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Published: June 17th 2005
After 4 months of independent travel we weren’t sure if we would like being on an organized tour…it was a golden opportunity. An opportunity to cover more ground in a shorter time, to learn more history from our guide and to meet wonderful fellow travelers we now call friends.
WARNING…WARNING … THIS IS THE LONGEST TRAVELBLOG WE HAVE WRITTEN! We have seen so much in the last 10 days that we can’t do it justice in words. This is our attempt… but our advice is to try to see Israel for yourself.
The pilgrim tour offers the opportunity to be baptized in the Jordan River. Twelve of our group decided to take part in the touching ceremony. "j" wanted to be re-baptized since she was so young the first time. She felt that she would always remember being baptized in the Jordan River, like Jesus was. The baptizing minister was from South Africa. He had a beautiful accent which made his words and prayers seem somehow more moving.
We visited the Mount of Beatitudes where it is believed Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. A peaceful place overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The Franciscans built a church
here, that now sits on the hillside. Nearby are the ruins of Capernaum, where Jesus called the disciples Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew. Excavations have revealed the ruins of a home that is believed to have been Peter’s. A partially restored ancient Synagogue is a reminder of where Jesus preached and taught while staying with Peter.
On our way to the Dead Sea we visited the ruins of Beth-shean. As we walked in the HOT sun, among the ruins of a place that excavations have shown to be over 6000 years old, it helped us to comprehend the history that has taken place in Israel. The Bible records in I Samuel 31:10 that the body of King Saul (who the Philistines killed in battle) was hung from the walls of Beth-shean. Hot, sticky and tired our tour left Beth-Shean and drove into the dry wilderness leading to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth.
Did you know that you can’t drown in the Dead Sea? The salt content is so high that everyone floats. As a matter of fact you couldn’t get your head into the water without trying VERY HARD! Of course you wouldn’t want
to since it would sting your eyes if you did. We had a great time just sitting back and floating around in the water. It’s such a weird, but wonderful experience. If you reach down to pick up a handful of “sand” it is pure salt. Your skin feels soft and oily and if you lick your lips you can taste the salt. One word of advice here….whatever you do, don’t shave your legs before going in. IT WILL STING! We spent a night in the Le Meriden Dead Sea Hotel where we had a great time swimming in the Dead Sea and pool. Allana and Janna loved spending time with the other kids on the tour. Could it be…they are getting tired of us after 4 months together? Surely Not!
Our tour guide, Mickey (he calls himself our Jewish Mom) gave us a little break from the early wake up calls and let us have a later start the next morning. Feeling recharged and rested we headed for Masada. The 1300ft. plateau is located along the edge of the Judean Desert and overlooks the Dead Sea. We took the cable car to the top of the plateau. The
Where the desert meets the salty sea
views are amazing but what makes Masada a unforgettable place is it’s history. King Herod chose Masada to build a refuge and luxurious palace. There were well stocked storerooms and a large water storage cistern. Many slaves must have lost their lives in building the fortress and delivering the water to the high plateau when it there was no rain to fill the cisterns. King Herod had so many enemies he wanted to have a place to hide that would be very difficult to attack. Masada certainly fit the bill.
At the visitor center we viewed a film that explained the drama of the desperate last stand of the Jewish zealots in 73 A.D. When faced after three years of battle with certain defeat by the Romans, the zealots chose 10 men by lot to kill all 960 of the men, women and children. When the Romans finally entered Masada they found only a tragic silence. The film ended by asking the question… If given the choice between a life of slavery and abuse or death what would you choose?
As we left Masada our tour stopped at two important places. We hiked to the waterfall at Ein
Gedi where David hid from Saul. When we reached the falls Janna had a good time wading around in the water. Next we stopped at the ruins of Qumran at the foot of the cave filled cliffs. This is where in 1947 the Dead Sea Scrolls were found by 2 young Bedouin shepherd boys. Some of the scrolls contain the oldest existing Old testament texts. That evening we arrived in Jerusalem to stay in the Olive Tree Hotel.
The next three days were a whirlwind of activity - so we will hit the highlights. We visited the western wall (or Wailing Wall) of the Temple Mount. It was a first time experience for us to enter through a segregated (men and women) area. We aren’t sure if the reason for the segregation was for religious reasons or because of the security search that was done to make sure that we didn’t have weapons. It was just like going to a public restroom. The women’s line took twice as long as the men’s. At the Wailing Wall there were two sections for men and women. It was a busy day with a couple hundred people at the wall and in
the courtyard nearby. Men with various hats, long curly sideburns and long black coats were rocking back and forth while chanting prayers at the sacred wall . It was a surreal experience to be there. We went into the Western Wall Tunnel where Mickey explained the archeological finds next to the Temple Mount. Today it is possible to walk along the ancient street that was buried 50 feet under 18 courses of foundations from 2000 years of civilization.
After touring the tunnel we went to the southern wall where there are stairs that flank the Temple mount that are 300 feet wide and ascended to the Hulda gates. These at the stairs that Jesus and the 12 disciples climbed many times to get the Temple.
It was a great experience to have the opportunity to climb the walkway that leads to the top of the Temple Mount. This is the place that Solomon build the first temple and Herod built the second. Today this is the place of the Dome of the Rock. This is also a very volatile place that both the Moslems, Christians and the Jewish people consider Holy. We had to go through 2 security
Ruins at Capernaum
The Synagogue near the ruins of Peter's house
checks before entering the area around the Dome of the Rock. A bit of a funny story here…When you enter the area there is a man who’s only job seems to be to decide if you are properly dressed. Several of our group had to make adjustments such as covering shoulders, covering knees and making sure their chest (heart) was covered. One guy (sorry Bob) didn’t make it in because he was wearing shorts. Now the funny part is… the man who was making sure we are dressed according to the rules had on a shirt unbuttoned low enough to display his hairy chest. Maybe we’re missing something? The good news is he was having what appeared to be a very friendly talk with one of the Israeli guards. We took this as a sign that there is hope for peace after all!
A very unique place to visit is the Biblical Resource Center, where you can see olive presses, a shepherd's gate, a Bedouin tent, thrashing floor, rock mangers, and surprising examples of crosses used in biblical times.
The Holocaust Museum was a disturbing but important place to see. We walked through the Children’s Memorial where the
Israel's flag at Masada
The Dead Sea is in the background.
reflection of thousands of candles represented the 1.5 million children killed during the holocaust. Mickey reminded us how important it is to protect the innocent and make a stand against evil.
We went to a tomb that was an example of the burial practices during the time of Jesus. Mickey explained that each family had a small cave dug out of the rock that would serve as the family plot. They had to bury the body before sundown following the death of a family member. The body was wrapped in a burial clothe after being covered with spices and oil. After a year, the family would return to the grave remove the stone in front of the tomb and put the bones of the deceased into a “bone box”
On the Mount of Olives we went to a garden that has 8 ancient olive trees that is the location believed to be the Garden of Gethsemane. There is a beautiful church called Basilica of Agony and a rock at the alter which is believed to be the rock where Jesus wrestled his fate. This is where Jesus prayed all night and sweated blood before being crucified.
walked from the judgment court along the Via Dolorosa where Jesus carried the cross to Golgotha. The street was lined with t-shirt shops, fruit stands and commerce that made it more difficult to visualize the magnitude of the history that took place here. There are two places that are widely believed to be the place of the crucifixion. Our tour visited both locations. One is the church of the Holy Sepulcher which is a place that Roman Catholics the Greek Orthodox and the Armenians all share. They claim to have the place of crucifixion, the tomb and the place of the resurrection all within the church. It is a beautiful place of mosaics, alters, candles and stained glass yet a bit challenging to imagine the events that took place. The other possible location is called The Garden Tomb and the Hill of Golgotha just outside of the Damascus gate. The hill has a formation that resembles a skill with a bit of imagination. Its location fit’s the description in the Bible and there is a grave that has two burial chambers that have been dated to the time of Jesus. It is much easier to visualize at this location, but
David's hiding place
The Waterfall at Ein Gedi.
no one knows for certain. We agree with our guide Mickey that it doesn’t matter which location, the death, burial and resurrection is a fact and this helps us to better visualize this truth.
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