The stunning port city of Caesarea By: C4i

 
Caesarea is a seaside port city in Israel built in a distinctly Roman style. Herod (yes, that Herod) ordered construction of the city shortly before the birth of Jesus and within a period of 12 years, the previously barren and empty space became one of the most important cities in Israel right alongside Jerusalem. Dedicated to Caesar Augustus, the port city was designed to replace Joppa as the new gateway into the Mediterranean. 2000 years later, we can still visit the city to witness the surprising genius of Roman port engineering, view captivating biblical artifacts and ruins, and get a feel for what life would have been like during Jesus’ life. In fact, while Caesarea may not be considered an exceptionally large city today, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Israel.

If you were to look at pictures from Caesarea, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were looking at Rome or some neighbouring province, not a city in Israel. Indeed, the architecture of the city is like a very miniature Rome, designed to feel like a home away from home for Roman officials at the time. Looking at the city today we can see a Roman style aqueduct, a hippodrome, and an amphitheatre. 2000 years ago, the city was home to over 50,000 people (half Jewish, half gentile) and would have been even grander and more impressive. It’s no surprise that it became such a massive center of political and economic power in the region.

Today the "ruins” of the city are still surprisingly functional. The port’s breakwaters are still effective, and boats can still launch from the city. The hippodrome track doesn’t see chariot races anymore, but the track and spectator seats are still there, standing the test of time, the site of thousands upon thousands of races (and grimly, executions and blood sports). The seacoast theater in particular is most impressive. Not only does it feature that classic Roman design straight out of a swords and sandals film, but it works! The acoustics of the theater really do amplify the volume projected off stage, carrying voices far beyond what you’d think you’d be able to hear in an open-air theater near the water. We take it for granted today with our modern understanding of sound waves and acoustics, but think about what an incredible accomplishment that would have been 2000 years ago. 

But why is Caesarea considered important among Christians? For that, we have to look to the life and sacrifice of Jesus. Remember, Caesarea was built as a tribute to the Romans and flattering Roman design and aesthetic. So, it makes sense that a man like Pontius Pilate would set up office there. This office wasn’t where the trial of Jesus took place, that was in Jerusalem, but it still provides useful context to how Roman rule impacted Israel at the time of Jesus’ gospel.

It was also a key location for the disciples with several notable events occurring in and around the city. It was in Caesarea that Peter baptized Cornelius, a Roman Centurion who converted to Christianity. This baptism is especially important in biblical study because Cornelius was the first gentile to convert and receive baptism, setting an important precedent that all could be baptized into the faith. Caesarea was also one of the places where Paul spread his gospel, using the port city to travel to many other Mediterranean cities. He would later be imprisoned for two years in the city after appealing to Caesar to hear the charges brought against him by ideological enemies hostile to his gospel. Caesarea became a major center of early Christian learning, once holding the largest Christian library in the world.


All of that history is right there to explore, and yet Caesarea is even more generous, sharing new mysteries and wonders with us to this day! In 2015, divers off the coast of the port city found the largest trove of ancient gold coins ever discovered in Israel. Like something from a dream, over 2600 coins were found in a sunken ship, still gleaming beneath the waves. Lost over a millennium ago just off the coast, the coins were stamped with the mark of the Fatimid Caliphs, minted in Egypt or North Africa. There are several theories as to why such a hoard of gold was being transported, it could have been a tax collection vessel that sank, or a treasury boat carrying the salaries of a military garrison stationed in Caesarea at the time. But those are just theories based on the time and markings of the coins, they could have just as easily come from a merchant ship that sank, or the lost haul of a pirate vessel (well, maybe that's a little more far fetched).

Caesarea is an incredible site of living history. A place where we can clearly track the lines of the politics and culture that made up the world Jesus lived in. While there are other cities that are more relevant to His life and gospel, few other locations in the world will give you a sense of what it was to be a Jew living under Roman governance as the New Testament was coming into being. 

[Comment]

The incredible faith and kindness of Corrie ten Boom Part 2By: C4i

 
The Netherlands in 1942 was not a safe or happy place. Invaded by the Nazis, the population kept under the brutal heel of an occupation force, the population turned against itself with some resisting while others openly collaborated to save their own skin. It was a dangerous, uncertain time where the slightest mistake could get you killed.

And Corrie ten Boom had just welcomed a Jewish woman she didn’t know into her house. A true act of Christian compassion and mercy, but one that made her a criminal in her own homeland.

You have to understand what exactly it meant to shelter a Jew at this time and in this place specifically. The Beje house where Corrie and her family lived was literally half a block away from the police headquarters. The police were actively collaborating with the Gestapo, any murmur or rumor would lead them straight to their door. The punishment for sheltering or aiding Jews could not have been made any clearer by the Nazi occupying force – imprisonment and execution for everyone involved. In a city made desperate by food shortages, forced and underpaid labor, uncertainty, and infighting there was no end to the number of people who would give you up or cast accusations on you just for a loaf of bread or to merely deflect attention from themselves.

By taking in this stranger, Corrie placed her life, her sister’s life, and her father in harms way. But she did it. She did it because she knew it was what God expected of her. And then she did a whole lot more.

Corrie did not content herself with saving just one person. No, she got involved with local underground efforts. The family jewelry shop became a cover, a contact spot to talk to and pass messages between resistance members. A secret room was built in the Beje house, hidden behind a false wall and big enough to hold six people at a time, a regular hotel. Corrie began taking in a rotating group of endangered Jews and resistance members who needed shelter. 

Her background in charity work proved invaluable at this time. With deep connections in the community and knowledge of likeminded people, Corrie was able to secure crucial supplies no one else in the resistance would have been able to get. For example, ration cards were worth more than gold while starvation and hunger ruled the streets of Haarlem, and the Nazi occupation refused to issue them to Jews. Corrie had years previously worked with a family who had a disabled daughter through her charity efforts. That girl’s father, Fred Koornstra, was a bureaucrat who was placed in charge of a ration card office. These were people who knew and respected each other, and when Corrie asked Fred if she could have some extra ration cards, his answer was "how many.” According to Corrie she meant to only ask for five, but when she opened her mouth "the number that unexpectedly and astonishingly came out instead was: 'One hundred.'” She left with an arm load of life saving ration cards she gave to Jews across the community saving an unknown number of families from certain starvation.

Sadly, eventually the Nazis caught wind of what was going on. An informer in the community, one of their own, tipped the Gestapo off and the home was raided. Incredibly, they never found the secret room and the terrified Jews inside. Sadly, they did find excess ration cards, resistance materials, and other contraband. More than enough for the Nazis to arrest the entire family on the spot.

Dark days followed. Corrie, her older sister Betsie, and her father Casper were imprisoned. Their lovely father, the smiling watchmaker who loved his work and gave so much to his community died within ten days of imprisonment. Corrie and Betsie endured beatings and torture but never told the Nazis where to find the hiding place or sold out anyone else in the resistance. The sisters managed to stay together, eventually ending up in the Ravensbrück concentration camp where Betsie also perished in 1944.
But Corrie survived. She was eventually released from the camp and returned to a ruined, empty home. It’s the kind of horror that could break a person. Nobody would blame Corrie if she became bitter, if she walled herself up and never again put herself out there on behalf of someone else again. But Corrie’s clear eyes and true faith led her down a much brighter path.

Somehow STILL thinking of others even after her own horrific ordeal, she set up a rehabilitation center for concentration camp survivors. She worked with fellow survivors to heal the mental and emotional wounds of their trauma and reclaim their lives. Incredibly, despite witnessing and experiencing the evil of the Nazis firsthand, Corrie had the strength and love in her heart to advocate for reconciliation. She saw forgiveness as the best way for her country to heal after enduring their turmoil and had no desire to see more innocents suffer in retaliation. 

In an act of almost unimaginable grace, offered a helping hand to collaborators who had bent to the Nazis during the occupation. Her reasoning was that many of them were just desperate people who survived the only way they knew how. She didn’t want vengeance, she instead offered forgiveness to the very kind of people who had her family imprisoned and killed. That is the kind of radical forgiveness that is only possible through Christ.

Corrie ten Boom gave everything she had and more to help her fellow man.  Her inspiring story would be recounted in both the novel and film of "The Hiding Place” and her accolades would include induction into the Righteous Among the Nations and being knighted by the queen of the Netherlands. But her greatest legacy would always be her teachings. After the war, Corrie traveled the world for more than 30 years to spread a vital message - "there is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still.”

[Comment]

The incredible faith and kindness of Corrie ten Boom Part 1By: C4i

 
It is a rare and beautiful thing to see true, radical compassion in this world. To see someone devote themselves to the most vulnerable and downtrodden among us, to care deeply about their fellow man even when it means putting themselves at risk, is as rare as a shooting star. Corrie ten Boom was one of those people, and her acts of radical compassion and faith saved more lives than we can know. 

Corrie came from relatively normal roots. Born the daughter of a watchmaker in 1892 in Haarlem, Netherlands, her family was a memorable part of their community. Living in the Beje (pronounced Bay Jay) house above her father’s jewelry store, they were a fixture of the neighbourhood, a family everyone knew. From her father’s penchant for getting so fascinated by a tricky repair job that he would sometimes forget to charge customers, to their active participation in the Dutch Reformist Church, the people of Haarlem knew the Booms were a kind and generous people. Sincere believers, the Boom’s frequently opened their doors for foster children and made an extra seat at their table for neighbours who didn’t have enough to make ends meet.

Corrie took these lessons from her parents to heart, taking after them in more than one way. First the inspiration from her father to pursue watchmaking herself, a trade that was utterly dominated by men in the early 1900’s. Nevertheless, Corrie proved herself a deft and able hand when it came to sprockets and gears and became the first licensed woman watchmaker in the Netherlands in 1922. Already quite the accomplishment, Corrie wasn’t content to just make a quiet living, she believed she had a civic and human duty to her community. Taking her earnings, she opened a Youth Center for teenage girls in the neighbourhood, leading them in religious teaching, performing arts, and useful craft and practical experience to help them as they entered adulthood. She also began an involved charity effort for the mentally handicapped, working with the city’s most in need to assist them in living full, happy lives free of suffering and exploitation. 

This was a good and fulfilling life. She had a proud vocation, a close family, and established good works in a grateful community – but it was not to last. While Corrie was building up her community, the Nazis were putting cities to the torch and spreading their foul ideology of hate across Europe. When the Netherlands were invaded in 1940, Haarlem fell like every other city. The jackbooted thugs took one look at the girls Youth Group and shut it down immediately, and their eugenic designs directly targeted the mentally ill as "degenerates” to eliminate. For everyone living under the new Nazi occupation, it was time to keep their head low, time to not rock any boats or stand out in anyway. But Corrie wasn’t that kind of person. She kept helping the vulnerable through the occupation. She provided food and money when possible, small but meaningful lifelines in a very dangerous time and place.

But then a knock at her door in 1942 changed her life. It was a small, skinny Jewish woman holding a suitcase. Neither Corrie nor any of her other family members knew this woman, she wasn’t an old friend or an acquaintance she met back in school, she was a Jewish stranger in a time when talking to a Jew could easily be considered "conspiring with the enemy.” But why was she there? The woman explained that her husband had already been taken away to a fate no one knew for certain. Her son was in hiding, he became involved in the underground and the Gestapo was onto him. And now they were on to her, asking questions around her apartment building. She took as much of her life as she could carry in a suitcase and fled, knowing that staying in one place meant certain death, and having no where else to turn she went to a family in the community known for helping others. She went to the Booms because there was nobody else.

Corrie took her in immediately.

It was a decision that would change her life from that moment on. In that instant, she placed herself and her family directly in harms way for the sake of a stranger. It was a decision Corrie would never once regret, no matter how much it cost her – and the price was steep.
Check later this week for the rest of the story. 

[Comment]

Joyfulness in the time of COVID-19By: C4i

COVID-19 has completely flipped our lives upside down. Easy conveniences and little freedoms we’ve always enjoyed, like being able to stop at a grocery store without fear or meeting a friend for coffee at a bustling café, have suddenly been stripped away from us. So many of us have had to make incredible, life-altering adjustments in the span of only a few short weeks. 

Some of us are trying to work from home, juggling homelife and work through patchwork systems and managing the best we can. Some have been abruptly laid off and their family’s future cast into uncertainty. Others working in an "essential service” are suddenly facing a more demanding and dangerous job than ever. Doctors and grocery store clerks alike are being asked to risk their lives to keep our society functioning. 

It’s a time of stress and uncertainty that has many of us reeling. The only thing we have personal control over is how we react to this challenge. Will we face this crisis with anxiety and fear, or use it as an opportunity to spread joyfulness and gratitude? Will we allow ourselves to wallow in bitterness, or put our faith in God and remember that He is in control and is always in command of His divine plan? COVID-19, quarantine, and social distancing are all tests of our faith. We need to rise to the challenge.

Keep others in the forefront of your thoughts

Selfishness has been a major story of this virus. From price-gougers cleaning out stores to re-sell hand sanitizer and toilet paper on the street, to non-essential businesses threatening their employees to still come in despite a close order, to foolish spring breakers gathering at beaches and bars and bringing the virus home. A lot of people have used this moment of crisis to show us exactly how small and selfish they can be. 

A major way we can be a force for good in this crisis is by countering this selfishness. Look for ways that you can help others, especially those at a higher degree of risk than you, or for whom isolation cuts even deeper than most. If you have elderly neighbours, leave them a note in their mailbox with your number and an invitation to call if they need anything or just want to chat. If you need to make a grocery run, check in with your family and friends if they need anything you can pick up at the same time. Limit exposure by making the most of each grocery trip while reaffirming the bonds and connections you have in your life.

In this time of isolation, it’s the little things that matter. Being able to lend a hand, or even just an understanding ear, to a friend or neighbour in need can go a long way. This is a real "living our values” moment for us Christians. What kind of people are we when things look bleak? Do we turn inward and cold, only making sure we’re protected? Or do we do what we can to continue to spread joy and compassion the way Jesus would? Coming together in even small ways and making sure to care for our neighbours during this trying time will make us all feel a little less lonely and anxious.  

Connect in new ways

Being stuck at home doesn’t mean we have to give up on fellowship, but it does mean we need to be a little more creative. If you’re not able to get to Church, bring the word into your home by joining in on a service stream. Get together with your prayer group over Skype or a similar program. Text your friends and family on a regular basis. Just because you can’t get together doesn’t mean you can’t stay in touch and be an active presence in their lives. The worst thing we can do in a time like this is give into despair and let the relationships that matter in our lives wither on the vine. 

This is also a great time to nurture the relationships you have inside the home. Prolonged close quarters with the entire family can cause some friction (as any home with teenagers are likely already finding out) but it can also present new opportunities. If you’re working from home, this is a great chance to spend lunch with your spouse. If the kids are stuck inside all day and bored, this is a great time to dust off the old boardgames, or play catch in the backyard, or start some home project they’d be interested in. Make the most of this extra family time, it might just be a gift in disguise.

Practice gratitude

One thing that COVID-19 can teach us is perspective. Even just these past short weeks have been cause enough for many of us to step back and examine just how lucky we are in life. Grocery shopping is often thought of as a chore, another item on the to-do list after work. But now, with limited availability, empty shelves, and worrying gloves and facemasks everywhere, it’s hard not to recognize how much of a luxury a normal trip to the grocery store really is.  Same with ordering from a restaurant or going into work normally and without fear of contamination. These are small things that we usually take for granted that suddenly seem very important in their absence. 

We can certainly mourn for these lost freedoms, but we should also use it as a chance to take stock. To look at the rest of our lives and appreciate what else we have. These are uncertain and, yes, frightening times, but we still have so much. We are so blessed to live in a developed first world country that has a social system that can respond to this crisis. We are blessed to have ways to connect with each other even when we need to keep our physical distance. And above all, we are blessed that we can always turn our worries over to the Lord and place our faith in Him, knowing that all things, even pandemics, happen for a reason. 

This is a time to reflect and grow. This is a chance to re-prioritize, to fully recognize what is important to you and your family. Don’t waste it being bitter about the new strains on our lives. Use it to be grateful for what we had before, what we have now, and the new clarity to what we should be doing with our lives.

[Comment]

Life in Israel under COVID-19By: C4i

 
As we grapple with COVID-19 in North America and adjust to major life and societal changes, it’s easy to forget that this is a global pandemic. Israel has also had to confront the disease and adopt incredible measures to halt the spread of the virus and flatten the curve of infection rates. True to form though, they’re doing it in a distinctly Israeli fashion.

So, what is life like in Israel under COVID-19? Mostly quiet and a little surreal. In other words, very much like it is here. Israel was very aggressive in its early efforts to combat the spread of the virus, taking immediate measures to limit public gatherings, closing all non-essential businesses, and cancelling almost every major event in the country. Extreme yes, but also very safe.

The once bustling street markets, where for decades, vendors have cajoled, haggled, and joked with each other, are now mostly empty. Israel’s famous café culture has ground to a halt overnight. Patios that would normally be full of friends gossiping, old men arguing, and quiet people watchers soaking in the atmosphere now sit unoccupied. No one is breaking the rules no matter how much they miss their espresso. Even Israel’s world-famous beaches stand desolate, not so much as a frisbee in sight.

Perhaps more eerie and startling though are Israel’s many religious and historical sites. Last week, workers donning hazmat suits and breathing apparatuses scrubbed and sanitized the Western Wall in Jerusalem, removing prayer notes and limiting access to the site. Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity has been closed to the public this Easter, an unthinkable prospect that has become our new reality. Many other locations have been closed completely in a move that has hammered home the severity of the virus and the life-changing steps that must be taken to combat it. 

These major disruptions paint a grim picture, but are the people of Israel panicking? No, they’re making do and staying as positive as they can under the circumstance. With stay-at-home orders and quarantine conditions keeping the majority of Israelis home, families are using the time to connect and tackle some home projects. Some have been tending their gardens and fruit trees (a popular Israeli home addition) or growing windowsill herb boxes to help provide the home with fresh food and flavor without risking a trip to the market. President Reuven Rivlin took to Facebook to encourage families to use the time to read and bond, demonstrating with his own reading of the Israeli classic "A Flat for Rent.” From the response on social media, it seems a lot of families have followed his lead with their own nightly readings.

Viral videos have documented impromptu balcony sing-alongs among cooped up apartment dwellers, and moments of strange beauty such as wild animals making themselves at home in the now empty airports and streets. This is a time of great change, but also one of community and resilience. These are two things Israel knows a lot about.

Israel as a nation is well prepared to deal with an outbreak like this. For one, they have a strong cultural spirit of facing hardships together. From the legacy of the holocaust to the ongoing instability and conflict in the West Bank, the Israeli people know what it is to confront horror and fear. While a virus is not the same as a violent attack, the methods used to meet it (sacrifice, cooperation, and shared support) are similar and it’s how Israelis have dealt with many challenges over the years. Take the kibbutz system, it was formed under the idea of coming together for the common good. The first kibbutz built in the young nation of Israel featured multiple families tending the same crops, building infrastructure in the same community, sharing the same lodgings in some cases. All to build something out of nothing in the desert. That takes dedication, that takes a true commitment to the spirit of community, and that tradition has carried forward in Israeli society. You can see it in the compulsory service in the IDF to the number of people who cheerfully report unearthed artifacts and historical discoveries to the Israeli Antiquity Authority without a thought to keeping it or selling it themselves. 

It’s also a nation with a strong technical backbone. Over the past few years, Tel Aviv has become the silicon valley of the East and the Israeli medical sector is responsible for several recent breakthroughs. While the country is in lock down, the best minds Israel has to offer have gone to work on ways to combat this virus. From creating better, cheaper testing kits and working on potential vaccines, to making the stress of isolation less burdensome by offering virtual tours of some of Israel’s most interesting location they’re focused on solutions to this problem. Israel isn’t the kind of nation to back down from a challenge and we should look to that spirit of determination in ourselves as we face this crisis!

While the looming uncertainty of what the virus means and what we need to do to combat it doesn’t show any sign of being over in the near future, Israel seems prepared to handle it. Life has changed for sure, but it hasn’t ended. This is not the first storm Israel has had to weather. We should strive to adopt the same kind of resilience here at home. 

[Comment]

The Church of the NativityBy: C4i

An incredible sight, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is one of the most holy places in the world.  If you’re lucky enough to visit the Holy Land, it should absolutely be on the list of places to see. 

Commissioned by Constantine the Great, the Church of the Nativity was built between 325–326 on the site that is believed to have been the birthplace of Christ. The original stable and manger may be gone, but the Church was raised specifically to safeguard and keep the site for future generations to come and enjoy. Surviving war, fire, and even hostage situations, the Church has seen it’s share of excitement. But amazingly though, after being rebuilt between 527–565 following damage done during the Samaritan revolts, the Church has remained remarkably unchanged. While additions have been built (and destroyed) in the years since, the core of the Church is basically the same as it was a millennium and a half ago! This makes it an astounding connection to early Christendom and Jesus’ life on Earth. 

Today, the Church of the Nativity is operated and overseen by three separate Christian denominations including the Armenian Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church. This is the result of complicated political and cultural shifts over the years and long negotiations. However, for the regular visitor, these arrangements are merely interesting pieces of trivia. Today everyone, no matter your denomination or background, is welcome to visit and worship in this incredibly special house of God.
The Church of the Nativity is divided up into three main areas:

The Basilica of the Nativity

The heart of the Church is the Basilica of the Nativity, a jaw droppingly magnificent chapel that is marked by ancient history. With a high ceiling braced by columns of Corinthian pillars, it feels like somewhere from out of this world. Combine this with the splendor of the high altar, and the special trap doors that allow visitors to see through to original parts of the mosaic floor, and you’ll understand why people from all over the world want to see this Church.

But for as grand as the Basilica is itself, you might be surprised by its entrance. Called the "Door of Humility” you’d be forgiven for thinking the entrance to the Church was some disused closet or storage area. Only 120cm high, most people have to stoop low to enter through to the Church. When you look at the surrounding area, it appears that there used to be a grand arch that served as the doors, but was sealed off to only leave this tiny passage. There are a number of theories as to why this was done, but the most popular belief is that it was done to prevent mounted horsemen from entering the Church on their steeds!

The Grotto

Below the Basilica is the true draw of the Church, the Grotto of the Nativity. This sacred place is believed to be the exact birthplace of Jesus. It is a powerful and immensely spiritual place to reflect on the true love of Jesus and the full weight of his sacrifice for humanity. It is not at all uncommon for visitors to become overwhelmed at the sheer magnitude of it all.

The Grotto itself is small, as one might expect. The place of Jesus’ birth is marked on a white marble floor with a 14-point star which is surrounded by 15 silver lamps representing the three Christian communities. Inside the star is a circular hole, visitors can reach in it to touch the stone that is said to be the original stone that Mary laid on when she gave birth to Jesus. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to touch history like this, to feel a small sliver of Jesus’ life solid, complete, and here for us to experience. It’s the kind of thing a person would never forget.

The Church of St. Catherine

Finally, we have the Church of St. Catherine. The adjoining church is dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria and built in a more modern Gothic Revival style from the rest of the Church of the Nativity. Being the most modern of the areas in the Church, this is also the area where major events and gathering are conducted. This includes the annual Christmas Midnight Mass, a major event for millions of believers around the world. 

If you ever travel to Israel, chances are you’ll be staying in, or at least stopping by Jerusalem. Bethlehem is only 8 small kilometers from Jerusalem, barely a 20-minute car ride away. To come that close without actually seeing the Church of the Nativity would be a miss-opportunity anyone would regret. So, plan early and schedule the time to come and see the Church!

[Comment]

Heroes of the Holocaust: Ida BrunelliBy: C4i

 
There are many heroes of the Holocaust. Brave men and women of all kinds. Martyrs who gave up their lives for others. Crafty spies and fearless soldiers who undertook great risk to break the chains of bondage and save the innocent from a fate of cattle cars and gas chambers. There are also babysitters. Babysitters like Ida Brunelli who found themselves in an impossible place and rose to the occasion. A hero just the same as the others.

This story starts with Yuzzi Galambos, a spirited young woman. A dancer and natural performer, young Yuzzi was a girl with a romantic heart and a deep abiding wanderlust. When she met a 35-year-old Hungarian singer, Kalman Toth, who wanted to take her to Italy, it seemed like a dream come true. For a time, it really was. The two meandered around Italy, going from one city to the next in search of a stage to perform and an adventure to be had. Their love bloomed and soon the couple had three children together.

But the evil brewing in Nazi Germany would soon upset their idyllic lives. In 1940, travel in Italy became more difficult, and the couple fell under increasing police scrutiny. Kalman was torn away from his little family, forcibly deported to Hungary where his story becomes muddy and unhappy. He enlisted in the army but was soon hospitalized for unclear reasons. Yuzzi and Kalman stayed in contact through letters, but in ’42 the letters from Kalman stopped. It’s believed he died at this time.

Yuzzi, alone with three children struggled to provide for them. Dancing wasn’t going to pay the bills, so Yuzzi relied on her talents as a translator to eek out enough of a pittance to feed her small children. She took any translating job she could and even taught private lessons to try and keep her family afloat, but even with all the effort it was an uphill battle. The small family rented a flat in a farmhouse in Tuscany. In another time in different circumstances this might have been nice, but the farmhouse was terribly isolated and spartan, with no running water or plumbing. 

It was at this house where Yuzzi hired a young woman, Ida Brunelli to help look after her children while she worked long days in the city. Yuzzi was cautious, knowing full well what was going on, and after the dreadful experience of losing Kalman to deportation, she hid her and her children’s Jewish heritage. As far as Ida understood, she was in charge of three small Italian children.

Ida was only a child herself, fifteen years old, when she took the job. She was no stranger to poverty and looking after the children in exchange for a small amount of money and a room in the flat was an arrangement that worked for her. It was a lot of responsibility for someone so young, but absolutely nothing compared to what was to come.

In 1943, two great tragedies happened to the small family. First, the Germans occupied Italy, upending their already precarious situation and thrusting them straight into the path of the Nazi death machine. The second, Yuzzi took ill - gravely ill. 

There she was, a young woman in her own right with a dying heart and three young children she knew she would soon be leaving in the belly of the beast. She had the problems of the entire world pressing down on her, and nowhere else to turn.

On her deathbed, she told Ida everything. Who she was, her children’s Jewish identity, where to find their family documents, what had happened to her Kalman. And she pleaded. She begged Ida to take care of her children that she would soon leave behind, to do whatever it took to save them from the death camps and persecution that awaited them if they were ever found out.

Imagine yourself in Ida’s position in this moment. Remember, she was only a teenager, one who was struggling to support herself. Now she was tasked with an incredible burden, a responsibility so large it would crush most people. She had three children who’s lives depended on her and no one else. Three children who were not her blood, not her children, not her brothers and sisters. Three enemies of the state according to the radio and the newspaper. Three fugitives from the law, and Ida knew as well as anyone else did at that time what kind of punishments awaited anyone who was discovered to be concealing or aiding Jews. Utterly alone and powerless, what could she possibly do?

She did what she believed the Lord would have wanted her to do. She protected those children.

With no source of income, and the increasing threat of being discovered by the German army (Yuzzi’s death would raise questions about where the children should go, who their next of kin was and so on), Ida took the kids back to her own mother. She introduced them as Hungarian refugees, careful not to slip and let anyone know their secret. 

Even with the help of her own family, three additional mouths to feed was too much for young Ida and she eventually decided to ask the mayor of Monselice for help. The mayor was known to be kind and trustworthy, with no love for the Nazis. Thankfully, he agreed to help the children. He used his connections to quietly secure them bunks and board in various Christian institutions in the city. But Ida didn’t leave it at that, she continued to visit and support the kids every chance she got, especially Sunday’s where they spent all day with her, essentially acting as their second mother.
After the war, Ida made contact with members of the Jewish Brigade who were actively looking for Jewish orphans. She took them to a military camp in Santa Colomba and told the officers there her story. But the gears of bureaucracy grind slowly, and a number of logistical concerns needed to be cleared before the children could be guaranteed a safe trip out of the country to Israel.

Rather than leave the children on their own, Ida spent more than a month wandering with them as they were resettled and handed off between various camps. She took them this far, and she wasn’t going to leave them until she was sure they were safe. 
All three children were patriated to Israel where each lived long and happy lives. They never forgot what Ida did for them and petitioned Yad Vashem to recognize her efforts.

This story could have very easily ended differently. One could easily say that young Ida had no real responsibility to Yuzzi and her children. If Ida had left that flat after Yuzzi gave her deathbed confession and never looked back, you could argue that she had to protect herself first and foremost. There are even some who would say that she couldn’t have been blamed if she turned those kids in because that was the law at the time. Looking at the situation from a detached perspective, it’s hard to call what she did the "smart play.”

Thankfully, Ida knew better. She knew that we are all God’s children, even if we are not bound by blood we all have an obligation to each other. She knew that "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” is the measure God will measure us all against. She knew that protecting your body means nothing if you give up your soul to do it, and that a barbarism enshrined by the law is still barbarism.  

The next time you’re faced with a dilemma that forces you to choose between what is right and what is smart, remember Ida’s courage and moral clarity. If a young girl like that can summon the strength to throw herself in front of the Nazi death machine only for the benefit for others, we can always make the right choice. 

[Comment]

Israel’s surprising history of high and low filmBy: C4i


If someone asked you to name a popular shooting location for films, most of us would go with the easy answers. Downtown Toronto, Central Park New York, or maybe Venice Beach in Los Angeles. The movie buffs among us might show off by mentioning Vancouver for low-budget Canadian sci-fi, or Atlanta’s current popularity as an inexpensive alternative to those pricy big city productions. Few of us would think of Israel… and that would be a mistake.

Israel has a rich history as a premier film location for some of Hollywood’s best productions (as well as some of it’s schlockiest worst).

The Juggler


It’s impossible to talk about film in Israel without acknowledging The Juggler. Shot and released in 1953, The Juggler was the first Hollywood feature film shot in the relatively new state of Israel. Director Edward Dmytryk thought it was important to film the movie in Israel given the intense subject matter – a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust coming to grips with his psychological trauma and new life in Israel. Starring Kirk Douglas, the film portrays German Jew turned refugee Hans Müller’s difficulties dealing with the loss of his family, his misplaced sense of survivor’s guilt, and his attempts to re-integrate into society. It’s notable for its depiction of kibbutz life and the restorative communities that welcomed so many survivors after the war, a rare topic in 1950’s American film.

Shooting in the newly established state was not without its difficulties. For one thing, the pace and demands of a Hollywood production far exceeded what the Israeli crews were used to, so much so that it generated some complaints (which Dmytryk took as a compliment). There were also issues with the interior shots. The equipment and personnel just weren’t there to accomplish some of the more demanding shots, and many interior shots needed to be re-done in a Californian soundstage.

Despite these issues, The Juggler was a milestone in Israeli film production. It opened up the nation as a shooting location and set the stage for several movies to come.

The Age of Schlock 

The Juggler was a very serious movie, and you would be forgiven if you assumed other western productions in Israel followed a similar tone, but that wasn’t exactly the case. While many native Israeli filmmakers had lofty artistic aspirations at the time, western producers saw a different opportunity. During the 70’s, Israel was the place to go for schlock films.

Untested stars, bizarre passion projects, shoestring budgets – all classic hallmarks of a B-movie production, and Israel was the place to film them. The economic conditions of 1970’s Israel made it a cheap and inexpensive place to shoot, especially compared with major American cities. So, crafty producers and directors set their sights East. In fact, we can put a pair of faces to this phenomenon, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, known better as the minds behind legendary B-movie house Cannon Films.
 
In 1975, Golan and Globus (at this point operating under AmeriEuro Pictures) produced Diamonds, a heist film starring Richard Roundtree fresh out of his leading role on Shaft and looking for any film to help him make the jump from TV to the big screen. This was where they found the formula to their success. A recognizable but not A-list star with niche appeal, a pulpy aesthetic that focused on genre movies (heists, action spectacles, sci-fi oddities), and budget shooting conditions in Israel. From that point forward, it was off to the races for Golan, Globus, and the newly christened Canon Films. They spent the 70’s and 80’s pumping out a series of B-Grade classics in the country, going so far as to create their own Golan & Globus film studio in Neve Ilan. 

Success always brings imitators, and it wasn’t long before other low-budget productions caught on to what Cannon Films was doing and brought their own productions to Israel. This is why truly wretched bombs like American 3000 (a look at post-apocalyptic America shot in the Negev desert), franchise flops like Rambo III, and bizarre oddities like Jean-Claude van Damme’s The Order, all came to be filmed in Israel. 

It’s a strange legacy for sure, but an important one for film. While it’s hard to say with a straight face than many of these movies were good, they all possess a kind of unique energy. A strange mix of ambition and creative vision that exceeded the talent and budget they had to work with. An off-beat enthusiasm that can be a joy to watch (so long as you don’t try and take any of it seriously). Many of these strange gems wouldn’t have been possible with Israel as a welcoming home for oddball productions.

A Proud Tradition of Film

 

Of course, today Israel has its own thriving film culture depicting uniquely Israeli stories from their own perspective, as well as a proud tradition of American film productions shooting in the country. 
Sometimes, Israel is used as a backdrop for the world’s most pressing conflicts. Rambo III used locations all across Tel Aviv, Jaffa and Eilat to stand in for the war-torn fields of Afghanistan. The much more high-brow 1999 drama The Insider (nominated for seven Academy Awards to Rambo III’s zero) would pull the same trick, simulating the dangerous streets of Lebanon by shooting in an Arab town near Haifa. 

Israel doesn’t always play stand-in for a nearby and more dangerous state however, it often is used to portray the unique nation itself. This was the case for the 1960 Paul Newman film Exodus based on a novel by Leon Uris. The film is expressly about the formation of the Israeli state and is said to be responsible for a rise in popularity for the US Zionist movement at the time of its release. During production, the filmmakers realized they would need at least 20 thousand people extras for a pivotal scene where the partition of Palestine is announced. To fill this monumental need, the filmmakers held a lottery promising twenty thousand Israeli pounds and six free trips to the New York City premiere, hoping it would at least rope in a few thousand people. Instead, 40,000 people showed up, almost a quarter of Jerusalem’s population!

Today, Israel has a booming film scene that produces top tier artistic and commercial successes. Films such as Waltz with Bashir (2018), an animated documentary of director Ari Folman’s experiences in Lebanon War, Broken Wings (2002), a look at a family struggling after the loss of their father, and the satirical comedy Zero Motivation (2014) have propelled Israeli film to the world stage. From B-movie haven to award winning films in less than 50 years, Israel is quite the study for any fan of the silver screen.  

[Comment]

The mysteries of Tel HazorBy: C4i

 
Viewing it now, you might not believe that Tel Hazor was once known as "the head of all those kingdoms.” Measuring about 200 square acres, the Tel is all that remains of the once bustling city described in the Book of Joshua.

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005 along with Tel Megiddo and Tel Beersheba, Tel Hazor is the largest of the three. If you’re not familiar with the term, a Tel is a specific kind of archeological site. Distinct from ruins, Tels are small hills or mounds created over 100s of years of civilization. As mudbricks from buildings built, razed, and rebuilt accumulate along with the refuse, items, and sundries of generations and generations of human lives, the land literally swells with them. It’s an astounding phenomenon. Even thousands of years later when most surface level artifacts have been destroyed, archeologists with a keen eye can still identify the probable presence of a historic site thanks to these swells!

A truly ancient site, the oldest parts of Tel Hazor date back to the early bronze ages, around the 28th and 24th centuries. Back then it was (based on the evidence we have today) a relatively small community. While pottery shards and even an early brass monument from the period have been found, it is suspected that this early settlement was smaller in scope, consisting of only a few hundred people in a dense area. 

It isn’t until the era of the New Kingdoms that Hazor would rise to prominence. It is during this period that Hazor would become a major and important hub of trade and where most of the Tel’s most unique and impressive artifacts are sourced. 
These artifacts include the Solomonic Gate, a large six-chambered gate which implies a complicated and busy flow of traffic that needed to be carefully managed. What is interesting about these gates is that they are designed and constructed nearly identically as the gates found at both Megiddo and Gezer. This implies a sophisticated level of standardization of construction and trade policies between the sites. An ancient building code designed to make the experience of traveling from one city to another familiar and routine by following similar conventions and queues, not unlike traveling to different airports today.

Then there is the ancient water system we can still observe today. One hundred and thirty feet deep, a massive shaft reaches into the water table below the Tel. An incredible feat given the technology of the time! Imagine trying to dig 130 feet deep with bronze tools and simple pullies. It also shows that this wasn’t just some fly by night city, one of the thousands of nameless sites across the world that once held people and then held none. This was a sophisticated city with infrastructure and civic planning. 

This is the Canaanite strong hold we read about in Joshua, the seat of Jabin and the power behind his confederation against Joshua, a bustling and massive city that commanded trade that was home to thousands. This is the Hazor that we can read about in Joshua that was attacked and razed to the ground by the Israelites - an incredible connection to biblical history!

Discovered in 1926 and first excavated in 1955, the mysteries of Tel Hazor are still being explored today. Ongoing excavations are held annually, plumbing the depths of this ancient land and discovering what else it can teach us about Israeli, and biblical, history!

[Comment]

Step into history at the Tower of David!By: C4i

 
Jerusalem is an incredible city with a powerful history. We are blessed that so many of its streets, buildings, and sites have survived into the 21st century so we can explore and experience them today. Even so, a lot has changed in the old city since the time Jesus walked its streets, wouldn’t it be amazing to actually see what the city was like back then?

Unbelievably, thanks to cutting-edge VR technology, we can!

The "Step into History” tour at the Tower of David Museum is designed to accomplish this lofty goal. The museum in partnership with the ToD Innovation Lab and Lithodomos VR have produced Israel’s first virtual reality tour. With the aid of portable 3D goggles, visitors will be able to see the walls, streets, and buildings of the city exactly as they would have appeared 2000 years ago. 

The tour, available in both English and Hebrew, takes visitors on a 3-hour journey across different neighbourhoods and points of interest in the city. Starting in the Tower of David Museum and snaking down into the narrow streets and rich history of the Old City, VR reconstructions of the Western Wall, Robinson’s Arch, and the Jewish Quarter can be seen and explored. These three-dimensional displays can be viewed from any angle and convincingly "place” a person wearing them in that space and time. 
The idea is to "draw the city” out from the walls and pieces that remain of its legacy. To take what is there and make it omnipresent, giving visitors a deeper understanding and appreciation of what it would have been like to see the city during Jesus’ time when it was undergoing one of its most important and historical building periods. 

The tour takes visitors back 2000 years ago to the time of King Herod. Herod oversaw one of the most radical redesigns and expansions of Jerusalem in its history including the rebuilding of the second Temple and Herod’s palace itself. The tour places you in a time while those buildings were new and allows you to see the city with all the awe and wonder as a pilgrim from those times would. 

This is accomplished with a Samsung Gear VR headset and accompanying Samsung Galaxy 7 phone and personal earphones. The technology is cutting edge, designed to not just present a 3D image that can be viewed by any angle, but to present the image with such authenticity that it creates a sense of what VR developers call "presence.” This is what they call the feeling when someone feels like they are actually in the virtual world. It’s a sensation that goes beyond simply viewing the images as presented but tricking the brain into buying into the world and suspending your sense of disbelief to fully absorb what is around you.

As impressive as this is, the Step Into History tour is only the first of many projects the Innovation Lab is working on. This Christmas season will also see the soft launch of the Holy City project which will be comprised of VR representations of other major sites in Jerusalem, like Rachel’s Tomb, the streets of the Old City, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to further expand the experience. 

[Comment]

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The PURPOSE of C4i is to call Christians to express love in action to the people of Israel.

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