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Published: January 18th 2009
At the time I visited Israel in 1996, I was not a very spiritual person. Perhaps I am still not. But I know that after this visit, I came home a changed person. Still a 'work in progress'. But one's got to try. I have said rosaries every now and then before, and I say them almost daily now. And this time, I 'feel' every passion in each rosary bead. Covering Israel is very much like saying the rosary every hour every day. The passion of Christ in each and every rosary bead is most felt in this Holy Land. Heretofore I would recite the rosary in an almost mechanical fashion. But now, I can picture the very image of each and every mystery and feel the presence of our Saviour in a most spiritual way.
Bound for Israel Our journey started with a flight out of Athens airport bound for Tel Aviv. Despite the hassles and the ultra thorough inspections and interrogations regarding our checked-in and carry-on bags, we felt so safe flying El Al. We landed uneventfully at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Soon after retrieving our bags, we were whisked to our hotel
by the shore. I never realized that Tel Aviv is by the coast, so I had to review my map and couldn't help feeling happy about our accommodations. Our hotel room has a splendid view of the Mediterranean. Almost as soon as we checked in, we jumped out of our traveling clothes and donned our shorts. We hit the beach hoping it would be deserted in this cold spring. Were we wrong. There were a lot who had the same idea, but we were lucky to find empty benches. With a book in hand, we spent the rest of the afternoon at the beach. I noticed that the people here are very very conscious of security. There was this man working in the beach who did nothing but 'scan' the beach with this metallic thing which I can only presume to be a bomb scanner or whatever it's called. Every inch of the beach area is inspected, scanned, checked. That's good. But the system was not thief-proof. A couple in our group joined us at the beach, enjoyed the breeze, very irresponsibly left a bag on the bench, admired the scenery, sat back on the bench and took sometime to
realize their bag was missing. Guess what. The bag contained all their valuables........passports, cash, credit cards, plane tickets. Why they had to bring all that stuff out on the beach , I fail to understand. And there were safety deposit boxes in the hotel! Mazeltov..............that's good luck in their local language. (Pray tell me, is it Jewish or Hebrew?) The poor couple had to cancel their whole trip and work on their travel papers. Our very kind Tour Director, the very Jewish David, lent them money to tide them over. Oh, what misfortune! And it is only our first day in Israel.
From Tel Aviv to Caesaria and Haifa The next morning, we were all pleasantly surprised with the buffet spread in the hotel. It was a lovely way to start our day. I had absolutely no idea what Jewish cuisine is, but whatever I ate, I liked. There were pickled fish much like the pickled herrings I tried in Amsterdam. And they also served rice! Perhaps because Tel Aviv is a city by the coast, there were a lot of seafood......their fruits from the Mediterranean Sea! Mostly smoked or pickled, which I love. And so, on full
stomachs we joined our tour group on the many fascinating sights on this Mediterranean shore. We took a walk in the beautifully restored ancient port of Jaffa. This is where medieval pilgrims started their strenuous 2 day trek to Jerusalem. We were given just a few minutes for some picture-taking before we were advised to join the bus for our ride to our next stop, Caesaria. Going north, our Tour Director David took us to Caesaria's Roman Amphitheater and the impressive Crusader Fortress. Enough to remind us of the Roman and Crusader presence in this area. I can't recall if Caesaria was named after Julius Caesar or Augustus Caesar, but I do recall that Pontius Pilate held court here! Or was it Herod? Oh my. Frankly, I wasn't prepared for the Roman ruins in Israel. A Roman aqueduct? I forgot this area was part of the Roman Empire. Which speaks a lot about how ignorant I was. Neither was I prepared for the vineyards here too!There were also apricot groves on the slopes of the scenic Carmel mountain range. At Muhraqa, David reminded us of the prophet Elias' contest of faith with the priests of Baal. Gosh, I really need
to read up! David puts us to shame! You should meet David
. Here is one guy who is very very proud being a Jew. Loves his job as Tour Director, but never compromises on discipline. He's a character. You should see him nearly scream at us whenever we take far longer in any one area............ threatening to leave us behind. And he always had this pole with him, that I was almost always imagining one of us will get struck with if we test his patience too far. When we reached our hotel in Haifa, we were famished. All that walking, plus the rising temp, made us hungry. And David won't stop for snacks. He said , "they serve good dinner in Haifa. Don't spoil appetite". 😊 Yes, it was a good dinner. Also enjoyed the company. By this time, we have formed 'cliques' within our travel group. An American Jew, Steven, joined 5 of us Filipinos and called ourselves the 'Lalo Group'. Steven learned a few words in our language, one of which is supposed to mean a jerk. The word is 'gago' (jerk) but Steven would always say LALO. Over dinner, we learned that Steven has long
wanted to visit Israel and meet up with long lost relatives of his mom in Jerusalem. He was traveling alone, but starting today, has found his LALO family in us. In Haifa, we spent the next morning visiting the Bahai Shrine, the world center for the bahai faith. The golden domed shrine was the backdrop for our group picture. This was suggested by David, who said it's better done this early than later! No one dared argue with this man. Next we went to Acre, which was the capital of the Crusader Kingdom after its conquest by Richard the Lion-Heart. We marveled at the forbidding Ottoman fortress and toured the excavated part of the immense underground Crusader City with all the secret passageways! The vaulted crypts of the Knights of St. John was quite a sight.
From Nazareth to Kibbutz Ginosar, Capernaum, and Tabgha After lunch, we proceeded to Nazareth where we visited the Church of Annunciation and St. Joseph's workshop. Then we went to Cana, the site of the first miracle ......... where Jesus turned water into wine in a wedding party. Then we rode up towards the Mount of Beautitudes where
Jesus delivered his sermon on the Mount. Here, I found an elderly nun who looked so angelic. She didn't speak a word of english but had a ready smile for everyone. She is certainly bursting with unexplainable joy and her kind demeanor contrasts with her hunch and slowed pace. The scenery here is one for the books........ we savored the panoramic view over Lake Tiberius before driving down to the lakeside Kibbutz Ginosar
. We were led to very spartan rooms here where we would spend the night, to freshen up before dinner. Some of the guys went for a swim before dinner. This is one working community here. Hard to believe how the kibbutz system works wonderfully for the people here. We found all the kibbutz members busy. Not an idle hand. We were served dinner which consisted of their own produce from farms worked on by the men, cooked by their own women, served by their own children. After dinner, some of us stayed on to listen to a lecture on life in a kibbutz. Yesterday was a long day, and each one in our group must have slept soundly last night. We were all looking
fresh this morning, eager for a cup of coffee and another kibbutz meal. Over breakfast, Steven expressed his excitement now that we are driving towards Jerusalem. We shared the same sentiment, knowing that Jerusalem must be the highlight of this trip. On our way, we made a stopover at the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha
. The second miracle! Then off to Capernaum
where Jesus recruited his disciples among the fishermen. Here we also found St. Peter's Memorial.
Sea of Galilee and River Jordan Just before noon, we took a boat to cruise the Sea of Galilee, and prayed our rosaries. That was one time David was truly quiet. When we finished, he said that we may not share the same beliefs but he has found a deep respect for our faith. What a wonderful thing to say. I think that 'softened' the man since, as he was more accommodating and less exacting after this episode. He even gave us a long time to enjoy a good lunch after the boat ride. Naturally, we took the chance to check out the restaurants by the Sea of Galilee (which is really a
lake). Most eating places in this part of Israel boasts of the local delicacy - the St. Peter's fish. I ordered one, and came face to face with a fish that looks exactly like our very own tilapia back in the Philippines. Only that, it cost me 5 times its worth here in Galilee. After my very eventful lunch, we headed towards the River Jordan. We were reminded by the baptism of Jesus by St. John the Baptist . There were many pilgrims in the area, all lined up for their "baptism" at the River Jordan. Although it was not part of our itinerary, David allowed a couple of us to join the line. I was so moved by this, that I had to take a moment to recover. A newfound spirituality must have been born or reborn then. I cannot explain it. I just know that somehow, my take on all these has been changed. After recalling all the mysteries and miracles in the places we have visited, I felt I was having my own miracle here. By the time we reached Jerusalem, everyone in the group felt a different kind of excitement and started to
consider this trip as our own pilgrimage too.
Finally, Jerusalem! The following day, our very reliable David reminded us all over breakfast to wear comfortable walking shoes. Our hotel is so ideally located, just some 10 to 15 minute walk to the Old City or Walled City. Soon, we were all following David on a stroll of the lovingly restored Jewish Quarter all the way to the Wailing Wall. I may not be Jewish, but I certainly imbibed all that spirituality along the Wall. So many have prayed here. So many have wailed, maybe asking for forgiveness or invoking their petitions. David reminded me to walk backwards after praying, the way the Jews do. I took it to mean that we must never turn our back out of respect. On Temple Mount, we found the Dome of the Rock, a splendid Islamic Mosque. From here we traced the 14 Stations of the Cross passing the Armenian Quarter, Christian Quarter , through the Via Dolorosa towards Golgotha. There, we entered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Erected over the site of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, this Church, destroyed and rebuilt many times, is now shared by 6 Christian
communities. David pointed to a spot where Jesus was brought down from the cross and laid. Dear God, I can't explain all this heaviness in my heart. And I learned everybody else in our group felt the same way. Sinner and imperfect that I was, I longed for forgiveness then and there. It was good we had to walk back to our hotel, if only to wear off the feelings of sorrow. Before dinner, we said our prayers more fervently, more seriously. Tonight before sleeping, I prayed the rosary and recalled each sorrowful mystery as if I was again walking through the Via Dolorosa, passing all the Stations of the Cross. The following day, we boarded our bus for our excursion to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ and King David. Here we visited the Church of Nativity with its very low entrance door. David explained that it was designed as such so that those riding their donkeys had to dismount. Truly, the door is just a foot higher than a donkey. We all stooped to get in, and found a long line for the "Star" which marked the very spot where Jesus was born in the Manger.
The Star has a hole in the center where one can reach down and touch the very rock where the stable was. Those in front of me in the line were crying as they neared the Star. Now, I thought then that that was way too emotional. By the time I reached the Star, and had my hand touching the rock, I was shedding tears as well. I do not know where all that came from. When we were done, our bus took us to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of Mount of Olives. The Church of All Nations stand here now, in the midst of all the olive trees that bear witness to Jesus' Agony in the Garden. David pointed to an olive tree which was supposed to be the very spot of the first sorrowful mystery. From here, one has a good view of the Walled City and the gate by which Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Most of us took the optional excursion to the Synagogue of Hadassah Hospital with its famous Marc Chagall windows. The excursion also included a visit to the Shrine of the Book and the Dead Sea
Scrolls, Mount Zion with King David's tomb, and the room of the Last Supper. David pointed out that two of the pillars in the Upper Room are still originals. Silent witnesses to the Last Supper. Jesus with his 12 apostles, including Judas Iscariot. The last leg of this excursion was a visit to the Yad Zashem Holocaust Memorial. We entered this structure in a line, with Steven right in front of me. We walked through a corridor that was very dark, where one hears taped voices of Jews, old and young, agonizing over their plight. There were memorabilia all around, pictures of the holocaust, grim reminders of man's cruelty to his own kind. By the time we got out of the Memorial, Steven was in tears , a grown man crying unashamedly. When we got on the bus, David asked if there is anyone in our group who would like to watch an Israeli folklore show. No one was up to it. The last 2 full days in Israel was highlighted by a trip to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the surface of the earth, and Masada. Along the way, we caught glimpses of the caves of
Qumran, where the precious Dead Sea Scrolls were found. David reminded us to bring swimwear so we can check out the Dead Sea's buoyancy owing to its extreme saltiness. This was fine, but I have to say that the next stop promised more excitement for me. Masada
, the last stronghold for nearly a thousand Jewish Zealots who preferred death by their own hands to the indignity of surrender to the overwhelming Roman forces. We reached Masada by way of a cable car to the spectacular cliff fortress. At the very least, the people of Masada proved to one and all the extent of their conviction and pride as a people. From Jerusalem, our bus drove back to Tel Aviv where we were to spend our last full day in the land of the Chosen People. We took the scenic winding road towards the Land of the Philistines. We stopped at the site where David defeated Goliath. This was followed by a visit to the Monastery of the Trappist Monks. Soon we were back in Tel Aviv, ready to explore more of the nation's capital. We strolled through the city, did a bit of shopping (where i got a menorrah
pendant) and checked out the bands by the beach. Cool.......there was even a reggae band. Over our farewell dinner, I felt kind of sad that I may not be seeing David, our Tour Director. We didn't start off well on this tour, but everyone in our group agreed that David warmed up as days passed by. We made sure that we would all fill out the Globus Questionnaire and put in good words for this kind man. Yeah, a little bit dictatorial sometimes, but a very compassionate and spiritual man. Just before calling it a night, we went for another stroll by the beach , enjoyed the breeze, and silently wished for another chance to visit Israel in the future. Lastly, I prayed my rosary and held each bead like each one truly counts in this land.
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