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Senior sets her sights on the Holy Land

Senior Rebekah Peace won’t be home for Christmas this year, nor will she be able to walk at her December graduation. Instead, she will be going with her sister, Jessica, on an all expense paid 10-day trip to the Holy Land through Birthright Israel.

Funded by the Israeli government, philanthropists, and various Jewish organizations, the program selects Jews between the ages of 18 to 26 years old to travel to Israel for free every year. The program provides accommodations, transportation, food, tour guides and a military escort for the entire trip.

A year ago, Peace discovered her Jewish heritage when her father was doing family tree research. Her ancestors had fled Germany and the Ukraine in the early 1890s to escape persecution and when they came to the United States, they hid their identity, fearing further persecution. The secret remained hidden until Peace’s father’s discovery.

“I always wished I was Hebrew, but never realized I was,” she said. “It’s exciting to be part of the chosen people, and to know we (Christians) are now the ones reaching out to the world. Since I found out, I’ve been more interested in the news about that area, and I’ve noticed God’s blessings to me and people around me more.”

Peace experienced God’s blessings first hand and believes that God was the only reason she and her sister were accepted into the selective program.

“I am able to go to Israel purely because of God’s unmerited favor. It makes no logical sense that I was accepted,” Peace said. “They were intrigued by my story, but one of the questions in the interview was whether we practiced another religion. Of course, we were both going to be honest. After that, I thought I had a slim chance. When I found out we were accepted, I wasn’t able to concentrate for two whole days. I couldn’t hold it in.”

Peace and her sister, a sophomore who attends California Baptist College, originally applied for the summer 2009 program but were placed on the waiting list. Unwilling to accept defeat, they reapplied for the winter “Amazing Israel Routes Travel” trip and were accepted. They will leave Dec. 11 to spend a few days in New York City before catching a plane to Israel for their trip from Dec. 14-25.

During the trip they will visit various Jewish landmarks, including Jerusalem, the Western Wall, the Museum of Tolerance, Masada and various Mediterranean beaches. Peace said they will also swim in the Dead Sea and ride camels, which she hopes won’t spit on her.

“Being in the land that is described in the Bible will give me new lenses for reading the Bible. I’ll have an insider’s view,” she said.

Unfortunately, the group won’t visit many of the locations significant to Christian believers, such as Nazareth. Israel is 75 percent Jewish and everyone else going on the trip will be Jewish. It will be a great chance for her and her sister to learn more about their newly discovered Jewish Heritage, but they will have to deal with cultural and religious differences.

“We’re going to have to very careful and use wisdom, and we’ll have to know when to speak and when not to speak,” Peace said.

Peace has several advantages in the change of environment, however. She said she likes trying new foods, and she has been preparing for this trip, even if unknowingly at first, ever since she found out about her Jewish heritage and began studying about what it means to be a Jew. She said she has talked with other people who have been to Israel, as well as with fellow Messianic Jews.

Another advantage Peace has is that she minors in Intercultural Studies.

“I’m learning how to adjust to a completely new culture,” she said. “It’s a chance to put to use what I’ve learned. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

The main thing Peace said she needs is prayer.

“While you are in the midst of finals and preparing for Christmas, please pray for my sister and I,” she said. “We need prayer for wisdom, boldness, spiritual protection, and more of God’s grace.”

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