Israel and Yani by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

With two days left in Israel, Jeff, Andy, Kristen and I were determined to see as many Christian sites as we could. A friend of Jeff had told him about “Yani”, a tour guide, who could be hired to show us around. After several phone calls, most difficult to understand because of Yani’s dialect, we agreed to meet in Jerusalem. Yani said he would get in our car there, but Jeff explained how tiny our rental car was, so that wouldn’t work. No problem, said Yani. He had a friend who would drive us all around. We just needed to get to the parking lot by the Old Jaffa Gate. Simple enough…except our GPS did not recognize that location. Yani repeatedly phoned us. “Where are you, my friend? I am here and you are not.” Our connections were continually broken, and each time Yani called back, we all were more confused. After entering through gates we had no business entering, driving on sidewalks to get out of said areas, and having dozens of cars and busses honk at us for interfering in their traffic, we finally found the parking lot. Thank you, Jesus.

Sort of. We just didn’t know how to read the Hebrew signs telling us which ramps went where. We ended up at the pay booth where we had to exit. Round and round we go. This was not working out well. Ultimately, we linked up with a very high-energized Yani who did his best to show us what we wanted to see: where Jesus was buried; the Western (Wailing) Wall that at one time supported the Temple; King David’s tomb; the room of the Last Supper; and Bethlehem, where Jesus was born (which would require a 30-minute drive).

Yani was a little nuts. At the age of 13, he had been imprisoned for over a year when he and a group of friends threw rocks at Palestinians, and he had overcome a drug problem (probably explaining his missing and darkened teeth) through AA. Later that day, Yani would take us into his home to meet his mother, a woman he adored. This required me not only to navigate several steps but to climb two ladders on his roof (so we could get the “best view of Jerusalem”). It was important to our new friend that this be an experience we would remember.

Yani talked about last night’s drone strikes, admitting he was concerned. Still, we would press on…in the literal sense. In the tunneled walkways of Jerusalem, Yani had us enter through exits, push our way to the front of lines, and crowd in wherever we could. I was undone by this and told him I wanted to wait in line like everyone else, but somehow all the guards knew Yani and let him (and us) through. Even where people knelt and wept while touching Jesus’ burial stone (one of two possible sites), Yani wanted me to squeeze through the kneelers to do the same. For goodness sakes! Elderly people were sobbing and rubbing the stone with handkerchiefs while a priest walked around, shaking incense over the entire area, and I was to push them out of the way so I could do the same? Not gonna happen.

Our guide loved sharing the history of what we were seeing. At the tomb of King David and the Western Wall, men and women were divided into different areas. Jeff and Andy had to wear yamakas. Kristen, Andy’s wife, and I were led to a circular watering area which had tin pitchers spaced around the large bowl. Yani had told us to wash our hands there, so I picked up a pitcher, filled it with water, and poured it over my hands. Not correct. A kind, Jewish woman showed me it was a three-step process. Hold the pitcher in the left hand and pour some water in the right palm; hold the pitcher in the right hand and pour some water in the left palm; and repeat the first step. I thanked her and felt like a fool.

Our next stop would be Bethlehem where Jesus was born. It became obvious Yani had no other driver, as he asked where we were parked and jumped in the passenger seat. Not the only time we would be duped. Andy, Kristen and I squeezed in the back and held on for dear life. If I thought Yani loved to be first in line at historical sites, that was nothing compared to how close we came to being killed with his instructions to Jeff as to how he was to drive.

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