We were tired, dusty and hungry. Yossi had said it was our lunch stop and we could order any of our newly discovered favorite foods as well as cold sodas. We entered the little one-room roadside café only to discover that it was filled with young soldiers who were also on their lunch break. They were as surprised to see us as we were to see them. The soldiers' delight was obvious on their faces and by the way their raucous mood changed when we entered the room with so many children.
The room itself was furnished with several 1950's-era metal tables and chairs and a few couches whose stuffing and springs were poking out around the edges. The floor was concrete and dust covered. AK-47's were piled up in each corner. The café was was no usual tourist stop. But then, we, members of the first-ever homeschooler's tour of Israel, were going many places average tourists would never visit.
A few years ago my wife, Ellyn, had suggested that it might be possible to create a tour of Israel that followed the Bible in chronological order. But all the tourist agencies we contacted agreed with one another: "No, Israel is too small. It can't be done."
But we persisted, saying that at least the major time periods could be visited chronologically. We even visited Israel ourselves on a regular "tourist's tour" and came home even more certain we were right.
Now, we were putting our theory to the test; and, as we moved through Israel's northern historical areas, we had come to this wayside café to eat with the locals.
After the initial awkward moment of surprise and delight, the soldiers attempted to clear tables and sofas for our group. We did not want to disturb their break and told them we would be happy wherever we could find a place to sit. But the soldiers wanted to talk to "the Americans," especially the children, and insisted that we sit among them. The kids were more than happy to oblige.
As our families ate and conversed with the soldiers, I sat at a table with our tour guide, Yossi (an Orthodox Jew and a Bible scholar), and, our tour director, Danny (also an Orthodox Jew, who had moved to Israel from the U.S.).
The food was delicious, as is all Israeli food. And, as my youngest son will tell you, Israeli sodas have a taste that American sodas can't equal. What I didn't know was that we were awaiting a special
visitor. This was a surprise that only Yossi and Danny knew was coming.
Just then, a well dressed man entered the café. I was immediately struck by how out of place he looked among 26 Americans eating lunch with twice that number of soldiers. He was important looking. I guessed that this was not his normal place to meet with friends.
When the man recognized Danny and Yossi he greeted them warmly and sat down at our table. He was ceremonially introduced to me as the Ministry of Tourism for the Shomron, the northern provinces of the State of Israel. Danny told me that our visit to the north was so unusual this man had to personally show his respect and gratitude. At that, the man drew a parcel from under his coat and presented it to me. It contained a flag of northern Israel. The Minister had personally autographed it. He also gave me several brochures showing the historical and biblical locations around the Shomron. "The northern parts of Israel are full of historical locations," he explained. "Yet, not many Americans come here. We are not sure why, but your chronological tour has brought you our way and we are grateful." He thanked me again, excused himself and left the café.
The summer of my 14th year, history became my passion. It happened this way: My grandmother, a retired school teacher, was staying with us during the Christmas holidays. She always wintered in California with one of her children.
Grandma loved to talk history. Grandma was history in the flesh. Born in 1879, she had seen a lot of it firsthand. One evening Grandma asked me a question about the Pilgrims.
"I don't know anything about the Pilgrims," I told Grandma, matter-of-factly. And, to myself, I added, "Who cares, anyway? Why should I want to know anything about the Pilgrims?"
But for Grandma, this was heresy. Not to care about history was not to care about what mattered in life. At that moment she determined that a basic wrong would have to be righted in her teenage descendant. Grandma waited patiently for the school year to end, planning her move.
The day summer vacation began, my mother told me to pack a small suitcase. When I asked her why, she would only say, "You're going on a trip with Grandma."
Arriving at our house in her 1948 Chevrolet, Grandma took me and my little suitcase to her car. The inside of the car was packed to the roof with camping gear: tent, cots, sleeping bags, an aging Coleman cooler and stove. I climbed into the passenger seat. A large block of dry ice was at my feet.
"What's this for?" I asked Grandma.
Her eyes narrowed as if to say, "You will soon learn many things you never thought were important." But, as she turned to me, the wrinkled corners of her mouth smiled.
"Air conditioning," she said.
We sped down the highway at 40 miles per hour (the fastest Grandma every drove). After miles of silence, Grandma said, "We have only two rules on this trip. Rule one: We will camp every night. I can't afford motels. You will set up and tear down the campsite and wash the dishes. And you will sleep outside, even if it rains. You have a waterproof tarp with which you can cover yourself. I will cook and wash our dirty clothes. Rule two: Wherever will visit, we will stay until you are ready to leave."
Three months later we arrived back at my house. We had covered some 5,000 miles and visited every historical site Grandma could find east of the Mississippi. I had stood on the hillside where the "shot heard round the world" had been fired. In the rare books room of the Library of Congress I had held one of Thomas Jefferson's personal volumes in my hands. I had listened to the reenactors of Plimoth Plantation as they portrayed the daily lives of those 1620's settlers.
And I had spent two weeks in Williamsburg. This is where Grandma probably wished she had never thought up Rule 2. But I was so enthralled with the restored village, I literally became an 18th century teen as I wandered around, day after day, visiting and revisiting each building and listening over and over again to the stories of the founding of our country.
Grandma never scolded. She never tried to teach me anything that summer. Grandma never gave me any input at all, really. But Grandma had triumphed. History had become my passion.
While our sons were growing up we crisscrossed America doing for them what Grandma had done for me.
And now, The Elijah Company has created homeschooltravel.com so that parents can take their children to historical sites around the world. By the time you read this, the itinerary for our 2005 tour to Egypt should be ready to view.
Before we travel to Egypt, we return to Israel. This August you are invited to join other homeschooling families for our second "Intimate Israel Tour" following a similar itinerary to the one we used in the fall of 2003. Again we will collect five smooth stones in the valley where David fought Goliath. We will go deep under the Temple Mount to the foundations built by Solomon. We will stand in the same synagogue where Jesus gave his "... whoever eats my flesh... " sermon. We will raft the Jordan River and have the opportunity to be baptized in its waters. We will eat barbeque with the homeschoolers of Israel in the ancient hometown of the prophet, Amos. We will do so many things I can't possibly list them all. But, something I must tell you (because it was one of the highlights of last year's tour): We will spend the weekend with a village of Orthodox Jews in their hilltop settlement, enjoying their gracious hospitality and learning what it means to live as a Jew in the Land of the Jew.
This year's tour will be even more amazing than last year's as the Israeli government is working on allowing us to join an archaeological dig. The government was so impressed with last year's homeschooler's tour, it has given us almost 5,000 shekels ($1,000 American dollars) to help a homeschooling family make the trip. We have decided to award this money to the young person who enters and wins our art contest, which will be judged by a well-known Israeli artist.
The motto of homeschooltravel.com is "Learn History Through Travel." Guess where that came from? If Grandma were alive today, she would probably be the first to sign on (she died soon after returning from a trip to Spain when she was in her 90's).
Visit www.homeschooltravel.com to view the Israel itinerary, cost, and last year's winner of our essay contest. Soon we will post the itinerary and cost of our tour to Egypt. Other tours we are working on are ancient Greece and Rome and the churches founded by Paul.
If you need more information, feel free to contact me at email@example.com. This year in Jerusalem! Next year at the Pyramids!
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