It was a memorable week in the Holy Land. Early Tuesday morning, participants in our Journey Home Tour returned to the U.S. What an amazing time they had — and what an amazing time I and other Fellowship staff had traveling with them through this land that we all love so dearly.

It is a privilege, really — even for someone like me, who has lived in and traveled through Israel for years — to experience the Holy Land through the eyes of someone who has always dreamed of coming here but has never had the opportunity. It allows an Israeli the opportunity to see things afresh, and to gain new appreciation for our home.

Israel’s many biblical sites, of course, were a key attraction for the more than fifty pilgrims who joined us on the Journey Home. But they were also exposed to mundane aspects of Israeli life that we Israelis take for granted. More than one participant remarked at the presence of security officers at entrance to shops, of having to tell guards what was in their bag prior to going into a supermarket, of the tight security at Ben-Gurion airport. I simply explained that, for Israelis, this is part and parcel of daily life. We have been attacked time and again, and accept these measures as necessary to our security and continued survival.

Visits to Fellowship-funded projects also gave our Journey Home friends a chance to see firsthand the difference they’re making in Israel. At one food distribution project, they spent some time packing hundreds of food boxes for the needy. I’m pleased and proud to say that Jerry Clark, our tour leader, said that they tackled the project with as much enthusiasm as they did visiting the Western Wall, the Garden Tomb, Masada, or any of the other biblical and historic sites they saw!

Anyone who reads the news knows these are critical times for Israel. Iran continues its hateful provocations against the Jewish state and the West, promising recently that “the Israelis will feel our wrath in Tel Aviv” in the event of an Israeli strike to cripple Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Palestinian leadership continues to ratchet up its efforts for unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state at the U.N. Anti-Semitism and harsh anti-Israel sentiment are again in the news even in the U.S., as evidenced by the surfacing of anti-Semitic protesters at the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations.

These are all sobering realities. But knowing that there are Christians like the wonderful people who joined us on the Journey Home Tour gives me, and all Israelis, hope even in difficult times. I pray that our Journey Home Tour participants returned home renewed and strengthened in their faith. I believe they also came home with a greater awareness of the beauty of Israel and her people, the challenges they face day to day, and the difference The Fellowship is making throughout Israel. Dear friends, I hope to see you “next year in Jerusalem” on the 2012 Journey Home Tour — and I ask you to join me in praying for that day when God will bless all His people with His most precious gift of shalom, peace.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein