Biblical Israel Tour Experiences from June, 2012
Sunday/Monday, June 17 & 18 (Day 1 & 2)
Our Israel tour began with the group meeting in Philadelphia, PA. There were a few close call with people making the international flight, but thanks be to God, everyone arrived in time. The flight was 10.5 hours long, a direct flight into Tel Aviv, Israel. Upon arriving at 3 p.m. (Israel time, 7 hours ahead of EST) and going through passport checks, we met our guide, Shlomo, loaded our luggage, and boarded the bus. The one and only stop prior to getting to our hotel was Jaffa (Joppa). Here we stories of Jonah (Jonah 1), Tabitha/Dorcas, and Peter (Acts 9 & 10) were read. We even saw a few couples taking wedding pictures here. After a nice view of the Tel Aviv shoreline, we drove 45 minutes north to our hotel in Netanya. We enjoyed a nice dinner together, followed by a walk down to the beach. Some enjoyed the warm waters of the Med Sea.
We all look forward to our first full day tomorrow.
Tuesday, June 19 (Day 3)
The morning began by checking out of the hotel and leaving by 8 a.m. Our first stop was Caesarea, a city Herod the Great built in from 22 BC – 10 BC. We heard the stories of Acts 10, 12, and 26 as we sat in the city’s impressive theater. We walked north to see the palace area, the fresh-water pool, the hippodrome, the port, and the Crusader part of the city. We also stopped to see the aqueduct that brought in fresh water from the Carmel mountain range, our next destination place. Here, we heard the story of Elijah (I Kings 18) at the Carmelite chapel at Muhraqa. Nearby we enjoyed our first falafel sandwich.
Our first stop following lunch was Megiddo, an impressive “tel” (ancient site) consisting of 22 “levels” of civilization over about 3,500 year time period. Among the archaeological ruins (gates, stables, grain bin, and a water system), we read from Revelation 16 and the prophecy of Armageddon. From here we drove across the Jezreel Valley to the precipice of Nazareth, reading from Luke 4. Our first glimpse of the Sea of Galilee came in view as we drove to Maagan, our “kibbutz/hotel” for the next 3 nights. Following dinner, we enjoyed a time of worship and sharing while sitting on the shoreline of Galilee.
Wednesday, June 20 (Day 4)
We started the day early with a 7:35 departure. Our destination for the day: The Golan Heights. Our first stop was Hazor, a significant OT site and the largest archaeological site in Israel (200 acres). Here we read from Joshua 11 about how Joshua burned this city during the Conquest. An impressive Middle Bronze palace and Solomonic gate were here. Next, we visited Dan. We enjoyed the nature walk that winds around the rushing head-waters of the Jordan. We also saw Jeroboam’s high place (I Kings 12) and the Middle Bronze gate. Close by was Caesarea Philippi, the place where Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?”(Mt. 16). Further east up the Golan Heights was a fun site called Nimrod. We enjoyed hiking around this Crusader castle. Following lunch at another Druze place, we drove up an old Israeli military outlook called Bental. Here we looked across the border into Syria (Quneitra). We walked through the trenches and tunnels used in the 1973 war. On our way back to the Sea of Galilee, we stopped at Katzrin, a Talmudic village from the 3rd-4th century AD. We walked through a reconstructed house and the synagogue. Finally, we drove to Bethsaida, our last stop of the day. We read from 6 and 8 about the 2 miracles that happened here.
We arrived back at our hotel (after briefly stopping at the overlook where the Geresene/Demoniac story of Mark 5 took place) at 6:15. We enjoyed dinner at 7, followed by another beach gathering on the shoreline. A great day!
Thursday, June 21 (Day 5)
We departed from the hotel at 7:30 once again, this time making our first stop at Arbel. We hiked about 10 minutes to the top where we gained a great view of the Sea of Galilee below. Words were shared from Matthew 13 about the kingdom parables. As a surprise, Pastor John also re-proposed to Sue, his wife (her first trip to Israel) under the carob tree. From here, we visited the Mt. of Beatitudes, Chorazin, Capernaum, and Tabgha. These sites are all along the NW shoreline of Galilee, the primary teaching area of Jesus. Passages from Mt. 5 and 23, Mark 1-2, Luke 7, John 6 were read.
We ate lunch at Nof Ginnosar. Here, we saw the ancient boat that was found in 1986. Christian Stillman, one of our tour members and the author of “The Jesus Boat,” shared more insights about this amazing discovery. From here we boarded the boat for an hour out on the lake. We enjoyed a worship time of songs and Scriptures (Mark 4 and 6). Our last stop of the day was for an optional baptism in the Jordan River at Yardenit. 16 re-affirmed their faith in Christ and were baptized. We returned to the hotel in time for a nice swim in the Sea of Galilee and/or pool prior to dinner. Following dinner we once again met on the beach for a time of review and reflection.
Friday, June 22 (Day 6)
Waking up to yet another beautiful day, we checked out of Maagan and our cozy rooms after breakfast. Departing at 7:45, we made our first stop an unusual one, the Kinneret Cemetery. Here, an early pioneer of the country named Rachel is buried here. We read a few of her poems. Her picture will be featured on the Israeli 20 shekel bill this fall. Traveling south in the Jordan Valley, our next stop was Bethshan, a huge site. Here we saw Roman streets, bath-houses, pillars, and even a public bathroom. The OT tel where Saul’s body was hung after his death (I Sam 31) stands tall above this Decapolis city. The next stop was a “surprise” visit to a park named Sachni. Fed by natural springs, we enjoyed swimming for about an hour. From here we continued south to Jericho, then turned west, ascending towards Jerusalem. We skirted around Jerusalem (for now) and arrived in Bethlehem for a late lunch. Following lunch, we visited the Church of Nativity and the Shepherd’s Fields. We also stopped at an Olive wood store.
We arrived at our hotel in Jerusalem for dinner. Our optional walk tonight took us to the Western Wall. It was packed with ultra-orthodox Jews, celebrating the evening of Sabbath. About 2/3rds of the group enjoyed this experience. We got back from our walk at 9:45 pm.
Saturday, June 23 (Day 7)
Today was a HOT day in the Dead Sea area. Starting at 7:15 our first stop was Engedi. We walked back to the 2nd water falls in this unique oasis area on this western side of the Dead Sea. A few enjoyed going into the water. We read from I Samuel 24. Next, we continued south to Masada. By now it was about 100 degrees. We too a cable car bother ways due to the closing of the Snake Path due to the heat. The story of this site is amazing. From here we returned northward along the Dead Sea coastline to Qumran. During our lunch break, some of us explored the cave area above the site of Qumran. We returned to see the site. The Dead Sea float followed! Despite it being 105 by now, most experienced this unique sensation of floating in the 30%+ salt/mineral water.
We ended the day by visiting Jericho. We read from Joshua 6 and talked about this double-walled city and the history of archaeology. On our way back to Jerusalem we briefly stopped to overlook the Wadi Qelt and St. George’s monastery. We read from Isaiah 40 here. We returned to the hotel for showers and dinner. A free night was scheduled following dinner. Despite the heat of the day, it was enjoyed by all.
Sunday, June 24 (Day 8)
Eating breakfast at 6:45 once again, we departed at 7:30 for the Mt. of Olives. Beating the crowds, we enjoyed viewing the Old City and Temple Mount from this vantage point. We walked down the “Palm Sunday” pathway to Dominus Flavet, the church of the tears. We read from Luke 19, Acts 1, and Zechariah 14. We continued down to the Garden of Gethsemane where we entered the Church of All Nations. Entering the Old City through the Lion’s (St. Stephen’s) Gate, we visited the Pools of Bethesda (John 5). Here, we enjoyed the echoing acoustics inside the St. Anne’s Church as well. From here we walked the Via Dolorosa, stopping at several “stations” of the cross to remember Christ’s journey to Calvary. We ate lunch in the Christian Quarter.
This afternoon we visited the Israel Museum. We saw the amazing 1:50 scale model of 2nd Temple Jerusalem. We also quickly entered the Archaeological museum, seeing some of the important finds from around the country. Nearby, we ended the day at Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Memorial). We heard of Shlomo’s personal stories about the family members he lost in Poland. We arrived back at our hotel for dinner. Some enjoyed an optional walk to Ben Yehuda Street to experience some modern Israeli life in the western part of Jerusalem. We wake early tomorrow in order to get to the Temple Mount.
Monday, June 25 (Day 9)
This yet another sunny day started with an early wake-up call in order to get to the Temple Mount. Leaving at 6:45 this morning, we arrived second in line for this historic place. We saw the Al Asca mosque and the Dome of the Rock. We also saw the inside of the closed Eastern Gate. When we exited this area, we walked to the Western Wall plaza (the “Kotel”). Many went down to the Wall. We also observed a few Bar Mitzvah celebrations going on. Leaving Jerusalem for the morning, we headed south to Herodium, one of the fortresses of Herod the Great. From the top, Bethlehem comes into full view just a few miles to the west, with the Wilderness of Judah to the east. We ate lunch at Ramat Rachel.
This afternoon we returned to Jerusalem, and specifically, to the City of David. We saw the eastern slope excavations, including Warren’s Shaft. Many walked through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, a 1,720 foot-long tunnel still flowing with water flowing from the Gihon Spring. We exited the tunnel at the Pool of Siloam where we read from John 9. From here, we walked back north to the southern wall excavations through the Herodian drainage channel. This walk ends at the southwest corner of the Temple, where we saw the impressive stones brought down by the Romans in 70 AD. Lastly, we sat on the southern steps of the Temple.
We ended the day with a Communion service at the Garden Tomb. We enjoyed this time of worship and reflection together. We returned to our hotel for dinner and an optional walk. We taxied up to the Mt. of Olives, enjoying the view at sunset. We walked from here back to the hotel.
Tuesday, June 26 (Day 10)
This was our free day. We all had a great time exploring the Old City. We went to places such as the Upper Room, Jewish Quarter, and shopping. One couple renewed their vows outside the Holy Seplechure church. Many of us enjoyed hearing Moshe share about his Jewish faith at his shop called Shoreshim. We ended the day by driving to Jaffa for our farewell dinner. Following dinner, we drove to the Ben Gurion Airport for our night flight home.
Wednesday, June 27 (Day 11)
We arrived back in the States in the early morning. After getting through Customs, we found our connecting flights home. The end of a great trip together!