The Saint Leo University-sponsored trip to Israel was billed as the “trip of a lifetime,” and it did not disappoint. Students and others from Saint Leo locations across the United States signed up for this exciting adventure.
Our questions were many. Is Israel going to be a land of instability, which is so often portrayed in news media outlets, or is it the land that flows with “milk and honey” as the Bible describes? Will the Israeli people be open and accepting of those visiting from the United States, or will they be cautious and defensive? After all, with the number of terrorist threats in our world today and those specifically aimed at Israel, do they not have every right to be concerned when foreigners visit their land? How do the Israeli people deal with the ever-present threats around them and still maintain a positive, forward-thinking mind-set?
These are just some of the questions that came to mind to those embarking on this “Road to Israel.”
Saint Leo criminal justice instructor Bobby Sullivan and special projects administrator Karin May teamed with Henry Morgenstern from Security Solutions International to provide a first-class look into Israel’s ability to protect its citizens and infrastructure from terrorist threats. It is a monumental task that has to be done every day without fail and demands highly trained military, law enforcement, first responders, school personnel, and citizenry.
This trip began with anticipation and concern from each student about going to a land where witnessing explosions is probable. Loved ones and friends voiced their concern regarding the dangers. Nonetheless, we set out to learn and experience Israel, the country many of us had heard about in Bible studies and which has developed as a nation during the last 68 years.
As we sat for dinner the first night in Tel Aviv, we learned of events that forever changed the lives of area residents. In April 2003, local sports bar Mike’s Place was the scene of a horrific suicide bombing, which left three persons dead. If not for the quick action of a civilian security guard, Avi Tabib, many more patrons may have been killed. This event drives home the importance of everyone acting to thwart the efforts of those who would commit terrorist acts.
Our class schedule included visiting the Nahariya hospital and listening to the staff tell of its procedures to protect the lives of not only Israelis, but anyone in need of medical attention—even those who may be considered the enemy. The care, compassion, and concern for the lives of others, regardless of their differences, was something we soon realized.
We were able to meet with many experts who have extensive counter-terrorism knowledge. We met and heard from Sam Bashan, who served in the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli secret service; Elliot Chodoff, a political and military analyst who specializes in terrorism policies; Yoni Yagadovsky, the international director of Magen David Adom, which is equivalent to the American Red Cross; Avi Melamed, a former Israeli senior official on Arab affairs and an intelligence official; and Alon Wainer, who is a respected expert in security screening and detection technologies.
Each expert provided great insight into the issues of security and potential terrorist threats. We also learned about the culture and mind-set of the Israeli people, as they have endured the challenges of the past, but hold an optimistic outlook for their future.
As the class traveled from Tel Aviv to the northern borders of Israel, it was incredible to see the landscape and envision that this is the very land where Jesus lived, walked, and ministered more than 2,000 years ago. At one point, the class was able to observe explosions in not-too-distant Syria as Hezbollah and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continue to battle for dominance of the region.
We stood at the Golan Heights and visited the place where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount next to the beautiful Sea of Galilee. We visited the beautiful banks of the Jordan River where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. And we found the people warm and willing to speak to those who want to learn about their culture.
The class had the opportunity to visit Gaza in the south, where Israel has been attacked with rockets launched by Hamas. We visited the Port of Ashdod and learned of the security measures that protect this great facility and visited the site where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995.
We toured the Old City of Jerusalem and stood at the foot of the Western Wall. It was incredible to follow in the footsteps of Jesus as he ascended toward Golgotha to be crucified, and then visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The stories that have been told in churches over the years and recited in classrooms, news reports, and throughout history came alive for the Saint Leo class. This adventure certainly met our expectations and proved to be a “trip of a lifetime,” as each student and participant left Israel with renewed respect for its people and the country.
For more images from Saint Leo’s international trips, visit spirit.saintleo.edu/travel.