April 7th was a wonderful day for me, particularly the morning. We left the hotel in Tiberias at about 8:00 A.M. By 9:30 we were in a small tour boat navigating the Sea of Galilee. The waters were calm and the crew was very hospitable. They unfurled an American flag and played our national anthem for us. It was a kind gesture, the sort of thing that has a tendency to tickle the American ego. About twenty minutes into the ride the crew played Israeli folk music and led us in an Israeli folk dance. It was all very nice, but the highlight for me was sitting next to our tour guide, Amos Davidowitz.
I’ve never met a man quite like Amos. He’s part historian, part archaeologist, part soldier, and part philosopher. He’s 100% a family man and thoroughly Jewish. He’s committed to the life and ideals of his kibbutz.
Amos was actually born in Brooklyn, the son of a rabbi. He moved to Israel with his father when he was about twelve. Upon learning this much about his family history, I was curious to know more. Later on the trip, at Yad Vashem, he told us that he can’t trace his roots back very far at all. The Nazis had systematically destroyed all traces of his family tree, including people and documentation of their existence.
Amos the historian and Amos the archaeologist seem to be a unified whole. As we visited sites he would often pick up what appeared to be meaningless pieces of rock. He would hold them up and proclaim, “This is pottery from the time of the second temple.” He’d occasionally take a piece of rock to his mouth, taste it, and tell us that “This is a piece of a clay jar that’s about three thousand years old.” On the temple mount he told us that “Without doubt, Jesus ascended these steps.” “He almost certainly turned over the tables of the money changers here.”
The history and archaeology I’d learned in seminary seemed like dead letter in comparison.
“Chasing terrorists” is one the professional roles Amos claims. He’s a military man. Yet, there’s something very unique about his view of honor, duty, and ethics. He’s given great thought to what he does and why he does it. In 2005 he drafted an “ethical will.” A month or so before I left for Vietnam I had a will drafted. It was short and sweet. “Send the body here.” “Give what little I have to my mother.” Amos’s will is 12 chapters and 42 pages long. The title of the will is “A Path of Peace in the Field of Battle.” The chapter titles give witness to the depth of his thought – “Love is Like Checkers” “Being Jewish, or Anything Else.” “Between Peace and War.” There’s very little I can say that will add justice to what Amos has written. A small sample of his thought will suffice: “I have led men into battle, through battle and to the end of battle, but you can never lead men out of battle. It always stays with you. I fight because my country is at war, but I choose to labor for peace because I know war will solve nothing.”
As we made our way across the Sea of Galilee I sat quietly next to Amos and thought of what are common roots. I’ve seen Salvatore Dali’s depiction of the last supper. Jesus is at the center. He’s blonde and in appearance he’s Aryan. Jesus was a Jew. I suspect he looked a lot like Amos. His thinking was Jewish. His temperament was Jewish. I think he was a man’s man, in the same way Amos is. I don’t think a pasty-faced Aryan could get a small band of Jewish fishermen to follow him. No way!
Amos talked openly about the pain the world of Christianity has brought to the Jewish people over the centuries. One day he talked about the theological stream called “replacement theology,” the idea that the Christian Church has replaced the Jews and Israel as “God’s “chosen.” The idea started early in Christian history and gave a philosophical foothold for those who hated the Jews to formulate even more evil philosophies.
Thankfully, there are newer streams of theology that see Christians and Christianity as having been grafted in to the original vine of history. In Holy Writ we are called the wild olive that has been grafted in. We find our strength and sustenance in roots that are Jewish.
What Amos and the Jewish people have given us is a great gift. We are heirs to a promise of a Jewish consciousness that author Thomas Cahill said “Was animated and kept warm by the breath of God.”
This was Amos’s great gift to me. I’ll always be thankful.