When we boarded the plane in Tel Aviv on Friday morning, I picked up a copy of the English edition of the Jerusalem Post. The headlines reported that the president of Israel is taking a leave of absence because of serious accusations of sexual misconduct. One story noted that should he eventually step down or be impeached, his successor would be Majallie Whbee, a member of the Knesset from the Druse community. What exactly is the significance of Israel having a Druse in the largely-ceremonial position of president? Here is how the article frames the answer:
Whbee would become the first non-Jewish leader of a Jewish state or monarchy since the death in 4 BCE of King Herod, a descendant of Idumean slaves whose father was converted to Judaism, but whose mother was a Nabataean.
I was greatly struck by the reference to King Herod. That would be the same King Herod mentioned in Matthew 2, the man called Herod the Great who built the magnificent temple in Jerusalem that Jesus knew and loved, the same man who built so many palaces across the land, and the same man to whom the Magi came seeking the one born king of the Jews. He is the same Herod who ordered the slaughter of the infant boys of Bethlehem.
You would never see a reference like this on the front page of a major American newspaper. But in Israel the past and the present merge together so when the nation faces a crisis, the best way to understand the transition in leadership is to reach back 2000 years. In one sentence we go from Herod in 4 BC to a non-Jewish president in 2007. It seemed fitting to read about Herod because Abed had been telling us about him every day during our tour. No matter where you are -- in Caesarea or Beit She'an or Masada or Jerusalem or Bethlehem -- Herod's legacy shapes the history of the Holy Land. And then he shows up on the front page of the paper the day we leave. That's Israel--where the past is never that far away.