Israel Trip

Below is a simple journal of my trip. For more images, click here.

Sunday, March 15, 2009
I left Nashville around 10:00 AM and flew to Charlotte where I ended up having a delay of about 2 hours. I finally got to Newark around 5:00 and had to catch a shuttle to JFK. Everyone in the group arrived ahead of me, but I still got there before 7:30.

We’re flying on El Al Airlines, which appears to be the official Israeli airline. As members of the tour and “guests” of El Al and the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, we were allowed to wait in the airline’s lounge. It’s the typically nice lounge where food and beverages and comfortable chairs are provided.

In the lounge we got introduced to other members of the team and had a chance to get acquainted. It seems like a group of very nice people and I’m looking forward to getting to know them.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The flight left around midnight. We were on a 747 which was a first for me. I guess I’ll have lots of “firsts” on this trip.

It turned out that while I was on the aisle, there was no one in the seat next to me which gave me a little extra room. I didn’t sleep great, but probably better than most others.

We lost 7 hours on the clock by traveling East. Arrived in Tel Aviv at roughly 4:00 PM Israeli time or 9:00 AM Central time.

At the airport we met our guide, Zion (Tsion), and our driver David. We drove from the airport to the Dan Panorama Hotel and got to clean up. It was one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever experienced. We all stayed on the 18th floor and every room overlooked the Mediterranean Sea.

We went to dinner at a seafood place on the Tel Aviv Harbor. They serve the food family style and bring it in waves or courses. I sampled some foods I’ve never tried. I wasn’t in culinary heaven like some were (or some of my friends who would be), but it was a great experience.

After dinner we drove to Joffa (Joppa) which is the older part of Tel Aviv and is now a suburb of the larger city and is primarily an artist colony so it’s pretty cool. It was late in the evening so the shops were closed (guys didn’t complain).

Tuesday, March, 17, 2009

I’m fortunate that this trip for me is primarily vacation. There are no “business” expectations of me. I will consider writing something for either Preaching or YouthWorker, but that will be at my discretion. Other members of the group will be required to blog or send in reports for their web sites or publications. One member of the group was up until 6:00 this morning working. I couldn’t do that.

The Mediterranean Sea from My Balcony

The Mediterranean Sea from My Balcony

We had breakfast with the VP of the Dan Hotel chain. This hotel chain is the biggest and most influential in Israel, so we felt honored he would eat with us and share some thoughts with us.

From Tel Aviv we drove north to ancient Caesarea which was a harbor built by Herod the Great. The harbor is just a tourist spot now, but Caesarea has developed quite a bit. This is not Caesarea Philippi.

We then went to Megiddo, a strategic location able to view several valleys. It’s here that ArMEGEDDON will take place.

Nazareth was next. We visited the church of the Annunciation where the angel was supposed to have told Mary about Jesus’ conception and birth. We also visited The Nazareth Village, a sort of recreation of Nazareth in the time of Jesus.

Continuing to the Sea of Galilee, we stopped at the museum where they now preserve and display The Ancient Galilee Boat. It was found buried in mud about 20 years ago. It’s supposed to be typical of the boats used by Jesus and his disciples.

We arrived in Tiberias which is the largest city on the Sea of Galilee. We stayed at the Sheraton Tiberias. Nice, but not as nice as last night.

For dinner we went to a place called Decks. Again, food served in waves family style. While there they celebrated the birthdays of several young people. There was dancing, loud music, and even fireworks. The restaurant stretches into the Sea so it was quite impressive.

I’ve concluded that Zion is the most broadly knowledgable person I’ve ever met in terms of biblical and Israeli history.

Our Guide Zion

Our Guide Zion

He understands history, Bible, geography, geology, botany, and everything else it seems. This guy has to be the Master of tour guides. In fact, he has been a guide trainer for the Ministry or Tourism.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I rested well last night which I needed. I woke feeling good.

We first drove to a location just north of Capernaum on the western shore of the Sea and we took a short boat ride where they demonstrate net fishing and had us do some traditional jewish dancing on the boat. It was great fun.

Shore of the Sea of Galilee Near Capernaum

Shore of the Sea of Galilee Near Capernaum

We came back to Capernaum which is no longer a real town, it’s only a tourist site. This was Jesus’ “ministry headquarters” throughout most of his ministry. We stood in a synagogue built on the foundation of the synagogue in which Jesus ministered. There’s also a place here that might have been the home of Peter’s Mother-in-law.

Just south and west of Capernaum is the hillside where Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount. It’s a busy tourist attraction, but it was amazing to be there on a day when the weather was perfect and you could easily imagine Jesus standing in the very place you are standing.

We took a back road from here, crossed the Jordan river (on the north side of the Sea) and came to Bethsaida, east of Capernaum on the Sea. Bethsaida was the home of Peter, Andrew, and Phillip.

South of Bethsaida is Kursi, the place where Jesus drove the demons into a herd of swine.

From here we drove to Ein Gev, a community directly across from Tiberias on the eastern shore of the Sea. We had lunch here, hosted by the manager of the restaurant. We all ate St. Peter Fish (Talapia), then got a brief tour of the community.

After lunch we drove into the Golan Heights and learned quite a bit about the 6 Day War and how the Israeli army miraculously defeated the Syrian army in 1967.

Following the road south and then west, we made our way back to Tiberias and got to rest for a couple of hours before dinner.

After dinner (at the hotel) several of us went to see a movie called, “The Galilee Experience” and I was then ready to crash.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

We said goodbye to Tiberias this morning and headed south to Bet Shehan. It’s a large excavated city reflecting the glory of Roman civilization before the fall of Rome.

After that we had a nice drive south (complete with naps) through the West Bank to the Dead Sea (Salt Sea). I had always imagined it being ugly and “dead”. In fact it is a region of enormous beauty. The lake itself is clear and calm and creates incredible reflections of the Jordanian shore in the evening. It is only “dead” in the sense that the high salt content (and other minerals) won’t allow anything to live in it. It is NOT dead in any other sense.

Our first stop was Qumran, where they discovered the “Dead Sea Scrolls”. Next was a drive south to Messada. This was the most impressive site so far as it is where 1,000 Jewish zealots survived a 7 month siege by the Romans in 72 and 73 AD. When they knew the Romans were going to be coming the next morning, they took their own lives rather than allow the Romans to take them.

Massada with Salt Sea in Background

Massada with Salt Sea in Background

We finished the region with a stop and a float in the Salt Sea. Because the water is heavier than normal, it will push you up and allow you to sit as if you’re in a recliner quite comfortably.

From the Salt Sea we “ascended” to Jerusalem and arrived at The David Citadel Hotel. This place is NICE!

Dinner was family style again with wonderful meats and vegetables. It’s also a wonderful time of fellowship. I don’t know how typical these meals are in terms of the actual food, but I’m finding that long meals (over two hours) are condusive to fun and frivolity, especially when half the group is enjoying some excellent red or white wine. As journalists, most of the group is anxious to get back to their rooms so they can work and post stories or blogs. I think we all, however, appreciate the social dynamic being created by pleasant gathering of like-minded people around a magnificent meal. Makes me think I should do more of this back home.

I was finally able to get access to reliable Internet tonight so I could catch up on email and post these entries.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I had two amazing experiences today. First we went through the Holocaust Museum here in Jersualem. It’s very well done and obviously aimed at helping the world avoid another holocaust. They have a special monument dedicated to the children (more than 1 million 18 years old or under) who were killed by the Nazis. It was incredibly moving.

After that we saw the model of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus which helped provide some geographical context for me.

In the same complex is a musesum dedicated to Bible and the preservation of the manuscripts found at Qumran. We then wondered through a bazarre where we grabbed something to eat.

We got back to the hotel early and got to take the rest of the afternoon off. I headed straight for the old city which is only a few blocks away.

I followed my memory from the model of Jerusalem we saw in the morning and I made my way to the Western (Wailing) Wall. I was able to pray at the wall itself.

The Complete Western Wall

The Complete Western Wall

Standing there praying with my hands on that wall was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I stayed for quite a while and found it hard to leave.

I am officially in love with this city, this country, and these people.

I finally left there and made my way back through the Old City and the hotel. We ate a kosher meal (tonight begins the Sabbath) and then walked up the street to the King David Hotel.

The King David Hotel is THE hotel in Jerusalem. It’s where Kings and Presidents stay when they come here. We met with the Manager of the hotel and he told us many interesting stories about the hotel and showed us the suite where Bill Clinton stayed when he was here. It really is a beautiful hotel. It was built in 1931 and has maintained its original sense of ambiance. It was a good way to end the day.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Today was quite full. We started on the Mount of Olives which looks across the Valley of Jehoshaphat toward the Old City of Jerusalem. From there you can see The Dome of the Rock and a good portion of the wall surrounding the Old City.

We walked down the Mount of Olives and saw some churches commemorating Jesus’ crying over Jerusalem and his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion.

The View from The Mount of Olives

From there we went to the traditional site of the Tomb of David and began our tour into the Old City. I was glad I walked through a portion of it yesterday as it helped me be somewhat familiar with much of what we saw, although much of it was new to me as well.

We made our way to the Western Wall, but didn’t stop because we’ll be there again tomorrow. After lunch, we followed the larger portion of the Via Dolorosa. This was interesting, but probably not the actual route Jesus took, so it didn’t mean too much to me.

We emerged from the Old City through the Jaffa Gate and then took the bus to the Garden Tomb, which may be the actual site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. We had the Lord’s Supper there and it was very meaningful, but not as much so as the Western Wall to me.

After the Garden Tomb we returned to the hotel and several of us walked back to the Old City and did some shopping. Tonight we’ll eat together at a restaurant and then, hopefully, sleep well before a full day tomorrow.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

This morning from the hotel we circled the Old City in the bus, then entered the Old City through the Zion Gate on the south and west corner of the city. This enters near the Jewish Quarter or segment of the Old City.

Tsion showed us many interesting discoveries along the way before we arrived near the Temple Mount area. He took us on a tour near the Temple Mount, through the Western Wall Plaza, and through tunnels that follow the additional remains of the Western Wall under ground.

Among the most significant places were the actual steps used by the public that led into Temple in the days of Jesus. He explained that while other sites can say, “Jesus MAY have been here”, we know that Jesus visited the Temple and would have entered by climbing these stairs. We were rushed so we didn’t have time to pause and reflect here, but it was a powerful time nonetheless.

We got to spend only about 5 minutes at the Western Wall, but there was much more to see and do and we needed to stay on schedule. Still, while I was there in those 5 minutes I found myself praying that God would do whatever He needs to do to move me to the place He wants me. I have no idea what this means, but I genuinely want to be clay in the hands of the Potter. WHATEVER it takes, Lord, that’s what I am asking.

After exploring the Old City, we went to the City of David which is south and just outside the Old City. Here we saw remains of King David’s palace and walked through the tunnels created to supply water to the older Jerusalem in the time of David and following. After this we returned to the hotel around 1:15 and were then free to do what we wanted. I, of course, headed straight back to the Old City and the Western Wall.

Along the way I browsed through some of the shops in the Jewish Quarter. These shops were closed yesterday because of Sabbath. Today, by the way, is like a normal weekday for us. Everything is open and there are lots of people out enjoying the beautiful weather.

When I arrived at the Western Wall I found a chair and parked myself in the middle of the plaza (for men) and enjoyed a wonderful time of worship and people watching. I plan to write more about this in a separate article.

Again, I found myself unusually drawn to this place. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the temperature was probably around 70, so the weather was perfect. But the weather was beautiful EVERYWHERE in Jerusalem today. I didn’t need to be here to enjoy the weather. There is just something about this place that feels comfortable and convicting all at the same time to me. And while I have many wonderful friends that I would love to return to the city with, I’m so grateful that I had that hour in that place all by myself.

I finally tore myself away and made my way back through the Old City and will confess that I stopped along the way and bought a few things.

Now I am back in my hotel room packing and preparing to leave this wonderful city and country. Tonight we will dine again as a group with Tsion and a friend of his, then we’ll head for Tel Aviv and wait to catch a flight that leaves at 1:00 tomorrow morning.

I will have more to write about as I ponder my experience and also acquire photos from others on the trip. Some things I write may end up at http://interactivelifeofjesus.com/. When that’s the case I’ll create a link from this site to the article there.