By Joanne Guarnieri Hagemeyer

The Crash of the Heavens

…O, Lord, my God,
I pray that these things never end:
The sand and the sea,
The rush of the waters,
The crash of the heavens,
The prayer of man. *

As I listened to Rebekah’s hauntingly beautiful voice, sitting in Zippori’s open-air amphitheater, I closed my eyes, felt the heat of Israel’s sun, and the soft current of Israel’s breeze on my skin. So astonishing are the acoustics of this ancient architecture, I could hear, and even feel, every nuance of the poetry being sung, moving me to tears. I thought about the loveliness of Israel, and the depth of love those who live here feel for their land, hard-fought for, and hard-won.

To volunteer for a dig, one naturally expects the itinerary of digging at a tel, sifting through pails of earth for tiny fragments of antiquity, cleaning the buckets and buckets of pottery, bone, metals, and “special finds,” sorting, registering, and tabulating all the artifacts. Yet, as my hands gently whisk pebbles and earth from something last touched two and a half millennia ago, I begin to experience the arc of time, my fingertips brushing against another’s from long past. I may not speak the language of ancient Assyrians, nor worship Phoenician gods; but, I understand beauty and yearning, I understand power and grace. We people have always been who we are.

Touring Zippori, “the ornament of Galilee,” brought in this swirling context of history, military drama, diverse gods yet kinship with Akko’s community of spirit. It was here Rebekah gave us the gift of her music, the gift of Hannah Szenes’ poetry, and the gift of suspended time, experiencing for a few moments the longing, anguish, and ardor of an ancient people, loved of God.

* Hannah Szenes (Senesh) was born in Hungary in 1921. She emigrated to Palestine in 1939, but returned as a resistance worker in 1944 to aid in the effort to smuggle Jews out of Hungary. She was caught, tortured, and killed that same year. Hannah wrote prolifically, and many of her poems are deeply meaningful to Israelis, Jews, and others.

[Hannah Szenes, Budapest, July 17, 1939 | Photographer Unknown – This image is available from National Library of Israel under the digital ID002782783 | Public Domain]

Rebekah Call is a PhD student in Religious Studies—Hebrew Bible at Claremont Graduate University. She came to Akko to increase her knowledge of the archaeological process and to build good relationships with the faculty and with the other students.

[Cover photo: The Zippori amphitheater before restoration | Tiberius Zwi Keller Pikiwiki Israel [CC BY 2.5 (]