Final Day in Jerusalem

I can’t believe this is our last day here. The time flew by and I had mixed emotions on leaving. As I was packing early this morning, all the things I have learned about the culture started coming back to me.

  • Advertisements (on television, billboards, etc) didn’t include ‘vices’ such as drugs, smoking, drinking, sexual.
  • Kosher food is a process where the Prime Minister inspects food and approves it.
  • Milk products and meat products were never served in the same meal.
  • On Thursdays around noon, people start to prep for Sabot and rituals. For example, our hotel thought we were Jewish and laid out a cloth and slippers by each side of our bed. (see photo)
  • On Thursdays food is prepped ahead of time so the Sabbath can be observed (Jewish don’t cook on the Sabbath). For example, there was no made to order cooked food these mornings.

Visiting George and Betty’s Apartment in Jerusalem

This morning we get the opportunity to visit the pastor’s parents, George and Betty’s apartment, in Jerusalem. Paster Allen was kind enough to get a bunch of taxis to the hotel and then gave the address to each of them.

There were about 25-30 of us that grabbed taxis. Me and Dewayne grabbed one and discovered our taxi driver drove like he was in New York City. My knuckles were white the whole time while riding with him. He was awesome! Loved to talk and was very friendly. All I could think about was that he should talk less and concentrate more on his crazy driving.

We arrived at George and Betty’s apartment around 9am. We went up the elevator to their floor and was warmly greeted by Betty. Looks like we were the first ones there. She directed us to a table where we signed in (so they could keep track of all the people that visited).

After all of us arrived, George and Betty talked about what they did for the ministry here. They translated books from English to Hebrew. They talked about their hardships dealing with the implications of working with different third parties, book distribution, etc. As I looked at the dining room table, there were about 30-40 books they have had translated already. What a huge deal! Then they talked about their first time here in Jerusalem with Derek Printz and securing the apartment we were currently in, about their neighbors, etc. I really like George and Betty a lot. Such sweet people that love God!

Shopping on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem

After we hopped back into taxis and made it back to our hotel, we had a few hours free time left, so Dewayne and I headed off with many others to go shopping on the nearby Ben Yehuda Street. We wanted to get some Christian-based gifts but soon discovered that was a little harder than we thought. Apparently, those types of gifts were extremely hard to find. We finally did find a shop that had some stuffed way in the back away from view. Hiding them perhaps? Hmm…

Dewayne was struggling with some kind of upper respiratory thing. Some friends of ours on the tour were sweet enough to give him some medication to alleviate the symptoms. Seems like whatever Dewayne took, it didn’t help. It’s not fun being sick in a foreign country. Can I hear an amen?

Music in Jerusalem

Another interesting thing is the music we heard all over the place. There were musicians around every corner (like in Nashville) but the music was very different from what us Westerner folk expect. I heard a lot of Klezmer music (Jewish), but also some jazz mixed with middle-eastern influences. Here is one video I took while walking the streets shopping.

Saying Goodbye to Israel

After shopping, we had a meeting at 5pm at our hotel to go over the final instructions to leave. We had to put our luggage on the bus by 6pm and then we went into the dining area for our last, and wonderful meal in Israel. I am going to miss the food here. The vegetables and fruits are so fresh! And who actually has honeycombs dripping with honey? Apparently Israel does. The watermelon was probably the best (or at least in my opinion). It was lightly sweet, juicy, temptingly red and delicious. The fresh olives was a new thing for us. We must have tried several new varieties. The dates were awesome. I considered those dessert. Yummm!

Right after dinner, we boarded the buses to head to the airport. Tito joined us as he lives in Tel Aviv, same city as the airport. We were all so quiet. Many of us were coming down with head colds and other traveling sicknesses.

Why didn’t I want to leave?! My heart was heavy for some reason. I felt a huge pull toward Jerusalem for whatever reason. Maybe the Holy Spirit? Could be.

At the airport, it was chaos as everyone heading toward different flights to get back to the states. Dewayne and I were guided by Tito (apparently he knew the airport well) to the airport security line, and it was so long!

At this point, everything became a big blur. Little did I know, I was coming down with something (like a severe head cold) which would haunt me for 10+ days after I got back.

Tour Day 7: Western Wall Tunnels, St. Anne, Christian Quarter, Holy Sepulcher, Israel Museum, American Embassy

This morning we woke up and was sad as this was our last day of the tour itself. We have really enjoyed Israel and felt like there was so much to see still. Dewayne was not feeling well and many people were sweet enough to provide some medicine to keep him going. After a great open-buffet breakfast, we met Tito right outside in front of the David Citadel Hotel and walked to our first stop.

On the way, we ran into a Bar Mitzvah celebration for a young man in the streets. There was a ton of dancing, singing, playing of instruments (trumpets, drums, clarinets). People were dressed in their finest dress attire. We crossed the street cutting in-between all the people celebrating. I tried to get a photo, but it was so chaotic that I was unsuccessful. Tito then told us that Bar Mitzvahs were only allowed to happen on Monday, Thursday (which was today) or Sundays.

Stop 1: Western Wall Tunnels

Yesterday, we visited the Western Wall, however, today we were going to make our way through the tunnels that span the Western Wall.

In 19 BCE, King Herod undertook a project to double the area of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem by incorporating part of the hill on the Northwest. In order to do so, four retaining walls were constructed, and the Temple Mount was expanded on top of them. These retaining walls remained standing, along with the platform itself, after the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.  Since then much of the area next to the walls became covered and built upon. Part of the Western Wall remained exposed after the destruction of the Temple. Since it was the closest area to the Temple’s Holy of Holies that remained accessible, it became a place of Jewish prayer.

Walking the Via Dolorosa

After being in the tunnels, we then walked out into the sunlight and heat and started walking toward our next stop. Along the way, we took the Via Dolorosa is a processional 18th century route in the Old City of Jerusalem, believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. It starts from the Antonia Fortress west to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (2,000 ft). It is today marked by nine Stations of the Cross; there have been fourteen stations since the late 15th century, with the remaining five stations being inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Stop 2: Saint Anne & Pools of Bethesda

What is unique about the Church of St Anne is that it is the traditional site of the home of Jesus’ grandparents, Anne and Joachim, and the birthplace of the Virgin Mary. It is just north of the Temple Mount, about 160 feet inside St Stephen’s (Lions’ Gate), the church stands in a courtyard with trees, shrubs and flowers. You would never know this place is among the craziness of the Muslim Quarter. The Church of St Anne is known for its amazing acoustics. Outside of the church is where excavations have revealed the actual location site of the Pools of Bethesda, the place where Jesus healed the crippled man. What Tito, our tour guide, told us was that the pools continued underneath the convent.

Our tour group sat down on the wooden pews, and was led by two of our awesome praise team members from our church. The sound inside was amazing!

Now there in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.
John 5:2 (NIV)

Stop 3: Via Dolorosa and Nun’s Ascent (Convent of the Sisters of Zion)

After we left Saint Anne’s, Tito told us we were going to lunch in the Christian Quarter of the city, but we would have to walk through the Muslim Quarter to get there. While walking down the streets of Jerusalem, soaking in the colorful culture, we came to the area called the Nun’s Ascent, an ancient street that intersects with the Via Dolorosa. I found it fascinating because of how long and high the steps went, almost like it ran into Heaven.

Apparently, Nun’s Ascent connects with the Convent of the Sisters of Zion (built in 1857) and we went inside to a small place where we sat down on concrete risers. There was barely enough room for everyone to sit. There was a podium at the bottom, like a lecture hall at school. It surprised me when Tito picked up some visual aids (i.e. maps, diagrams, etc.) and then begin to tell us the history of Via Dolorosa, history of the ancient ruins we were about to see in the basement. Apparently the ruins dated back to the Roman occupation of the city.

Lunch in the Christian Quarter

All that walking made us super hungry and I was on the verge of being hangry (hungry + angry). I was relieved when Tito told us we were stopping at this big place called Everest Ramzi. It was a tiny, cramped space, but was air conditioned, and so none of us complained. I didn’t take a photo because it wasn’t much of a place from the outside, but the food was great. I ate falafel balls and drank lemon aide mixed with mint leaves. Tito apparently knew the owner well and they chatted for awhile at a tiny round bistro table near the door. Because the place was so small, our food was prepared a couple of doors down, so the wait staff would come through the front door to bring us our food. It was a little different, but made memories.

Stop 4: Old City Jerusalem Marketplace

After lunch, Tito told us we were going to the Holy Sepulcher, but would be walking through the Old City Marketplace first. There were a ton of people, lots of vendors on the streets selling fresh fruits, goods from China (no kidding), and homemade apparel.

Stop 5: The Holy Sepulcher

After making our way through the streets of the Muslim Quarter, we came to the Christian Quarter. It’s located in the northwestern corner of the Old City, extending from the New Gate in the north, along the western wall of the Old City as far as the Jaffa Gate, along the Jaffa Gate – Western Wall route in the south, bordering on the Jewish and Armenian Quarters, as far as the Damascus Gate in the east, where it borders on the Muslim Quarter. The Christian quarter contains about 40 Christian holy places. Among them is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of Christianity’s holiest places. Most of its residents are Palestinian Christians, despite their dwindling numbers.

The Holy Sepulcher (so massage on the outside), from Christian perspective, contains the two holiest sites in Christianity:

  1. The site where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, at a place known as Calvary or Golgotha (Matt. 27:33–35Mark 15:22–25John 19:17–24), Golgotha, “the place of the skull” has been identified as an area of abandoned stone quarries just outside the city wall of the time.
  2. Jesus’s empty tomb, where he is said to have been buried and resurrected. The tomb is enclosed by a 19th-century shrine called the Aedicula. About 10 years after the crucifixion, a third wall was built that enclosed the area of the execution and burial within the city, and this accounts for the Holy Sepulcher’s location inside the Old City of Jerusalem today. In the bottom photo, the tomb is located to the left where the trees are on the other side of the wall.

Once we got inside the church, a flood of emotions came over me. The beauty of the place was overwhelming. I don’t usually feel emotional much, so the sudden feelings took me off guard. I am still processing these feelings, but the ones I can differentiate right now are awe, love, sadness, confusion, disgust, anger, and pity. I felt the awe and love of Jesus when I saw the area designated to Christianity.

As I started walking around different parts of the church, I saw people worshiping the planets, stars, and false gods, I was confused, then sad and felt pity for the people, but also had disgust for what they were doing. As I walked outside the door of the Holy Sepulcher, I then started to feel more disgust, but mostly anger.

I think the emotion I still feel is anger, but also sadness. If this is the most holy place, built on the place where Jesus was crucified, died at Golgotha, was buried in the tomb and rose from the dead, why are people worshiping other gods on the most sacred, holy, spot in the entire world?! That’s messed up!

On the Way to the Bus – the Jaffa Gate

After we spent some time in the Holy Sepulcher, we then headed out into the streets of Jerusalem and headed for the bus to take us to our next stop of the day. Along the way we passed by the ancient Jaffa Gate. This is the gate where the light show was on display the night before. The gate was built in 1538, as part of the Ottoman wall construction.

Stop 6: The Israel Museum (Model of Jerusalem & Dead Sea Scrolls)

We have been walking a majority of the past couple of days and now we found our bus parked and air conditioner running on a nearby street. We then drove 3.2km (2 mi) west to the Israeli Museum. The parking lot was huge, so I was grateful Eli let us off at the front. Here at the museum, Tito explained we would be seeing a large model of the city of Jerusalem and also the scrolls that were found in Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls). This was the Shrine of the Book portion of the Israel museum. While I wanted to take photos of that portion, that area was strictly forbidden to take photos and there were many people guarding that area.

Stop 7: American Embassy at Jerusalem

After viewing the Dead Sea Scrolls and the model of Jerusalem, we headed back to the bus. I was starting to feel sad because that was our last stop… or so we thought. On the bus heading back to our hotel, Tito mentioned we had one more stop – the American Embassy in Jerusalem. We were all excited since the embassy hasn’t been around but only a year. It is important too… the Embassy is responsible for the extensive US-Israel Bi-lateral relationship.

The Conclusion of Our Israel Tour

On the way back, the atmosphere was quiet. I was thinking about all that we have done with the group. I would assume others were thinking the same things. Tito, however, still talked and mentioned that him and Eli would be taking us to the airport the following day. That’s good. We have all spent so much time together, and it was nice to know we would get to see them one more time before leaving. But why did I feel so sad? ?

Tito told us that we would have a meeting at 5pm tomorrow on the bottom floor of the David Citadel hotel. After that meeting we would be downstairs by 6pm to load our luggage onto the bus. Then we would have our final meal at the hotel (I am really sad now – the food was freakin amazing). Our church was awesome to work with the hotel to let us keep the rooms until early that evening. That meant we could take a shower prior to leaving for the airport. That was a HUGE blessing.

Tomorrow, though, we would get to go anywhere in Jerusalem and do whatever we wanted – our free day. Dewayne and I decided we needed to get some gifts for our friends and family. We also found out that we could visit George and Betty Jackson’s apartment in Jerusalem. George and Betty are the parents of our pastor Allen Jackson.

Tour Day 6: Temple Mount, Western Wall, Jerusalem Archeological Park, Jewish Quarter, Yad Vashem

This morning, Dewayne and I were exhausted from the spiritual attack the night before. At breakfast, I talked about it to a few people and thought it was just as weird as Dewayne and I thought it was.

Today was a long day. According to Tito, our guide, we should wear our respectful clothing (i.e. long skirt or pants, something to cover the arms) since we would be visiting a holy place first.

Stop 1: Temple Mount (Mount Moriah)

Our first stop of the morning was the Temple Mount (Dome of the Rock) It was super hot and Dewayne wasn’t feeling well at all with some kind of sinus/cold thing. This didn’t stop me from snapping photos and soaking it all in. Tito, our guide, was a continuous flow of knowledge and information regarding the Temple Mount.

The Temple Mount (known as Solomon’s Colonnade in the Bible) was constructed by Herod the Great beginning in 20 BC.  Construction on it continued for 83 years until AD 64 when a halt was called to the project and 18,000 workers were laid off (riots resulted).  The Temple Mount is 1/6 the size of today’s Old City and covers 35 acres.

Built atop Herod’s construction of the Temple, the Dome of the Rock was erected by the Muslim ruler Abd el-Malik in 688-691. Because of its situation on bedrock, the numerous earthquakes over the centuries have not caused significant damage to the structure (unlike its neighbor Al Aqsa mosque).  This shrine was covered by a lead dome from 691 until it was replaced with a gold-colored covering in the early 1960s. Because of rust, the anodized aluminum cover was again replaced in 1993 with a gold covering.

Today it is still controlled by the Muslims and they use it to celebrate Ramadan by coming to what they call Haram esh-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary).  More than 400,000 Muslims often gather here on the final Friday of the feast.  On the southeastern side of the Temple Mount is a “seam” of stones where a later addition leans up against the earlier east wall.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.
Luke 1:8-13 (NIV)

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
Genesis 2:22 (NIV)

And Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.
John 10:23 (NIV)

While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade.
Acts 3:11 (NIV)

The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade.
Acts 5:12 (NIV)

Stop 2: Western Wall

After walking at the Template Mount, we walked over to the Western Wall. As we got closer to it, there were many people lined up to move toward the wall so they could have their time to pray. The women and men were separated by a wall (see first photo). As the men lined up to go to the wall, they were required to wear something on their head, and if they didn’t have it, then a white cap was provided. The women weren’t required to wear anything on their head, however, we were required to keep our arms and legs covered.

If you look closely to the wall, you will see bits and pieces of paper rolled up or folded and poked in the cracks. I didn’t leave a prayer on paper, however, when it was my turn to walk up to the ancient wall, I put my right hand on it and said a quick prayed for Jerusalem.

So why is the Western Wall important? The Western Wall is considered holy due to its connection to the Temple Mount. Because of the Temple Mount entry restrictions, the Wall is the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray, though the holiest site in the Jewish faith lies behind it.

Stop 3: Jerusalem Archeological Park (Southern Wall Walk)

After taking our turns praying at the Western wall, we followed Tito, our guide, into the streets and walked a short distance to the Jerusalem Archeological Park. This park is significant for the ancient city wall, the Temple’s staircase, a preserved ancient street, ritual immersion baths, and stores.

The southern wall area is located on the south-west side of the temple mount, inside the old city. The area is approached thru the Ha’Ashpathot (Dung) gate, which is located on the south side of the area. The Southern Wall (also called Herod’s Temple) in Jerusalem was built during King Herod’s expansion of the Temple Mount platform southward on to the Ophel.

Stop 4: Jewish QuarterStop 4: Jewish Quarter

After viewing all the ancient structures built by Herod, we walked a short distance to the Jewish Quarter. I didn’t know this until now, but Tito talked about how Jerusalem was divided into four parts, Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter, Christian Quarter, and Armenian Quarter. How they all live in peace in the city is a God-thing.

The Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City is one of the four quarters of the walled city. The Jewish quarter is home to around 2,000 people and covers about 0.1 square kilometers. It is also the location of many tens of synagogues and yeshivas (places of the study of Jewish texts) and has been almost continually home to Jews since the century 8 BCE.

While we were walking the streets of the Jewish Quarter, we enjoyed watching how the Jewish people lived, shopped, ate, and communicated.

Stop 5: Jerusalem New Souvenir Store (J.N.S.S)

After what seemed like walking all over Jerusalem, we headed back to the bus where Eli was waiting for us with the air conditioning on (thank goodness). Tito told us that we get to go shopping. We drove 4.5 km (3 mi) to the J.N.S.S Jerusalem New Souvenir Store LTD. As soon as we arrived, the owner of the store came onto our bus and talked to us for a few minutes. Apparently, the shop owner and workers carve beautiful Christian-based themes using Olive Wood. All the pieces were amazing! There was one Nativity scene that was over $12K! I bought a couple of things for friends and family while there, but nothing too big because we had to transport things back.

Stop 6: Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center

We drove about 8 km (5 mi) west outside the Jerusalem city limits. Once in, I found out we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the center. That was disappointing, so here’s a glimpse to inside the exhibit and what it looked like. The way it was set up, it was like a zig-zag structure taking us in and out of different rooms.

After going through each of the rooms and seeing videos/photos of families and people affected by the Holocaust, I was starting to feel sick to my stomach. How could Hitler and the Nazi party be so evil?! I felt like crying. Later Pastor Allen asked me what I thought about Yad Vashem. I told him it was ‘gut-wrenching’ to see all that in one place.

Of the photos I did get to take outdoors, I learned that a tree was planted in honor of each of the people involved and/or survived the Holocaust. I was super excited to see “Oskar & Emilie Schindler” represented there (see photo below then watch the movie Schindler’s List when you get a chance).

Jerusalem Light Show

We heard about a light show happening down the street from where we were staying at the David Citadel. Apparently, Jerusalem was going to display lights on the old city walls.

Dewayne and I wanted to go check it out and so after dinner we walked over to the area. It wasn’t too crowded yet, but within 15-minutes it got very busy. Music started blaring (couldn’t identify the genre) and more and more people lined the streets. It was nice to see others from our tour group there as well. This was a unique experience.

After the lights started, it wasn’t very exciting. Me and Dewayne just looked at each other and decided to go find something else to do and ended up browsing in the nearby shops. Dewayne was still struggling not feeling well, so we headed back to get some sleep.

Tour Day 5: Masada, En Gedi, St. George’s Monastery, Jerusalem (Old Cemetery, Garden of Gethsemane, Garden Tomb)

The next morning, we packed our bags and got them on the bus since we were going to Jerusalem David Citadel that evening. Tito, our guide, told us to wear comfortable clothing since we were going to do some walking and be outside in the heat. Oh my gosh, we were going to Jerusalem today. I am so excited.

Stop 1: Masada National Park

This morning, we went north on Hwy 90 20.7 km (13 mi) north towards Masada, Israel. We followed the Dead Sea for some time and then went west a couple of miles into the desert and we started seeing a large mountain. We were told this was Masada. As I looked more closely, I realized there were structures in tiers on the mountain. I have never seen anything like this.

Masada is located on a cliff isolated in the heart of the desert, a cliff overlooking the Dead Sea and the wild landscapes of the Judean Desert, once a magnificent palace build by Herod (quite the innovator).

During the Great Revolt, the last of the Roman rebels barricaded themselves, turning their desperate war into a symbol of struggle for freedom. Realizing that they wouldn’t survive, the soldiers and their families refused to be held as slaves and so decided to take their own lives and the lives of their families before captured. Each solider killed their own family members, and the ones that were left cast lots on who would be the last one to kill himself with the sword. The lucky one fell on his sword and no one remained in Masada. Such a tragic story and the last strongholds of the Roman Empire.

Stop 2: Ein Gedi Reserve

After Masada and a sunburn from being in the desert, we went north on Hwy 90 21.2 km (13 mi) to Ein Gedi to the reserve there. This is the area with a cave and waterfall, possibly the place where David hid from King Saul in the cave as it is the only source of fresh water near the Dead Sea.

Pastor Allen talked to the entire tour group talking about how we should invite the Holy Spirit in our lives, to experience life with us. Wow. Absolutely!

And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of En Gedi. After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the Desert of En Gedi.”
1 Samuel 23:29-24:1 (NIV)

Some people came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom,[a] from the other side of the Dead Sea. It is already in Hazezon Tamar” (that is, En Gedi).
2 Chronicles 20:2 (NIV)

Stop 3: St. George’s Monastery

After seeing Ein Gedi, we made a stop at Saint George’s Monastery on the route to Jerusalem. We went north, passed by Jericho, and went on a winding road towards Wadi Kelt, Israel. We pulled up at an interesting Catholic-like gate. As we got off the bus, we were met up by Bedouins trying to sell us scarves and necklaces. After this we walked down a path in the desert where the views were spectacular. There were rolling hills and deep valleys. All of a sudden, we saw structures built into the rock on the side of the mountains. I was awe struck.

St. George’s Monastery was originally started in the fourth century by a few monks who were looking to immerse themselves in the lifestyles and desert stories of  John the Baptist and Jesus. The monks, and perhaps most notably the hermit John of Thebes, eventually settled on the spot around a cave where it is believed the prophet Elijah was fed by ravens. The upper part of the monastery hosts the cave that Elijah the Prophet sought shelter in, while in the lower part of the monastery, a tomb of a Romanian monk that lived there in the 1960s still holds his well-preserved body.

Arrival in Jerusalem

After seeing St. George’s Monastery (from a distance), we got back onto the bus and headed a short distance west to Jerusalem. On the way, the desert started to disappear and gradually we would see houses on hills. I think these were the suburbs of Jerusalem? We then went into a tunnel and coming out in front of us was Jerusalem. The whole bus was quiet. We just stared. It was a beautiful sight with the golden dome in front of us surrounded by tons of buildings and houses. Hello Jerusalem! I got chills.

David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. 5 In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years. The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, “You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.” They thought, “David cannot get in here.” 7 Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David. 8 On that day David had said, “Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the water shaft to reach those ‘lame and blind’ who are David’s enemies.[a]” That is why they say, “The ‘blind and lame’ will not enter the palace.”
2 Samuel 5:4-8 (NIV)

After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want[a] to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. 2 But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, 3 Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do.
John 7:1-3 (NIV)

Stop 4: Vohlin Kollel – The Jewish Cemetery (Mount of Olives)

One of the first things that caught my eye is the enormous amount of stone boxes that lined the hills around us. The buses stopped on the side of the road and we got out and walked around this enormous cemetery. It was explained to us by Tito that the oldest graves were toward the bottom of the hill and the newer ones were near the top. These graves were located on the Mount of Olives. Talk about being close to Jesus.

But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up.
2 Samuel 15:30 (NIV)

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.
Luke 19:41-42 (NIV)

On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods.
1 Kings 11:7-8 (NIV)

The glory of the Lord went up from within the city and stopped above the mountain east of it.
Ezekiel 11:23 (NIV)

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city.
Acts 1:9-12 (NIV)

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me.

A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.
Matthew 21:1-2, 8-12 (NIV)

Stop 5: Dominus Flevit Church

After this we walked a little bit east to a nearby church called Dominus Flevit. It was built in 1955 to commemorate the Lord’s weeping over Jerusalem, Dominus Flevit features a beautiful view of the city through its distinct chapel window.  Excavations during construction of the church uncovered a number of ossuaries (bone boxes) from the time of Jesus with numerous inscriptions.

Stop 6: Garden of Gethsemane

After this we then walked a short distance NE to the Garden of Gethsemane.

The Garden of Gethsemane is at the bottom of the slope of the Mount of Olives opposite the Temple Mount.  Byzantine, Crusader and a modern church were built successively on the site where it is believed that Jesus prayed to the Father hours before his crucifixion.  The modern Church of All Nations has a beautiful mosaic on its facade (see photo below).

Adjacent to the Church of All Nations is an ancient olive garden. Olive trees do not have rings and so their age can not be precisely determined, but scholars estimate their age to anywhere between one and two thousand years old.  It is unlikely that these trees were here in the time of Christ because of the report that the Romans cut down all the trees in the area in their siege of Jerusalem in AD 70.

Stop 7: The Garden Tomb and Place of the Skull (Golgotha)

For our last stop of the day, we climbed back onto the bus and headed NW a few minutes to the Garden Tomb. Tito stepped aside and had a guide there give us more detail about the Garden Tomb and Place of the Skull. He showed us an old photo of the Place of the Skull and then we compared to what we saw today. Apparently the nose had fallen off back in the 50’s-60’s.

At this point, Pastor Allen took over and read some scripture from the Bible. We had communion at the Garden Tomb with olive wood cups and crackers.

While officially the Garden Tomb Association only maintains this as a possible site for Christ’s burial, our tour guide that took over for Tito was convinced it’s the real thing due to the large cistern nearby, which proves the area must have been a garden in Jesus’ day.  Also, the guide claimed that marks of Christian respect at the tomb also prove its sanctity.

The David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem

After we visited the Garden Tomb, we got back on the bus and headed SW to the David Citadel hotel where we would stay for the remainder of our trip. Tito told us to be prepared to wear appropriate clothing tomorrow, as we would be visiting some holy places.At the hotel, when we walked in, the air smelled of fragrances and everything was super fancy. The food at dinner was amazing! That evening around bed time, I noticed that Dewayne wasn’t feeling well. He was clearing his throat and complaining how sore his throat was.

I also noticed something else odd. Where did all these flies come from? There wasn’t a way to open our windows and this was the first night we were to stay in this room. I must have counted at least 8 or 9 flies. Weird! How did they get in here?

Spiritual Attack in the Night

In the middle of the night, I suddenly woke up in a panic when Dewayne threw a pillow at my face. What the heck!?

“Would you stop snoring?!” he yelled at me. I haven’t seen Dewayne this furious! I won’t go on to tell the rest (my feelings were hurt), but it ended up with Dewayne sleeping in tub in the bathroom. Something was wrong. Stupid flies were flying all around me. What it the world?!

While Dewayne was trying the sleep in the tub, I started to cry. I may cry a couple times a year, but this wasn’t just any kind of crying, it was a ‘can’t catch my breath’, ugly, gross crying. I couldn’t stop. The crying came in intense waves. I felt something in the room with me. I thought it was Dewayne, but I didn’t see him. No, there was something else in the room. It felt dark, menacing, evil. I immediately fell flat on my face and started praying to Jesus. I prayed for protection, prayed for healing for both Dewayne and me, and prayed for the evil presence to leave.

I yelled out loud, “You are not invited here! You don’t belong here! Leave and never bother us again!! Jesus has got this!”

I then continued to pray to Jesus again but more quietly. At this point, Dewayne came in room. I guess he heard me yelling (I am sure everyone else on the our floor did too). He let me know he was there by dripping cold water on my neck as I was burning up. Dewayne then went to the window and prayed silently. After what seemed like forever, he came back to bed with me.

Before drifting off to sleep, Dewayne said, “The weirdest thing… I just killed several flies in the bathroom. I’m not sure where they came from.”

Tour Day 4: Beit Shean, Qumran, Dead Sea

This morning we packed up our bags as we will be leaving Leonardo Plaza (Sea of Galilee in Tiberius) and heading south around 40 km (25 mi) toward the Dead Sea. Last night, we walked the streets of Tiberius and visited several shops and explored street vendors. I tried on a dress, but it was too hot to wear so I put it back. Dewayne ended up buying a pair of $5 flip-flops for the Dead Sea as we hear that there may be sharp salt formations in the water.

Stop 1: Beit She’an National Park

As we were traveling to Beit She’an, we were right next to the Jordon border. Guess what? It was peaceful.

Beit She’an is an old Roman city, now in ruins and was being excavated (1920’s and in the 1980’s) to reveal a series of temples from the Middle and Late Bronze Ages. Pompey and the Romans rebuilt Beth Shean in 63 BC and it was renamed Scythopolis (“city of the Scythians;” cf. Col 3:11). It became the capital city of the Decapolis and was the only one on the west side of the Jordan. It was destroyed on January 18, 749 by an earthquake, leaving the city in its current ruins.

They put his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths and fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan.
1 Samuel 31:10 (NIV)

Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.
Matthew 4:25 (NIV)

Stop 2: The ride down to Qumran

After Beit She’an, we got on the bus and headed south 99.4 km (62 mi) to Qumran in the desert. We took hwy 90 and rode south along the Jordon border. Along the way we passed by Mount Gilboa. We saw tons of date palms (madjool dates) growing in the desert. How the heck are they doing that?! Israel is on top of it with technology. Never seen anything like it. Tito told us that they are pollenated manually by humans. In fact, we saw a lot of workers in the desert on ladders doing something.

We started passing through the Judean desert and through the mountains of Moab (where Naomi from the book of Ruth was from). Then we passed by Jericho. We were not able to get to it (roads don’t go through there anymore), but saw it easily from our bus windows. Right outside of Jericho we saw the location of where it was thought Elijah was taken up to Heaven in a chariot of fire. This spot is significant, as it will the place Elijah will return to anoint Jesus in the end days (this is coming soon). Also, an interesting fact, we were in the same desert that the Israelites wandered in for 40 years. Wow! How miserably hot and dry this area was. It was 104 degrees outside at the moment!

It’s near lunch time and we are hungry. We get to Qumran (finally) and stop at the Dead Sea Visitor’s Center & Restaurant and it is apparently very popular since it’s one of the few places in the desert for us to eat. After we eat falafel balls and all the trimmings, we check out the visitor center and all the ruins and caves.

Qumran is where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found

In 1947 local Bedouins discovered a clay jar containing 7 scrolls in a cave (see photos below) about 1.5km from Qumran. The ancient scrolls were sold to antique dealers and after changing hands several times they reached scholars who could accurately evaluate the age and value of the parchments. Further exploration uncovered a total of 972 texts including the oldest known existing copy of the Old Testament. The texts are written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Nabataen. The scrolls are believed to have belonged to the Essenes sect. Some of the scrolls describe the tenants of the sect and their particular slant on Judaism. In all there were 12 caves where scrolls and fragments of parchment were found.

The scrolls are now housed in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem (we visit this place near the end of our tour) where they are kept at the optimal temperature and humidity conditions to preserve them for the future.

Stop 3: Dead Sea

After our visit to Qumran, we headed south further into the desert, following the Dead Sea, for 70 km (43 mi) and arriving at Herod’s Hotel at the Dead Sea around 3:45pm.

The Dead Sea isn’t talked about much in the Bible except for barriers. An advancing army of Ammonites and Moabites apparently crossed a shallow part of the Dead Sea on their way to attack King Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:2).  Ezekiel has prophesied that one day the Dead Sea will be fresh water and fishermen will spread their nets along the shore (Ezekiel 47:8).

The Dead Sea is located in the Syro-African Rift, a 4000-mile fault line in the earth’s crust.  The lowest point of dry land on earth is the shoreline of the Dead Sea at 1300 feet below sea level. Daily 7 million tons of water evaporate but the minerals remain, causing the salt content to increase. Nearly ten times as salty as the world’s oceans and twice as saline as the Great Salt Lake in Utah, the Dead Sea is rich with minerals. The Dead Sea Works company on the southwest side of the lake employs 1600 people around the clock to harvest the valuable minerals from the water.

Tito (our guide) gave us these instructions:

  • Stay no more than 15 minutes in the water because of dehydration.
  • Drink lots and lots of water before and after getting in the water.
  • Don’t drink the water! It contains a super high amount of Bromide and will kill you.
  • Tuck your knees and lean back and you will float (this worked great!)

All my life (since I was a small child) I wondered what that would be like, and I got to experience it finally. What was it like? It was triple-digit temps outside, and when I stepped into the water, I was surprised to feel how hot it was (think hot bath water) with a slick-like feel on my skin. The sand was gritty, mixed with salt particles, and hurt my feet (well, maybe the scorching hot sand) when I took my flip-flops off. To float, I went into the water up to my thighs and then tucked my knees and leaned back. The sensation of floating was surreal, as I am used to sinking in water. I didn’t have to paddle or anything. I just floated.

Our paster, a huge handful of people from our group, me and Dewayne, floated in various intervals (remember, we could only be in the water for up to 15 minutes). While on the beach, I did see a couple covered with mud from head to toe. I wanted to take a photo, but thought that would make them and me feel awkward.

Its western border was the Jordan in the Arabah, from Kinnereth to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea), below the slopes of Pisgah.
Deuteronomy 3:17 (NIV)

Later that night…

After getting out of the Dead Sea, we rinsed off in the showers on the beach, then headed in to take another shower then headed down to dinner and found the buffet was probably the best one yet! There was fresh fruits (oh my gosh, the Watermelon was to die for), fresh dates, radishes, cucumbers, stuffed artichokes with meat, fresh olives, raw and cooked fish, salads of all kinds, and fresh cheeses.

Tour Day 3: Mount Bental in Merom Golan, Caesarea Philippi, Tel Dan, Arbel Cliffs

On day five of our tour, we started off the day at Mount Bental Lookout. This is a military base located near Merom Golan (Golan Heights). On the way there, our guide, Tito, explained that the land isn’t fertile due to the fact it is volcanic. Occasionally we saw piles of stones out in the fields and asked what those were. Tito told us those are grave markers.

There were Eucalyptus trees planted near some of the abandoned military bunkers. There were also cows in the fields used to detect leftover mines from the previous war, Yon Kippeur (1973).

Stop 1: Mount Bental

Mount Bental has great panoramic views of the Golan and even Syria but also because Mount Bental was the site of a courageous battle fought during Israel’s war for the Golan (Yom Kippeur – 1973). We walked to the top to see spectacular views and then got iced coffee at the cute cafe. There are also bunkers (used to be an old military base) that were open for us to walk in.

Stop 2: Caesarea Philippi

Once done at the Mount Bental Lookout, we headed NE 26 km (16 mi) to Caesarea Philippi (also Hermon Stream Nature Reserve). Caesarea Philippi is the location of one of the largest springs feeding the Jordan River. Apparently known as Baal Hermon and Baal Gad in the Old Testament period, this site later was named Panias after the Greek god Pan who was worshiped here.  There is no record of Jesus entering the city, but the great confession and the transfiguration both occurred in the vicinity of the city (Matt 16:13), then known as Caesarea Philippi.

Here, we came together as a group (all five of our buses) and Pastor Allen talked a little about that area. Dedicated to god of Pan (fertility), the word panic derived from this place. Pan was described as half goat and half man and is also described as Satan.  Greek placed temples here where there was worship of springs (also known as Paganism). The pagan worshipers thought this place to be the cave or gate to hell. On a happy note, this area may also be the road to Damascus where Paul was converted by Jesus.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
Matthew 16:13

Stop 3: Tel Dan

After visiting Caesarea Philippi, we headed west 5.4 km (3.5 mi) to Tel Dan Nature Reserve. This is an archaeological site of ancient city, first occupied in the neolithic era. Tel Dan means “Judge.” This place is significant for several reasons:

  • Headwaters of the Jordan – The largest of four sources of the Jordan River, the Dan Spring emerges at the base of Mt. Hermon next to Tel Dan.
  • Middle Bronze Gate – Built about 1800 B.C., this mud brick gate was in use approximately 50 years before it was covered and thus preserved by an earthen rampart.
  • Iron Age Gate – This gatehouse was built in the ninth century, probably by Ahab, and is part of a series of gateways discovered.
  • Podium for Ruler – This may have been a place for the ruler next to the gate or a place for an idol to be set up.  (2 Samuel 18:4 and 2 Kings 23:8)
  • High Place of Jeroboam – Podium was the one that Jeroboam constructed to house the golden calf at Dan. (I Kings 12:25-31).

Stop 4: Arbel Nature Reserve (Cliffs of Arbel)

We hopped back on the bus and was told we would have a little bit of time before our next stop at the Arbel cliffs (Arbel Nature Reserve). We travelled southeast 74 km (46 mi) to Arbel, Israel. On the long trip down, we were exhausted and fell asleep. Even Tito was silent almost the entire way down.

At Mount Arbel there are caves dug into the slopes which were the hideouts for the Jews who fought against the Greeks and Romans. These were extended in the 17th century by the Druze, but the original caves are documented to date back to the Second temple period. At the top, you can see as far as the Golan Heights, and Israel’s tallest peak at Mount Hermon.

It was a little bit of a climb to the top, but totally worth it. The views were spectacular and I was overwhelmed by the beauty of it all.

Tour Day 2: Boat Ride and Museum, Mount of Beatitudes, Capharnaum, Ein Gev Fish Restaurant, Yardinet

We started the day off with prayer at 6:30am with a majority of the group.

It is Sabbath here in Israel. It started at sundown (around 6pm) yesterday and will go on till sundown today. What does this mean? It means breakfast will be simple (nothing cooked). I ate homemade granola with flax seeds, dates, and yogurt.

Stop 1: Faith Boat Ride & Jesus Boat

We walked to a nearby dock on the Sea of Galilee. Apparently, all five groups would be together for this activity. We all climbed into two boats that were side by side (I think they were tethered actually). We started in Tiberius and sailed to Capernaum.

On the boat ride, we discovered the owners and crew were Christians and loved gospel and praise music. We praised God singing (also in Hebrew at one point) while sailing on the Sea of Galilee, listened to the pastor talk and read scriptures, and most importantly, we prayed as a group.

While sailing on these boats and making our way across the Sea of Galilee, I got chills. I remember all the scriptures about Jesus being on this very lake with his disciples. Wow.

Once we landed in Capernaum, we went into a museum where we got to see a boat that was recovered from during Jesus’ time – from the very Sea of Galilee.

Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.
John 6:23 (NIV)

Stop 2: Mount of Beatitudes and Byzantine Church

“Sermon on the Mount” is recorded in Matthew 5-7 and Luke 6.  Scripture gives no indication of the exact location of this event, but the Byzantines built a church to commemorate it at the bottom of the hill (see photos). The mountain is topped by a Catholic chapel built in 1939 by the Franciscan Sisters with the support of the Italian ruler Mussolini.

While there, our entire group had communion together. Again, chills. Wow.

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:1-12 (NIV)

Stop 3: Capernaum the Town of Jesus

In existence from the 2nd c. B.C. to the 7th c. A.D., Capernaum was built along the edge of the Sea of Galilee and had up to 1500 residents. Today the ruins are owned by two churches: the Franciscans control the western portion with the synagogue and the Greek Orthodox’s property is marked by the white church with red domes.

This is the archeological town of where Peter was thought to live at some point and where Jesus spent some of his ministry. The house that was thought to be Peter’s mother is preserved (see photos).

Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—
Matthew 4:13 (NIV)

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help.
Matthew 8:5 (NIV)

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home.
Mark 2:1 (NIV)

Stop 4: Ein Gev Fish Restaurant

The famous Ein Gev fish restaurant started off as a small kiosk some 60 years ago, today it is the largest restaurant around the lake area.

This one is worth mentioning for sure. This restaurant is located in Ein Gev (South on our way to the Jordan River). The food was amazing. The first course was pita bread and all kinds of slaws, chopped vegetables (salads), and hummus. Next came the main course… a whole fish! It was caught in the Sea of Galilee and was Tilapia from what I was told.

Stop 5: Yardinet (Jordan River Baptism)

After lunch, we headed south along the Sea of Galilee for 14.3 km (almost 9 mi) and came to Yardinet.

The Yardenit Baptismal Site (“Yardenit” – means Little Jordan in Hebrew) is located on a pretty stretch of the Jordan River near the southern tip of Lake of Gennesaret. Every year, over half million Christians from around the world flock to Yardenit to visit and/or be baptized at the “place” where Jesus was baptized 2,000 years ago.

We were instructed to get dressed in these very old public dressing rooms and showers. We were fortunate that our church shirts made for this event were dark purple rather than using the traditional issue of white robes (you can see through these – yikes!).

As we were in the water on the cobblestone path and railing, little fish started nibbling on people standing in line to get baptized. You could tell those people as they would suddenly yell or hop up in the water.

George Jackson baptized me at the same time Alan Jackson baptized Dewayne. This experience sent me reeling spiritually. I got chills and found myself dreaming of what Jesus experienced. Another wow moment, one that I will not forget.

When done, we walked out of the water with our group cheering and celebrating our baptism. Praise Jesus!!

Dinner and Diamonds

Dinner was so good. We were all so excited from the long day. It was a HUGE buffet of fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, and desserts that I couldn’t identify.

After dinner, we hopped on one of our tour buses and headed to National Diamond Center by Caprice just a few minutes down the road. We were greeted by a lady that knew her diamond stuff and then we were escorted into the main floor where there was jewelry everywhere. Me and Dewayne talked and it was time. I chose the diamond and the setting, and they put it all together and sized it right there.

So, I got my first diamond ring. It was our 15 year anniversary in June and having a souvenir like this was super special. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to wear it until we were heading home due to the V.A.T. (we get money back from taxes there at the airport since Israel prices already include taxes and sometimes those are overpriced).