Malham cave - The world’s longest salt caveBy: C4i

Imagine a crystalline mountain. A secret underground world made of some of the most delicate and intricate natural formations ever viewed by man. A sprawling network of subterranean tunnels and shafts that seem to extend forever. That place is a reality – The Malham Salt Cave of Mount Sodom.

Extending more than 10 entire kilometers underground, recent surveys have confirmed that the Malham Salt cave is the largest salt cave of its kind in the world. While the cave has been a center of interest for geologists and cave explorers for years, it is only thanks to modern technology and an international alliance of brave spelunkers that we now know exactly how impressive they really are.

It’s taken a long time to get here. Malham was discovered by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Cave Research Center in the 1980s. At this point, exploration was limited, even rudimentary. Researchers mapped the caves using tape measures and compasses, hand tools and old school techniques. It was a valiant effort made under difficult conditions, but the caves went mostly unmapped and unknown. 

Flash forward to 2019, and things are much different. The CRCenter joined with the Israel Cave Explorers Club to finally tackle the unimaginably huge task of mapping and fully exploring the Malham Salt Cave. Soon they were joined by the Sofia Speleo Club of cave mappers from Bulgaria and over 80 individual spelunking volunteers from across the world including the UK, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Armed with the latest in technological tools - including laser measurements, ruggedized laptops to survive the conditions, and the latest in climbing and safety gear.

Even with these advantages the work is slow and dangerous. Over the 10-day expedition in 2019, cavers crawled through 10-hour and longer days, slowly making their way over sharp rock formations, under salt stalactites, across icy channels, and through tight squeezes. All of this in a labyrinth of layered passages, tunnels, and plateaus that crisscross and overlap each other. A maze of salt, sheer falls, and narrow chokepoints that would send a chill up even the most experienced cavers spine.

Salt caves are totally unique phenomenon.  They are rare geological miracles that only exist in the few places in the world that can support them. They need dry and arid locations with a low sea level. Of course, that makes the area around the Dead Sea practically an ideal spot. Most salt caves are tiny, there are only a handful which can boast more than half a mile in length. Size is what makes Malham such an incredible marvel. It’s not just the biggest in the world, it’s the biggest by an order of magnitude.

Visitors to the cave are greeted by a large salt pillar near the opening affectionately referred to as "Lot’s Wife.” A large portion of the interior of the cave is covered in a fine layer of dust and sand that wafts in from the desert and settles over every surface. Deeper in though, the amber color recedes, and a pure crystalline white becomes dominant. 

Slabs of salt jut out at incredible angles within the deepest regions of the cave system. Stalactites and pillars made of razor-sharp crystals dangle from the ceiling and burst from the ground in unpredictable and beautiful ways. One area that is particularly dense with hanging white crystals has been nicknamed "the wedding hall” by cavers, a sort of naturally forming gala room fit for the most regal of ceremonies. 

Exploring the deepest recesses of the caves is a task for only serious professionals. However, the ICEC does run guided tours through the opening areas of the cave system that are still incredibly majestic. The Malham Salt Caves are a natural wonder that needs to be seen to be believed!

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Keeping a prayer journal for a deeper walk with GodBy: C4i

 
Prayer is one of the most fundamental aspects of Christian life. It is our direct line of communication with God and our primary way of building a spiritual relationship with Him. 

It can also be a lot harder than people think!

Prayer should always be intentional and focused. It should be a meditative and reflective process where you examine your heart and ask God for guidance and forgiveness. Where you express appreciation for what He has given you and give thanks for His blessings. But all too often, it becomes a mindless routine. A jumble of words you mumble to yourself before falling asleep, or a rote list of requests like you were reciting a grocery list. Not exactly the reflective and meditative ideal.

One way to avoid this and add more intentionality, reflection, and spiritual investment to your prayer life is to create a prayer journal. 

What is a prayer journal?

Very simply, a prayer journal is exactly what it sounds like, a small notebook where you write out your prayers. More broadly however it’s a way to focus your conversations with God and be able to see how He moves in your life. It’s a way to add structure and perspective to your inner-thoughts and a way to see your walk with God take shape and grow over time.

Ironically, you’ll find by writing down your prayers, you’ll prevent them from slipping into that "laundry list” routine so many find themselves in!

Why should you keep one?

Keeping a prayer journal is helpful for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it helps you concentrate. When you are writing you need to be thoughtful and present – two qualities that go out the window if you’re just going through the motions with a very routine pre-dinner or before bed prayer. 

More long-term though, a prayer journal also helps you see how God is answering your prayers. Even the most faithful among us can be get frustrated. When life is hard and things seem dead set against us, it can be frustrating to pray to God and feel like He is not listening. But He is, I guarantee it. He is always moving in your life in ways great and small, ways you may not understand or even notice in the moment. But by keeping a prayer journal where you record what you are praying for, what you are grateful for, and what is going on in your life, it is easier to see those patterns. Over time you will be able to look back and see how He has answered your prayers (even if they were not specifically the answers you were looking for in the moment).

Lastly, it will make you more attentive in your prayers. When you can read over what you’ve prayed for in black and white, certain trends and behaviors stand out. Are you praying for other people or just yourself? Do you regularly ask God to help you with some personal struggle or failing but never have any details on how you’re trying to make that change in your life? These things will jump out after you’ve been journaling for a few months. It’s a way to help make yourself a more thoughtful and responsible Christian.

What do you need to get started?

A notepad, a pen, and 10 minutes to yourself. That’s it.

Seriously, a prayer journal is an intensely personal thing and there is no right or wrong way to go about it. All you need is a blank page to pour out your heart to God onto. Whatever the specifics of that are, or however that looks and works, is up to you and you alone.

Sure, there are plenty of different prayer journal templates and designs out there. There are some you can buy and some you can print off for free. Some prayer journals are broken up by prayer topic (prayers for family, prayers for illness, prayers for financial struggles, and so on). Some have prompts on every page, questions like "What am I grateful for today?” Or "what am I struggling with?” that can help guide your thoughts and entries. Other types of journals use a standard format like examining a bible verse every day. I know some artists who draw in theirs! 

Any of these ideas or templates can be wonderful tools. If you respond to that kind of structure or if any of those ideas seem fun, then I encourage you to seek those kinds of templates out. But if that kind of thing sounds overwhelming or difficult to keep up with, there is no need to make it complicated if you don’t want to. 

Personally, I like to keep things loose. Sometimes I’ll write directly to God as if I am praying to Him through the page. Other times I’ll write about something I saw or read that moved me and examine why it had the impact on me it did. Sometimes I’ll reflect on my flaws or the disappointments of the day, the worries that keep me up at night. Whatever is moving me at the time. The only bit of standardization I stick to is to always make sure I include the date of every entry. I find being able to look back day after day, and track where I was mentally and spiritually, very comforting.

How does it work?

The process couldn’t be simpler, just find a few minutes a day where you can focus and write about your prayers, your concerns, and what you are grateful for. The two most important things are consistency and reflection.

First, a prayer journal needs to become habit. You should try and make sure you write an entry every day, especially when you are just starting to really cement it as a daily activity. It’s not the end of the world if you miss a day or two every now and then. But being able to see the patterns in your prayers, thoughts, and how you are hearing God’s answers throughout your life is where a prayer journal really earns its value. 

Which brings us to reflection. You need to occasionally re-read what you’ve written. You don’t need to have a set schedule for this, just make sure it’s something you occasionally check in on. When you have a moment some lazy evening a few months down the line, read over what you wrote in the first few pages of your journal. Reflect on those prayers, what you were asking for, how you were asking, and think about what has happened since then.

By keeping up with your prayer journal and occasionally re-reading it, you’ll have a much more dynamic, open, and honest conversation with God. 

[Comment]

Gaming and God (Part 2)By: C4i

 
In our last post we looked at how gaming has become a major part of many people’s lives and the dangers of consuming them frivolously. Today let’s dive into how games affect your personality and what steps you can take to make sure your gaming habit is consistent with your Christian values.

How do games make you feel?

Personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with the violence in Street Fighter. That might be surprising. Even if you’re not familiar with the series, you can tell just from the title that Street Fighter is a game all about fighting and in the last post I just said to be careful about what you put in your brain, so what’s the deal?

Simply put, Street Fighter isn’t very serious. While it is a series that features martial artists kicking and punching each other to claim victory, there is no blood, no one is permanently hurt or killed, and there are no victims. Fights in that game are much more similar to a boxing match than a mugging.
It helps that the characters and combat are very cartoony and archetypical. The disciplined karate fighter can channel his fighting spirit to throw fireballs from his hands (somehow). The 7-foot-tall Russian bear wrestler will grab his opponents and jump three stories straight up into the sky to piledriver them. Characters react to these blows with expressions worthy of the Three Stooges. Bug-eyed surprise, cartoon grimaces, and hokey one-liners aplenty. If you’re comfortable with watching the occasional schlocky kung-fu movie, the Street Fighter series should be around the same speed. 

But how does it make you feel?

While the violence may be cartoony, the competition is not. Street Fighter is a game about one-on-one face-offs between players. For the people who are into it, the battles are intense. That’s why there is a serious tournament scene for the game, with faithful spectators who tune into online streams in the thousands to watch tournament matches live, and prominent players who have risen to a kind of stardom within their sphere, collecting sponsorships and endorsement deals just like normal athletes.

This competition fuels players at all levels to get better at the game. To push themselves to learn more about each character and sharpen their reflexes for when they face them, and that’s good. I’d argue it’s character building – it’s all about setting goals and putting in the work to see them through. But with that competition comes dangers. Namely frustration, anger, envy, and self-hatred.

I’ve seen a lot of adults with steady jobs and good heads on their shoulder become absolute lunatics playing multiple games. When a losing streak puts them on "tilt” and a mild-mannered father of two becomes a profanity spewing barbarian. I’ve seen thrown controllers, rage-fueled diatribes, and tantrums fit for a 3-year-old. It’s not becoming in the least. 

One needs to know when a gaming hobby is becoming something destructive. If your play sessions with a game leave you angry, irritable with your family, and spiteful against the people who beat you, is it really enriching your life?

This can happen in all kinds of games. From the intense multiplayer competition of something like Apex or League of Legends, to single player games that demand perfection like Sekiro. If a title leaves you feeling worse than when you started, it’s time to either walk away from those games until you can put them in perspective or shelve them entirely if you can’t do that. 

It’s not a crime to say a game isn’t fun anymore!

How much time are they taking up?

Games are supposed to be entertainment. Too often though they can become an addiction.

Part of this is simple human nature. Games can be fun and it’s easy to want to do the fun thing over anything else. That’s something you must watch for and discipline in your life.

Part of it is also by design. Many modern games are loaded with features and hooks intentionally designed to make you want to play more and play longer day-after-day. Things like daily challenges with limited time rewards, season passes that drip-feed new content in like a never-ending treadmill, ongoing stats and public leaderboards that demand you keep up a certain level of activity to place well in them. All of these little hooks can insidiously drive you to focus on something that was supposed to be a diversion. You end up more invested in a game while real life passes you by.

If your gaming is causing you to ignore more important things (school, work, family, relationships) it might be time to give them a rest. This isn’t limited to gaming, the same can be said about any hobby or activity. But gaming seems to have a special vice grip that is difficult to escape, so we need to be extra warry of it.

How can I make sure games are a healthy part of my life?

You need to control your gaming intake and ask yourself questions about what you are consuming and prioritizing in your life. Here are a few things you might want to reflect on to make sure you’re in charge of your games and they are not in charge of you.
  • How often do I game? Do you mostly play on the weekends? During a commute? At night? Whenever you can? During those times, what else could you be doing? Are the kids still up? What does your partner get up to during that time? Is there anything more important you should be focusing on?
  • How long do I tend to play? How many hours a week do you think you game? It can be easy to lose track when you’re enjoying something. Next time you sit down to play, note the time you start and the time you end. Write it down each time you play for a week and find out how close you were to your estimate. 
  • How do I feel when I’m done playing? Are you more relaxed? Did you have fun? Or are you more upset and frustrated than anything else? Make sure your games are leaving you in a better condition than when you started.
  • What does my family say about my gaming? Do you ever get subtle (or not so subtle) hints from your spouse that you’re spending too much time with a controller in your hand? Do your parents or siblings seem to have to fight for your attention? It might be time to reprioritize. Nothing made of polygons will ever have a bigger impact on your life than the people in it. 
  • Could I play this next to Jesus? If you can’t honestly answer yes, then you know in your heart you’re making a mistake. Because Jesus IS always with us and for all intents and purposes IS on the couch with you when you play.
  • How has this game enriched my life? There is a positive side to gaming! Many games can leave us with a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, or inspire us to push our limitations. While you need to be wary of the negative influences gaming can bring into your life, it’s important to also acknowledge the positive.
Reflect on your habits and how you game. Gaming isn’t new and scary anymore and we have to acknowledge that it is a big part of many people’s lives. Just make sure it is a positive part of yours!

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Gaming and GodBy: C4i

 
When I was young, gaming was still considered a new and mysterious thing. I remember attending Sunday school sermons where well-meaning but perhaps poorly informed youth pastors warned about the insidious distracting power of too much gaming and the moral-corroding violence of "Resident Doom.” I’ll admit, when I was a teenager at the height of my PlayStation days, I used to giggle at their seemingly out of touch views of what gaming was. To me, games were cheap entertainment and little else. Making a big deal out of them seemed a little silly.

Now that I’m an adult though, I think those out of touch youth pastors might have had the last laugh.

Games are no longer new and mysterious. They are not something that only teenaged boys are into. Games are for everyone! Boys and girls as young as three cut their teeth on Paw Patrol mobile games. Older kids and teenagers (especially in this last year of Covid) socialize and converse through games like Minecraft and Fortnite, they’ve become casual hang out spots like the mall might have been 20 years ago. Most of my adult friends play games to some degree or another, from the busy mom who likes to unwind with a bit of Animal Crossing at the end of the day to the 45-year-old lawyer who STILL drives hours out of town to play in Street Fighter tournaments. 

But for as prevalent as games are, now I find I’m the one who worries about them becoming a distraction. I see the violence and content in some of the most popular series of games out there and I have to wonder about what Jesus would think if he was on the couch next to us while we played them. So as Christians, what should we be looking out for when it comes to games?

What are you putting in your brain?

There are lots of games out there and most of them are harmless fun. There is nothing wrong with jumping on a few goombas in Mario or following the adventures of Ace Attorney Phoenix Wright as he tries to solve another mystery. These are fun pieces of entertainment just like your favorite TV shows or books.

But there are some games that give me pause. When I see things like Grand Theft Auto, a series which centers realistic depictions of violence, crime, and sexualization, or war games that delight in coming out with more and more realistic depictions of battle and bloodshed every year, I get discouraged. Some of the most popular and bestselling games out there seem to be nothing but poison for your mind. 

While there has never been a proven link between criminal behavior and playing violent crime games, that’s not the point. The worry isn’t that playing a game like that will lead you to commit those acts in real life - it is what they are doing to your heart. There is a kind of crime of the soul to take joy in simulated acts of barbarity. 

Let’s put it this way. Yes, I know you would never walk into a convenience store, shoot the clerk in the stomach, and watch him bleed to death on the floor while you clean out the register. You’re not a monster. So why do you enjoy doing it in a game? What is appealing about simulating that act, even in a safe environment where no one is hurt?

Some people say the enjoyment is in pushing these taboos, for having a chance to "play” at terrible things you would never actually do. But that is a very dangerous thing. When you re-wire your brain to accept the unacceptable, even with a lot of provisos and context, you are doing the devil’s job for him.
The things you put in your brain become a part of you. Next time you pick up the controller to play a game, ask yourself if what you see on screen is something you are comfortable making part of yourself. If the answer is no, find another game.

This is the most important question to ask yourself while playing, but far from the only one. We’ll look at more in part 2 later this week!

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Churches of Israel: St. George’s MonasteryBy: C4i

 
In the early end of the 4th century, Egyptian monk St. John of Choziba and his five chosen hermits set out into the desert. They were looking for a simpler life, a life of worship and quiet study. Somehow, from this humble mission they would end up laying the foundation for one of the most magical and breathtaking churches in Israel and most would argue the entire world – St. George’s Monastery.

To see it today, the monastery is like something from another world, a dream you can touch. Carved directly into the rocky side of a mountain canyon in Wadi Qelt, the monastery features white stone walls overlooking a lush garden complete with cypress and olive trees. An absolutely jaw dropping sight. While it may look like an ancient relic from another time, it is in fact still an active church! Greek orthodox monks still live and study in the monastery today and welcome visitors to respectfully tour the church.

The monastery has seen many changes since the days of St. John of Choziba. The original monastery was merely a small retreat St. John built for himself and his monks and a hall where communion could be held. They chose the location because it was relatively close to the cave where the Prophet Elijah is said to have been fed by ravens. They were actually part of a trend in the area, more than 60 monasteries were raised in the Judean desert during that timeframe. Today, precious few remain, and the St. George Monastery is easily the most majestic among them.

Even what we see today as the St. George Monastery has been through several disasters and rebuilding efforts. St. John’s original monastery was expanded on and later renamed after Saint George of Choziba. It was an important spiritual center in the area until it was destroyed by Persian invaders in the latter half of the 6th century. In the 8th century, interest in the monastery’s ruins reignited and it was seen as a pilgrimage location. During the crusader period, the monastery was partially rebuilt (much of that work is still visible and used today) until conflict in the area forced the project to be abandoned.
Finally, in the early 1800s the monastery was reestablished. Greek monk Father Kalinikos oversaw the completion of the restoration and reopened the monastery in full force. Since then, it has been home to dozens of monks including the Romanian monk-priest, Father Ioan who lived out his final years in seclusion within the monastery and was posthumously named a saint.

Visiting today is allowed and encouraged, but you will need to bring your hiking gear. Getting to the monastery involves at least a 15-minute hike in the hills of the canyon using the most direct route, so be sure to wear dependable shoes, sunscreen, and bring some water. 

While there, you can explore the three-levels of the monastery. There are two separate chapels within the structure and a wide variety of mosaics, paintings, and ornate byzantine-era architectural flourishes and decorations to marvel at. The monastery also houses the tombs of St. John of Choziba and the original five hermits who founded the monastery, St. Ioan’s fully preserved body, and relics from 14 monks killed by the Persians in the 6th century. Incredibly preserved history that gives us a concrete connection to the lives and times of these believers. 
Perhaps most interesting of all, there is a mountain trail to access the cave-church of Elijah. Certainly this is a fascinating piece of living history. The church even includes a (tiny) escape tunnel to the top of the mountain. How interesting is that? A good reminder that it wasn’t always safe to worship the Lord openly. 

St. George’s Monastery stands as a reminder from another time. It is one of only 5 active monasteries still left in the Judean desert and is by far the most impressive. It might be a bit of a walk to get to, but this real-life fantasy is more than worth the effort. 

[Comment]

Giving means more than moneyBy: C4i

In Israel today, approximately 40% of all children (Jewish and Arab) are at risk due to poverty. At C4i, we fight to provide food for the hungry, protect children at risk, and assist new immigrants who are struggling to find their place in the Holy Land with contributions from donors. Ordinary men and women of conscience who are willing to entrust us with their hard-earned money for the good of complete strangers. We thank God for each one of our donors and appreciate every cent that is gifted to our cause. 

As important as financial generosity is, giving means more than that. The Christian spirit isn’t confined to dollars and cents. What about those who can’t afford to give, who might be struggling to provide for themselves and their own family? Are they locked out of a fundamental aspect of Christianity because of their financial situation? Absolutely not. There are still many ways we can all give, regardless of our finances.

We are more than our bank statements

Generosity is not limited to strict numbers. I’ve had lean years in my life and one story from the Bible has always granted me comfort – the widow’s mite from the Book of Mark. 

"He (Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, 'Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

Giving isn’t about math and sums, it’s about sacrifice and intention. The widow in that familiar story gave only a little, but she dug deep to do it. Her two little coins were more valuable to God than an entire purse from a wealthy man because she actually had to give something up to give them. The obvious take away from this story is that every gift counts. Even if you can only give a little, if it is given from a place of love and sacrifice God can use it as if it were a fortune. 

The other take away is that we are more than our bank statements. Jesus was impressed with what was in that woman’s heart, she gave from one of the few resources she had left because that is what she could do. Think about the resources you have that are not necessarily money. Do you have any helpful talents or skills? Are you able bodied and able to help others? Do you have a vehicle, a kitchen, knowledge, or anything else that might be used to help someone? Then no matter what your bank says you have something valuable to share in the spirit of the Lord.

Other ways to give

You have so many more gifts to share. Think about these options when you’re unsure of what you have to contribute to others.

Old and less frequently used goods and items. We all have things we’ve collected over the years that are just taking up space. Maybe there was a mistake on your wedding registration a few years back and somehow you ended up with two different blenders. Or you have old clothes and shoes kicking around the closet no one has worn in ages. Maybe you have older model electronics like a tablet or a game system you no longer use, or power tools you’ve upgraded from. All of these things can be richly enjoyed and appreciated by others! You can either give them directly to a family you know that could use an extra hand or drop them off with a charity and rest assured that they will use them to provide a positive impact that helps another family. Those old shoes and that last generation tablet might not mean much to you, but for someone hobbling around on a pair of shoes with a hole in them or who can’t connect to the internet because they don’t have a device, they will mean everything! 

Donate your time to the local church. The church is always going to be a focus point of generosity and a place in need of time and bodies. Giving financially to your church is always a good thing, but it can be even more impactful to give your time. Churches have a dizzying array of needs, from simple grounds keeping and cleaning, to volunteer roles in groups, to kitchen and prep help, local ministry, and the list goes on. Ask where you can help, and the church will gladly accept!

Donate your love. You never know how much a simple note or phone call can mean until you really need to hear a friendly voice. Even if you don’t have any other resources, you can always give your love and prayers. A small handwritten note telling someone how much they are appreciated, a phone call asking how they are doing, inviting someone over for a chat - none of these cost anything but each of them can make a real difference in someone’s life. If you want to give but don’t have much, never forget that God gave you an infinite supply of love to share.
Giving is far more than money. With a little creativity and an honest heart, each of us has a fortune in goodness to give.

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Heroes of the Holocaust: Jeanne DamanBy: C4i

Jeanne Daman was not a Jew. She had never broken any laws or been in any trouble. She was by all accounts a model Belgian citizen, professional, helpful, and law abiding. A young schoolteacher used to minding her own business. But Daman was raised Catholic with a strong sense of right and wrong, and that moral clarity helped guide her when the world she lived in slipped into madness and prejudice. 

In 1942 in Nazi occupied Brussels, Jewish children were barred from normal public schools in a discriminatory decree by the Nazis designed to fracture, weaken, and punish the Jewish community. Of course, Jewish families living in Brussels didn’t take this lying down and they raced to set up their own alternative schooling for their children. As a schoolteacher Daman saw this naked discrimination for what it was and understood the damage it would do to both young children developmentally, and their families having the extra burden of daytime child care thrust on them.  When Fela Perelman, an organizer dedicated to helping Jewish children, asked if she would be interested in helping with a Jewish kindergarten, she readily accepted the offer with no hesitation. 

Daman joined "Nos Petits,” an alternative Jewish school educating around 325 children. It was an act she was proud of, but being in close contact with Jewish children and their families was to be confronted with the full terrible reality of what was happening in her country. She could see these were mere ordinary children, with ordinary parents who worried about the same things as French or English or even German parents, and they were persecuted for no reason and with no mercy. Each day another child or two would fail to attend and every time they investigated why they were met with the same grim story – their family was rounded up. 

Orphans began to collect along the margins of society. Jewish children who by mistake or miracle were not arrested and deported with their parents who were left adrift and lost with nowhere to go. Daman and her fellow teachers took in these children and tried to find them homes. Soon, Jewish parents who understood what was likely to happen began approaching them in advance, asking Daman and Perelman to help protect or hide their children. These were acts of pure desperation, no parent wants to willfully give up their child. But they saw it as a choice between that or death.

Seeing the brutality and cruelty of the Nazis’ persecution against the Jews up close changed Daman. Her already strong convictions hardened to pure steel. She became more and more involved in efforts to save these children and disrupt the Nazi occupation.

Before too long the school was closed. It had ceased to be a safe place to send Jewish children and instead became a tempting target of harassment and arrests. Working with the ONE (l'Oeuvre Nationale de l'Enfance) resistance group, plans were made and carried out to smuggle many of the children attending the school to willing Belgian families. These children would be coolly plucked from a train station one day and suddenly arrive in another with a new name, ethnicity, and family, the Nazis none the wiser. 

With the school closed and the majority of students either safely placed with new families or returned to their own, Daman could have walked away. She had already played a huge role in helping many families and taken a lot of risk. No one would have faulted her if she decided she had done her part and spent the rest of the occupation keeping her head down. But that’s not with she did.

Daman only ramped up her efforts to safeguard and protect innocent Jewish children. She traveled across Belgium making connections and finding trusted sympathizers to help organize the protection these orphans would need. She made connections with churches, wealthy families, and more to get Jewish children new identities, ration cards, and shelter.

As the occupation became more brutal Daman found herself helping more and more adult Jews. The desperation was palpable and so was the risk. Working with resistance friends, Daman helped Jewish women procure new identities and join respectable Belgian families as "maids” and "domestic help.” It’s unknown how many lives she helped save with these clandestine maneuvers. 

All the while, Daman was keeping tabs on hundreds of children she had helped save. She would ferry messages between them and maintained a small but vital line of communication between them and their surviving relatives. If not for this, many of these children might never have found a way home after the war.

Eventually Daman joined full-fledged resistance efforts. While she previously limited her activities helping Jewish children and vulnerable adults (particularly women) her distain for the Nazis and their Belgian collaborators grew. It wasn’t enough to protect people from harm, she had to start preventing the harm from occurring in the first place. And the easiest place to start was with collaborators.

With the distance of history, it is easy to forget what an absolute abomination the collaborator was. These were Belgians who saw the Nazis kill their own sons and husbands in battle, trample over their corpses, plant their swastika flag on their land, and install a system of brutal oppressive laws targeting the most vulnerable among them. Instead of having the courage to resist, or the resolve to bear the injustice of the occupation while giving the Nazis as little aid or deference as possible, the collaborator raced to put themselves first. They would send an entire family to a concentration camp just for a few extra ration cards from the Nazis. Imagine the horror of your neighbor effectively sentencing you and your children to death all for an extra half pound of butter - unimaginable selfishness and evil.

Daman helped resistance members identify and isolate collaborators. Finding employment as a social worker with the Secours D’Hiver welfare organization, Daman used her role and small amount of authority to travel freely and access documents that would otherwise be out of reach for the resistance. While she never pulled the trigger herself, she pointed the resistance in the right direction and played a role in luring some collaborators to discrete locations where they could be handled without attention. 

Daman became more brazenly involved in open resistance operations. She would smuggle weapons to different resistance members on her bicycle, peddling past the watchful eye of the Gestapo. She relayed intelligence and messages between cells, organizing ways for the people to fight back against the Nazis.

Her journal heartbreakingly illustrates why she was driven to such lengths. The deep well of anger, sadness, and even guilt that pushed her on, day after day, to risk her life for others.

"…one day, Gestapo agents arrived at the school in a truck. They named three children, told me they had been asked by their mothers to pick them up and take the little ones to them. These Gestapo men were pleasant and polite. Of course, I knew what it meant. But I had to think of the 60 other children we had in our school that day. 
I was helpless to stand up to them and I didn’t. I dressed those children myself, the youngest was three-and-a-half years old. I put them in the truck myself, delaying the moment when the Nazis would touch them. And they took them away. We learned later that the parents were hiding and the Nazis used this trick to get them out in the open.
It worked. They got them all.
I knew those children would never be seen again, or their families. I couldn’t intervene without peril to all our children. But I felt I should have done SOMETHING. I was anti-Nazi by conviction before. Now I wanted to strike back myself, to damage them.”
 
 

Daman was never caught. She saved untold hundreds of Jewish children, women, and men. Her clandestine efforts with the resistance to route out collaborators and disrupt the occupying Nazis no doubt saved many lives as well. After the war she worked diligently to reunite as many young Jews with their surviving families as possible, and to raise funds for Israel so they would have a safe land to call their own with the UJA (United Jewish Appeal). Her great works were recognized both by the Belgian government and in Israel. She was inducted into Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations in 1972, a well-deserved recognition for someone who did so much for the least of her neighbors. 

[Comment]

Restoring a 2000 year old basilicaBy: C4i

- The Roman basilica in the Tel Ashkelon National Park. Image from Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority.

Tel Askelon National Park hides a secret that will soon be uncovered for all. Originally discovered in the 1920’s, the park sits atop a massive Roman basilica that’s construction dates back 2000 years. Despite knowledge of the site, various difficulties made it impossible to excavate until recently, with two major digs in 2008 and 2016 finally revealing the scope of what can be found. Now, the park and the Israel Antiquities Authority are prepared to finally excavate the basilica in earnest, planning a large-scale dig and restoration projects that will bring this ancient marvel back to life.

The basilica is a treasure trove of historical wonders. More than 200 marble items have already been found on the site. These include columns, ornately carved column capitals, and statues. A large part of the new excavation and restoration efforts will be aimed at repairing and restoring damage done to these statues and columns by an earthquake in 363 CE. The idea is to restore as much of the basilica as possible so modern visitors can explore it as it would have existed in Roman-era Ashkelon.
 
- Statues from the Roman basilica in Tel Ashkelon National Park. Image by Yaniv Cohen, Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

The basilica would have been a place of great importance in its heyday. Likely created/commissioned by Herod the Great, whose family may have come from Ashkelon. The IAA believes this to be the case, citing coins found in the foundation of the building as supporting evidence in a statement ""Herodian coins discovered in the bedding of the structure’s ancient floors show that it was built at the time of one of the greatest builders ever to have lived in the country.”

The basilica would have functioned as a seaport and heart of trade and community business. A multi-purpose center for the city, docks would welcome ships loaded with goods for trade while the halls of the building would be used for social events, religious ceremonies, and even legal disputes. A kind of one-stop city hall, civic center, and dock. A remarkably sophisticated accomplishment of civic engineering and planning.

As well as the basilica, the renovation efforts will also be restoring the ancient Odeon theater on the site. This will be the first time the public will be able to view the ancient stage and seating area. A taste of what day-to-day life would have been like in Roman-era Israel.
The renovations will be adding new paths and walkways in the area to allow visitors easy access to these wonders.  Ashkelon Mayor Tomer Glam has high hopes for the project. "I am convinced that the restoration and conservation work in the park, the new archaeological discoveries and the development work – including new accessible paths – will contribute significantly to the park’s natural beauty and strengthen its status as the most beautiful and well-kept national park in Israel.”

Exciting times for Ashkelon and another fantastic reminder of the rich and living history of Israel. 

[Comment]

Jerusalem’s post-COVID tourist planBy: C4i

 
In response to the COVID crisis, Israel closed its doors to foreign tourists last March. Since then, it has been a slow and tedious waiting game. Both for those who long to visit the Holy Land, and for the many businesses and industries within Israel that rely on tourism to thrive. It’s been a long time coming, but Israel is finally prepping to reopen to tourists and Jerusalem is ready to impress!

The tourism industry in Jerusalem hasn’t just been cooling their collective heels this entire time. This extended period of lockdown has been just the chance many locations and sites needed to renovate, expand, and retool. Not only will it be possible to visit Jerusalem in the near future, but you’re in for a better, more accommodating, and more exciting visit than ever!

The Tower of David Museum
The Tower of David Museum is already a magnificent location in Jerusalem. A historic site, the museum has long offered breathtaking tours that stay with visitors for a lifetime. You can climb the citadel and take in a bird’s eye view of Jerusalem that is unrivaled by any other structure in the city. Or you can do the opposite and explore the Kishle, an underground prison and police station that has played a large but often subtle roles in shaping Jerusalem’s history. All of these tours and sites are waiting to be explored and embraced again by the international tourists.

But the museum wasn’t content with that. During the COVID lockdown, the museum embarked on a $40 million dollar conservation and expansion project. The goal is to both maintain the ancient citadel and archeological park while DOUBLING the size of the museum. The ambitious new plan aims to reshape the average journey through the museum, starting with a new sunken visitor center. A full seven new galleries are planned as is a new café and plaza - the perfect rest spot to take a break in between exhibits!

The expansion will also include an area below the Jaffa Gate Plaza. This area has been the site of several interesting archeological finds from the Roman-Byzantine era but has sat largely abandoned for more than a decade due to various circumstances. With the museum taking charge of the area now, expect to hear about new digs and archaeological finds in the near future, very exciting! 

The Old City
A historic site like the Old City of Jerusalem should be enjoyed by everyone, not just those with no mobility issues. This is the logic that has guided a massive accessibility project throughout the Old City. Work began in 2019, but the COVID lockdown has allowed the multi-year project to move ahead of schedule (working around much fewer bodies than they planned on) and the results are taking impressive shape!

While the Old City’s narrow and often steep cobblestone paths are iconic and historic, they are also a nightmare for anyone with an accessibility need. Trying to take a wheelchair, stroller, or walker through those streets was up until recently a losing proposition. Now though, the city has expanded several streets (taking pains to preserve their historic character), provided alternative routing where alterations were not possible, added new staircases and elevators in some places, and have added new handrails on old (and sometimes treacherous) staircases. In addition to all of these physical improvements, the Old City has also upgraded its signage, providing new and much clearer directional markings and waypoints. All in all, it has never been easier to explore the old city comfortably and safely!

But that’s not all, not only is it easier to visit the Old City, there will also be more to see! A new route in the Western Wall Tunnels is planned to open this summer. This new route will take visitors into an exciting recent archaeological discovery, a public building dating back to the Second Temple period. This structure was built in the very early days of the first millennium and is said to have been used for large public functions and as a meeting place for dignitaries and politicians before entering the temple mount. It is an incredible look at real history and another exciting reason to visit the Old City!

COVID has kept us all indoors and at home for a year and a half now, but a new day is approaching. One lesson we can all take from this global ordeal is to not take our opportunities for granted. You never know when a border might be shut or a location suddenly inaccessible. Pretty soon we’ll have the opportunity to visit the Holy Land and an improved Jerusalem, make sure you take it while you can!

[Comment]

1 million orphans – the hidden victims of COVIDBy: C4i

 
"For every two Covid-19 deaths worldwide, one child is left behind to face the death of a parent or caregiver.

This is the grim math outlined by the CDC’s Susan Hill, one of the key authors behind a new global child welfare report that outlines a massive, and growing, orphan crisis. 
Over the course of the pandemic, much of the primary health concern discussed in the media and addressed by policy makers has been focused on the elderly and adults with compromised health. This makes sense at first blush, after all the highest morbidity rate for the virus rests in those groups while children have shown to be more resilient to both the immediate effects of the virus and its long-term impact. However, this focus has crucially overlooked cases where the parents and guardians of children take ill and leave a child behind. With more than a year to study the phenomenon, this new study is sounding a dire alarm bell – we are in the midst of an orphan crisis. 

The report breaks down the numbers. By the end of April 2021, 1.5 million children had lost a primary guardian (consider a parent, grandparent, or direct caregiver) due to the coronavirus. The impact of this cannot be overstated. Children are being left behind as the virus ravages the age cohorts entrusted with their care. 

Worse yet, as COVID can turn terminal in weeks or even days, in the majority of these case there is almost no time to prepare the child. Either emotionally to understand the trauma they are about to endure, or to introduce them to and help them adjust to their new living conditions. Over a million children have had to deal with their lives turning upside now in an instant, a bewildering and scarring event. Many of these children are then thrust into institutions such as orphanages or group homes. 

Institutionalization is an extremely common outcome for children across the world in the event of the death of a parent. Even in cases where there is a remaining parent (say the father dies but the mother survives), many still end up in the system. Either the remaining parent can’t manage, works far away or the time demands for work mean they are unable to properly care for their children, or a myriad of other situations can easily lead a surviving parent to surrender their child. 

Unfortunately, as the study indicates, institutionalization often leads to a much harder road for the child. Obviously, there is a horrendous burden of trauma placed on any small child who loses a close loved one, combined with the disorientation of being placed into a new and unfamiliar situation. Entering an institution at the best of times carries with it the risk of developmental delays, behavioral issues, and a higher long-term risk of experiencing mental health issues, abuse, and poverty. Entering due to a parent’s death at the hands of a pandemic that has placed additional strain on these institutions will likely make it even harder for these children.

The report’s findings have spurred many groups to action. "We cannot allow any more victims, even if indirect, of this pandemic. If we do not protect this generation, they run the risk of being left behind. As children lose one or even two parents, families are often pushed further into poverty, which can mean children will drop out of school and start working to help with the family income. "These children will not return to school, and will likely be trapped in a cycle of poverty” said Bidisha Pillai, Global Policy, Advocacy & Campaigns Director for Save the Children.

The sheer scope of the challenge presents an opportunity for the Church to take a leadership role in addressing the crisis. As an unthinkable number of children face down an uncertain future, it will take men and women of good conscience to care for these lost lambs and provide them with the help they’ll need to recover from the loss of their parent or parents and thrive in life. Some churches and faith groups are already preparing donation funds to help combat this global crisis while others are asking even more, encouraging families to open their home to foster and/or adopt an orphaned child.

That is an incredible thing to ask, and a responsibility each family would have to carefully weigh and consider. But the crisis is real and what these children need most is a stable and loving home. Hopefully as Christians we will be able to rise to this occasion and follow in Jesus’ example.

"And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me” – Mathew 1:5

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