Israel: The Final Day

Friday, April 24th, concluded two of the most remarkable weeks of our lives. It would be wonderful if every Christian could make this pilgrimage. It truly is an amazing adventure that will change forever the way you look at the biblical narrative.

The final All Saints' Group Shot.  Jerusalem in the background.

The final All Saints’ Group Shot. Jerusalem in the background.

Our morning on this last day started later than usual. We had to pack our bags for the airport prior to leaving the hotel in the morning. At 11 a.m., we boarded the bus to visit Ein Karem. You may recall, we attempted to visit the birthplace of John the Baptist earlier in the week, but it had closed just prior to our arrival. Today, we were able to visit the site southwest of Jerusalem. The Church of St. John the Baptist was built in the 19th century on top of prior Crusader and Byzantine churches. If you’ve read about our adventures in the Holy Land up to this point, you will notice that this is a recurring theme. Christians from the early centuries of Christianity recognized a site as being the location of some event with historical and spiritual significance, and then built a church over the site. These churches were then destroyed either by natural disaster, or more often, by conquering armies. Later Christians then rebuild churches on the foundations of the old. This church contains an ancient mosaic floor and a cave which has been recognized as the place of birth of John the Baptist. Across the valley from the Church of St. John the Baptist, and up another hillside lies the Church of the Visitation. Climbing the hill was an endurance test for many of us. This modern church built (can you guess?) on top of an ancient church is reputed to be the location of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth when they both were pregnant. It was fitting that we read the Benedictus (the song of Zechariah, father of John) at the Church of St. John the Baptist, and the Magnificat (the song of Mary) at the Church of the Visitation.

Church of St. John the Baptist

Church of St. John the Baptist

Interior of Church of St. John the Baptist

Interior of Church of St. John the Baptist

These three clergy members were singing, as part of the liturgy, the spiritual, "Amen"

These three clergy members were singing, as part of the liturgy, the spiritual, “Amen”

The altar in the grotto where John the Baptist was born

The altar in the grotto where John the Baptist was born

Benedictus

Benedictus

The Church of the Visitation

The Church of the Visitation

This is only a small portion of the incline we walked up to reach the Church of the Visitation

This is only a small portion of the incline we walked up to reach the Church of the Visitation

A chapel on the side of the Church of the Visitation (we could not enter the interior of the Church as it was closed at the time).

A chapel on the side of the Church of the Visitation (we could not enter the interior of the Church as it was closed at the time).

Magnificat

Magnificat

"And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit,  and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!" - Luke 1:41-42

“And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” – Luke 1:41-42

The Church of St. John the Baptist from across the Valley at the Church of the Visitation

The Church of St. John the Baptist from across the Valley at the Church of the Visitation

An Orthodox Church of the Visitation (also built over an ancient church on the same hillside)

An Orthodox Church of the Visitation (also built over an ancient church on the same hillside)

From Ein Karem, we returned to Mt. Herzl, which is the location of Yad Vashem. This time however we walked through the National Cemetery viewing the gravesites of Israel’s former prime ministers and then the gravesites of fallen soldiers.. As you may remember, this is the Israeli equivalent of Arlington National Cemetery in the U.S.

Walking through the National Cemetery.

Walking through the National Cemetery.

The Seamen's Memorial. I thought it was quite moving.

The Seamen’s Memorial. I thought it was quite moving.

You may recognize this name among the graves of former Jewish leaders., the fourth prime minister and "Iron Lady" of Israel

You may recognize this name among the graves of former Jewish leaders., the fourth prime minister and “Iron Lady” of Israel

From there, we went to the Mahane Yehudi Market in Jerusalem. Walking through this open-air market that covers several blocks lying between Agripas St. and Jaffa St. is quite an experience. This is especially so on Friday afternoon, which is when we visited. The market is overcrowded with tourists and locals alike. Locals are getting in their last-minute, hurried shopping for Shabbat (Sabbath). It was zoo-like, requiring much effort and determination to fight through the crowds. Folks are shoving and bumping into each other, while the vendors are yelling out, trying to sell their goods. Aisles are filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods, fish, meat and cheeses, nuts, seeds, spices, wines and liquors, clothing and shoes, housewares and textiles. It was fun and interesting! I discovered later that this market has been the location of several suicide bombings over the past 20 years (being such a crowded site makes it a good target) in which at least 15 were killed and 182 were injured. Maybe it’s good we didn’t know that before we went!

Wall-to-wall Shoppers

Wall-to-wall Shoppers

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We had a visit from Ze'ev's son, Dan, while leaving the market

We had a visit from Ze’ev’s son, Dan, while leaving the market

Our excellent lunchtime restaurant

Our excellent lunchtime restaurant

Having lunch with the Kellys before going to the market

Having lunch with the Kellys before going to the market

What did I order?  Jerusalem Mixed Grill, invented at this spot,  consisting of chicken hearts, spleens and liver mixed with bits of lamb cooked on a flat grill, seasoned with onion, garlic, black pepper, cumin, turmeric and coriander. Mmm!

What did I order? Jerusalem Mixed Grill, invented at this spot, consisting of chicken hearts, spleens and liver mixed with bits of lamb cooked on a flat grill, seasoned with onion, garlic, black pepper, cumin, turmeric and coriander. Mmm!

After having lunch and doing a little shopping and gawking at the market, we took another quick trip by the Western Wall. Afterwards, we drove to a hilltop south of Jerusalem to take a group picture and take some final pictures of the city of Jerusalem and its surrounding countryside.

Praying at the Western Wall

Praying at the Western Wall

View of Jerusalem from the South

View of Jerusalem from the South

Impromptu Hebrew song-leading.

Impromptu Hebrew song-leading.

Our final treat of the trip was to participate in “The Shabbat of a Lifetime.” About fourteen of us were invited into the home of a local Orthodox Jewish family to join them for their Shabbat dinner. It was an absolute highlight of our trip. The family consisted of a young man and wife, his mother, and their three small children, aged five and under. Upon arrival, we greeted one another with “Shabbat Shalom,” a wish for a Shabbat of peace. The Shabbat candles, five in all, had been lit prior to our arrival. After being seated, our group (at least attempted to) join in and sing “Shalom Aleichem,” a song addressed to the accompanying angels of the feast. A particularly meaningful event then occurs: the husband shows his love and admiration for his wife by singing Eishet Chayil, “A Woman of Valor,” which is from Proverbs 31. Then, both the father and mother lay hands on the children individually and pronounce a blessing on each one – for boys, that God would make them like Ephraim and Manasseh, and for girls, that God would make them like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. There were a few other wonderfully symbolic rituals and group songs intermingled with four courses of delicious food. We felt so blessed that this family would share such an intimate and sacred part of their lives with us. (Pictures were not allowed.)

Jewish Children playing in the neighborhood

Jewish Children playing in the neighborhood

More children in the neighborhood

More children in the neighborhood

Jewish home in which we participated in Shabbat (well... actually the house next door). :)

Jewish home in which we participated in Shabbat (well… actually the house next door). 🙂

Unfortunately, our Shabbat dinner was cut too short as we had to leave for the Tel Aviv airport. Exhausted from the previous two weeks of hectic, action-packed touring, we dragged ourselves through all the checkpoints and security. Our plane lifted off the ground shortly after midnight for the twelve hour flight back to the states. Around 5 a.m., we landed at JFK in New York (of course there was a 7 hour time difference). Thankfully, many of us slept quite well on this flight (including Cindy and me). After a three hour layover, we returned to Tampa, landing at 11 a.m. Cindy and I picked up our rental car, had lunch, and now have an evening to relax in our hotel.

We won’t return to Beatitude until Monday. The next post will be from Titusville, where Beatitude is docked in her slip. While we’ve had an amazing time in the Holy Land, I am going to be so happy being back on the water!

Israel Day Twelve

Our penultimate day in the Holy Land began with a short trip southeast of Jerusalem to Herodium, almost 2500 ft above sea level and the highest peak in the Judean Desert. This is an amazing archaeological site which contains Herod the Great’s fortress (with his palace inside) that was built between 23-15 B.C. The fortress is quite impressive. The palace was built on a smaller hill and then dirt was added all around the exterior making a larger hill out of the smaller one. From atop the fortress, one has a breathtaking view of the surrounding countryside. One can see Jerusalem and the Dead Sea from the site. We walked through his fortress and enjoyed the beautiful vistas of the surrounding valleys and mountains. We walked down into the tunnels within the walls, initially used for water cisterns, but later for defense purposes by the rebels. Herodium was one of the last rebel strongholds after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. We walked past the amazing theatre he constructed on the side of the fortress as we made our way to his tomb, which was only discovered in 2007. Herod the Great was definitely a great builder!

Approaching Herodium

Approaching Herodium

A panorama from Herodium

A panorama from Herodium

Looking down onto Herod's Great Pool and a part of the town which was excavated.

Looking down onto Herod’s Great Pool and a part of the town which was excavated.

Stones used for defense at Herodium.

Stones used for defense at Herodium.

A look over the fortress.

A look over the fortress.

Herod's fortress, and palace within

Herod’s fortress, and palace within

A magnificent view of the surrounding countryside

A magnificent view of the surrounding countryside

View from atop Herodium

View from atop Herodium

Cindy exiting the bath house.  Most of the bathhouses one sees from Roman times, have no roof.  This one is remarkable in that the dome shaped roof above is still intact.

Cindy exiting the bath house. Most of the bathhouses one sees from Roman times, have no roof. This one is remarkable in that the dome shaped roof above is still intact.

Ruins at Herodium

Ruins at Herodium

Walking down into the tunnels within the walls of the fortress.  Originally used for water cisterns, but used for defense purposes by the rebels.

Walking down into the tunnels within the walls of the fortress. Originally used for water cisterns, but used for defense purposes by the rebels.

Looking down from the location of Herod's tomb (lower left).  Jerusalem is visible in the background.

Looking down from the location of Herod’s tomb (lower left). Jerusalem is visible in the background.

Standing in front of the ruins of Herod's tomb, a magnificent structure when intact.

Standing in front of the ruins of Herod’s tomb, a magnificent structure when intact.

The Theater on the slopes of Herodium.

The Theater on the slopes of Herodium.

From this point southeast of Jerusalem, we journeyed to a site northwest of Jerusalem, that is, the tomb of the prophet Samuel. Nabi Samuel, located in the West Bank, contains an 18th century mosque built on top of a Crusader church. In the crypt is a tomb that is said to contain the remains of Samuel. A small synagogue is also located in the underground chamber. The site is considered to be a Holy Site by Jews, and we saw a number of orthodox Jews praying here. Unfortunately, the tomb itself was being renovated/restored, so we could not make our way into the crypt.

The Mosque at Nabi Samuel sitting above Crusader Ruins

The Mosque at Nabi Samuel sitting above Crusader Ruins

An Orthodox Jew praying next to the tomb of Samuel

An Orthodox Jew praying next to the tomb of Samuel

Nadi Samuel - The mosque built over the Crusader Church.

Nadi Samuel – The mosque built over the Crusader Church.

The tomb of Samuel lies through the door in the middle of the photo.

The tomb of Samuel lies through the door in the middle of the photo.

30 + mph winds and impending rain on top of Nabi Samuel.

30 + mph winds and impending rain on top of Nabi Samuel.

Crusader Ruins at Nabi Samuel

Crusader Ruins at Nabi Samuel

Bullet holes in the walls of Nabi Samuel's Mosque.  There are bullet holes in the walls of Jerusalem and virtually everywhere in the Holy Land as a result of the Arab/Israeli conflicts.

Bullet holes in the walls of Nabi Samuel’s Mosque. There are bullet holes in the walls of Jerusalem and virtually everywhere in the Holy Land as a result of the Arab/Israeli conflicts.

Today’s weather was pretty miserable. The high temperature was in the low to mid 50s and the wind was blowing at 25 mph with considerably higher gusts. We also had rain showers off and on. Ze’ev stated that this is the coldest Independence Day in the last 25 years. We were bundled up as best we could, but the cold was still biting and uncomfortable.

These signs are on every road that enters into a Palestinian Controlled Territory.

These signs are on every road that enters into a Palestinian Controlled Territory.

A shepherd and his sheep on a Judeal hillside.

A shepherd and his sheep on a Judeal hillside.

Driving outside of Jerusalem, we often see shepherds tending their sheep on the hillsides.  This always makes me think of the Christmas shepherds.

Driving outside of Jerusalem, we often see shepherds tending their sheep on the hillsides. This always makes me think of the Christmas shepherds.

When building a road, the ruins of this octagonal Byzantine church were discovered... the Kathisma Church, built where Mary stopped to rest on her way to Bethlehem to give birth.

When building a road, the ruins of this octagonal Byzantine church were discovered… the Kathisma Church, built where Mary stopped to rest on her way to Bethlehem to give birth.

From Samuel’s tomb, we returned to the Jaffa Gate of the Old City. We had a quick bite to eat, and then walked a section of the ramparts on top of the walls. The present walls of Jerusalem were built by Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century. The section of wall which we walked took us around, primarily, the Armenian Quarter of the Old City. Once again, the views were great. As we walked along the top of the wall, hundreds of young people walked beside them, a part of the Independence Day celebration in Israel. They were concluding an activity known as the March of the Living, an annual educational program which brings students from around the world to Poland, where they explore the remnants of the Holocaust. On Holocaust Memorial Day, thousands of young participants march silently from Auschwitz to Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp complex built during World War II. Many of the participants then come to Israel to march in celebration of Israel’s independence. The waves of blue-clad young people making their way around the walls and into the Old City, singing as they went, accompanied by the beating of drums and the blowing on shophars, was quite a sight.

The March of the Living adjacent to the walls of the Old City

The March of the Living adjacent to the walls of the Old City

Young People Marching on Israel's Independence Day

Young People Marching on Israel’s Independence Day

Walking the Ramparts of the Walls of Jerusalem

Walking the Ramparts of the Walls of Jerusalem

We finished up our day with a wonderful treat – to see the Shroud of Turin exhibit at the Pontifical Institute of Notre Dame of Jerusalem. The exhibit contains excellent information regarding the history and questions of authenticity of the shroud. There is also a full size replica of the shroud on display. The original just went on display in Italy for the first time in five years. Although not the Shroud of Turin, it was still quite remarkable to see the replica and surrounding exhibits. This shroud is a 14.3 x 3.7 ft. piece of cloth which contains the image of a man who obviously underwent great physical trauma consistent with a crucifixion. It is claimed by many to be the burial shroud of Christ. There is, obviously, much debate about its authenticity, but I find the evidence in its favor to be quite persuasive. If you are interested in reading more, I’d suggest reading this piece by Gary Habermas, a respected scholar on the resurrection of Jesus.

Replica of the Shroud of Turin (Unfortunately behind glass which causes reflections in the photo)

Replica of the Shroud of Turin (Unfortunately behind glass which causes reflections in the photo)

The Face, Arms, and Hands on the Shroud

The Face, Arms, and Hands on the Shroud

In the Apse of Notre Dame of Jerusalem

In the Apse of Notre Dame of Jerusalem

The Church of Notre Dame at the Pontifical Institute of Jerusalem

The Church of Notre Dame at the Pontifical Institute of Jerusalem

This evening, some of our group decided to go have dinner at the American Colony Restaurant, which was purported to serve the best steaks in Jerusalem. It was a lovely evening which took us out of our regular routine… And the steak did not disappoint!

A Lovely Dinner at the American Colony in jerusalem

A Lovely Dinner at the American Colony in jerusalem

Tomorrow is our last day of this wonderful tour. I am very sad to see it end, yet very glad for the coming rest. We will check out of our hotel in the morning, do some last minute touring and shopping, have dinner, and go to the airport for our flight which leaves just after midnight.

Israel Day Eleven

According to Ze’ev, our guide, in order to understand the Israeli psyche, one must visit two places. One, we have already visited in the Judean Desert, the Fortress of Masada. The second we would visited today. Our entire morning was spent at the Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum. Yad Vashem is Hebrew for “a place and a name,” a phrase taken from Isaiah 56:5 – ” Even unto them will I give in my house and within my walls a place and a name…” Yad Vashem is located on the slopes of Mt. Herzl, which is also the location of the national cemetery (the equivalent of our Arlington). Today was Israel’s memorial day in which they remember their fallen citizens and soldiers. It all made for one very emotional and moving morning. We first walked through the heart-rending Children’s Memorial. We made our way through a dark passage with myriad points of light representing the 1,500,000 Jewish children who perished in the holocaust. As we walked through, a voice read off the names, ages, and nationalities of each child who died. We then walked down the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations along which trees are planted to honor those non-Jews who risked their lives and families to assist and save Jews during the Holocaust. Next, we entered the Holocaust History Museum, a deeply troubling journey through the history of the horrific evil of 6,000,000 Jews murdered during the Holocaust. As we walked along, artifacts, testimonies, photographs, documentation, art, multimedia, and video art helped us to remember the atrocities perpetrated on the Jews. At 11:00, a two minute siren once again sounded throughout Israel, at which time we joined all Israelis across the land, pausing in our steps to silently remember. “Never Again” is the motto of the Jewish Defense League, and should be the motto of all people. (No pictures were allowed within the Museum.)

Soldiers gather on Mount Herzl to honor the fallen at the national cemetery.

Soldiers gather on Mount Herzl to honor the fallen at the national cemetery.

Cindy outside the Yad Vashem.

Cindy outside the Yad Vashem.

Just before entering the Children's Memorial.

Just before entering the Children’s Memorial.

The stones of varying heights represent the various ages of the 1.5 million children murdered during the Holocaust.

The stones of varying heights represent the various ages of the 1.5 million children murdered during the Holocaust.

In memory of Janusz Korczak, a polish Jew who ran an orphanage.  He refused freedom when the children of his orphanage were taken to Treblinka to be exterminated.  He willingly went along with those children for whom he cared.

In memory of Janusz Korczak, a polish Jew who ran an orphanage. He refused freedom when the children of his orphanage were taken to Treblinka to be exterminated. He willingly went along with those children for whom he cared.

The Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations.  Trees planted in gardens along both sides in honor of those Gentiles who risked all to help the Jews.

The Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations. Trees planted in gardens along both sides in honor of those Gentiles who risked all to help the Jews.

This tree honors Oskar Schindler (of Schindler's List), one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

This tree honors Oskar Schindler (of Schindler’s List), one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Entering the Holocaust History Museum.

Entering the Holocaust History Museum.

This is what one sees when he exits the museum. After having walked through the valley of death, one exits out into the bright daylight, overlooking the country side from a high vantage point, seeing the present life and vitality of a people once designated for annihilation.

This is what one sees when he exits the museum. After having walked through the valley of death, one exits out into the bright daylight, overlooking the country side from a high vantage point, seeing the present life and vitality of a people once designated for annihilation.

After having lunch at the museum, we attempted to visit the birthplace of John the Baptist. The traffic was horrendous due to the memorial day crowds in the area, but eventually we arrived in Ein Kerem, southwest of Jerusalem, and John the Baptist’s birthplace. Unfortunately, our timing was off. The site had just closed seconds before our arrival. Prior to our departure, I snapped a quick picture of the exterior of the Church of St. John the Baptist, a 19th century Roman Catholic Church built on the ruins of former Crusader and Byzantine churches.

The Church of St. John the Baptist in Ein Kerem.

The Church of St. John the Baptist in Ein Kerem.

Having been foiled at our last attempted site, we regrouped and decided to visit the site at Emmaus. Luke 24:13-35 records the post-resurrection story of two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were discussing the recent events in Jerusalem, when Jesus showed up and began to instruct them how that the Old Testament Scriptures testified of the recently crucified and resurrected Messiah. Only when he reached their house in Emmaus, and he had broken and blessed the bread, did they recognize that their guest teacher was the risen Lord. We visited the ruins of a 5th-century Byzantine Church on the site where this incident occurred. How thrilling to sit in the nave of the old church and read the story from Luke about the Emmaus encounter!

Ruins of the 5th-century Byzantine Church at Emmaus

Ruins of the 5th-century Byzantine Church at Emmaus

Looking toward the apse of the church at Emmaus

Looking toward the apse of the church at Emmaus

An icon of the Supper at Emmaus inside the church.

An icon of the Supper at Emmaus inside the church.

5th-century mosaic which was on the floor of the Byzantine church.

5th-century mosaic which was on the floor of the Byzantine church.

Additional mosaics.

Additional mosaics.

And one more.

And one more.

Yellow Rose of... Emmaus

Yellow Rose of… Emmaus

Photo of Aijalon Valley as we pass by in the bus.   This is the Valley in which Joshua commanded the sun to stand still as the Israelites defeated the Amorites.

Photo of Aijalon Valley as we pass by in the bus. This is the Valley in which Joshua commanded the sun to stand still as the Israelites defeated the Amorites.

From Emmaus, we took a short bus ride to Beit Shemesh, an ancient city dating back to pre-biblical times. It is mentioned in 1 Samuel 6 as being the first city encountered by the Ark of the Covenant as it returned from Philistia after having been captured by the Philistines. Beit Shemesh sits on a hill at the border of what was formerly Philistine and Israel in the days of the Old Testament. We stood on the tel among the excavated ruins looking out over the valley to the west, which was Philistine territory. Father Reid read the story of the return of the Ark as we gazed out on the terrain over which the Ark passed to reach the city. This made the story came alive.

The Mountain of the birthplace of Samson (taken as driving by in bus)

The Mountain of the birthplace of Samson (taken as driving by in bus)

Beit Shemesh

Beit Shemesh

Listening to our guide, Ze'ev atop Beit Shemesh

Listening to our guide, Ze’ev atop Beit Shemesh

The ruins of Beit Shemesh

The ruins of Beit Shemesh

Our last stop of the day was in the Valley of Elah. I Samuel 17 tells one of the most familiar of all Bible stories, which happened to take place in this valley. The Philistines were encamped on nearby hill called Azekah, while the Israelites were encamped on a ridge on the opposite side of the valley. David was sent by his father to take food to his brothers in the Israelite camp. While there he heard the taunting of a Philistine giant by the name of Goliath, who had challenged and taunted the cowering Israelite army for 40 days. You know the story… of how David bravely agreed to fight Goliath; of how he chose 5 small stones from the river bed and defeated the giant warrior with a perfectly placed stone to the forehead; of how he responded to Goliath with these words: ““You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” Standing in this valley, we read the story. I could “see” the armies encamped on the opposite hills. I could “see” Goliath spew forth his challenge. And, I could “see” David pick up the five stones and slay Goliath, cutting off his head with his own sword. It was truly amazing!

The Elah Valley

The Elah Valley

Azekah, the Philistine stronghold above the valley.

Azekah, the Philistine stronghold above the valley.

The Israelite stronghold opposite the valley

The Israelite stronghold opposite the valley

The  stream bed from which David chose the five smooth stones

The stream bed from which David chose the five smooth stones

Cindy choosing her own smooth stones

Cindy choosing her own smooth stones

A Spanish Broom in the Elah Valley

A Spanish Broom in the Elah Valley

This evening at sunset, Memorial Day ended, and Independence Day began. We were able to watch fireworks from our hotel room balcony. There is now two more days to go! Who knows what adventures await tomorrow?