Israel and Jordan, 2011—Kay’s Epilogue

I think my favorite sights were the Valley of the Wind and Doves in the Galilee, the boat ride on the Galilee, the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, and seeing the Walled City of Old Jerusalem.  The Valley of the Wind and Doves was our first stop in Galilee, and because it wasn’t developed, it appeared to be what I would imagine the trail and mountains could have looked like in Jesus’ time.  There was a small brook, cows mooing on the hillside while grazing, a lovely breeze blowing, and this trail that passed through the mountain range from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee.  We had a devotion there, and my heart felt a moment of a ‘thin veil’—when time stands still and one can feel a connection with the past and present and sense God.  It felt very sacred.  I may have walked where Jesus walked.  The Bible was coming alive like a movie and I wasn’t having to create the scenery; we were ‘on site’.  
Again, on the boat cruising the Sea of Galilee, we saw small individual fishing boats doing just what Peter, Andrew, and James were doing when Christ called them to be His apostles.  It’s a beautiful sea, and the hillsides and shores were witnesses to Jesus’ walks, teachings, healings, etc. 
The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem is a ‘possible’ site for Joseph of Arimethea’s tomb because it is a garden near a huge rock structure that resembles a skull which is not far from the top of the Via Dolorosa.  It is run by a Christian group, and is a very quite, beautiful, serene, garden in the middle of downtown Jerusalem, but out of the hustle and bustle of the big city.  We had a very moving communion here and revisited the idea that it doesn’t matter where the ‘real tomb’ is (even when archeologists are able to document it); what matters is that it is EMPTY.
Seeing Old Jerusalem, the Walled City, was amazing.  It is much larger than I had expected and much more congested, convoluted, and cacophonous.  There are several sections or divisions within the old city—the Roman Catholic section, the Jewish section, the Arab/Palestinian section, and the Christian section.  The Via Dolorosa winds through the streets with stores and residential apartments on either side.  There were vendors selling their wares throughout the city, Muslim residences painted with pictures of pilgrimages they had taken to Mecca, young, tiny children pushing trash and wheel barrels through the streets because construction/repair appears to be ongoing everywhere.  There are churches built on top of older churches on top of ‘traditional’ sacred sites like where Jesus fell, where another person was made to carry the cross, etc.—all stations of the cross.  Yet everyday life is going on and there are thousands of other pilgrims such as us who are moving down the streets, shopping, moving in and out of the churches and mosques, etc.  It was very busy, chaotic, and surreal.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was very disturbing to me because there were at least three or four churches operating inside the structure—all ornate, hanging lamps, incense burners, burgeoning with pilgrims and worshipers—and it didn’t ‘feel’ like a sacred place; I kept thinking of Jesus cleaning out the temple because of the moneychangers etc.  The Jewish sector was so clean and well kept and well repaired that it looked like it didn’t belong in the Old City.  They were also very busy and involved in excavating under their part of the Old City for the historical ruins that were underneath.  You can buy almost anything in the Old City, fresh meat, chickens being cleaned and hung up, meat being butchered and hung, fish, fresh vegetables and fruit, plus souvenirs, religious objects, clothing, etc.
But here is the great Dome of the Rock in the middle of the city and Christians and Jews don’t visit it because it’s for Muslims only.  They confess to believe that it is the site that Abraham took Isaac to be sacrificed in Jewish/Christian tradition; but, it is also believed that it is the site (rock) where Mohammed stood when he was ‘beamed’ to heaven to receive the Koran.  Its gold dome is visible from most hills in Jerusalem.  It’s like a beacon, but an evil beacon. 
Jerusalem is not just one large mountain; it is many mountains and small/large valleys at an elevation of approximately 2600 feet above sea level.  The modern city surrounds the old Walled City, the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, all of the sacred churches built on top of the ancient holy sites.  I suppose it seemed especially strange to me because of this.  Our country, USA, is so young that sacred sites, etc. are preserved, and nothing is built on top of them because no one has ‘defeated’ us and invaded our country.  Israel and Jerusalem, in particular, have been inhabited for centuries, been invaded and defeated, and the winners have tried to obliterate the former civilizations.  It’s an archeologist’s best and worst nightmare. The Hebrews are trying to recover and recapture the ancient sites, even though many of them are buried under Arab/Palestinian houses.  It was very strange to stand at the ancient digs of King David and look across the valley at visible ancient tombs which had been ravaged/destroyed/desecrated.  Whatever happened to respect for the dead?  At the top of the last mountain in Jerusalem, one can look out to see the Judean wilderness and the Dead Sea which is approximately 40 miles away.  It’s a drop of almost 3000 ft. in elevation and the the bedoins are one of the few inhabitants who live in this area, although there are a few settlements in the West Bank.  It’s a tremendous contrast to the ‘beautiful city’, the gorgeous new buildings and verdant gardens.
What else about our trip was the best?  Our guide, David Aarons, was perhaps the best guide/docent I’ve ever experienced.  Even though he was Jewish, he was so spiritual and called us the righteous remnant whom God had chosen to come to our spiritual geography.  He knew the New Testament backwards and forwards and was so respectful of our beliefs and views.  It was several days into our trip before I realized that he was not a Christian.  He was originally from Boston, and still had quite a bit of that accent and he was one of the funniest guides ever.  He would sometimes start a story and have us in the cup of his hand before we realized it was all a ‘sham/joke’.  Got ya!  Our spiritual guide was our pastor, Sieg Johnson, and his wife Sherry.  They were wonderful!  Sieg is so smart, knowledgeable, and yet he has such a sweet spirit for the Lord.  He made each site a spiritual moment drawing us all closer to God. 
Other notable folks on the tour were Hileil, our Arab driver.  He was an incredible driver in Jerusalem, for sure.  There are hundreds of huge tour buses (seating 50+) plus all the normal car/truck traffic in a city of almost 1,000,000 people.  Trying to drop us off and pick us up was a congestion nightmare, but David and Hileil always worked it out to our advantage.  They were both pure professionals and seemed to have a mutual respect and concern for each other.  I will never forget Imogene Crawley.  She is an almost 83 year old petite lady from Hot Springs who outwalked all of us each day.  Her mind is sharp as a tack and she’s in incredible shape.  This was her third trip to the Holy Land, and the second trip which she made on her own, she stayed for two weeks by herself.  I told her she’s my new ‘heroine’!  I don’t think I was prepared for all the ‘walking’ and ‘standing’ that we did on this trip.  My feet took a beating and should I go again, I would buy some very good walking shoes.  We walk 3 miles in our neighborhood, but most days on this trip I would guess we walked 3-5 miles touring sites. 
Our accommodations were very nice.  In the Galilee we stayed in Tiberius at the Gai Beach Hotel which was right on the sea.  It was a beautiful facility, with a very nice spa, hot tubs, etc.  It was our base for 3 days of exploring the Galilee area.  We were driven all over Israel in luxury buses, ours was a Mercedes—very luxurious, good ride, but no bathrooms.  In Jerusalem, we stayed at the Olive Tree Hotel which was between the Jewish section of Jerusalem and East Jerusalem, the Palestinian section.  There is a wall between them—not as sturdy as the Berlin Wall, but similar nevertheless.
It’s easy to discern which section you’re in; the Jewish section is clean, flowers everywhere; the Arab/Palestinian section is dirty, rundown, trash everywhere—no one appears to have respect for their environment.  Maybe it is because they are in ‘occupied territory’ and I don’t believe they are allowed to be citizens of Israel.  Since Palestine isn’t a country either, they may not have citizenship anywhere—just refugees.  It’s a very complicated issue and one that I don’t pretend to understand.  It was very disturbing to see Jerusalem divided by a large wall.  Something seems very wrong with that.  I can’t imagine the city divided by two countries. 
The weather was very nice—in the low 70’s most days.  One day we had the threat of rain but it never really developed.  The food was sometimes quite good, other times mediocre at best.  Most of us ate breakfast and dinner at the hotel buffets.  There were always huge salad and fresh vegetable dishes available at breakfast and dinner.  The meats on the hot buffets were often overcooked and dry.  Sometimes the fish dishes would be good as were the lamb dishes.  The beef and chicken were usually not very good and were often dry.  Suffice it to say that they eat a Mediterranean diet and I loved the olives and hummus. I couldn’t force myself to eat raw veggies/salads for breakfast, and especially not pickled fish!  I found it strange that while dates and figs were a huge produce item in Israel, they were never offered as fruits at any of our meals.  I was told that they exported them all because they could get such good export prices.  We did stop in Nazareth at a Palestinian sweet shop which was wonderful.  Everything I tried there was great.  For the most part, the deserts at the hotels were mousse-cake like creations which were okay but not very sweet. 
The people of Israel were quite friendly as tourism is one of their main avenues of commerce.  I don’t think I was prepared for all the tourists.  I can’t begin to describe how crowded Jerusalem was with pilgrims.  Each day we would drive near the Mount of Olives, and there would be NO LESS than 15 massive buses lined up on the road, not counting the ones who dropped their pilgrims off.  Pilgrims were from Russia, France, Romania, Africa, and basically, just everywhere.  Believers from all nations come to see the beginning of it all.  That was pretty fantastic.  I’ve never seen so many Orthodox Jews in one place in my life—well, we did had a full flight of them on the plane with us from New York to Tel Aviv.  I just have no personal experience with that culture.  We were amazed at how friendly the Jordanian people were.  They were very excited and pleased we were visiting their country—could it be the boost to their economy we bring?  Anyway, I never really felt unsafe or uncomfortable in either country.  Several in our group were somewhat uncomfortable in Jordan because it was a majority Muslim state.  I did not because our tour guide was Jordanian Christian.  The crime in Israel is miniscule, even in Jerusalem, though we were warned about pickpockets in the Old City.   The security entering in and around Israel is very tight—no pussyfooting around there. It’s incredible how much there is to see there and two weeks is certainly not enough time to do it justice.  We needed at least one whole day or more at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.  I would have loved to tour Hebrew University and the Knesset (their governing building).  There’s tremendous investment/money in Israel and as a start-up country they have done incredible things in a short while. 
I know this.  I don’t think I’ll ever read the Bible the same again.  My cinematography eye has been changed forever.  I know I want to study the Old Testament more.  I’m poorly grounded in that area.  I’ve seen the Jezreel Valley, Megiddo, and where the battle of Armagedden is predicted to take place.  The Valley is one of the most beautiful, wide, well developed, agricultural valleys I’ve ever seen and it’s huge—miles and miles of vegetation and bounty.  The Jews have claimed their spiritual homeland in the midst of enemies all around them and are growing a new Eden in the desert.  It’s a fearful and courageous undertaking that I have to admire.   

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