20 Years Ago
It occurred to me the other week that my first trip to Israel was exactly 20 years ago.
So this week I’m reminiscing.
The catalyst for that first trip was my dear friend and late mentor, David Allen Lewis. I loved David and miss him, 11 years after he went home to be with the Lord he loved. An Assemblies of God evangelist, David was truly unique, to use an over-used word.
Based in Springfield, Missouri, David Allen Lewis Ministries sprang from David’s love for the Jewish people. I say that first, before his love for Israel. Because that’s the key. One cannot be genuinely pro Israel without being pro Jew.
Some people try that without the pro Jew ingredient.
Not David. And he also loved Arab people. He was one of the first Christians to broker dialogue between Jews and Arabs. And he began taking tour groups to Israel soon after the Six-Day War.
Anyway, I worked for New Leaf Publishing Group at the time, the publisher of David’s wonderful Bible prophecy books. He was like a force of nature. I was so green when I started as his editor. One day, working with him the first time, I called him for clarification on a few things, including the meaning of a strange term: Eretz Yisrael.
I held the phone out a couple feet as David bellowed, “The LAND of Israel, in the Hebrew!”
Quickly, David’s passion for the subject reawakened my interest, which had been dormant since my pro Israel father’s death many years before.
By late 1997, I’d gotten the idea for a new book for David (this would become The Last War). One day, sitting in his living room, I blinked a couple times when he said, “Do you want to go to Israel with me? I need the help in conducting interviews for the book.”
I stammered that of course I would and happily, my boss, Tim Dudley let me go (a lovely guy to this day, a fully independent publisher with a strong moral compass and courage to publish books that need to be published. Tim’s Master Books imprint has carried on the work of the great creationists—such as Henry Morris—now for more than two decades).
By the time my flight departed Chicago, I realized no one had really briefed me on one important thing: how to handle Israeli security at the gate. I was flying the Israeli national airline, El Al, and boy, did I set off some red flags, traveling alone as I was.
After four hours of basically interrogation, they let me on the plane, just ahead of a Jordanian couple that had screamed at each other and threw clothing in the air as their luggage was being examined.
My luggage arrived two days after I did in Tel Aviv.
David and I hit the ground running, along with his driver of decades, Avigdor. We bounced around all over the country, including an afternoon in Bethlehem. I stopped to take a photo of a Yasser Arafat poster and then noticed several PA policeman seated at an outdoor café didn’t take kindly to that, for some reason. They eventually chased me down the street and I literally propelled myself headfirst into the van as David yelled at Avigdor, “Go, go, go!”
I formed many good memories with David on that trip. We ate Beluga caviar at the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv while waiting on an Israeli newspaper publisher.
I also learned just how well connected David was, but in a very unusual, clever way. Sure, David knew all the “bigs” (I love the photos of him with Prime Minister Menachem Begin, whom David had famously predicted would become prime minister, when the very thought was comical), but he cultivated friendships with the influential people behind the famous people.
So it was that we spent quality time on that trip with David Bar-Illan, the urbane former concert pianist and newspaper editor (The Jerusalem Post) and was now an advisor to Benjamin Netanyahu. I met Bar-Illan a few times after that, and he remains one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met. And hands-down the best op-ed writer I’ve ever read.
We also visited with Gershon Salomon, founder of the Temple Mount Faithful Movement. I learned just how connected Jews in Israel really are when word came that then-Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert would meet with us…because Salomon urged him to do so.
The crown jewel of our two weeks in country though came on the evening of March 5, when Ariel Sharon gave us an hour in his Tel Aviv office. In the outer office, where we waited to meet the legendary Israeli general (then Minister of Infrastructures in Netanyahu’s first government), I saw Mossad chief Danny Yatom get on an elevator. He smiled at me as I gulped.
Sharon was a gracious host, and the moment was surreal for me. Entering his office through a side door, Sharon was shorter than I thought he’d be, but his handshake was crushing. He spoke in Hebrew several times with an aid, but gave us his full attention. He mentioned that he remembered David from 15 years before, during the Lebanon War, because the IDF heard of an American preacher running back and forth across the border, broadcasting over the radio!
That was David, larger than life.
Sharon gave me a map of the West Bank that night, which I still have. He invited us to dinner at his farm in the Negev, and I regret to this day that we could not stay in Israel that long—had to get home.
All in all, we conducted many interviews. David was a warhorse, his body already by that time failing him. But on he soldiered, doing it all for Israel. His books, conferences, tapes, and newsletters contributed greatly to American evangelicals’ understanding of the exotic country on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. I treasure those two weeks with David, and know that he is enjoying his rest now.
We will see each other again soon.