The Jerusalem Series

The songbird and I

Once upon a time, on a day that nobody remembers, a songbird was released from its cage. I’m sure that would have been quite a day! I wish that I could have watched her finally break free into the night sky. For that night she had been gifted with a new song.

This is a tribute to my songbird and my sunshine in the wintertime. To Rita.

The first time that I saw her, she was sitting near a table in the garden, humming softly and sweetly to herself. Autumn was coming to an end, so she perched at the side of the tree in order to feel the covering warmth of the sun. I remember marveling at her beauty, her feathers were many shades of blue, yellow and green.

I began to sit down and she looked towards me;  I could have sworn that she was smirking and that her eyes were gleaming with a sparkle. She seemed mischevious, curious and witty.

After a few moments, she began to sing her song.

No creature could outsing her and no sound could intimidate her, her song was one of strength and beauty.

As the day passed and as the weeks slowly turned into months I continued to watch her.

I remember the way in which she danced around a busy courtyard filled with people, with no care in the world, she hummed her tune loud and clear.

I remember watching her fly over and above the many landmarks of the Old City – singing her harmony loud and clear. Passersby were taken aback by her vivaciousness, no note was out of tune as she twirled with joy.

She did not sing to be noticed, she only sang to share her love. She only hoped to share a gift with others. A gift that had been freely given to her.

The songbird found her joy in encouraging others. She sang her song of encouragement to both strangers and friends.

I remember one time watching her in the evening. She was tired and hummed her song quietly to all who would listen. The wind still carried the words through the courtyard and although she was hurting, she never lost her song. She continued to sing.

“Why so downcast, lady songbird?” I asked as she looked up towards the sky.

It was true, she had been freed in the past, but she longed for a greater freedom, one to be found only in the heights.

And as time went on, she kept on singing.

I once asked her how she learned to sing. My question amused her.

She explained that singing was a process and that each day she learns new lyrics to a tune that she still finds a little unfamiliar at times.

Some people laughed at the songbird and sneered at her efforts to love and to share.

“She is ignorant and foolish! She does not understand the realities of a world like ours.”

Even so, love just seemed natural to her, as I watched her mingle, and dance through the crowds; she maintained oblivious to negative discouragement.

Later in the year, I returned to the courtyard and sat underneath the tall palm tree. The blue sky was fading into a dusty sunset. I waited for the songbird. I waited until morning.

It was early when I heard the news. The songbird had gone, she had left us.

There was not a single person who did not miss her presence. The world seemed a little emptier. The courtyard, still full of people, seemed all the more empty.

Later that week, I heard a noise and as I looked to my right I saw a woman folding laundry and humming the tune of the songbird.

“Excuse me,” I said, feeling all the more embarrassed,

“Excuse me, what song are you singing?”

She looked at me and laughed a little.

” I’m singing grace, sweet amazing beautiful grace.”

I smiled.

The humble bird who had sung a simple song had touched the lives of so many.


Jerusalem series

The Jerusalem Series, Travel

The Secrets of the Wilderness – Hike with Dan

Wadi Darga and the Caves of Bar Kochba

This hike has it all. Adventure. Danger. Panorama. History. Spectacular views. Isolation. 

On the Northwestern side of the Dead Sea is a canyon system called the Nahal Darga. The word ‘Nahal’ means dry riverbed. The Nahal Darga  is a very deep, rugged, dry riverbed that flows into the Dead Sea. I gave this place a nickname. The little Grand Canyon. The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth at over 1400 feet below sea level. It is truly desert. The rainfall is less than 2 inches per year. Normal daytime temperatures exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. My kind of hike. I cant wait to start.  I did not know all this the first time I hiked here. That is the thrill of hiking somewhere the first time. One never knows what is around the next bend.

I was alone the first time I explored this section. I have since trekked into this area more than any other. 

I left Jerusalem very early on the morning of May 4, 2014. The public bus system in Israel is incredible. There is a bus stop right on the Dead Sea highway at Metsoke Dragot Junction. From there, with my very detailed topographical map in hand I began the climb up the access road to the top of the mountain which is a climb of  about 1000 vertical feet. At the top of the mountain, the road turns into a dirt track for another mile or so. I found the trail and began the descent into one of the most spectacular places I have ever seen. Down, down, and down. Not a technical descent, but steep enough to put the fear of God in you. One misstep and you would be seeing God. The trail snakes its way almost to the bottom and then turns to follow the canyon upstream. Not too far along is a sign which indicates another trail up. This one is technical. There are handholds put in for safety, but this trail goes straight up the cliff. At the end of an exciting climb are two very large caves. The Bar Kochba caves. 

Simon Bar Kochba was the leader of  a Jewish revolt against the Romans in 132 AD He was such a charismatic leader that many thought  he was the messiah. He was not. And so the Romans under Hadrian defeated this revolt in 135 AD. Most people know of the Jewish revolt of 66 AD with the ensuing Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. It is interesting to note that when Hadrian put down the Bar Kochba revolt in 135 AD, the destruction was greater and the numbers of Jews killed, far exceeded what happened in 70 AD. The estimate of Jews killed exceed 580,000 by the end of 135 AD.

In the early 1950’s archaeologists discovered letters written and signed by Bar-Kochba himself in these very caves.  These caves were one of the last strong holds of the Bar Kochba revolt. I can see why he chose them. They are very hard to get to and very easy to defend. But, I am also sure that by the time Bar Kochba arrived to these parts, the  had reached a location of last resort. 

I very carefully descended from the caves. 3 of every 4 climbing accidents occur on the way down.

From there I continued to the bottom of the dry stream bed and climbed up the other side of the canyon.  Once up the mountain, I was treated with more spectacular views, and a level track straight through the desert to the top of another  descent back down to the Dead Sea. I always plan my hikes as a circle, and not an out and back. 1000 vertical feet down to the outskirts of Mizpe Shalem.  If you have ever used the Dead Sea fashion product called Ahava, you should know that they are produced at Mizpe Shalem. 

What can we learn? We put our faith not in man, but God alone. 

Psalm 65:5,6  I depend on God alone. I put my hope in him. He alone protects and saves me. He is my defender.

Take Care and God Bless.

The Jerusalem Series, Travel

The Secrets of the Wilderness – Hike with Dan!

Hiking in the Land of the Bible


What more can I say? I love to hike. It is a part of my nature. If  I see a mountain, I immediately want to climb it. If I see rough terrain, I want to challenge it. Combine that with the heat of the desert, throw in some of the lowest, most inhospitable terrain on earth and I am excited.  And what if this hike goes through land that has been talked about in the Bible for thousands of years? As a theological student and a student of the Bible, life doesn’t get any better than that!

Hiking with the Dead Sea behind me!


My name is Daniel. I have recently  lived in Jerusalem  for over five years.  On most free days, one could find me hiking somewhere in the desert. Mostly in the Judean wilderness, that swath of desert between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea,  the lowest place on Earth.

It is a geography that is unchanged from the days of the Patriarchs and the time of Jesus. 

As I explored this barren wasteland, it was often with the cherished biblical stories going through my mind. 


In the next several months I will be sharing some of these unique  hiking experiences from the Land of the Bible. Many of my hikes were solo. I loved going out with just a map, lots of  water, and the thrill of discovery around every bend.  As time went on and others knew about my hikes, I  would take people with me so they too could experience the land in a very almost intimate way. 


For now let me leave you with the following thoughts.

There is no place like the desert to remind oneself of your fragile humanity. Especially when water is almost depleted. Life’s priorities quickly become ordered. 

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.

Psalm 63:1 – A Psalm of David (When he was in the Desert of Judah.)

I look forward to sharing more of my experiences with you in the near future.

Until then, Every Blessing.

The Jerusalem Series

Lighting candles in the Old City

The Old City of Jerusalem is always a hive of activity. As the sun gently rises over the distant hills, shopkeepers begin their commutes towards the city centre. Long days lie ahead, setting up shop in the empty streets.

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It does not take long for the crowds to appear -in their hundreds. Tourism in Jerusalem is very seansonal, depending on the events. As a holy city to three of the main monotheistic religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism – Jerusalem welcomes over 3.5 million tourists a year.

One particular afternoon three friends and I were making our way back home after a drink sage tea in the sunshine under a palm tree. It was a Friday, one of the busiest days in the week. We weaved our way through the crowded streets of Muristan, up towards Christian Quarter Road and as we turned onto the road we heard a voice call to us.

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“Hello, lovely family!” 

I have to confess that when we arrived in Jerusalem, we were instructed to avoid conversation with shopkeepers and to just continue walking. The four of us were used to ignoring this instruction.

“We are in spirit, mate” Mal replied.

“How lovely!” The friendly shopkeeper said smiling as he laid out his coloured scarves for display.

I started to smile to myself as we continued walking. When I arrived in the Old City of Jerusalem all those years ago, I was told to keep my head down and walk straight from place to place, I remember being warned that I should not talk to anyone and that I certainly shouldn’t entertain the idea of conversation.

Time passed and our friendship with this particular shopkeeper had grown. The shopkeeper and his shop became a safe haven for some of us when we were walking home. I should stress that it is very unusual to not feel safe in Jerusalem, however, if we ever felt intimidated or at risk of being followed we would calmly walk to the shop and wait there whilst the shopkeeper would send some of his relatives to investigate.

One afternoon, we discovered that the shopkeeper’s birthday was in the following week and we decided to bake him a birthday cake: this soon became quite problematic as we remembered that we did not have any oven.

So, we set to work on preparing a toffee cheesecake and to our surprise, it was a big success. After hours of searching online we found the perfect recipie.

Navigating the Old City thta busy Friday morning turned into more of a challenge than we had anticipated. We tried our best to make the occasion a surprise. As we turned off the bustling David Street onto Christian quarter road we stopped at the first shop and asked if we could borrow a lighter.

The shopkeeper looked at us quizzically and cautioned us not to smoke as it was not good for our health: we continued to explain the plan. The poor shopkeeper only seemed to be more confused by our explanation as we uncovered the cake and began to light some candles.

However much we had planned for this event to be a surprise, our shopkeeper friend had seen us coming from a distance. Unbeknown to us we had gained a following of roughly twelve shopkeepers who slowly followed behind: I am sure they were following us for a piece of cheesecake.

The best moment was seeing a smiling face emerge from the shop and stare in utter shock at the crowd of people who were singing happy birthday. Even some tourists joined in to sing with us. We sang together in Arabic and English and then we all sat down and began to eat. The street was filled with laughter, fun and of course – thousands of tourists.

I am so grateful for that one conversation with a shopkeeper in the Old City, as it led to our hilarious friendship which still exists to this day.

I understand an appreciate the caution of the organisation that I worked for, and I would advise you to walk around the Old city in groups or pairs if you have any concerns. I really do believe that the Old City of Jerusalem is safe, however I would not advise single girls to walk around the city alone at night. Please, exercise caution; there are always exceptions to every rule and although the characters in the story are lovely (and real) there will always be people who sadly wish to take advantage of others.


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The Jerusalem Series

The secrets of the wise

Click here, to read more of the Jerusalem series.

Her heart is for the visitor, the traveler, the new mother and the newlywed. To the world, she is a normal woman, however, I know her secret!

She truly is a special character in her own right. One of a kind. Traditional yet open-minded, thoughtful and deliberate, she has the renowned reputation of welcoming many guests to her home. A conversation with her is guaranteed to be filled with laughter, humor and great wisdom. I have never met someone so willing to share what she has.

The last time that we spoke, she mentioned how happy she felt as she entertained both friends and family. At the time, sixteen of us were gathered in two small rooms.

“I am grateful for all that I have received, so why should I not return the blessing?” she said to me.

“If you can ever do anything Sarah, you must show people, true love, remind them of their own worth in any way that you can!”

These words have stayed with me for quite a time. After all, they are powerful words, spoken by a woman who has known much suffering and pain, spoken by a woman who has had no choice but to be brave and journey through each challenge courageously.

Not many people know of her story and even fewer people know of her life.

Before the night fades and the sun begins to rise in the indigo sky and before the Fajr prayers echo between the city streets – she awakes and begins to prepare breakfast.

No two days are the same, and there is no telling who will come to visit and who will come to stay.

As she glances into the mirror whilst fixing her red, long wavy hair, a lifetime flashes before her eyes. Her lifetime. Her legacy. She remembers the stories: the pain, the challenges, the passion, and survival. As she sweeps her hair behind her ears, she glances over and views the several pictures of her family hung on the wall: her daughters, her sons, her pride and her joy.

The thudding sound of the rusty courtyard door awakes her from her reflection. The cleaner is arriving, humming softly upon entry carrying fresh produce from Baab Al – Amud (the Damascus Gate.) She greets the cleaner and welcomes her.

Click, the Fairuz tape begins to rattle in the player – and the cleaner begins to work and sing. Her strong voice echos throughout the house and out into the courtyard:

خدني ولا تخدني الفرح عالطريق حبك بيحصدني وماعندك رفيق

“Take me, joy is on the way, my love for you consumes me and you don’t have a companion”

And so she works – the meals, the visitors, the preparations for her family. Hours fly by and there is still more to be done. She joins in the cleaning, the sweeping.

After a while, the first neighbor arrives dressed in a suit and shiny black shoes that he has just polished. He is an Eritrean; he works late at night in the city center. Unfortunately, he does not own a television, so every Tuesday he comes to watch the latest news played on the Eritrean channel. He adjusts the channels and she starts to prepare the tea.

Colorful pictures flash before the unlikely pair.

“This is my city, my country. We have hotels there, people can visit..”

A myriad of colors floods the screen. As she listens to the music, she imagines what it would be like to wander through her friend’s distant-sounding homeland.

The kettle begins to sound indicating that the tea is finally ready.

They converse in broken Hebrew and Arabic whilst she pours the steaming tea into two tall clear glasses.

The flickering television continues to reveal the secrets and gems of Eritrea.

The neighbor leaves just before One o’clock, and she continues cleaning. After eating a little food, the maid prepares herself to leave, fixing her hijab across her face. Their eyes meet and they exchange a soft glance of warmth.

“See you tomorrow, Insha’allah”

As the day progresses her family begin to arrive. They come with their friends, their daughters, their sons. Within minutes the house is an array of different languages – Hebrew, Arabic, and some broken English – yes, all are loved here. ALL ARE WELCOMED HERE.

Some of the family stay for a few minutes, some stay for hours.

It’s 7:30pm and I walk up the stairs, three neighbors sit gathered around her. Those gathered smile and laugh together with her, she looks so radiant, so poised.

“Ahlan Sarah, habibti”

The neighbors shuffle to create some room and a chair is pulled up. We talk together in the courtyard whilst sipping our hot Arabic coffee. As my eye wanders, I see a white flower falling from the plant growing on the wall. Jasmine. It sways in the wind, slowly and softly falling in front of her, landing perfectly on her knees. When she sees it she smiles. She clasps the sweet flower in her hand and smells it with closed eyes. As her eyes open she looks at me, with a smile. Grasping the flower, she slowly places it into the corner of my hair. Her eyes are sparkling and she is beaming.

A wise woman once told me she was grateful and how she wanted to repay that blessing by loving others. A wise woman once told me to remind others of their worth. A wise woman once told me to love others unconditionally. The same wise woman has never once seemed unfulfilled. I have never once caught her on a quest to find herself, her identity or her calling – she is already aware of all three. I have learned her secret – counting our blessings does not guarantee us an easy life, however, it does give us the strength to find fulfillment in a world that does not revolve around ourselves. After all, to live is to love.

“If you can ever do anything ________, you must show people, true love, remind them of their own worth in any way that you can!”

البياض نصف الحسن بيت الظالم خراب ولكن بيت المحسن عمار

The house of a tyrant is a ruin but if you are charitable you are rich.



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The Jerusalem Series

ما هو الصديق الأكبر من الأخ؟

eyad editor

“إذا كان بإمكانك الحصول على شئ إضافي واحد في حياتك، فما الذي سيكون لديك؟”

أجابت: “أتمنى أن يكون لدي أخ

كيف يمكنني أن أعرف أنه سيتم الرد على طلبي؟

كان صباح يناير مشمسا عندما توجهنا إلى مدينة جديدة للمرة الأولى

احببة ان اتعرف على مدينة جديدة وقد دعتني صديقتي إلى بيتها وكنت ممتنة الفرصة لمشاهدة مدينة لاول مرة

التقينا جميعا في المدينة وذهبنا لتناول وجبتنا الأولى معا. جربنا أيضا أيس كريم محلى شهير مصنوع من قصب السكر

وفي وقت قصير أصبحنا أصدقاء رغم أنني لم أتكلم بالعربية ويتكلموا القليل من اللغة الإنكليزية

لقد عدت إلى منزلهم عدة مرات لأكل المقلوبة اللذيذة أو أشرب القهوة على الشرفة أثناء مشاهدة غروب الشمس الذهبي فوق تلال القرى المجاورة

في غضون ذلك أصبحت أختهم وأصبحوا اخواني

وكثيرا ما نجلس معا، ونضحك معا ونرقص معا أحيانا

غالبا ما ندرس معا، وسيكون هناك العديد من الكتب العربية والإنجليزية والرياضيات والعلوم المنتشرة على الطاولة

عندما أنا عدت إلى إنكلترا لم يتوقف التعلم – هو تلقى فقط يبدأ

كل بضعة أيام هم أرسلوا صور لواجبهم المنزلي وسألوا أسئلة عن قواعد اللغة الإنجليزية والمفردات الإنجليزية

أجبت على أسئلتهم بإرسال رسالة صوتية عندما كنت أمشي إلى الجامعة

في المقابل،انا أيضا رسلت لهم صورا لواجبي المنزلي وسألتهم أسئلة، أنهم أجبوا عليها فورا

من الصعب أن نعتقد أن سبع سنوات قد انقضت

لقد كانت السنوات السبع جميلة وأنا فخورة جدا بإخوني

بدأ بدر عامه الثالث في الجامعة، وهو مشيد جدا بمهارات إنكليزية استثنائية وهو في طريقه لتحقيق أشياء عظيمة. كشاب موهوب، ماهر ومتحفز، أنا متأكد من أن بدر ستصل إلى مرتفعات الأوساط الأكاديمية

وتخرج اياد من المدرسة الثانوية وسيبدأ دراسته الجامعية في غضون أسابيع. لقد عمل بجد وهو مثال رئيسي على المرونة والتصميم. إن مهاراته في مجال الأعمال استثنائية ولا يمكنني الانتظار لمشاهدة ثمار عمله الشاق

هادي هو مستكشف بطبيعته ولا يزال أمامه سنوات قليلة قبل أن يكمل امتحاناته. لذلك ليس هناك سوى وقت لطبيعته الفضولية والفورية أن تنمو. ويتعلم هادي من خلال تجربته ولا يفتقد أبدا فرصة لتحدي قدراته

أنا فخورة لأن لدي هؤلاء الإخوان في حياتي

انا ممتنة لرحلات التسوق، وليالي السينما، وسباقات بوليوود، والرحلات، والمكالمة على الهاتف

ناهيك عن مساعدتهم ودعمهم المستمر في دراستي وتأييدهم لكتابتي

لقد كان من الجميل مشاهدة كيف يمكن أن تؤدي اللطف وحسن الضيافة البسيطة إلى صداقات أقوى من الكلمات

لقد كنت متهورا لأشهد استعدادهم الكبير لمساعدة ودعم أخت لتحقيق أحلامها

إخواني, انا آمل أن أساعدكم بنفس الطريقة التي ساعدتوني بها على مدى السنوات السبع الماضية

أنتم خاصتان بالنسبة لي وسأعتز بمحادثاتنا وذكرياتنا إلى الأبد

الصدّيق يحب في كل وقت. اما الاخ فللشدة يولد

A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.


Jerusalem series

The Jerusalem Series

What greater friend than a brother?

Click here to read more stories from Jerusalem.

 

“If you could have one extra thing in your life, what would you have?”

“A brother,” I said.

How could I know that in a few years my wish would be answered?

It was a sunny January morning when we headed to a new city for the first time. Ola and I were exploring. Our kind friend had invited us to stay at her house overnight.

My friend had three sons and they met us in the city. We all went for our very first KFC meal together and tried the famous local Ice Cream made from sugar cane.

It did not take long for us to become friends, even though our communication was limited. At this point, I could not speak Arabic and they could only speak some English.

Time and time again I would return to their house; whether to eat delicious maqloubeh or to sit drinking coffee on the balcony watching the golden glowing sunset over the hills of the neighboring villages.

Within a matter of time, I became a sister and they became brothers.

We would often find ourselves sitting together, laughing together and yes, even dancing together. It was certainly not unusual for us to study together and there would often be many Arabic, English, Maths and Science books scattered across the table. We learned together, practiced together and worked together.

When I returned to England the learning did not stop – it had only just begun.

Every few days my phone would ‘ping’ with pictures of homework assignments and questions about English vocabulary and grammar. I would often answer their questions by sending a voice message on my daily morning commutes to University.

In return, I would also send them pictures of my homework assignments and ask them questions, which they faithfully answered on a daily basis.

Since those early days, seven years have passed – I can barely believe it! How beautiful those years have been and I am so very proud of all three of them.

Bader is starting his second year in University, he is a high achiever with exceptional English skills and he is on the way to achieving great things. As a talented, skilled and motivated young man, I am certain that Bader will reach the heights of academia.

Eyad has just graduated from his tawjihi (A-Levels) and he will start his University degree in a matter of weeks. Eyad has worked hard and he is a key example of resilience and determination. His skills in business are phenomenal and I can not wait to see the fruits of his hard work unfold.
Hadi is an explorer by nature and he still has a few years ahead of him before he will complete his tawjihi (A- Levels). Therefore there is nothing but time for his inquisitive and curious nature to grow. Hadi learns by experiencing and he never misses an opportunity to question and challenge his abilities.

I consider myself so very honored to have these three fun-loving brothers in my life. I am grateful for all of our shopping trips, outings, movie nights, Bollywood singalongs, journeys, and phonecalls. Not to mention of course their constant help and support with my studies and their support of my writing.

It really has been beautiful to watch how simple-hearted kindness and hospitality can lead to friendships which are stronger than words.

How humbling to witness such a great willingness to help and support a sister to achieve her dreams!

My brothers, I only hope to be able to help you in the same way that you have helped me over the past seven years.

You mean so very much to me and I will cherish our conversations and memories forever.

.الصدّيق يحب في كل وقت. اما الاخ فللشدة يولد

A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.


Jerusalem series