Biblical Israel Tour Experiences from April, 2012
Sunday/Monday, April 22 & 23 (Day 1 & 2)
Our trip began in Philadelphia. Although 4 people missed their connection flight to Philadelphia because of weather (they plan to arrive tomorrow), we boarded our non-stop flight to Tel Aviv at 9:15 p.m. We arrived at the Ben Gurion Airport at 2:45 p.m. today. After securing our luggage, We were greeted by sunny and warm weather (70’s) as we boarded our bus. We drove straight to Jaffa (Joppa), a southern suburb of Tel Aviv. Here, we read the stories of Jonah (Acts 1) and Peter (Acts 9 & 10). The view of the Mediterranean Sea the the coastline of Tel Aviv was beautiful.
From here we drove to our hotel in Ramat Gan, called the Kfar Maccabiah. We enjoyed dinner together, followed by a brief “orientation” meeting as we prepare for the days ahead. Already, the group of 47 is coming together with new friendships being made. A few enjoyed an optional walk following the meeting. We look forward to our first full day tomorrow.
Tuesday, April 24 (Day 3)
After a great typical Israeli breakfast (dairy), we boarded the bus and headed through the “Shephelah” or “Lowlands” of Judah. Our first stop was Gezer located in the Aijalon Valley, an impressive and very “off-the-beat-path” Old Testament “tel” (ancient mound/site). Here we saw a Canaanite gate and high place, as well as a Solomonic gate. Next, we stopped at Bethshemesh and the Sorek Valley, reading the story from 1 Samuel 6 about the return of the Ark of the Covenant. We even saw an archaeological excavation taking place here. Nearby was Azekah and the Elah Valley where the story of David vs. Goliath took place (1 I Samuel 17). We ate lunch in Beit Guvrin.
Following lunch, we visit the “bell caves” of Moreshah (Beit Guvrin). We enjoyed the message from Micah 1 as well as our guide’s (Shlomo) recorder playing and group singing. Further south was the site of Lachish, known for its double wall and the “letters” (ostracon) found here. We hike to the top of the tel, admiring the site’s 12-14 foot thick walls. Our final site was Ashkelon, an impressive Canaanite and later Philistine city (one of five). We walked through a Middle Bronze gate (1,850 BC) and enjoyed the beautiful view of the Med Sea.
Driving to Beersheba to our hotel for this 2nd night of the tour, following dinner some enjoyed the Memorial Service held in an outdoor setting in honor of the many Israeli soldiers who died in the wars since 1948. It was special to be here during this “Day of Remembrance.”
Wednesday, April 25 (Day 4)
We first stop after another great breakfast as Beersheba. Here we saw another impressive Israelite city, complete with a Solomonic gate, a typical Israelite 4-room house, and cisterns. Outside the gate is a water well. We read from Genesis about the covenants Abraham (and later Isaac) made here. Next, we headed to The Desert of Zin in the southern region of the Negev. After stopping and seeing the tomb of David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, we enjoyed about a 1.5 hour hike in the wadi/canyon of Zin. We walked as far as the water falls. The high canyon walls were impressive!
After lunch at Avdat, we headed back towards the northern part of the Negev to the tel of Arad. Here, we read from 2 Chronicles 34 about the temple here and the reforms King Josiah brought to Judah in the later part of the 7th century BC. We ended the day by driving to our beautiful hotel right on the Dead Sea. We enjoyed “floating” in the 30+% mineral/salt water. After cleaning up, we enjoyed dinner and the Independence Day celebrations afterward.
Thursday, April 26 (Day 5)
Our day started at taking off from the hotel at 7:30 for Masada. Early in the morning, we could tell it was going to be another warm and sunny day (90). We took a cable car up to the top where our exploration of the site took us to the southern end. We descended down into a large cistern. We then walked northward across the top of the site and saw the Roman ramp, the synagogue, northern palace, and the Roman bathouse About 20 of us walked down the Snake Path. From here, we continued north to Engedi. We read the stories from 22 Chr. 20 about the Ascent of Ziz and 1 Samuel 24 about David and Saul. We enjoyed walked back to the number of water falls.
Next was Qumran. After lunch here we visited this site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were written. Lastly, we visited the site of Jericho. We heard the stories of Joshua’s crossing of the Jordan River and the conquest of Jericho (Joshua 6). We also saw a few of the stones left standing of this double-walled city.
Driving 2 hours north along the Jordan Valley, we arrived at Maagan, our “kibbutz-hotel” for the next 3 nights. After dinner, we enjoyed a gathering/worship time while sitting on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
Friday, April 27 (Day 6)
Our day started with a beautiful sunrise on these southern shores of the Sea of Galilee. After a hearty breakfast, we departed at 7:35 for Arbel. We hiked to the top to enjoy the very best panoramic view of the Sea of Galilee below. From here we drove to the shoreline near Capernaum for our boat ride. We worshiped and reflected upon the storm narratives (Mark 4, 6).
Close by are the sites of Capernaum (Mark 1,2, Luke 7), Tabgha (the feeding of the 5,000) and Nof Ginnosar (where we saw the “Jesus Boat,” a 1st century boat found in 1986).
Following lunch we visited the sites of Mt. of Beatitudes (Mt. 5), Chorazim (Mt. 23) and Bethsaida (Mk. 8). These are also located along the shores of Galilee. We ended our day by visiting the Kinneret Cemetery where we heard the touching story of a Jewish lady named Rachel.
We returned to Maagan, our kibbutz-hotel, for dinner, and another optional beach front gathering.
Saturday, April 28 (Day 7)
This sunny and pleasant day began with a quiet and reflective optional sunrise service. Following breakfast, our first stop was Hazor, a city conquered by Joshua (Joshua 11). The archaeological ruins here, dating from the Canaanite to Israelite periods, is quite extensive. It is the largest site in Israel (200 acres). Next was Dan. We enjoyed the quiet nature walk along the headwaters of the Jordan. We paused to consider Psalm 42. Close by is the site of Caesarea Phillipi or Banias. Here, Jesus asked “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16). Further east in the Golan Heights is Nimrod. We all enjoyed this Crusader castle built in the 13th century AD. We ate lunch at a Druze place located at the base of Mt. Hermon. We enjoyed falafel once again.
Following lunch, we visited Ben Tal, an old Israeli military site. From here we can view directly in Syria. This hill played an important role in the 1967 war. Finally, we stopped at the Talmudic village of Qatzrin. Here we discussed the Hebraic background of Jesus. We also walked through a reconstructed stone house, no doubt very similar to the houses of the 1st century.
We arrived back at Maagan for time to swim in the pool and/or the Sea of Galilee before dinner. Once again after dinner we enjoyed a bonfire on the beach as we reviewed the day’s experiences and prepared for tomorrow.
Sunday, April 29 (Day 8)
We enjoyed our last breakfast at Maagan. After checking out, our first stop was at the baptismal site called Yardenet. 17 were baptized in the Jordan. From here we drove through Cana (John 2) to the precipice of Nazareth. Although a bit hazy, we got our first view of the Jezreel Valley. We considered the story from Luke 4 about Jesus’ experience in the synagogue. Driving across this wide valley, we arrived at Megiddo, one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Israel. Revelation 16 (Armageddon) was read in the context of God’s ultimate victory that is ours when Christ returns! For lunch we stopped at another Druze restaurant for falafel.
Following lunch, we visited the Mt. Carmel chapel at Muhraqa. Here, we read from 1 Kings 18 (Elijah vs. Baal) and enjoyed singing in the small chapel where the acoustics are tremendous. Again although hazy, the view of the Jezreel Valley from this southwestern perspective was impressive. Our last stop of the day was the coastal plain city of Caesarea. Built by Herod in 22-10 BC, this harbor-city had everything! We read from Acts 10 and 26 in the theater, and then walked across to the Crusader Castle.
We arrived for our first night in Jerusalem. Following dinner, about 25 enjoyed an optional walk to the Western Wall.
Monday, April 30 (Day 9)
Our morning began by driving to the Mt. of Olives for our first full view of Old City Jerusalem! What a fantastic view! We walked down to Dominus Flavit Church where 2 Samuel 15, Luke 17 and Zechariah 14 were read. We continued walking down this “Palm Sunday” route to the Garden of Gethsemane. We entered the olive tree garden and the Church of All Nations. Next, we entered the Old City via the Lion’s Gate (St. Stephen’ Gate). We stopped at the Pools of Bethesda (John 5) and St. Anne’s Church (we sounded like a wonderful choir here as we sang with the 12 second echo). Continuing on, here starts the Via Dolorosa. We saw the Lithostrotos (stone pavement, John 19). We walked to the Holy Seplechur Church and out the Jaffa Gate.
Driving south, our enxt site was Herodium, one of Herod’s palaces. The 360 degree view from the top is spectacular. Close by are the towns of Tekoa (the home of Amos, the prophet) and Bethlehem. After eating lunch at “Ruth’s,” we enjoyed a time of singing Christmas carols in the Shepherd’s Fields, and reading from Luke 2. Lastly, we entered the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem. On our way out of Bethlehem, we stopped at an olive wood store.
We arrived back at our hotel for dinner. 15 enjoyed an optional walk down from the Mt. of Olives (we took a taxi up). A great first full day in Jerusalem! Being sunny and 75 was an added blessing.
Tuesday, May 1 (Day 10)
Our morning started by driving to the Dung Gate where we entered the Western Wall Plaza. Many went down to the Wall to pray. Next, we enjoyed an exciting walk along the Western Wall called by many as Rabbinic Tunnel. We walked 400 yards along this retaining wall that supported Herod’s expansion of the Temple Mount. Upon exiting the tunnel, we walked through the Jewish Quarter where we saw the Cardo (2nd century street), and the Burnt House, a home destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
Following lunch in the Jewish Quarter, we drove into the west part of Jerusalem. Our first stop was the Israel Museum where we saw a model of Second Temple Jerusalem (1st century AD). Close by was our last stop of the day, Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial. Here, we heard Shlomo’s personal stories of many of his family members losing their lives. We stayed until closing.
We enjoyed dinner upon our return to our hotel, with a few taking an optional walk to Ben Yehuda Street to experience some of Jerusalem’s more modern cultural life.
Wednesday, May 2 (Day 11)
We started the day early, departing at 7 a.m. for the Temple Mount. We ascended to see the platform of where the Temple once stood. While we could not go inside the Dome of the Rock, it was still an impressive building. Next was the City of David excavations, including Warren’s Shaft, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, and the Siloam Pool. The stories of 2 Samuel 5, 2 Kings 20, and 2 Chronicles were shared (about David and Hezekiah). About 25 walked through the tunnel. What a great experience! From here we walked back up through a brand new excavation that has been opened since last fall. We walked up in a Herodian drainage system that was built under the pavement that led from the Temple Mount to the Siloam Pool. We actually walked northward until the tunnel exits under Robinson’s Arch, a Herodian entry way into the Temple used by priests. Once arriving in this area, we saw remnants of the Temple stones brought down by the Romans in 70 AD. On the Temple Steps, we talked about Jesus’ ministry in this place as well as Peter’s Pentecost message from Acts 2.
We ascended in to the Jewish Quarter for an extended lunch break. This was followed by visiting Shoreshimwhere Moshe, an orthodox Jew, talked about his Jewish faith in contrast to ours. It was a very interesting dialogue.
Our last stop of the day was to the Garden Tomb, the alternative site for the place of crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. We enjoyed a time of worship and Communion.
Returning to our hotel, we enjoyed a special dinner set out for our own group. Following dinner, 10 of us walked to the Western Wall.
Thursday / Friday, May 3 & 4 (Day 12 & 13)
We all enjoyed this free day in Jerusalem. Many departed the hotel at 8 a.m for the Old City while others enjoyed sleeping in and exploring the Old City alone. Among the experiences we encountered included the Upper Room, Oscar Shindler’s tomb, the Eastern Gate walk, the Western Wall (and all the Bar Mitzvah celebrations going on), the wall/rampart walk, Aish Ha-Torah, the Hurva Synagogue, the Temple Institute, the Holy Seplechure, and of course shopping. It was a great day, with sunny and 70 degree temps made it perfect once again!
We packed up and left the hotel at 5:15 for our farewell dinner in West Jerusalem. Following some final sharing about the trip, we drove to the airport. Our flight went well, arriving back in the States about 5 a.m. for our connecting flights home.
What a great life-changing journey!