Day 3: At Sea

Day 1: Miami, FL

Day 2: Nassau, Bahamas

MSC Cruise Experience 2023

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.