In memory of Landra Kerekes June 13th, 1972 – October 9th, 2022
This post contains a lot of photographs, so my writing might appear oddly broken up by them on mobile devices.
This year, I had the pleasure of being in the Land of Israel during Sukkot (2022). But for the first time, my heart was torn about going. This was especially surprising since Covid had prevented me from traveling since my last trip in 2019. I felt a great deal of guilt about my heart not being completely elated at the great blessing and opportunity of taking my feet to Jerusalem during the feast.
There were two reasons for my apprehension. The first was due to the fact that I would have to miss my son’s turning blue ceremony in the Army. Though I was able to briefly see him in July when he turned green, I do not know when I will be able to see him again. It was difficult on my momma’s heart to miss this occasion. The second is the reason for this post. One of my dearest friends was in her last weeks of life, and after seeing her during the Days of Awe the Shabbat morning before Yom Kippur, I knew she would likely pass while I was away and I would miss any opportunities to see her in this life again.
But I had made a commitment in service to Adonai and His people. Mercifully, I was able to speak with my son before my flight took off, and I rested knowing that my husband, other son, and my mother in love were there to support him. Our first full day in the Holy Land was on Shabbat. We were in Jerusalem and spent the day in the Old City. I brought all of my anguish to Adonai at the Kotel. As usual, I imagined the Holy One looking through the lattice of the Wall at the many gathered there to worship Him to be as close as possible to where the Temple once stood. I knew somehow, He would soothe my heart and give me grace to find the joy I should have at the feast.
“My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, he is standing behind our wall, He is looking through the windows, He is peering through the lattice. My beloved responded and said to me, ‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come along.” (Song of Solomon 2:9-10, NASB)
That night, our group arrived at Biblical Tamar Park (Ir Ovot), our home base for tours, located in the Aravah desert in the region of the Wilderness of Zin, also not far from the Dead Sea. Tamar is an archeology site in Ir Ovot with seven periods of history being represented there. It is one of the forty-two stations the Israelite’s camped at during their wilderness wanderings. (Num. 21:10-11) It was in this fascinating place that we entered into the first day of Sukkot. Tamar has a huge year round sukkah, one of my favorite features of the park.
On the first Yom Tov of the feast, we didn’t have touring on the agenda, only celebrating the first festival Shabbat of Sukkot. After breakfast, I received word that my dear friend, Landra Kerekes, had crossed over from this life to the next. If you knew her, she would have whooped and shouted in praise that she was given such an awesome Yahrzeit. And if anyone ever deserved such a great honor, it would have been her. She was completely sold out to our King, and would willingly go and do whatever He asked of her with great joy. I could tell you many stories about how Adonai used this woman, and after hearing them, you would be inspired to go and do the same. Her love knew no bounds, and to know her was to know the Messiah she served. Our women’s group was profoundly affected and changed forever by her example, and she will be missed greatly.
So on the day when I should have been joyous, I was heartbroken. I tried to set my tears aside, but they freely flowed every time her memory came to my thoughts. I was thankful that I was able to retreat to my room when the grief was especially heavy. Dr. Alewine graciously said Kaddish for her while we were in the sukkah that morning. That afternoon, she taught a lesson in the airconditioned dining hall. I sat in the very back, knowing my focus was lacking. One of the things we teach our tour groups is the Song of the Aravah from Isaiah 35:1-2, of which the curator of Biblical Tamar Park gets its name: Blossoming Rose.
“The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the LORD, and the excellency of our God.” (Isaiah 35:1-2, KJV)
We had just finished practicing the song, and Dr. Alewine was wrapping up her message, when one of the tourists tapped me on the shoulder. She said, “There is a woman here looking for the family with five children.” I got up and went outside to meet her and take her to the park manager. I knew of the family she spoke of, but they had traveled to Jerusalem before we arrived. I offered to walk her to the office to find the park manager. Along the way, the woman asked me what we were doing in the dining hall. No doubt she had heard us singing. I told her we were a tour group from the US and Canada celebrating the feast of Sukkot, and that our teacher had just given a lesson.
She asked me if we believed in Yeshua. I said, “Yes!” She said, “Me too. And, I am also here for the feast.” Her accent was heavy, and I couldn’t quite place it at first. She said, “But, we do not have a sukkah.” I exclaimed, “We have a sukkah, come and see. You are welcome to join us in our sukkah.” She entered the grand sukkah and commented on how lovely it was. We continued toward where I thought the manager would be, but she wasn’t there. The Park is large, and the manager could have been anywhere on property where she was needed.
I offered to walk the woman to the other side of the archeology site, where we might find the manager. But, my eyes were swollen and tired from tears, so I asked her if she minded if I returned to the dining hall to get my sunglasses. She obliged, and I offered to fill her water bottle. Afterwards, we headed back outside. As we walked, the woman asked me if the well on property was dry. I told her that I didn’t believe it was. Then, she asked me my name. In turn, I asked for hers. I had trouble with the pronunciation. She said, “It’s a French version of Mary. Just call me Miriam.”
Miriam again asked me about the wells on property. “Are they dry?” she asked. I wasn’t sure if she was referring to the ancient well at Tamar – historically, it was an oasis along the old spice route in the desert – or something more modern. I asked for clarification, and she indeed meant the ancient well. Again, she asked, “Is the well dry?” I had never seen water come from the well, but knew that water still flowed underneath the Park. I told her so.
She then tells me that she arrived at the Park by hitchhiking. I looked her up and down. She didn’t look like a hitchhiker. She was well dressed, with sunflowers on her shirt/vest. She saw my look of surprise and laughed. Then, she began to tell me several stories about her adventures of witnessing of Yeshua. Hitchhiking was one of her favorite ways to do so. She had just been with a twenty year old Jewish man that works at the salt plant on the Dead Sea. She said, “He was so hungry for the Lord that he didn’t want me to get out of the car.” I thought, how brave and bold this woman is! And then, tears began to stream down my face from behind my sunglasses. I was profoundly struck by the notion that she was an odd Swedish/German Hebrew speaking version of my dear friend, Landra! She didn’t look or sound like Landra, but her living faith and actions were definitely like her.
I apologized for my tears and explained their cause. She reached up and wiped the tears from my face with her hand. She told me they were beautiful and that my friend was now with God having the best Sukkot ever. (This only made me want to cry more.) After realizing that we could not find the Park manager, I asked her if we could give her a ride somewhere. She pointed toward Scorpion’s Ascent and Miriam’s Spring (the area where Miriam died in the wilderness) and said that God would provide her a car.
I knew the area she pointed toward was hardly traveled and that the sun would be setting soon. I asked her again, and she laughed at me. “Don’t you
know that God provides everything we need in the desert? But first, I will go up on the Tel and see if I can find the well,” she said. (This is also something my friend Landra would remind me of.)
“Miriam, it was a pleasure meeting you. You have brought some comfort to my grieving heart today,” I replied. “Are you sure we can’t give you a ride?”
She said, “No thank you. Have a blessed Sukkot, Kisha.”
With that, she turned and began ascending the Tel at Tamar (Ir Ovot), and I began walking back to the dining hall. As soon as she was out of my presence, the oddity of the whole encounter hit me like a ton of bricks. Who was that woman? Miriam looking for a well? Really? I was awestruck by the thought that I had just entertained an angel unaware. When she was with me, nothing seemed unusual, but the minute I walked away, my mind began to race. I looked back, but I didn’t see her.
Whether she was a heavenly or earthly messenger, I know not. What I do know is that she was meant to bring me comfort in the midst of grief, and the fortitude to push forward for the sake of our tourists and the holy festival. Later, I asked if anyone had seen the woman come down from the Tel or leave the Park. Not one of the forty had seen her leave, even though the class had finished and many were outside. Also, the Park manager was suddenly exactly where I thought she would be. Miriam, who had reminded me of my friend Landra, and who had asked me three times if the well was dry, was gone.
As I pondered the encounter, many things became obvious (after the fact). Landra had a women’s ministry called “Mayim,” waters. When Biblical Miriam died, the congregation lacked for water. (Num 20:1-2) But in Landra’s case, the ancient wells of the Torah that she re-dug are still freely flowing with mayim chayim, living waters. If I could see Miriam again, I would tell her that the well is definitely NOT dry!
Song of the Well
Numbers 21:10-20 (CJB) The people of Isra’el traveled on and camped at Ovot. 11 From Ovot they traveled and camped at `Iyei-Ha`avarim, in the desert fronting Mo’av on the east. 12 From there they traveled and camped in Vadi Zered. 13 From there they traveled and camped on the other side of the Arnon, in the desert; this river comes out of the territory of the Emori; for the Arnon is the boundary between Mo’av and the Emori. 14 This is why it says, in the Book of the Wars of Adonai, “. . . Vahev at Sufah, the vadis of Arnon, 15 and the slope of the vadis extending as far as the site of `Ar, which lie next to the territory of Mo’av.” 16 From there they went on to Be’er [well]; that is the well about which Adonai said to Moshe, “Assemble the people, and I will give them water.” 17 Then Isra’el sang this song: “Spring up, oh well! Sing to the well 18 sunk by the princes, dug by the people’s leaders with the scepter, with their staffs!” From the desert they went to Mattanah, 19 from Mattanah to Nachali’el, from Nachali’el to Bamot, 20 and from Bamot to the valley by the plain of Mo’av at the start of the Pisgah range, where it overlooks the desert.
I expect Miriam already knows the well she asked about isn’t dry. Toward the end of Sukkot, I asked our bus driver to drive us down the road so the tourists could see Scorpion’s Ascent (Ma’ Ale Akrabim) and nearby Miriam’s Spring. He said, “You can’t go that way. The road is closed. Didn’t you see the signs?” No. Apparently, I had missed them every single time we came in and out of Tamar Park.
I was flabbergasted. The way “Miriam” was headed is currently impassable by car or bus due to flooding tearing up the road. Where did Miriam go? She was dropped off right where the signs say the road is closed. Not coincidentally, each night of Sukkot, I gave a mini teaching on the seven Ushpizin or guests of the sukkah. (I will post about this before Sukkot next year on Grace in Torah.) Sometimes the Ushpizin are called the Seven Shepherds. (Micah 5:4-5) Essentially, these guests or shepherds represent seven particular attributes of God. There is a patriarch and matriarch associated with each trait and they are said to inspect one’s sukkah (heart) as we graciously invite them in to do so. Obviously, this an object lesson. They are parables of the unseen Holy Spirit of God doing this work in our hearts.
Just a couple hours after Miriam left the Park, the second night of Sukkot began. The shepherds for night two are Isaac and Miriam, both associated with water and wells. Without realizing it, I had invited “Miriam” into our sukkah and I gave her water to drink. She was a guest of the Park, and we gave her hospitality. As I sat that evening and pondered these things, I was in awe of the Holy One.
At last, my heart was settled. I felt like I had been given grace to suspend my grief for a little while. But, the minute I got on the plane to return home, the tears returned. I am so grateful for the many lovely women in my midst that have allowed me to cry on their figurative shoulders since returning home. Many of us first met Landra because a friend invited her to one of our new moon gatherings. We plan to remember Landra as we celebrate the eighth month tomorrow evening. Looking back through photos, I just realized today that I knew her for a glorious seven years, a full Shemittah cycle. What a gift, Abba!
I am still in awe that before the close of the first day of Sukkot, the King of the Universe sent me a comforter, a guest to entertain, and a reminder that the wells that Landra dug will continue to flow with living waters. She might be gone, but her wells are NOT dry. She lived like a Renewed man, like resurrected flesh, because she really had died to the old Landra. I can’t tell you how much I learned from this woman, not just her words (which were never lashon hara), but most especially through her actions. Her ministry lives on because Yeshua lives. Landra was a blossom in the desert, a rose, or perhaps a sunflower like Miriam wore. God chose to pick that beautiful bloom, but we still have her blessed memory and legacy until we meet again in the Olam Haba. As I recounted this story to our Shabbat fellowship this weekend, someone pointed out how sunflowers always have their faces pointed toward the sun. Hallelujah! That was my sister, my friend. Her face never ceased from focusing on The Son. Thank you, Miriam, for wearing this beautiful bloom.
I found mayim in the desert this year, a well that I can sing to. May it spring up in all of us. “Spring up, oh well! Sing to the well sunk by the princes, dug by the people’s leaders with the scepter, with their staffs!” (Num 21:17) Thank you for being the best earthly counselor, Landra (a.k.a. Etsah). I will strive to lead the flock to the wells of salvation in the same spirit of love and honor you showed each little ewe. Blessed are You, O Adonai our God, dayan ha’emet – the True Judge.
The following video was recorded by Landra in May of 2020. The Tempest series of videos involve insights she gleaned while dealing with her diagnosis. This is one of my favorites. As I rewatched it for this post, I couldn’t help but to be dumbfounded by our experience on the first night in the sukkah this year at Tamar. The wind was up, and we were literally being sandblasted by the dust and sand blowing around. The whole group was made of those who persevere – and we stayed in the sukkah and fellowshipped despite this great irritant to our flesh. I have NO doubt that Landra would have cheered us on, exclaiming, “Take it all, Lord!” (Referring to Him stripping away our flesh.) Your memory is a blessing, dear sister!
 Yahrzeit is the anniversary of one’s death.
 Many of the seven are found in the following blessing of David: 1 Chronicles 29:10-13 (TLV) David blessed Adonai before the whole congregation saying, “Blessed are You, Adonai, God of Israel our father, from eternity to eternity! 11 Yours, Adonai, is the greatness, the power (Gevurah) and the splendor (Tiferet), and the (Hod) and the majesty, indeed everything in heaven and earth. Yours is the kingdom (Malchut), Adonai and You are exalted above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from You. You rule over everything. In Your hand is power and might, in Your hand, to magnify and give strength to all. 13 Now, our God, we give you thanks and praise Your glorious Name.”
The other traits are Chesed (Lovingkindness), Netzach (eternity/victory), Yesod (Foundation). For each trait, there is a patriarch and matriarch that lived out that trait in some manner for us to learn from by example. Look for a post in the fall of 2023 for a complete explanation.