Some 24 strangers from around the world are in Israel now, united on a journey that took them from Poland to Israel. The trip is inspired by the ancient Biblical prophecy in Isaiah 61:3: “Beauty from Ashes.”
The name of the May 4 to 14 tour was named Beauty from Ashes because travelers went from the darkness of the Holocaust to the light of Israel, said Donna Jollay, director of Christian relations for Israel365.
“Ashes is the metaphor for Poland, and Israel is the metaphor for beauty,” said Jollay.
While some tour participant are veteran tourists of Israel, others are in the Holy Land for the first time.
“I feel like I am coming home,” said first-timer Danny Ortiz. “God is going to call men and women from all nations to come home.”
In Poland, rabbi and tour-guide David Abrahamovitz taught the group about the atrocities of the Holocaust. In addition to visiting the concentration camps and gas chambers of Poland, “Rabbi David,” as he is affectionately known, emphasized the necessity of remembering and honoring the thriving Jewish communities of pre-war Europe.
“One can only truly appreciate the magnitude of the miracle of the establishment of the State of Israel if they understand the near annihilation of the 1,000-year-old Jewish communities of Poland,” said Rabbi Tuly Weisz of Israel365, the organization sponsoring the mission.
After four emotionally difficult says in Poland, the group departed for Israel and landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport on May 8. Stepping off the plane from Poland and onto the ground of Israel presented a juxtaposition for the tour participants.
“This tour has truly allowed us to experience and live Isaiah 61,” said Jollay. “We walked through the ashes, we wept together, and had the shared experience and the privilege of sharing in this Jewish experience as Christians. You have no idea how powerful this experience can be until you have walked through the concentration camps of Europe with survivors and descendants of Holocaust survivors.”
Another participant, Cookie Eckles, said one cannot imagine the travesty that occured in Poland until he or she has seen it with his or her own yes. Then in Israel, “children are running in the streets according to prophecy,” she said.
The fulfillment of prophecy is a central theme on this tour.
Beyond admiring the scenery of the Land of Israel, and marveling at the success of the “Start-up nation,” this group of tourists is focusing on the more spiritual components of Israel’s 70 anniversary.
Ortiz, from New York, reflected on his first day in Israel as a devout Christian.
“One of the greatest things that I have learned is that God is bringing the Jewish and gentile Christians together for such a time of this,” he said. “.One group believes one thing and the other group believes the other. We are getting that out of the way. How can we come together? God is bringing people together from all corners of the earth in this the 70th year of Israel… We have all come together for one thing: to learn from the rabbis, to learn the Torah.”
Michael Redd, a former NBA superstar and a US olympic gold medalist, is also on the trip. He said “words cannot describe” his experience thus far.
“It is just remarkable and inspirational,” Redd said on a walk Monday through the Old City.
One of the special features of this tour are the joint Jewish and Christian Bible study sessions.
“I feel rejuvenated, reinvigorated, and just excited about what God is doing with Jews and Christians,” said Redd after a Bible study led by Rabbi Weisz on Mount Zion.
Over the next week, the tour will visit various sites across Israel with a special focus on the Biblical Heartland of Judea and Samaria and the witnessing of prophecy being fulfilled in the Land of Israel.
Still ahead for the participants is a visit to Shiloh, Hebron and Har Bracha (Mount of Blessings). The participants will have the opportunity to partake in the restoration of the land by planting trees across Israel, in both Judea and Samaria.
The only downfall? Redd said the trip is not long enough.
“I definitely see myself coming back multiple, multiple, multiple, times,” he said.