My ‘miracle’ trip to Israel in a time of war — Tshego Motaung

Tshego Motaung celebrates winning a ticket to Israel from El Al airline in May last year

On March 7, exactly five months after Israel was attacked on October 7, I  travelled to Israel. I had miraculously won a return ticket from El Al in May 2023 — way before the war. At the time I won this ticket I was already scheduled to take a group to Israel at the end of that month, so, I knew God had already provided for my next trip!

Little did I know I would have to go alone in a time of war.

Once my travel dates were fixed, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ} announced an Ambassadors’ Tour, with tour dates right in the middle of my travel dates. I immediately knew that I wanted to be part of it, so that I would know how best to readjust an upcoming Israel tour I am leading from May 30 to June 8 2024. [See banner at bottom of this page].

As the time was getting closer, I must admit that reports of rockets being fired, possible escalation of war with Lebanon and tensions in Jerusalem over the Ramadan period brought concerns. By this time God had supernaturally moved mountains to provide for my trip and I knew cancelling was not an option.

Breakfast in Jerusalem with ministry friends Reuven and Mary-Lou Doron

My other concern was regarding how I would be received in Israel as a South African, following  our government’s decision to initiate a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice. I kept wondering if people would throw eggs at me for being South African. One thing was clear, this was not going to be a “business-as-usual” trip.

I was pleasantly surprised to see someone holding a “Welcome South Africa” notice for another group as I left the aircraft. And I was even more surprised when someone called my name – it was Charisse Zeifert of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. Even though the welcome party was not for me, it was enough to calm my fears.

Surprise meeting with Rick Ridings of Succat Hallel prayer house in Jerusalem

I appreciated that despite our government’s vicious attacks on Israel, Israel has not retaliated in the same manner. We remain one of the few countries that can travel visa-free to Israel.

Our ministry friends Reuven and Mary-Lou Doron met me at the airport and we enjoyed a welcome breakfast. Later that day I bumped into Rick Ridings of Succat Hallel prayer house — a complete miracle as he was not meant to be there. This was enough to confirm that my steps were. indeed, ordered by the Lord.

I had an opportunity to walk about the city and into the Old City before our tour started. The immediate thing I noticed was the absence of tourist groups that normally fill the streets of Jerusalem, as well as an increased number of soldiers.

Tshego, front, second from left, with ICEJ Ambassadors’ Tour group on the Temple Mount, Jerusalem at the start of their tour

Our tour kicked off with a visit to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall — this was at the time of the new moon and the start of the fast of Ramadan. After a time of prayer, we visited some areas that were affected by the attacks on October 7. From my visits to Kibbutz Be’eri, the Nova Festival site and a place I can only describe as a car graveyard, I can say that despite what I had seen through the media, nothing would have prepared me for what I saw with my eyes. It was clear the intention of the attackers was to kill as many people as possible.

I couldn’t help but feel like I was walking through the Yad Yashem (Holocaust Museum) all over again, yet I was witnessing the aftermath of events that took place only five months ago. What happened to “Never Again”?

Unlike October 6 1973, the Yom Kippur War, where the Egyptian army took Israel by surprise, this was not a war of soldiers against soldiers but an attack on civilians.

The ruined Kibbutz Be’eri, house of Ibor Losev one of the victims of the October 7 attacks

The story of how the Ethiopian Aaliyah centre was spared an attack touched my heart. Knowing the journey of the Ethiopian Jews I realised it would have been a great tragedy if they had been struck. The Ethiopians were swiftly evacuated in a very difficult operation.

The courage of the centre manager, who risked his own life, leaving his wife and children and using back routes to get to the centre and mobilise a few soldiers to guard it that morning, stands out as a commendable act of selfless leadership in a crisis.

The tour group near Israel’s border with Lebanon

We travelled from the south to the north of Israel, to a town that is 4km from the border with Lebanon, where the situation remains very fragile. Everywhere we went people expressed great appreciation that we had come to visit them in this difficult period, because they felt that the whole world hated them –especially South Africa.

Despite the national trauma, there is a resilience in the people that cannot be explained. Ordinary Israelis from all groups have stepped up to respond to the needs in the nation as a result of the war. From helping evacuated families with activities for children, to food stations that provide meals to the soldiers, to helping farmers with harvesting their crops, there is just a willingness to do something to make a contribution to the national wellbeing.

The group poses for a photo in Jerusalem at the end of their tour

The Israel-Palestine conflict is complex. However, the hostile position our government has taken against Israel has not helped towards finding common ground. Instead, it has affected our own project of nation-building. South Africans perceived to support Israel are continuously coming under fire. This ought not to be happening in a democratic, rainbow nation. People must be free to hold different opinions without being victimised. 

Tshego says her miracle tour of Israel ended with her receiving a copy of the book ‘Israel the Miracle‘ from author Jonathan Feldstein, who helped her get her bags onto a train intime to catch her flight home

However — especially at this time of Purim — the words of Mordecai to Queen Esther continue to echo through every generation.  “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance shall arise for the Jews from elsewhere, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows but that you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this and for this very occasion?” — Esther 4:14

I am looking forward to returning to Israel again quite soon. We will be flying out on the night of May 29, when I will be leading an 8-nights-and-10-days tour. You may have noticed that we will be departing on the night of our upcoming elections, giving group members time to cast their votes. The tour date was arranged well before the elections date was announced. Maybe divine timing?

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