We just got back from a ten day trip to Israel. I love using this space as a place to share the trips we take and the things we learn. If you’re interested, you can read recaps of our previous international trips like France, Iceland, Italy, Mexico and England.
My parents arranged for my entire family (Me and Jeremy, Mom, Dad, two sisters, and my brother-in-law) to join my Dad’s church (where he is an associate pastor) in Tampa, Florida on a trip to the Holy Land. I knew the trip would be wonderful, but I really did not know much about modern day Israel or what to expect. With nearly every other trip Jeremy and I have taken, I have enthusiastically assumed the role of travel agent; researching and planning the trips has been a huge part of the experience for me. For this trip, however, everything was arranged and planned for us in advance, so it allowed me to go in with an open mind.
I feel forever altered for the better by my experiences in Israel. A lot of the things I saw and learned were personal and hard to relay in blog format, but I will do my best to give you a little taste of our trip.
Israel is a small country. It is only slightly larger than the state of New Jersey. Its position at the crossroads of Asia, Africa, and Europe has centralized its cultural significance over the course of history. That small piece of land which is pivotal to Christian, Jewish, and Islamic history has seen countless wars, invasions, and occupations. It is steeped in rich historical narrative and cultural significance.
As a Christian, the trip almost felt like visiting an old friend--one I have often met in scripture study and Sunday school classes since I was young. But as an American, the cultural paradigm of Israel could hardly be more foreign to our postmodern, Western way of thinking. It's hard to imagine Americans accepting government mandated Kosher law enforced at restaurants and hotels, Palestinian border control restricting Israelis from entering certain areas within their own country, and the Old City of Jerusalem sectioned off into quarters based on religion.
The faith of Israel’s people not only informs their daily life but is the sole reason that Israel exists as a modern nation. It is a refuge for the world’s Jews--after two thousand years of waiting and persecution, the people of Israel were able to return to their homeland in 1948. The significance of that is palpable.
But let’s back up...I want to tell you about our trip partially because I hope you’ll find it interesting, but partially also because I love to be able to read back my impressions years later.
Because, as previously stated, Israel is a small country, we were able to see so much of it in our 8 days on the ground. I am going to give a brief description of everything we did, but if you’re short on time, just scroll past all the pretty pictures and skip the descriptions :-) Next week, I will be posting a highlights post with tips for travel to Israel and our top favorite things!
We started the trip in Tel Aviv where we stayed on Night 1. From there, we made our way to the Galilee region. We visited Caesarea in the morning, viewed the Valley of Armageddon, and then made our way to Nazareth where we had a lunch that was meant to be reminiscent of meals during the time of Jesus. We finished off the day with a visit to Cana and a vow renewal for many of the couples on the trip.
The next day was spent in the Galilee region, and it’s no wonder Jesus spent most of his ministry in that area. It’s beautiful! We started the day with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee which was probably one of my top favorite experiences of the trip. I sat quietly on the edge of the boat and envisioned Jesus preaching there, calming storms, walking on water. The sun was bursting through the clouds on the still water, and I may or may not have gotten a little emotional.
We continued our day with visits to Capernaeum, the Mount of Beatitudes, Caesarea Phillipi, the Palestinian city of Jericho, and baptisms in the Jordan River where my sister was able to be baptized by my dad.
We rang in the New Year at our hotel in Tiberias and watched fireworks over the Sea of Galilee, and then on January 1st, we woke up to rain and cloudy skies. We first visited the ancient ruins of Beit Shean, a city that dates back to 6000 B.C., visited the Jordan River at the border of Jordan, and ended our day with a swim in the Dead Sea.
Perhaps one of my favorite sites was the next day at Masada--an ancient fortress town atop a mountain which was built by Herod the Great. The architecture and infrastructure is amazing, and the views overlooking the desert were breathtaking. From there, we went to Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. We also visited Ein Gedi and the Valley of the Shadow of Death before making our way to Jerusalem. I still get chills thinking about the first sight we caught of the Old City of Jerusalem from the highway as we drove in. We took it all in from an overlook point and then made a beeline for the Friends of Zion Museum -- one of the best museums I have ever visited.
Our first day in Jerusalem was eye opening and incredible. I watched the sunrise from our hotel balcony, and then we headed straight for the Western Wall where we toured the Wall Excavation Tunnels. Our tour guide was a devout Jew (from Canada!) and her passion for her faith and for Jerusalem set the tone for the city we had just entered. That day, we also saw the Mount of Olives before heading to Bethlehem where we saw the Church of the Nativity (NOT a highlight for me! It’s crazy to see the mayhem that now surrounds the sight that we believe to be Jesus’ birthplace), an amazing Palestinian lunch, and a visit to a cave that gave me more of an understanding of what Jesus’ birth actually would have been like.
We finished our sightseeing early and were able to leave the group at the hotel and go into the city again on our own (me, Jeremy, my siblings, and our friend Zac). This was a highlight of the whole trip to me! It was great to get away from the tour group and see the city at night. We found an Israeli friend that we had made the day before at the Friends of Zion museum and asked him to point us to the best Falafel, and we had our favorite meal of the trip! Then we explored the Old City of Jerusalem as the shopkeepers closed up for the night and prepared for the next market day.
Our next full day in Jerusalem was jam packed with historical significance. We visited the Palestinian controlled Temple Mount where the guards singled out all the young women and made us put skirts on over our pants. It was quite the fashion statement! We walked around the temple walls and visited the Wailing Wall on Bar-mitzvah day where we witnessed dozens of Jewish families throwing big parties for their newly teenage boys.
Our final day was spent visiting the sites of Jesus’ final days on earth. The Garden of Gethsemane, the Church of the Holy Sepulcre, the home of Caiaphas where Jesus was most likely held before his trial, and the Garden Tomb. In the midst of that, we also had time to walk the streets of Old Jerusalem and shop at the markets. My sister Raegan received a marriage proposal from a Palestinian shopkeeper, and Jeremy received a Middle Eastern head scarf from a very nice man named Muhammad.
WOW! If you made it through that VERY LONG play-by-play of our trip, LORD BLESS YOU!
Next week I will try to summarize in bullet points the things we loved the most and the things you should know if you're going on a tour of the Holy Land!
Thanks for coming on our journey with us.