was July 4, 1976, and the huge, yellowed stones of the Western (Wailing) Wall,
all that remains of the enclosure that was once part of the resplendent glory of
Solomon’s Temple, echoed with singing: "God is with us; no one can defeat
us." The golden city of Jerusalem, made more golden by the ruddy glow of
the setting sun, sang her victory song. Israel had amazed the world that morning
with her daring commando raid on the airport at Entebbe, Uganda. Ninety hijacked
Israeli hostages, facing the threat of death, had been rescued and flown back to
On the evening of that eventful day, I photographed soldiers and civilians
whirling together in dancing circles, singing and praising God. The dusky
evening light merged colors and shapes into a oneness. I stood next to a soldier
as he leaned his head against his arm to pray at the rough stone of the Wall,
while behind us common folk and government officials blended their voices in
vocal prayer and thanksgiving for the glory of Israel.
Israel seems to be looking to God.
One evening in a small courtyard on Mount Zion near David’s tomb, I sat on
a weathered wooden bench talking to a group of Yeshivah (orthodox Jewish
seminary) students. The sun cast long golden shadows as they told me of God’s
purposes for them in Israel. Several of them, American Jews who had immigrated
to Israel, felt that God had arranged the events of their lives so that they
would finally come to Israel. Their feelings were intense and sincere, and they
seemed willing to follow God’s will as they felt it.
Israel seems to be preparing herself to renew her ancient covenant with
Even now there is a rapidly growing group of Jewish Christians. These are
Jews who believe that Jesus was, indeed, the Messiah. Quite by accident I met a
young couple who held that belief. Early one morning I entered a small
stationery store in Jerusalem and was greeted by a friendly couple who spoke
excellent English. We chatted for a few moments, and they were impressed by my
Mormon attitudes, so they invited me out to lunch with them later that
afternoon. After a very pleasant meal of Hungarian goulash, we talked for three
hours, mostly about the similarities in our religious feelings. They were
fascinated by the story of Joseph Smith and the idea of a personal, tangible
God. They were especially interested in the Latter-day Saint concept of family
unity and exaltation. They warmed to an invitation to attend our branch services
in Jerusalem and expressed a desire to learn more about the Church. As we
talked, I made a mental note to send them a copy of the Book of Mormon with my
personal testimony written on the flyleaf.
Even atheists seem affected by God’s influence. A veteran Israeli soldier
told me of his experience during the fighting of the six-day war of 1967.
"Even though I was an atheist, a strange feeling came over me when we broke
through the opposing forces and reached the Wailing Wall. I stood there crying
like a baby. And since then … I don’t know … maybe there is a God."
Most Latter-day Saints are familiar with the spirit of gathering that has
impelled thousands of Jews to leave the lands of their birth, comfortable homes,
and good businesses to immigrate to Israel. And they come in spite of extremely
high income taxes (generally 50 percent) and the constant threat of war and
terrorist raids. One immigrant told me that he had left his whole family and all
of his friends in Chile. "I really don’t know why," he said simply.
Another young man from South Africa shrugged his shoulders: "I guess if I’m
going to die for something, I want it to be for God."
"Behold, I will gather them out of all countries, whither I have driven
them in mine anger; … and I will bring them again unto this place, and I will
cause them to dwell safely:
"And they shall be my people, and I will be their God."
Just the land itself is enough to stir up thoughts of ancient prophets and
the ministry of the Savior. Jesus spoke of sowing seeds among the rocks; I’ve
stumbled through fields that seemed more rock than dirt. Rocks are so numerous
that the many hilly terraces, walls, and buildings made up of them do not seem
to deplete their endless plenty. Wild flowers, the "lilies of the
field," are in great abundance and beauty. Everywhere there are shepherds
and sheep, reflecting a changeless cycle and adding credence to the life of the
For me that sense of reality is the strongest message of Israel. The Savior’s
feet walked and his voice sounded on the hills I climbed each evening as I
wearily, but happily headed homeward after a long day of photography. He saw the
sun coming up in the morning and felt its heat at noonday. Even some of the
unpleasant odors of Old Jerusalem were common to him. Jesus taught here.
Later I climbed the Mount of Olives by way of a very old stone path. The huge
stones were polished from the countless sandals of several thousand years. The
feet of Jesus probably climbed this path from Jerusalem to Bethany. It was long
and steep, and I stopped several times to gulp much needed air and to wipe the
sweat from my eyes. As I lifted my eyes to see the top of the hill, I imagined
myself to be one of the Savior’s disciples, following him up the path to
Bethany. Perhaps I would have stumbled on a projecting rock and called,
"Master, wait for me." Or I might have asked, "Lord, what of the
last days?" For a moment I stood there, aboard my own personal
time-machine, wondering about the closeness to Christ that I was feeling. As
tears came unexpectedly, I understood those I had seen in President David O.
McKay’s eyes during a sacrament meeting a few years ago. He had cried in
contemplation of the suffering of a close friend, a man called Jesus.
Later, almost by chance while reading an obscure book, I made a discovery.
There were still in existence two pillars, with the original capitals still
crowning them, that had been part of the portico of Solomon’s temple. It took
special permission from the Arab Religious Council to gain access to them, and
then I could only get as close as the open mesh of a wire fence. In breathless
silence I looked at a fragment of the glory that was Israel 3,000 years ago. Now
they stand in a storage room crowded with empty chairs, silent sentinels of a
Even in the midst of modern technology, ancient Israel pokes its way into the
present. As they have done for thousands of years, Arab women in brightly
colored dresses still carry baskets balanced gracefully on their heads, though
the baskets are now made of garish plastic mesh. I saw a woman hand-spinning
wool into yarn as she walked along herding sheep; she wore modern slacks under
her purple and orange dress.
Such is life in Israel today. An old Arab in the mosque-of-the-Dome area in
Jerusalem, caught my eye as I laughed at a group of children teasing him.
"Children, the same everywhere," he smiled. And didn’t the Master of
us all say, "Suffer the little children to come unto me"? Jesus did
walk and teach in changeless changed Jerusalem.