Month: March 2014

The Holy City

For Americans, places like Jerusalem are almost too much to take in.  We are accustomed to our own almost 400-year-old culture.  We visit the east coast and view 250-year-old buildings with awe and a profound sense of our history.  When we see remains of walls and portions of city streets that are 2,000 and more years old, we have a great deal of difficulty understanding it.  That is the way I felt very often in Israel and, particularly, in Jerusalem.  And it’s not only the antiquity of the remains, but it is also the life-changing events that occurred within those walls and on those city streets.

In the United States we can see the places where the history of the British Colonies in America was forever changed, but in Jerusalem we can see the places where the destiny of mankind was forever changed.  To think that our Savior walked as a Man within these walls, that He taught on these steps, that He dragged His wounded body through these crowded streets to the place of the crucifixion is something that words cannot appropriately express.

Today, the old city of Jerusalem is busy and noisy, filled with shopkeepers selling olive wood carvings and pomegranate juice and t-shirts, and with tourists trying to take pictures of everything while keeping up with their tour groups, and with families and children visiting the Western Wall to pray.  But still, if you take the time, you can imagine a rag-tag group of men following an ordinary-looking Man to the Temple.  You can imagine jealous men spying on that ordinary Man, seeking a way to destroy Him.  You can imagine the people thronging the crowded streets, one day cheering the ordinary Man and days later screaming for His execution.  And if you are very still, you can imagine the rumors flying through the city that the ordinary Man is not so ordinary after all.  In fact people are whispering that He has risen from the dead and has been seen by many people.

And then suddenly, we are back in the 21st century, listening to our tour guide, watching to see where he points, looking for the place to take photographs, staying with the group, and wondering when and where we will have lunch and just how much time we will have for shopping.  Amazing!

Three days we spent in the old city and I could easily have spent many more.  So many impressions, both of the ancient city and of the modern city.  How can I tell which are the most important to share with you?  I can only pick my favorites (and perhaps the best photos). Join me and we’ll walk the streets of the Holy City together.

Salad for Breakfast?

Let me begin by saying, I went to Israel fully prepared to try some new foods.  No problem! However, I am not a morning person and breakfast, for me, is like a slow wake-up call.  What I saw at our first breakfast was not a slow wake-up call.  All kinds of veggies including salad (not lettuce salad, but chopped tomatoes and cucumbers and onions and bell peppers), several different kinds of olives, and a couple of different types of what looked like smoked fish.  Those don’t scream “breakfast” to me.  But don’t let me make you believe it was all bad. Once I got past the salad I found scrambled eggs and hard-boiled eggs and potatoes and yogurt and fresh fruit and wonderful breads.  Some days there were blintzes and bourekas. (Basically these are yummy stuffings like cheese rolled up in equally yummy pastry.). Believe me, I found plenty of good food to get me going every morning.

On to lunch and dinner…I have to be perfectly honest – many times I had no idea what I was eating so I always tried to take very small portions.  I didn’t want to waste food but I also didn’t want to have to eat a great big spoonful of something  that turned out to be less than delicious.  It’s like being a little kid when your parents want you to try something new but you know that whether you like it or not, you’re going to have to clean your plate!

But back to the food itself…hummus and pita bread were my best friends throughout the entire trip.  They are so much better in Israel than they are here.  I am certain I had them at every meal.  On this trip I discovered something else that went along with the hummus very nicely.  I think it is called matbucha, a mixture of tomatoes and bell peppers, somewhat like our salsa.  Before you come to the conclusion that I survived on pita and hummus, let me say that there were plenty of chicken, beef, and fish dishes.  Because we ate mostly at unlabeled buffets at kibbutzim during the day and the hotel at night, I have no idea what they were called.  I just know that they were all very tasty!

One night, in Bethlehem, we were served at our tables rather than buffet-style.  That was an interesting experience in being an ignorant tourist in a foreign land!  We all sat down to the table on which we found a variety of small dishes of food.  I later discovered that this is called a mezze of salads. None of us knew what we should do at this point – were we to go ahead and eat, was this the extent of the meal, what were these dishes?  Finally, we began to pass the dishes and to eat.  We were beginning to fill up when a waiter brought a serving dish of potatoes.  Then we began to think that perhaps the meal was being served in courses.  So we each took a spoonful of potatoes.  Just when we were starting to feel just about full, the waiters came with dinner plates for each of us!  Oops!  I can’t even remember what was on that plate.  I just ate so that I would not appear to be rude.  Thankfully, when dessert was served, it was a choice between a tiny sort of chocolate cream puff or a tiny little boat of pastry filled with fruit.  Oh, and dessert was served with a teeny, tiny cup of Turkish coffee – the strongest, blackest coffee you ever tasted in your life.  I was up later than usual that night!

Perhaps our best eating experience was in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem.  Our guide, Avi, led us to a little restaurant called Courtyard.


The name may sound trendy, but the restaurant was really just a hole in the wall.  The courtyard was the open area where tables had been placed for the benefit of all the restaurants in that area.

Courtyard in Jerusalem

Back to the food – I ordered falafel – deep-fried balls of ground chickpeas in a pita with veggies and a creamy sauce – and Jim ordered shawarma – an Arabic dish of shaved meat in a wrap with veggies and various sauces, similar to the Greek gyros.

Falafel in the foreground and shawarma in the background

And yes, there were French fries which were just as good as ours at home and Coke Zero – yippee!  It was all so good – one of the best meals we had in Israel.

So, maybe I never tried salad for breakfast, but I did try some new things and enjoyed them.  I may even try to recreate a few of them at home.  I’ll let you know how that goes!



On to Jerusalem!

On Saturday, March 15, we packed up and boarded our buses to begin the journey to Jerusalem, but we had some stops to make along the way. The first was Beth Shan or Beit She’an or Scythopolis.  I love this place.  I think it’s because there are so many ruins that have been partially reconstructed which makes it easier for me to imagine the Roman era of the city.  Going back into Old Testament history, Beth Shan was the city where the Philistines hung the bodies of Saul and his sons on the city walls.  This is the place where the brave men of Jabesh-gilead recovered their bodies and carried them away to be buried properly.  Ironically, Beth Shan translates “house of tranquility”. At Beth Shan we were able to sit in the Roman amphitheater and to walk down the paved cardio or main street.  We could see remains of the bath house and of temples to Roman gods.

The ruins of Beth Shan with the column-lined cardo in the background.

Two more interesting things about Beth Shan that day…

1. During the preaching service in the amphitheater we heard Brian Leicht, a member of our chuch, play a call to worship on the shofar, a ram’s horn very much like those the priests would have used in Bible days.

Brian Leicht playing the shofar.

2. The only living things we saw in all of these ruins were a couple of shepherds, four or five Great Pyrenees dogs and a big herd of sheep making their leisurely way right through the ruins.

A flock of sheep and their shepherds wandering through the ruins of Beth Shan.

It was time to get back to the buses and to move farther south to Jericho.  This was my first visit to Jericho so I was pretty excited to get there.  Looking back, I am not sure just what I thought I was going to see.  After all, what happened in Jericho?  The walls came tumbling down, right?  So, this is what we saw…

What was left of Jericho…
…with a few discernible bricks here and there.

Now, if I was an archaeologist, I am sure I would have been able to make more out of this site, but I am not and I cannot!  Can you tell that Jericho was a bit of a letdown for me?  However, after lunch we did see some young camels grazing in the lot across the street from the hotel.  That made it all worthwhile!

Camel grazing in a lot across from the Intercontinental Hotel in Jericho.

We left the dust of Jericho behind us and began to watch for our first sighting of Jerusalem.  It’s exciting to climb higher and higher, knowing that the Holy City is just beyond one of those ridges up ahead.  Finally, it bursts into view and the enormity of the importance of the place sinks into our hearts and minds!

View of Jerusalem from the Haas Promenade.

 Before going on to our hotel, we made one more stop at the Model City at the Israel Museum.  At this point, the model was difficult to take in, partly because we were tired after a long day of touring and partly because our ideas of the city were only partly formed.  After being in the city a couple of days we would be ready to return and understand what we saw before us.  So, on to the Dan Jerusalem Hotel and glorious, oh-so-welcome rest!

The Dan Jerusalem Hotel at sunset on the evening of our arrival in Jerusalem.




Our Day in Northern Galilee

I have found out that blogging while on a tour through Israel is tough!  We get up every morning at 5:00, have breakfast at 6:00, and start touring by 7:45 at the very latest. We usually get back to the hotel around 5:30, eat dinner at 6:00 and often have evening activities.  Yes, the evening activities are usually optional, but who wants to come all this way and miss anything?  The point is: there is very little time to think, let alone write.  Add to that very unreliable internet service and blogging becomes a time-consuming, sleep-depriving problem!

Now that I’ve spent all that time excusing myself, I think I will try to catch you up on our travels.

Tel Dan – a beautiful place that was so poorly used by the northern tribes of Israel. The kingdom had divided after Solomon’s death.   In the northern kingdom, King Jeroboam set up a golden calf for the people to worship so that they would not go down to Jerusalem.  Archaeologists have found the site of the altar to Israel’s false god.

Only the foundations of the altar were found. The metal structure was added to help us understand the appearance of the original altar.

Seeing this tranquil spot in our day it is difficult to imagine the ugliness of idol worship going on here, especially idol worship by God’s own people.  That golden calf was one of the first steps down the path away from God and toward sure judgment and destruction.  It is so easy to judge Israel, but I wonder how many idols we worship in the U.S. today.  Idols like comfort and self-indulgence and our children and our free time and…and…and…  Do you see it?  Do you recognize the idols you hide away, thinking God doesn’t know or thinking that they are not really idols?  I see it in myself and it makes me want to run away from my high place and away from my particular golden calf and back to Jerusalem to worship the one, true God.

Looking away from the altar at Tel Dan the view is deceptively peaceful. We are actually looking into Lebanon – not a friend of Israel. As our guide, Avi, told us the trouble for Israel always comes from the north.

Caesarea Philippi – this day of touring was full of places where the ancient people worshipped many different gods.  Pan, the god of fright or panic, was worshipped at Caesarea Philippi.  Perhaps Jesus and his disciples had passed by the temple to Pan when Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:27-29).  Good man, great teacher, prophet…or the Son of God, the Messiah?  Knowing and believing the truth about our Savior was essential then and it is essential now.  At Caesarea Philippi we were challenged to examine our own beliefs about Jesus.  Is your faith based on what your family or friends believe or is it based on the Word of God?  Are you trying to combine worship of Jesus with the worship of many other gods?  What would you say to the question, “Who do you say I am?”

The cave into which sacrifices to Pan were thrown. At one time a temple was built in front of the cave.

A side note about Tel Dan – we got a glimpse of coney’s here,  Can you see one in this picture?



Before leaving Tel Dan we saw an old Canaanite gate – so old that Abraham may have gone through it on his way to rescue Lot.  The antiquity of the sites in Israel are so hard for an American to take in!  We see places that are 250 years old and are amazed.  Something that is thousands of years old is almost impossible to comprehend.

The gate has been covered to prevent erosion and at some time the opening was closed. Can you imagine Abraham walking through this gate?

Leaving Caesarea Philippi, we traveled on to the Golan Peace Overlook.  Until you have seen the Golan Heights, it may be difficult to understand why this area is so essential to the defense of Israel.  Standing on this ridge of land overlooking the villages along the eastern bank of the Galilee it is very easy to understand.  Those villages were all too vulnerable to shelling from the Golan.

To get back to the hotel from the Golan Heights we did not take our bus.  We were in for a treat that day!  We climbed on boats made to somewhat resemble old fishing boats and started out across the sea of Galilee.



Partway across the lake all of our tour group’s boats (8 or 9 boats) tied up together and we sang and listened to Chuck preach on the waters which Jesus calmed and on which He walked so long ago.  Quite a memory!  The end of a great day in Galilee.

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