While in the church at the Bethesda Pools in Jerusalem, we tested out the awesome acoustics with some worship. Imagine our delight when other tour groups from another country joined in–same grace, another language!!
Our last day of touring and we know it’s almost time to leave. Maybe it’s a good thing, since we all feel like our brains are full to the brim of the new knowledge we’ve gained. It’s amazing how one little trip can teach you so much about your faith, about history in general, and about the ways of the world. This trip has changed us, for sure, and we may not be fully able to explain all the ways how.
We began our day at Yad Vashem, the Jewish Holocaust Museum. Right off the bat, our guide explained how subtly the persecution of Jews began, and how it became so mainstream that many people were sucked in to believing Hitler’s cause. How did he convince so many people that Jews were a social problem? How did he initially mislead the world into thinking that the ghettos were humane? We had two hours to wander through the halls of Yad Vashem, but we could have stayed all day. At times we were literally in tears. Seeing the display of the parents who sent their children away to other countries to save their lives or the videos of survivor testimonies playing in the background—you just can’t imagine what these people experienced. Coming out of that museum, we were somber and heavy, but wiser and grateful for the difficult experience. Our eyes are opened not only to the history of the Holocaust, but also cautioned to the possibility of future injustices.
After decompressing from Yad Vashem a bit, we went to the Israeli Museum to view the to scale Jerusalem Model and the Dead Sea scrolls display. This was so helpful to allow us to see all of Jerusalem at once and to review all the places we’d toured and their location in relation to one another. Roni did an excellent job navigating us through the gates, valleys, old city sites, and new additions, and it was cool to follow the process of discovering, saving, studying, and displaying the Dead Sea writings.
We went to the Jewish Market intentionally to experience the chaos that occurs each week before the Sabbath (Shabat). It was PACKED! Children, old women, families, all pulling carts full of veggies, fruits, fish, breads—all the supplies needed for the Sabbath meal. It was not our idea of relaxing shopping, but it was an eye-opening experience!
Our last spot to tour was Caiaphas’ house, where Jesus was questioned and accused and where Peter denied Him three times (Matthew 26). After touring there, we heard some loud booms and bangs, and from the courtyard could see across the horizon some people gathering and smoke in the Arab/Palestinian section. Israel has literally built walls around the Palestinian Autonomy, because scenes like this are common there, and the walls have made it much more difficult for violence to reach into the city limits. We weren’t in danger at any point, but it was interesting to note how normal an occurrence this was for the area.
So, now, we’re headed to the airport. On the way out of town, we had a delicious Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant, which, of course, included a variety of salads, pita, falafel, chicken, lamb, coffee and tea. Staples to the Mediterranean diet!
Israeli Airport security was a little extensive—just lots and lots of lines to pass through. Luckily, we were there with plenty of time and they approved all of us to leave the country without too much trouble. Aren’t you glad to know that it’s hard to leave so the world is safer? From Tel Aviv we jumped onto a twelve hour midnight flight (it takes longer on the return flight because of the headwinds). We arrived in Newark again about 4 am their time and had about 5 hours till our second flight left. Some of us were so tired we took naps on the airport floor, but give us a couple days and we’ll be back on the jet lag track…We jumped onto another teeny little plane to St. Louis, caught a bus back to Branson, and welcomed the site of K-Kauai’s gates. We loved, loved, loved being in Israel, but once you start the journey home, you can’t get there soon enough.
Now our task is to rest up, process, organize our photos and memories, and get ready to jump back into real life. Thank you Lord, thank you Chanceys, thank you everyone for such a great trip!
Today we got to gain a deeper understanding of the culture of Jerusalem, not just the Biblically historical sites. We started off the day touring Temple Mount, which currently hosts the Dome of the Rock and is policed by Israeli forces but controlled by Muslim authorities and guards. This mountain, Mt. Moriah, seems to be the place where all the tensions of Jerusalem climax. The area is somewhat open to tourists, but there are very strict measures in place about where, how, when and who can be there. Because we are not Israeli or Muslim, we don’t understand all their customs and restrictions, and so can accidentally insult them. Before we went into the area, our tour guide told us to put our Bibles in our bags and to take off any cross jewelry so as not to offend anyone. We did this, but when passing through security, they asked each one of us if we had Bibles and took them from us before we could enter. Once inside, we were able to walk around freely and take any pictures we liked. We didn’t feel unsafe, but maybe just out of our element and a little uncertain. It’s good to be out of our comfort zone, and to see and experience different things, but I think it can be difficult too, because we don’t understand everything that’s going on and aren’t treated as we would be in the US. My husband and I got yelled at for touching while posing to take a picture, then witnessed the same guard reprimanding a Muslim woman because she brought her baby to the site, then the guard turned back to me and told me to “Dress” because I had taken off my jacket and was wearing only a short sleeve t-shirt. His requests alone were completely reasonable—I was on his turf and therefore he could tell me what I needed to do to be respectful. The part that was harder to swallow was the delivery of the message. Anyway, it was insightful to visit the Muslim holy place, and helped open our eyes to a little more of the culture on this VERY important little mount!
Another stop of the day was the Bethesda pools, at which Jesus healed a paralytic man who had waited by those pools for years seeking healing. There is now a church on the Bethesda site with awesome acoustics. We sang several songs, including Amazing Grace. The cool part was that the other tour groups in the church with us began singing along in their own languages!! Such a neat picture of the unity that can exist within the body of Christ and perhaps a glimpse of heaven. I have a video of it, and will blog it when I get back home (tomorrow is our last day, can you believe it?)
Then, we started our journey down the Via Delorosa, the street that Jesus walked carrying the cross. OK, so bring on the culture. I was expecting a reverent, quiet and reflective walk down this very important street, but pretty much got the opposite. Tons of vendors have stores down this street, which makes sense that it would have been this way even during Jesus’ time. Why did I expect it to be different? Anyway, it was not reverent, but it was very interesting as we walked through parts of the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Quarter markets. At some points it was a little congested, and you wouldn’t believe all the things we saw for sale—from whole sides of meat, to veggies, grains, scarves, clothing, kids’ toys, and beautiful trinkets. Very interesting! We did a little shopping in the Christian Quarter and some more in the Jewish Section, because that’s where our tour guide knew the reputations of the shops the best. But we were all grateful to grab some souvenirs. Maybe, if you’re lucky, your student picked up some cool gifts for the folks back home!
After lunch we spent some time in the shop of a local Rabbi, who offered to meet with us and answer any questions we had about Judaism. He was very straightforward with us (for example, saying his goal wasn’t to try to convince us to believe as he did, simply to answer the questions we had about his faith) and very disarming. He wasn’t there to argue and wasn’t defensive, and spoke intelligently and sincerely. At the end of our short time together, we still didn’t agree, but appreciated the discussion and further understanding.
A couple more stops for the day included the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is the most ornate church I have EVER seen. It’s very beautiful, but very, very detailed. This is the site where many believe Christ was crucified and where his body was laid. The church has massive mosaics portraying the scene of the crucifixion and a tomb area with a long line of people waiting to walk through and see where Jesus was laid. A gorgeous church!
In contrast, we also visited a place nearby called the Garden Tomb, which is also a very beautiful place, but instead full of plants and birds and little nooks for prayer and Communion. This garden is located on Skull Mountain, which has natural rock formations that look like two eyes and a mouth. The guide there gave us a very quick tour and explained why this site COULD have been the site of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but was quick to emphasize that the where matters very little. What really matters is that it happened, and that Christ didn’t stay in the grave. No matter which of the two (or neither) it was, I’m with the guide on this one!! All that really matters is that the resurrection did happen, and that “He is not here. He is risen, just as He said.”
For the most part, that was our day. Like I said, a few religious sites and a few cultural sites. I think we are all sad to be leaving soon. Sad to leave our guide friend Ronnie, and sad to leave such a great country where we have heard and seen so much. However, our bodies are getting very tired, and since our bags our packed and our hotel reservation runs out, I guess we will come home! We will tour for the day (headed to the Holocaust Museum and Caiaphas’ house) and we will have a Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant before driving to Tel Aviv to catch our almost midnight flight. As far as I know, we are still planning on arriving in STL around noon on Saturday. Maybe a little jet lagged, but with plenty of stories and pictures, so bear with us. It has been an amazing, life-changing, eye-opening trip. So worth it!! Now, we have a context that brings the Bible to life. We are deepened in our faith and more understanding of current events in the Middle East. We are so very thankful!
A Full Day touring Jerusalem:
I don’t think we can fully convey our events of the day without a lengthy description with lots of pictures. But from Israel the pictures take forever to load, so they may have to come later…
1. We started the morning with a trip to the Mount of Olives. This is the place the Messiah is supposed to arrive from, so Jews and Christians alike see this as an important spot. Thousands of Jews are buried here, hoping to have a front row seat for when the Messiah comes and raises the dead. But the Mt. of Olives overlooks the whole city, and there we got to sit with Roni and hear an overview of Old Testament history and a general explanation of why the city has so much “holiness per square inch” and how it is divided. I got most of this description on video, which is another thing I’ll post when we’re back in the land of free wifi.
2. One thing we saw from the top of the Mt. of Olives is the Gate called Beautiful, which is the gate through which the Messiah is prophesied to enter the Old City. In order to prevent this from happening, the Muslims, who control that specific area, have sealed it up tight and buried their dead beside it, which would be an unclean place for a Jew to pass.
3. Walking down from the Mt. of Olives, we walked on the Street of Palms, where the people waved branches and sang Hosanna as Christ entered the city.
5. Then, one of the favorites of the day, we entered the Garden of Gethsemane. We got to spend a little time there reading and praying, reflecting on how Christ might have felt when he was there praying. It was so cool to read the account while sitting in the garden itself. A highlight for life!
6. We walked a little further to reach the City of David, which, as you might imagine is primarily underground. The City of David is an interesting mix of excavation sites and Hezekiah’s Tunnel, which was dug to direct water into the city, thus protecting it from attackers who might try to hold the people captive by limiting their water supply. The tunnel was hand-chiseled along an existing crack. The two sides started chiseling and eventually met in the middle! Anyway, we waded through the knee deep Gihon Spring that still flows through the cave. A memorable experience for sure!! We also got to see the excavation of the potential house of David and a pool where Jesus healed a blind man.
7. From there we headed to the traditional site of the Upper Room, though it is very likely that it is not the actual Upper Room. It looked nothing like we would have imagined, but also it has had some renovations over the last 2000 years… Either way, this site was atop Mt. Zion.
8. Next we grabbed some lunch in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, where our choices included burgers, pizza, bagels, and schwarma (and probably some more, but these stick out). We will be back there again, which is good because we didn’t have any time to explore or to shop!
9. Next we headed to the Wailing Wall, or the Western Wall (two different names for the same place). The second Jewish temple was flattened in 70 AD, not yet to be rebuilt, but the retaining walls that King Herod built to flatten out the plaza there on Mt. Moriah still exist to this day, and the Western Wall is the one that would have been closest to the temple itself. Therefore, it is, to the Jews, “the holiest place in all of Jerusalem today” and is the place where Jews go to pray and to stick prayers into the cracks of the Wailing Wall, believing that they will be answered when the Messiah comes. Interesting side notes: The strictest of Jews refuse to even go onto the Temple Mount, for fear that they would accidentally tread on a portion of the old temple that they didn’t have the right to enter (there were separate areas of the old Temple for women, men, priests, etc. Also, to pray at the Wailing Wall guys and girls have to go to separate areas. Men must cover their heads and women must cover their elbows (and at least part of the leg, and most everything in between). This is the most important place for the Jews because it is as close as they can get to the old Temple, and restoring the Temple is probably their most important goal.
10. One of our last stops of the day was the Davidson Center, which houses some important Temple excavations like the Southern Steps and a cornerstone. The excavation around these areas is tricky because the Temple Mount itself belongs to the Muslims for now, and because of shaky peace, either side is extremely limited in what they can do in this area.
11. Our final stop of the night was the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopis. We had the opportunity to tour the campus a bit and to hear a lecture about “How Christ Got Into Trouble.” This lecture’s aim wasn’t to speak against Christ’s actions, simply to point out which words and deeds irritated the Sanhedrin the most (such as His cleansing of the Temple, His claims of authority and the ability to forgive sins, His defense while on trial, etc.). Ironically enough, the lecture was given by a professor who traveled from Dallas Theological Seminary (with whom we have a partnership!!!), Darrell Bock. We enjoyed getting to tour the campus, and though we had to leave the session early, it was interesting to mix and mingle with graduate students at Hebrew U and to hear Dr. Bock’s thoughts.
12. At last, our day was complete and we headed to dinner at the hotel. A full day, a great day, and we’re ready for another one tomorrow. We tour Jerusalem all day tomorrow and half the day Friday before heading to the airport. What more surprises does this city hold for us???
Tonight the tiredness is getting to us, but at the same time, we realize we have arrived at our last hotel and that means our time in is Israel is passing by. But not without return! In four days we have seen so much variety of countryside and so much important Biblical history that our brains are in danger of overload!!
So, today…we awoke this morning from a night’s sleep in the Bedouin camp. The Bedouin camp was a neat experience—not the best night sleep for everyone, but a once in a lifetime thing and worth it.
Our first and longest stop of the day was Masada, which is a fortress built by King Herod in 37 BC. Herod was an incredibly paranoid king, killing 6 or 7 of his wives and 2 of his own sons when he felt they had become a threat to his throne. As a part of his lunacy, he built several fortresses throughout Israel for escape in case of revolt, and Masada is the one that remains to this day (2000 years later). It’s built on the side of a cliff in the Judean Desert and was impenetratable. He designed this incredible water cistern system, taking advantage of the low elevation of the Dead Sea area and channeling the little rain water the desert does receive to be stored in his cisterns. Today our guide said that Herod’s stores could supply 1000 people with water for seven years. That coupled with the dry air in which fruits and foods don’t spoil easily, and the cliffside fort with only one way in made it a very secure and well-supplied place for the king (though he never used it for that purpose).
The Zealots, a Jewish sect around 70 AD, long after King Herod’s death, did actually use it as a military stronghold in battle against Rome, and held out for 7 years in Masada. The only way the Romans found to defeat them was to use Jewish slaves to build a massive ramp up to the cliff, knowing that the Zealots wouldn’t shoot their fellow countrymen. Anyway, this stronghold is the place we toured today, seeing ruins of the walls, the palaces, the bathhouses & saunas & pools of Herod, hiking through the desert all the while. It was a perfect 70ish degrees and very cool scenery. Their deserts are rocky sand, not like the smooth sand dunes seen in other places of the Middle East.
After Masada, we went for a little dip in the Dead Sea. The most important things to know about the Dead Sea are:
1. It’s the lowest elevation in the world.
2. It’s so full of salt and minerals that nothing really lives in it.
3. The water is so dense that if you pick your legs up you float with no effort required.
4. The mud from the bottom is very good for your skin and actually an expensive spa material.
5. Never, under any circumstances, should you immerse your mouth or eyes!!
We enjoyed some time in the water and on the beach, and I’m sure we are all moisturized and exfoliated by our short Dead Sea spa experience!
From the Dead Sea we drove up to Jerusalem, where we will spend the rest of our time. The scenery out our bus window turned from rocky desert to slightly greener hills to, boom, the out of nowhere city scene. Jerusalem is like a mystery needing to be unlocked—so full of history, so full of conflict and tension and dispute. We can’t wait to learn more about it in the days to come. Jerusalem has one section called the Old City, which is the focus of it all, but it is surrounded on every side by hotels and homes and buildings. The structures don’t look American at all, but this city looks much more American than the others because it is much more commercially developed and crowded than other places we have visited. We stopped at Mt. Scopis, where Hebrew University is located, to see the whole view of the cityscape and to take pictures. We settled into our hotel here, had some dinner, ordered Hebrew jewelry (anyone that wanted it) and even had a headband crafting night. Gotta get a little group bonding time in there too! So, a sun-filled, happy day—we’re still soaking in every single part of it!!
That’s all for now! We’ll give you more details about the city itself as they develop in the days to come!