31 year old Ben Tzion told The Times of Israel (http://bit.ly/2zomQMv) that his travels through the Middle East are born of respect for other cultures and love of his fellow man.
He sees himself as a private ambassador for the State of Israel throughout his journeys, which have taken him through Iran, Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Despite the obvious religious differences, Tzion said that he has been received warmly.
“No one in the Arab world ever approached me with hostility,” said Tzion. “People know that I am different. They see that I wear a kippah or a different Arab garment. They come to me and ask me where I’m from. I tell them that I am from Jerusalem, Israel and their first reaction usually is, ‘Wow. Welcome.’”
Tzion is careful to dress appropriately when entering Muslim holy sites. A photograph taken last week at Islam’s second holiest site shows him wearing an Arabic garment and head covering while pointing to the Hebrew letters that spell his name on the tefillin bag he carries at all times.
“I knew I wanted to go the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina,” said Tzion. “Obviously I would not go there in jeans. That would be disrespectful.”
Not everyone has appreciated Tzion taking his message of friendship and brotherhood to religious sites. Video posted by Tzion to Instagram yesterday of his visit to the Mosque of the Prophet was viewed over 30,000 times and among the 3,500 comments on the footage were expressions of anger from Muslim users. Instagram has since suspended Tzion’s account.
Tzion declined to reveal if he used his Israeli or Russian passport in his trips but said that his travels are legal, with all of the necessary documentation to enter every country.
He makes no attempt to hide his Jewish heritage or Israeli citizenship and typically times his visits with Chanukah, seeing the holiday theme of light as a figurative way to reach out to others. Tzion noted that he has never felt unsafe or threatened and that his message seems to resonate with the people that he meets.
“They tell me that they love Israel and the Jewish people,” said Tzion. “Among regular people there is no hatred. I was in Beirut two weeks ago. There’s no hatred. People are friendly.”
Last winter Tzion traveled to Tehran and to Qom, a Shiite holy city, where he visited with college friends from Persia, both Jewish and Muslim. Tzion said that Iran, with its deep historical significance, has always interested him.
“Mesopotamia was the birthplace of science and medicine and its where the Babylonian Talmud originated,” said Tzion. “Jewish people have been there for thousands of years.”
Tzion’s Facebook page is filled with portraits taken with people he has met on his travels and bear messages of harmony and brotherhood.
One photograph taken last week shows Tzion with his arm around a smiling Arab man in Medina along with the words, “With my dear brother Nasser number 1 #Chief in #Medina #SaudiaArabia #Jewish and #Arab #People share common #History and #Blood lineage to Abraham/Ibrahim. With #Love and mutual #Respect, #Peace would come to the entire #MiddleEast.”