Part 1 – Our arrival into Israel, Tel Aviv & off-the-beaten-path to the Gaza Strip border
Part 2 – Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Masada
Part 3 – Circumnavigating the Sea of Galilee & the Golan Heights
Israel – Part 1 – Our arrival into Israel, Tel Aviv & off-the-beaten-path to the Gaza Strip border.
Looks are deceiving…the bus from Dahab toTaba (the border town between Egypt and Israel) looked in great shape- not scratched or dented on the outside, nicely upholstered on the inside. About half an hour out of Dahab a beeping alarm sounded. The driver pulled over and he, his assistant, plus half the men (including my husband Rick) got off the bus to see “what was up”. The report buzzing around was a broken fan belt, which the driver (et al) replaced in about 10 minutes. The men trooped back on the bus. The driver started off. The beep was not quelled. The driver pulled over again, and exited the bus with a screw diver in hand; followed once more by the male entourage. They all filed back on the bus. The driver turned on the ignition to a resounding “beep, beep, beep.” The same bunch of men got off yet again. Bad news. A cracked engine block. This bus load of folks wasn’t going anywhere.
Rick’s Israel Photo Gallery/ –
A 12-passenger van happened by. Its driver noted a problem and hastily pulled up in front of the bus. It was hilarious to see ALL of us foreign travellers charge off our bus and make a bee-line to the van to ask what it would cost to take us to Taba. “Each person 50”(Egyptian Pounds), was the driver’s response. A few people tried to negotiate, but he stood firm. The choice was to stay with the bus until a replacement was sent from Dahab (and who knew how long that might take) OR pay the 50 EP and speed on to the border town. Rick and I and nine other eager foreigners piled into the mini-van, and off we went. The driver was so gleeful at such a windfall, he sang and laughed out loud to himself all the way like an escapee from a psychiatric ward – while we commiserated momentarily – until we figured that even with the 50 EP added to the price of our original bus ticket, the total only came to $15 each.
At Taba we walked across “no man’s land” and into Israel, and although the line-up at the custom’s office was sluggish, we emerged victorious with a 30-day Israeli visa.
We taxied to Eilat late in the afternoon, and were pleased to find the Corinne Hostel had a room for a few nights, which gave us a day to mosey around this small town on the southern most tip of Israel.
Then it was off to Tel Aviv! – without incident – bus-wise. Being that it was January, I wasn’t sure if my eyes were playing tricks – fruit trees along the way were heavy with oranges – ahhh, of course -the Mediterranean climate. What is even more startling is that this is desert terrain in the south of the country, and as well as the fruit orchards, there are date palm groves and a multitude of sizable green houses. The Israelis have truly made the desert bloom.
We settled into Arbel Apartment Hotel in the centre of Tel Aviv. Fresh flowers and a bowl of candy were nice touches in our clean, cozy room, with the all important free Wifi. It is well situated few blocks from the bustling Dizengoff Street of shops, cafes and restaurants.We were set and spend the remainder of the day exploring our hood.
A call to our Israeli friends Miri and Reuven resulted in them graciously offering to pick us up the next day to give us a tour of the city. ALL RIGHT! We met these fine folks in 2001 in Nepal, keeping contact since, and their visit to Vancouver three years ago, seemed like just yesterday.
They took us to Old Jaffa, where we milled around the area known for
its craft and art shops. Reuven, was a tour guide par excellence with his knowledge of history, archaeology and architecture and Miri added cultural tidbits, and slowed down Reuven’s brisk pace. We learned the city of Jaffa was founded by Japheth, one of Noah’s sons, after the Ark episode. The part of the sea that extends from here is where Jonah encountered the famous whale.
Miri picked out a restaurant where we feasted on super-sized shwarmas, consisting of coleslaw, onions, cucumbers, sauces, hummus, fried potatoes and a hearty smattering of chicken bundled together in the pizza-sized flat bread. Yummy!
It was next to new Jaffa and the famed flea market. It was great fun to check out the racks of clothes, including an array of filmy Indian shirts, light fixtures of every description, musical instruments, antiques, local lunch joints, you name it! I kept seeing a hand with an eye in the middle (in jewellery, ceramics, plastics, etc), and was informed this eye-catching design was a “hamsa” which is an Arab symbol to ward off evil, and in Hebrew means “good luck”, which I see as one and the same. I found one in a bracelet for little ol’ me.
Reuven and Miri’s tour took to the seaside, then along some of Tel Aviv’s main streets – a superb introduction to this thriving metropolis!
The next day Reuven was our guide again from Tel Aviv right down to within one kilometre of the Gaza (NO-GO) Strip. We visited three kibbutzim; which meet the needs of their members in a communal setting and are known to be marvels of work productivity. One kibbutz had a small manufacturing plant for therapeutic mattresses and grew a kind of cactus used for cosmetics, another produced specialized packing material, and the other was into bees and honey. All had dairy farms and fruit and vegetable gardens for self-sufficiency. Reuven filled us in on the changed philosophy of most kibbutzim to fit with the times, now geared towards more individualism and ownership within the communities; some where each family owns their own home and they work for a wage, scaled to the type of work they perform within the kibbutz.
Reuven shared a truly off-the-beaten path gem in the Gedera Sculpture Gardens. Now 75 years of age, Yuma Segev has over his lifetime fashioned over 3,000 sculptures out of scrap metal, and he is still at it, as evidenced by his well equipped workshop and some partially completed items. We walked past goats, sheep, creepy crawlers, fantasy characters from angels to demons, flowers, candelabras, and every other thingamajig imaginable.
Yet another day Reuven introduced us to the Neot Kedumim Biblical Landscape Reserve. Comprised of archaeological ruins from the 1st
century BCE to the 8th century CE, we were awed by cisterns, alleys, houses, wine and olive presses. As well, numerous perennials are planted along the trails, with the biblical reference of each plant, such as “Jujube” Latin name: Ziziphus spina-christi, – a tree with both long straight thorns and shorter hooked thorns – believed to have been used for Jesus’ crown of thorns. Or while standing near a tall cedar tree with the thick rounded leaves of hyssop growing at its base, a plaque read – King Solomon “spoke of the trees, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows in the rock” (I Kings 5:13).
Mini Israel was next. Spread over 13-acres, this family entertainment
centre has replicas (on a 1:25 scale) of over 300 historical, cultural and religious sites, architectural landmarks, with 30,000 mini-residents to add to the scenes, as well as vehicles, planes – many in motion. As we walked past the structures, some coming up to my chest level, I thought, “What a perfect way to get an overview of what Israel has to offer”.
The great sights we saw with our friends over the past several days were ones that we would nver have gotten to on our own. It was now time for Rick and I to board the bus for Jerusalem.
IIsrael – Part 2 – Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Masada
Stepping through the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem was like being transported back into the past. The stone streets echo with the footsteps over thousands of years, and the ancient walls hold an aura of mystique. It was uncanny to think that the shops along this maze of streets were there long before the time of Jesus. The bustle of residents, young and old going about their business, as well as the many visitors makes for an electric atmosphere. We looked at each other with wide grins – we would not be in any hurry to leave.
It was beyond perfect to find good place to come home to after each day’s venture. The Capitol Hotel in the Palestinean area of Jerusalem just a few minutes walk to the Old City, had everything we could want (great breakfast included, warm room, hot water, free wifi, and friendly staff)
Rick and I were entralled, as so many before us, to be in the Holy Land
to follow the life path of Jesus. A day trip to Bethlehem was the place to start. The Church of the Nativity is an imposing stone structure. A low door in the side leads into the simple interior with an altar at the far end. Along the side we lined up behind about 60 pilgrims waiting to enter the Grotto of the Nativity, built over the humble place where Jesus was born. I found I was holding my breath when it was our turn to duck under the low entrance and emerge into the Grotto’s small chapel. I gazed at the painting above an altar depicting the event of Jesus’ birth, then knelt to touch the silver star on the marble floor that traditionally was the place of the manger. There is a spiritual presence here.
We went from the Alpha to the Omega of Jesus’ life in our undertaking “Via Dolorosa” – the Way of the Cross. Each Friday at 3:00 pm pilgrims from all over the world join Franciscan monks in a procession along the streets of the Old City from the point where Jesus was tried and condemned by Pontius Pilate, was scourged and bore his cross to Calvary (Golgotha).
With a map in hand, Rick and I decided to find the “Fourteen Stations of the Cross” prior to the Friday gathering, so we could take our time along the way. The 2nd Station is where Jesus took up His Cross, after Pilot brought him out from a place called “the pavement” (John 19:13).
On this stone floor games are carved; the players were Roman soldiers who evidently spent much time here.
Other Stations tell of where Jesus fell, of where he encounters His mother Mary, another where the Roman soldiers picked a Cyrenian man out of the crowd to help Jesus up a steep incline. Along the wall of Station 5 is where it is said he touched the wall to regain his balance. It was moving to place our hand where the rock is warn into a hollow from centuries of people touching this spot in passing. From the 9th Station, which 2,000 years ago was oustide the city wall, it is believed Jesus could see Calvary, and from this point there would have been a steeper incline.
The last four Stations are now enclosed within the walls of the Church
of the Holy Sepulchre. The 11th and 12th are at the top of Calvary; one adorned with a magnificent mosaic of Jesus being nailed to the cross, the other where the cross stood and is under an open alter and marked by a silver plate.
In the dim light I did not realize the dark circle in the middle of the plate was a hole…until my small wooden cross that I was intent on blessing disappeared. I felt a wave of shock, then looked out of the corner of my eye to see if the long-bearded Orthodox priest sitting nearby noticed what had happened. If he did, he was non-committal as I slowly backed out from under the altar as non-chalantly as possible. I learned later that one can touch the rock of Calvary through this cavity; which made me realize my cross is in a good place.
The next Station is a length of reddish granite that is said to have been placed over the stone where Jesus’ body was laid out and anointed with a mixture of myrrh, aloe and aromatic oils by his mother Mary.
The last Station is the tomb. It lies beneath the main rotunda in this massive church. I took my place behind a line-up of about 70 waiting for access. A priest was manning the open doorway, allowing four in at a time. After a half-hour wait, I was in the next foursome to walk into a small alcove. At the end of this alcove was a low rock opening, with a second priest holding his hand below the entry so heads would not be accidentally bumped. Once inside my eyes scanned the interior of a decorative chapel built around the cave tomb, with a marble alter and a painting above of the Resurrection. Moments later a light tap sounded on the side of the rock – the priest’s signal that our time was up, but those poignant moments will remain forever in my memory. Rick and I found our climb from where Jesus was first condemned to his tomb an emotional experience.
We did come back to the 1st Station on Friday to see the Franciscan monks lead a procession of about 200 people, and although the chanting and ceremony was beautiful, we relished our unrestricted time at each Station.
Our next venture was to leave the Old City in the eastern direction for three renowned sites. After a twenty minute walk we came to the Tomb of the Virgin Mary, where it is said she went into “eternal sleep” until she was taken to heaven “body and soul”. The entrance opened to a wide stone stairway. As our eyes adjusted to the dim light we found ourselves in a gigantic cavern with a thousand un-lit lamps hanging from the 20-foot-soot-blackened vaulted ceiling. At the bottom a light on the right revealed a small altar. I almost missed the tomb, with an access through a three-foot rough stone entry. Inside was a small cave behind glass with an opening at the top where people had dropped in money and hand-written notes. An elderly priest attired in black robes sat in the corner, to monitor the visits. I was not sure how long it would be appropriate to stay, however the decision was not mine to make, as after about twenty seconds he waved his hand toward the exit.
Nearby is the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus took on the sins of
the world, was arrested, and from where He ascended into heaven. The garden is now the site of the Church of All Nations, and true to its intent a mass was being said in Mandarin to a crowd of Chinese worshippers, while visitors from Russia, Brazil and us Canadians were there. The ancient olive trees in the Garden were probably already standing in Jesus’ time. The dark, rough, gnarly trunks are four or five feet in diameter, some so heavy and crooked they were given rock-crutches to support their weight, yet from the tops of each Methuselah trunk vital branches sprouted with a profusion of leaves. Looked like a miracle to me.
It was then onward and upward to Mount of Olives, which according to the biblical prophet Zechariah, is where the Messiah will return on Judgement Day. We did not expect this would be in progress this day, but the Mount is known to have a spectacular view of the city below. As we ascended the narrow winding road sizable old Jewish cemeteries could be seen on the hillside.
For those who recall Rick’s comment on our climb up to Mount Sinai in Egypt, it was dejavu. When we stopped to catch our breath, about three-quarters of the way up he proclaimed, “Right where we are is plenty good for a photo, as even in the old days the wise folks had donkeys to climb to the top.” He added, pointing, “And even today.” Sure enough an old codger was up ahead with a donkey. We climbed a bit higher, turning at the Chapel of the Ascension (traditionally where Mary rose to heaven) before we began our shin-splinting descent.
Another day we made our way to the iconic Western Wall, the only remnant of Judaism’s holiest shrine. Built about 2,000 years ago as a simple retaining wall supporting the Temple Mount, upon which once stood the Second Temple (destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. The Second was built to replace the First Temple, destroyed in 586 BCE by the Babylonians who exiled the Jewish Nation). Some may recognize it as “wailing wall”, a moniker stemming from the Jewish peoples’ return to Israel and coming here to mourn the Temple’s destruction.
When we arrived the area outside the wall was packed with the families and friends of hundreds of young Israeli soldiers waiting for their Swearing-In Ceremony into the Armed Forces. Nearer the wall many people faced it in prayer, a partition seperating the men wearing a “kippa” (skullcap) on the left, and women on the right. In the men’s section a bar mitzvah was in progress. Many in both sections were reading passages from their bible, others were sticking pieces of paper in the tiny cracks in the wall with messages written on them. Due to sheer volume of messages, hundreds had fallen to the ground at the base of the wall. The concentrated energy of wishes and pleas spiralling upwards was almost palpable.
The Temple Mount rises above the Western Wall. We climbed the
narrow enclosed path on the south side of the Wall. Our eyes scanned the massive stone plaza before us built over the biblical Mt. Moriah, which Jewish people believe is the foundation stone of the world itself, and where the First and Second Temples once stood. We zeroed in on the focal point of the Mount – the sun glinted off the golden dome and the exquisite mosaics on the outer walls of the “Dome of the Rock”. It’s significance extends to all three of the monotheistic religions. It contains the stone on which Abraham, in a test of faith, prepared to offer his son Isaac to God – sacred to the Jewish people, and that I remember from the Old Testament of my Christian bible. To Muslims it is where Mohammad ascended into heaven to be with Allah, and is third only to Mecca and Medina in importance. We eagerly proceeded to the open door – only to find it closed to non-Muslims. We were taken aback, along with a few dozen other people from around the globe. Wandering past the Al Aqsa Mosque at the other end of the plaza, we left dispirited, as we had been welcomed into many mosques thru-out the Middle East with their philopophy of being more open to the world.
Other travellers we met said the Western Tunnels were phenomenal, and they were right. Not for the claustrophobic, this one kilometre tunnel is the underground city streets (probably a market street) running northward along the Western Wall. Herod, known for his architectural feats in building, decided to raise the land level around the Temple Mount by about 20 feet, which he did by constructing massive support arches over the streets that existed in Jerusalem’s heyday 2,000 years ago, and which now can be seen again. The tunnels were discovered 150 years ago, and it is believed that what has been excavated so far is a mere part of the whole. The now exposed ancient stones used to build this portion of the Western Wall were huge, and it is believed a pulley system was used to move them into place, with the exception of the “giant rock”. It remains a mystery how a 13m long, 3m high, 1.5m thick slab, estimated to weigh 580 tons (or as much as four 747 jets, without passengers or fuel) was raised into place mid-way up the Wall. It was an eerie walk in the dim light, with the dampness and echoing footsteps and voices of those ahead or behind us, and perhaps the reverberations from a more ancient past.
A day of heavy cloud cover and intermittent smatterings of rain was
perfect for a visit to The Israel Museum. The Dead Sea Scrolls was where we headed first in the large complex. The scrolls, discovered in Qumran between 1947 and 1956, are now housed in a specially built domed building. The Scrolls are the writings of a Judaen sect that left Jerusalem, choosing to live in the desert believing their desolation was a symbol of purity. Generally dating back from 150 BCE to 70 CE, they are written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek; most on parchment, and some on papyrus. The scrolls have been divided into three groups: Biblical (copies of text from the Hebrew bible), Apocryphal (documents from the Second Temple Period, that were not canonized in the Hebrew bible), Sectarian (the laws and way of life of this sect). The aged fragments of many of the pages are on display. In the central area there is a replica of the only scroll that was found intact – the Isiah Scroll from 2nd Century BCE. It was a heady feeling to see the aged fragments of the oldest surviving copies of biblical and extra-biblical documents that have such a historical and religious significance.
The other area we visited, the Archaeology wing of the Museum, was a well presented chronology of Israel from pre-historic times to present day, with objects from each time period and information on the cultures and faiths that called Israel home.
Getting up earlier than our bodies felt ready-to-face-the world, we caught city bus number 23 to the central station, where we then purchased tickets for Masada.
Upon our arrival, we determined there are two ways to get up to Masada – a plateau 450 metres above the Dead Sea, which is approximately 650 metres long and 300 metres wide. One way is to hoof up the “snake path”, and the other is by cable car, which was our choice.
Herod, the King of Judea was the master-builder that turned this desert plateau into a palatial fortress in the style of ancient Rome, with a 30-meter high three-tiered castle that daringly sits on rock terraces and supported by impressive retaining walls. On the top of the plateau near this Northern Palace is a surprisingly large Roman bath, swimming pool,…and still more bathing rooms in the large Western Palace – as after all, this is a desert. But the King, not willing to do without these aquatic luxuries, ingeniously constructed a water cistern system that was able to hold 40,000 cubic metres of water. Guard towers, more palaces, a commander’s residence, and numerous storerooms are just some of the other ruins that were excavated here.
But the mind-bending tale of Masada that is haunting is from the post-
Herod period when the plateau, taken over by Jewish freedom fighters became the last stronghold against the Romans. The year was 72 CE when the plateau was surrounded by Roman legionary camps, numbering 8,000 in infantry, cavalrymen, and technicians such as road builders. The Romans proceeded to build a huge rampart out of earth and rock with wooden supports to reach the 960 members of the rebel community. I shudder imagining the horror and confusion as this ramp came closer and closer to their protective wall, their only defence was to roll down boulders at the advancing army, and the panic as the Romans began to pull a battering ram up the finished ramp to rupture the wall. A meeting with the members and their leader resulted in a decision to choose death over slavery. Ten men were chosen by lot to kill the women and children first, then the men, culminating in them taking their own lives. The Romans found an empty victory; there were only corpses, save a woman and five children hiding in a water cistern who relayed the events to the world. It has become a Jewish icon symbolic of their struggle and that of all humanity for freedom from oppression. A gripping epic of heroism and tragedy.
The next day, our final one in Jerusalem, we walked the streets of the Old City for the last time, as intoxicating as our fist. The Armenian, Christian, Muslim and Jewish quarter each have their own special character, but the busy market streets are a bustling mix of humanity – Orthodox Jews dressed in black suits, white shirts, black wide-brimmed hats, with their long side-locks bobbing with each step, Jewish men with kippa (skullcaps), Arab women with coloured hijab (head coverings) and a few Arab men with keffiyah (chequered head-scarf), and many more from each quarter without distinguishing articles of dress – living in this city – the heart of this country of complex on-going disputes. Talking to the man/woman-on-the-street from all walks of life, each individual only wants peace and to have gainful employment in order to provide for their family. We hope this will soon be a reality.
It was a bittersweet return to Tel Aviv, on one hand sad to leave Jerusalem and on the other looking forward to meet up with our friends, Miri and Reuven once again.
Israel Photo Gallery/
Israel – Part 3 – Circumnavigating the Sea of Galilee & the Golan Heights
We are once again in the doting hands of our Israeli friends, Reuven and Miri. Rueven suggested we get up before the rooster crowed in order to fit in all the sites he had on his list for the next two days. After a “small” Miri breakfast of about a dozen items, we piled into their 4-wheel drive and pointed the vehicle northeastward. Olive trees, citrus orchards…and banana plantations, “what?” no kidding, miles of this tropical fruit were unexpectedly along the roadways requiring massive quantities of desalinated water to grow here.
Our first three stops were at “tells” – mounds wherein a succession of
cities are built one on top of the other. Megiddo National Park was the first. This area was settled in Neolithic times, as evidenced by flint tools found, and from the early Canaanite Period (Bronze Age, 3,000 years ago) and during its many subsequent periods of history was fought over 28 times, being that it was on the prized trade route between Egypt and Mesopotamia. We walked through the vestiges of ancient gates, shrines, palaces, residences, stables. Of particular fascination was the public granary with two staircases leading down into its depth, and gauged to have held up to 1,000 tons of wheat. The sophisticated water system was most impressive. We climbed down the 187 steps to where a 70-metre-long horizontal tunnel was hewn in the rock, extending to a spring that emerged in a cave at the foot of a mound outside the city walls. It was mind-boggling to think of how labour intense boring through this rock would have been with picks and shovels. Another 77 steps took us up to the outer entrance of this cave, which was once sealed with a massive rock and further concealed with earth – so the enemy would not find its location. It was interesting to learn that Christian tradition identifies Megiddo as “Armageddon” – where the great battle “of end of days” will take place between the powers of good and evil (Revelations 16:16).
It was then on to Bet Alpha National Park with its outstanding mosaic
floor in the ruins of a 6th century synagogue. As we marvelled at its beauty, and the story of its “being” told in film. The small village of long ago wanted a mosaic floor to carpet its place of prayer. They went to another town with renowned artists, who only laughed at the paltry price they were able to pay. As the downhearted villagers were leaving, a young man who was privy to the conversation with these famed artists ran after them and told them to go certain town and ask for a fellow named Marianus, which they did. Marianus and his son came to the small village to appraise the work. The villagers were a bit concerned finding out that Marianus was an apprentice and this was his first solo work, but he did agree to complete the synagogue floor for the “one hundred measures of grain” that the villagers could afford. He convinced the villagers that the zodiac was in vogue, which we saw in all its glory in the centre of the floor. Marianus added the elements the elders thought necessary – the Ark of the Covenant at the top end, with lions, birds and a menorah (candelabra), and below the zodiac a depiction of the sacrifice of Isaac, and the artists name and time it was laid “during the reign of Emperor Justin” (who reigned from 517-528 CE). I wonder if Marianus ever thought of such long-lasting fame as he painstakingly followed his design pattern imbedding the thousands of tiny tiles.
The excavation site of Bet She’an National Park extends over an area of 400 acres. Reuven related his vast knowledge of its history, the periods of its occupants and rulers, from the 5th Millennium BCE, the city becoming the seat of Egyptian rule in the 16th-12th centuries BCE, the destruction by the Assyrians in 732 BCE, through to the Roman rule in 63 BCE, the Byzantine and Arab conquests, and the flourishing city now that takes pride in the remains of ruins being slowly uncovered in its midst. Keeping to Reuven’s schedule, we targeted the 7,000 seat 3-tier Theatre, built in 1st century CE. As my eyes became transfixed on the sheer dynamics of the huge structure I could visualize the excitement of spectators while a performance was underway. Rising up from the stage is 20-metre backdrop with rows of imported granite and marble columns adorned with ornate capitols. Next, we took in the bathhouse
from the Byzantine Period covering an astounding 8,500 sq m, and containing both hot and tepid bathing halls, with parts of the coloured plaster still visable that once covered the walls, and bits left of the mosaic and marble floors. Tools called “strigil” to scrape off the oil rubbed on the skin as a cleanser were displayed (soap was not yet invented). And by golly, outside the bathhouse are seats of much importance – those of a public toilet. Toilet tissue? A twig with soft leaves, read the signage. Lastly, we walked along the wide Roman road flanked by the columns and sided by what were once merchant’s shops.
Towards evening we made it to Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee – the city where Jesus called forth his Apostles, and where he preached and performed miracles. An octagonal church stands over the ruins of a 3rd or 4th century synagogue that was built over where Jesus lived. The place gave us a feeling of serenity, even with the crowds that day. Further, on a rise near the water’s edge is The Monastery of the Twelve Apostles, built in 1025 over the ruins of a previous church. In 1948, with the founding of the State of Israel and in accord with the U.N. convention and new borders, this monastery turned out to be on “no man’s land” with no access for local Christians; where upon it fell into a state of decay. In 1969 after the Six Day War, Israel returned the monastery to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the monastery came to life once more.
After feasting on the iconography inside the little church, of Jesus calming of the storm, walking on water, the miraculous catch of fish, and many more scenes from the gospels, we sat on rocks near the lapping waves of the sea, and to the serenade of songbirds in the treetops, pondered how Jesus may have sat where we were sitting now.
Our next scheduled stop was Degania Kibbutz – known as “the mother of all kibbutzim” being that it was the first kibbutz in Israel. The 100-year-old black basalt stone buildings changed in their use over the years, but are still mighty in strength. A large dairy farm is the mainstay of Degania. Instead of walking into the kibbutz, we had taken the liberty to drive in when a member driving out used his remote to open the gate into the grounds…mistake…there was no one about to let us out. Luckily Miri had so much food packed that even after snacking 6 or 7 times that day, there was still plenty left if we had to stay the night. Fortuneately, after about 20 minutes another vehicle approached the gate, and we were once again on our way to spend a comfortable night in the Hotel Astoria in Tiberius, a small town on the shores of Galilee.
Up again at the crack of dawn (ouch!) it was on to more sites, including
one that we had come too late to see the day before – the Ancient Galilee Boat (a.k.a. the Jesus Boat). In 1986, as a result of a severe drought that lowered the waters of Galilee, two brothers from Ginosar Kibbutz discovered a boat buried in the seabed sediment. Excavators of the highest rank were called in to rescue the fragile hull. A cocoon of fibreglass and polyurethane foam protected the boat and it was floated successfully to the nearby Yigal Allon Centre where it underwent an 11-year-long conservation regime of being in a tank of solution to prevent it from drying out and crumbling.
Carbon dating revealed that this boat was around during Jesus’ time, and according to the Gospels was the type used by Jesus and his Disciples. It was also the type of boat used by other fishermen at that time, as well as used by the Jews in their battle against the Romans in 67 CE.
Marina, the Centre’s guide, told us of how this boat was made mostly of cedar and oak, was also repaired over its lifetime with bits and plugs of 10 other woods, and some of the repairs were more professional than others, adding a very human dimension to its story.
The top of this 8.2 metre long (26.9ft) boat is missing, as it was exposed to sweet water (in which nothing lasts) whereas the bottom must have been instantly engulfed in mud, thus preserving it. The breath of the shell is 2.3 metres (7.5 ft) and its height is 1.2 metres (3.9 ft). The boat is on a specially designed metal holder, so all sides can be seen; behind is a screen with an image of how the boat must have looked complete with its mast and sail.
It was thrilling and mind-boggling to envision it being the boat of Jesus, or perhaps he touched it or leaned against it while talking to its owners….or not. It was enough to know this craft was risen from the mud after 2,000 years to be relished by ours and future generations.
The Baptismal Site of Jesus at Yarden was another site to be
remembered, not only for its significance in the past, but by the baptisms that were happening a few feet from where we stood. Spanish speaking men (not sure from which country) were being dipped backwards at the hands of anther into the Jordan River, and came up in a veil of water shouting “Alleluia”, along with the exclamations of the others waiting to be next. Archaeologists and anthropologists believe this is the area of the Jorden (where it meets the Sea of Galilee) where Jesus was baptized by John, since Jesus came from Nazareth for this event (although there is another place that has claimed to be the site). Along the walls of the buildings are beautiful ceramic signs telling the prominence of this site in dozens of languages, one being Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. It was an amazing experience with groups of pilgrims from all over the world chanting, singing and praying in a variety of languages.
After driving up to the Golan Heights to where the borders or Israel, Syria and Jordan meet, it was back to Tel Aviv, not too much the worse for wear, considering the pace of our tour of northern Israel, which we never could have experienced without the organized planning and execution of Reuven, and the energy-packed lunches of Miri to keep us going. We can proudly say we did Israel up right; as far south as Eilat, as far north as the Golan Heights, as far west as Gaza and the Mediterranian, and as far east as the Dead Sea.
Israel was most dynamic and evocative; serene and chaotic; emotionally charged and laid-back – an oxymoron. The wondrous sights and sounds of being in the Holy Land is a lifelong dream fulfilled, and the kind and friendly people at ever turn will forever be cherished in our memories.
It is onto Vietnam!