find that so sad. But what makes me excited about having a relationship with God through Jesus is that life doesn’t have to end here. Death is just a beginning of another life – an eternal one with Him. Life that is surrounded with His love. And I’d rather be surrounded with His love than be away from it. That’s what my Mama is experiencing right now. Love and eternity.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

After that night of surrender, the next day, PD told me that I could go ahead of them so I can attend to family matters. It was just a day before our return to Manila. So I thought that it wouldn’t change a thing even when I go ahead of them. I wanted to finish whatever the purpose of my trip was. I felt like God wasn’t finished yet.

What I loved about our mornings in Israel was our daily devotional. This was our last devotional as a group in Israel.  
Photography by: Benny Dychangco

Backtrack…

Days before our departure from Tel Aviv, PD and I went to a mall. At that mall I told him that I want to meet a senior citizen. I don’t know why but I just want to meet one.

After our lunch, I excused myself and went to the ladies room. Inside the loo, I saw an Asian-looking woman who was attending to an old but beautiful woman. As I went outside, they were still there. I approached them and started talking to Ate Remy (“Ate” pronounced as “ah-te”, a Filipino term of respect, which means older sister). Ate Remy is a Filipina caregiver who looks after Rachel, the old but beautiful woman in the wheelchair.

As I was talking to Ate Remy, Rachel started talking to me too. I was surprised on how witty and funny she was. She also spoke good English and her mind was still sharp. We talked for several minutes until PD saw us and approached our group of ladies. (Maybe he got worried and curious what took me so long in the ladies room?)

I really enjoyed talking to Rachel and Ate Remy. Before we left, I told Rachel how I would love to see her again. I asked when she would go to the mall again. She said that we could visit her at her home instead. Ate Remy was surprised because Rachel doesn’t normally invite people to her place. She said that was very rare of Rachel.

I felt so privileged and excited to be invited to her home. So we set the date and exchanged numbers. I was really looking forward to see Rachel again. But a day or two before we were scheduled to meet, she called and asked if we can reschedule our date. She realized that it was Shabbat and her family will visit her at her place. I told her with regret that I no longer have other available dates to meet her since I was flying back to Manila that Saturday evening.

I understood how important it is to celebrate Shabbat for the Israelis. But she insisted that we could meet in the morning instead.

Rachel’s beautiful home.

That Saturday Morning…

The Purpose

I thank God that I was able to stay on our last day in Tel Aviv or else I would have missed something incredible. After our last morning devotional as a group, it was time for our Shabbat date with Rachel. I took a cab with PD and Tita Mamoosh as we journeyed to her place.

When we arrived at Rachel’s building, we were welcomed and assisted by Ate Remy from their lobby to the elevator, going to their home unit. Upon entering their home, we were welcomed by Rachel’s cheerful spirit and warmest smile.

Love this carpet

Love the details and colors on this carpet.

That Saturday morning felt like Christmas with Rachel. As I gave her some presents from the Philippines, I was surprised that she also prepared something for me. It was a beautiful hardcover book full of nice pictures and details about Israel. Ate Remy said that Rachel let her choose their gift for me. I was so touched by their thoughtfulness.

With gift from Rachel

This is my lovely friend Rachel. (Please excuse the “sebo” on my face.)

Despite being in a wheelchair for years, Rachel displayed such energy and zeal for life. She was very sweet and you can tell that she enjoyed life.

One of her travel collections.

We were filled with admiration as we gazed at Rachel’s collections that surrounded her very cozy home. She then started to give us a tour of her place and collections while in her wheelchair. Her place showed how well-traveled she was. She showed us the variety of decorative items that she has, which she curated from the different countries that she visited, including a wooden chicken from the Philippines.

The variety of her collections shows how well-traveled she was.

She shared stories after stories in her usual humor. We really enjoyed our time with her. We appreciate how she took the time to welcome and accommodate us.

More collections

More collections from around the world.

After our house tour, she invited us to a nook at her kitchen. She had Ate Remy prepare some local snacks for us. When I asked if she cooked all those treats for us, she humorously replied, “Yes, I made them with my own bare hands”. Then she continued, “I bought them from the store and made them from my own bare hands”. Then PD, Tita Mamoosh, Ate Remy, Rachel, and I continued our conversation until Tita Mamoosh started to talk in Spanish with Rachel. They looked so adorable.

Rachel’s chicken collection.

Our snack.
(You can see how she loves her family as she placed photos of her children and grandchildren at her breakfast nook too.)

Soon after, Rachel shared about her collections again and shared something personal that really pierced my heart. Right then and there I felt sharing to her about Mama.

Beautifully framed old pictures at Rachel’s home.

I couldn’t stop crying again. Instead of comforting her, I ended up being comforted by Rachel. I had the urge to tell her how I lost Mama the day before our date. It was painful and sad but I was assured that my Mama is already very happy, at peace, whole and is already with Jesus. I was sad but at the same time I was at peace. I know and I’m assured that she’s already in a beautiful place.

An intimate time with Rachel and Ate Remy on the background.
(I didn’t know that PD was already taking our photos during this time. He’s like a trained paparazzo! But thank you PD. Moments like this are priceless.)

Then I had the inkling to ask Rachel if she also wants the same assurance and if she wants me to pray for her. She agreed and we prayed together. That’s when she received Jesus in her life. After praying, she also shared a lot of wisdom to me about life and how she wants to live it.

After praying with Rachel, we heard more stories from her.
(Thank you for getting my camera and for taking pictures without our permission PD. Now, I appreciate these kind of photos more.)

JM: “What do you think about life?”

Rachel: “Life is beautiful, you are beautiful!” (hahaha)

JM: “And you are beautiful too!”

Rachel: “I don’t want a long life, I want a beautiful one. It’s you who makes your life beautiful. You can’t blame your mother, your father or anybody. You can only blame yourself.”

Group photo with the ladies – Ate Remy, Rachel and Tita Mamoosh.

Rachel also asked us to sit on her lap during our group photo. She said she doesn’t feel anything on her legs since she was paralyzed hip down, so it’s okay for us to sit on her lap. So we carefully sat on her lap like kids. She was too cute! She was something special. After our prayer and chat time, her grandchildren finally arrived. We were introduced to them before we bid goodbye.

Last walk on the beach.

(After our first date with Rachel, we kept in touch until I got back to Manila. I had my long distance phone calls with Rachel and Ate Remy. She was so sweet. She would tell me how she misses me and how she loves me. It was like talking to Mama.)

THE FINAL WALK

After our visit to Rachel and Ate Remy, we went back to our hotel to prepare for our flight. Before we left for the airport, I took my final autumn walk on the beach.

Last Sunset

My last walk and sunset in Tel Aviv Beach

On my final autumn walk, I also watched my last sunset overlooking the grandeur of the Mediterranean Sea. As I looked at the horizon, I thanked God for such a divine trip. The kids that were playing at that time, also reminded me about my own childhood. Oh, how my Mama took really good care of me and my brothers from the day we were born and until we became adults. Oh, how life is fleeting.

Coach to the airport
Photography By: Benny Dychangco

On our way to the airport, I was trying not to feel that anxious. I didn’t know what to expect when I arrive home.

“I’m coming home Mama…”

 

A SPECIAL CONNECTION

I remember what PD told me before we left Rachel’s home, “You know what JM, Rachel and your Mom have something in common… It’s you. And when they finally meet in heaven, they will both talk about you’. I sniffed, tried not to cry and told PD, “PD, you’re not helping…”. Of course, I was just kidding. We met a special friend in Tel Aviv in Rachel. And I believe that Mama also gained a new friend in her. What PD said reminds me that indeed, my trip to Israel was never in vain. God made me understand the reason why I was there.

Inside Ben Gurion Airport
Photography By: Benny Dychangco
(Thanks Kuya Benny! It was really a blessing to travel with another photographer. I finally have good photos on this trip!)

(Back in Manila, I continued my connection with Rachel and Ate Remy. Until little by little I got less to no talk at all from Rachel. Ate Remy soon told me about Rachel’s deteriorating health until February, the birth month of my Mama came. Three months after meeting Rachel in Tel Aviv, her beautiful life with us ended while a blissful and eternal one started as she joined her Creator and Savior. I believe that she and Mama are now connected and are friends.) 

AN EPISODE OF GRACE

It was just a day after my Mama’s passing. I was still mourning and couldn’t wait to be home with my family at this point in time. But guess what? During my turn at the immigration, they couldn’t find my name on their system. Strange! Oh my goodness! I couldn’t believe it, they cannot find my name on their system?

God's time is always on time

“Though we may never understand it, we can always trust that God’s time is always on time.”

But through that waiting, God gave me patience. I waited but also talked to the officer and showed them my itinerary and ticket as a proof that I entered their country at a so and so date. Bi-zarre! But thankfully, I made it back home in time for Mama’s wake.

This was how my friends patiently (and worriedly?) waited for me. ☺ I’m really grateful for these people. Thank you!
Photography By: Benny Dychangco

Overall, my first trip to Israel reminded me about this verse in the Bible that says:

“I will open up rivers for them on the high plateaus.

I will give them fountains of water in the valleys.

I will fill the desert with pools of water.

Rivers fed by springs will flow across the parched ground.

I will plant trees in the barren desert—cedar, acacia, myrtle, olive, cypress, fir, and pine.

I am doing this so all who see this miracle will understand what it means—that it is the LORD who has done this, the Holy One of Israel who created it.”

(Isaiah 41:18-20 NLT)

I may be out of context, but this verse reminded me that although this trip may seem to leave me scorched as that of a desert and a parched land, still God made sure to feed me with His springs of living water to refresh me. He made me see and understand His miracle-working hands.

At Tel Aviv Beach. The moon, the sea, and the sky. This was a beautiful picture of an Episode of Grace.

As I celebrate the Independence of Israel this month, I also celebrate not just the life and love of my Mama this Mother’s Day. I also remember the grace that comes with and from the love of God.

3 months, 2 weeks, 3 days…

An Episode of Grace

“But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.” (Malachi 4:2)

A continuation from: http://msjmdelarama.com/2013/05/16/a-beautiful-and-lingering-pain/

and Part IV: “The Promise”

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