Sand, sun, and surfing

Israelis know how to have fun and stay cool during the scorching summer months.

Summer beach 370 (photo credit: GPO)
Summer beach 370
(photo credit: GPO)

Israel is a land of startling contrasts. For most people on the outside looking in, Israel is the Holy Land, the place of the patriarchs, prophets, Ruth and Boaz, King David and Jesus. Israel is also a modern nation that is surrounded by hostile neighbors and requires high-level, round-the-clock security.

But what about the locals? Israelis are hard workers and innovators, but they also like their leisure time and make the most of living in a land with plenty of sunshine and beaches. Summer in Israel may be hot, but it is also a time for fun in the great outdoors. The land of the Bible and the land of conflict that is seen in headlines around the world is also a place of recreation and rejuvenation for the people of Israel.
When things heat up in summer, Israelis of all ages know how to take appropriate action. The kids head to the malls in droves to buy up snorkels, swim masks, noodles and beach balls, for keeping cool in city pools and at the seashore. At the same time, mothers and fathers are lining up in the same malls to update their gas masks with new filters. Swim masks and gas masks – this is Israel!
In the summer, beaches on the Mediterranean, the Sea of Galilee and the Red Sea are packed with young and old alike, friends and families, all happy in the bright sunshine. They are building fortresses in the sand, tossing Frisbees, flying kites, spiking volleyballs and – most of all – playing a uniquely Israeli paddle ball game of beach tennis called matkot. Meanwhile, the more contemplative ones are perusing the newspaper or a good paperback novel, as the romantic types are strolling arm-in-arm on seaside promenades.
There is also fishing, water-skiing, hang-gliding and, if you are by the Red Sea, swimming with the dolphins and scuba-diving in the dazzling coral reefs. Old-timers watch it all and chat with each other under the shade of palm trees and beach umbrellas. All the while, Israel’s Navy fleet silently cruises the coastlines - vigilant and protective.
As the IDF guards the border with Egypt’s Sinai Desert, jazz enthusiasts from all over the world are preparing to attend the annual Summer Jazz Festival in Eilat. This year, music lovers will no doubt stay up each night, August 18-21, to enjoy live music in the clubs and on the boardwalk of this Red Sea harbor city. Music fills the night in a city where the average August high is 104 F – the hottest jazz in the world!
Towns and cities under the hot Israeli sun come alive after supper, when the sun is going down. Playgrounds that were empty in the white-hot heat of the day teem with children playing, while parents keep watch. Joggers are out in large numbers, as well as mountain bikers and power walkers.
While Israeli leaders hold discussions about the threat of a nuclear Iran, Israeli children fervently bargain with their parents for ice cream, slushies, more Bamba (the popular peanut butter-flavored snack), a trip to the Jerusalem Zoo, or a week or two at their favorite summer day camp.
Christians around the world associate the Sea of Galilee with Jesus, who offered rest for our souls (Matthew 11:29). Israelis too, associate the Kinneret (the name they call it) with rest. In the summer, all around the rim of the sea that Jesus loved, are tents, campers, fire pits, outdoor BBQs, picnics, sun-bathers and teens skipping rocks off the shores near Capernaum.
Christians yearn for the Jordan River, recalling Joshua’s crossing, the ministry of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. But in this same river, you will see Israeli families having a blast kayaking and tubing, music from their iPods drowning out their laughter.
Likewise, the Holy City of Jerusalem has a special place in the heart of all Christians. But if you walk Jerusalem’s streets on a hot summer afternoon, you just may see little Orthodox Jewish boys filling their kippas (their skull caps) with water from the fountain and dumping them on each other’s heads. Isn’t that what kippas are for?
Zechariah foresaw this day. “The streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls at play” (Zechariah 8:5). Israel is the Holy Land, it is the land of the Bible. So too, it is a country that has neighbors who threaten her. But Israel is also a homeland for a people who enjoy their country to the fullest, the places Bible-believing Christians revere, pray for and defend.
The Bible predicted this and we are seeing it in our day. Kayaking on the Jordan? Water-skiing on the Sea of Galilee? Praise the Lord. The people are playing there. They are having fun, even when it’s hot.
Dr. Carrie Burns is the educational program developer for the US Branch of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem;