|These observations are dedicated to Motti Saar, Master of Learning and Discovery, who guided our group of 16 OAT travelers through Israel and the Holy lands in September 2010.
We knew from the moment that we passed through the uneasy border crossing betweenJordan and Israel that we had been blessed. As we emerged through Israeli Immigration, Motti waited; his presence comforting, his smile welcoming, his leadership immediate.
Motti strived to make every encounter in Israel a learning experience; to help us discover the secrets of the past and to understand the realities of the present in this beautiful land of conflict. He never faltered in this endeavor. For fifteen days, Motti, personifying a walking, talking history book, peeled through the layers of time, offering as many facts as we could digest. I felt in a continued state of awe as he unraveled the events of the birth of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and then explained how these three world religions and cultures now converge and at times collide in Israel.
Motti became our shepherd, our teacher, our friend and we all became a family. He guided his flock, vigilant for those who tended to stray, urging us on to experience each site to its fullest. He used his skill as a former Army officer to unite the group, constantly saying ‘We will do this together’. I can hear him saying, “You can climb up that gravel path to see the splendor of Herodium”; ”You can make it to the top of the waterfall at En Gedi National Park”; “You can walk down the slippery steps in the tunnel to witness a 1000 year old cistern”, and we did!
Along the way, Motti introduced us to the ‘street’ treats of the country. We sipped on fresh squeezed pomegranate juice, feasted on twisted balls of dough dripping with honey, enjoyed a slice Yemeni pizza and chewed Jewish, sesame topped bread sticks that look similar to long oval pretzels; Learning and Discovery for the taste buds.
We were privileged to be in Israel during the Holiest of Jewish days, Yom Kippur and Sukkoth. Motti, unable to celebrate with his own family, used this special time to educate the group to the religious rituals. I will never forget, observing from above, the Jews praying at the Western Wall at the beginning of the fast on Yom Kippur evening. Without Motti, we would have never experienced this once a year happening.
Motti guided us through Israel, from the Mediterranean beaches of Tel Aviv, to Haifa, the Golan Heights along the Galilee, Jerusalem with all its parts, Herodium, Nazareth, the NegevDesert and the Dead Sea and everything in between. We learned about the Orthodox, the Palestinians, the Bedouins and the Druze. We felt our emotions sway at the HolocaustMuseum and the 9-11 Memorial.
But because of Motti’s insights, knowledge and perspectives, we didn’t just see Israel. We came to know Israel, we came to better understand the struggles she has dealt with for all of time and we came to appreciate the Israelis’ zest for living life to the fullest.
Motti, we thank you for this experience. Carol Bowman and Ernie Sowers