March 2009

Biblical Israel Tour Experiences from March, 2009

Group Photos

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People

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Tuesday/Wednesday, March 10 & 11 (Day 1 & 2)

With great anticipation and excitement, we all met in Atlanta for our Christian Israel Tour and international Delta direct flight to Tel Aviv.  The group arrived from all areas of the country, representing at least a dozen states or so.  New friendships are being made as we embark on this life-changing trip together.

We landed safely after a comfortable flight in Tel Aviv.  After getting through passport control, we secured our bags and exited the airport.  Shlomo, our Israeli guide, met the group.  En route to our hotel in Netanya, we made a quick stop to Jaffa, where we recalled the stories of Jonah and Peter (Acts 9).  Following our dinner here at the King Solomon hotel, a few of us enjoyed a walk.  We bought “Haman ear” cookies in celebration of the tail end of Purim.  Praise God for His guidance so far.  He has brought together a great group of believers from all over the country.

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Thursday, March 12 (Day 3)

The day started with an optional walk down to the Mediterranean beach.  About 15 of us enjoyed the sunrise here.  After breakfast our first stop was Caesarea.  We all were impressed by this city built by Herod the Great.  We sat in the theater, listening to the stories from Acts (chapters 10, 12, 26) that took place here.  We walked by the hippodrome as well as by the harbor area before boarding the bus for one final view of the ancient aqueduct.

Our next stop was Mt. Carmel, where I Kings 18 was read about the story of Elijah vs. the prophets of Baal.  We enjoyed a falafel lunch nearby.  We journeyed to Megiddo next, this impressive archaeological city of 22 levels of ruins.  Rev. 16 was read about “Armageddon” and the final battle that will take place here.  We walked down 180 steps through the city’s ancient water system as well.

Driving across the Jezreel Valley, Nazareth was the next stop.  We enjoyed visiting the Church of the Well, where Luke 1 was read about the Mary and her encounter with Gabriel.  Our final stop of the day was Mt. Arbel.  Shlomo our guide was able to convince the Parks staff to allow us in, even after closing hours.  Walking to the top, a spectacular view of the Sea of Galilee can be seen from here.  We arrived at Maagan, our “kibbutz/hotel” for the next 2 nights.  It’s a very quiet place located on the southern shores of the Sea of Galilee.  Following dinner, we enjoyed reflecting upon the day’s experiences while sitting on the beach together.  God blessed us with great weather today too, with full sun and 65 degree temps!

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Friday, March 13 (Day 4)

We began our day with going to the Mount of Beatitudes.  Shlomo, our guide, shared Matthew 5 in Hebrew, with Pastor John reading the English.  We also enjoyed Shomo’s ‘recorder’ music he shared.  It was a peaceful and meditative time for all.  Close by, we visited was Capernaum.  Here, we sat in the 4/5th century snyogogue where Mark 1,2 and 9 were shared.  “Tabgha” was our next stop, remembering Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000+.

A highlight of the morning was our boat ride from Nof Ginnosar.  We all enjoyed making our journey to the middle of the lake, as well as a worship/quiet time.  The “storm” narratives from Mark 4 & 6 were shared.  We also saw the 1st century boat, discovered in 1986 along these shores of this NW corner of the Sea of Galilee.

After lunch at Nof, we traveled north to Caesarea Philippi and the Golan Heights.  Matthew 16 was read as the question was asked, “Who do you say I am?”  We continued up through the Golan Heights, coming 100 yards from the Lebanon border and 2 miles from Syria.  The vantage point from “Bental,” an old Israeli military outpost gave us a great view of Mt. Hermon and Syria.  We understood how critical it is for Israel to remain in control of this strategic region.

We arrived back at our hotel at Maagan by traveling around the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee.  We enjoyed “Shabat dinner” together as well as the optional group gathering to help us interact with all that we exprienced on this 2nd full day of our tour.

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Saturday, March 14 (Day 5)

Leaving Maagan, our first stop of the day was to the Kinneret Cemetery located on the southern shores of Galilee. Here, Shlomo shared about the life of a Jewish immigran from the late 1,900s named Rachel, reading a poem from her works. From here we continued to Yardenent. A total of 22 re-affirmed their faith in Christ in baptism. A wonderful spiritual moment for the group!

Traveling south down the Jordan River Valley, we stopped at Bethshean, a huge archaeological site from both the OT ( I Sam 31) and NT.  Some climbed to the top of the “tel” for the spectacular view.  We then continued 50 miles south to the outskirts of Jericho for lunch.  We then entered Jericho, a city controlled by the Palestinian Authorities.  We enjoyed seeing the site and of course some of the “wall that came tumblin’ down.” (Josh 6)

To end the day, we ascended more than 4,000 feet to Jerusalem.   Seeing the city from the Mt. of Olives was a great experience.  We walked down the “Palm Sunday” route, reading from Matthew 21 and Zechariah 14, a prophetic word that speaks about Jesus being crowned king at his 2nd coming.  We entered the Dominus Flavet (where Jesus wept over Jerusalem) and Church of all Nations churches (Gethsemane, where Jesus was betrayed by Judas).

Upon arriving at the beautiful Grand Court Hotel just north of the Old City of Jerusalem, we enjoyed dinner together, and then the optional walk to the Damascus Gate.

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Sunday, March 15 (Day 6)

The day started early by entering the Old City at the Dung Gate with a walk through the now famous “Western Wall Tunnels,” an archaeological walk along the retaining wall of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount.  Upon exiting the walk at the end, we stopped by The pools of Bethesda (at St. Anne’s Church).  The group sang beautifully in the “echoing” sanctuary.  We then continued along the Via Delarosa street, stopping at the “Lithostrotos” pavement at which Pilate sentenced Jesus to death (Antonia Fortress).  In the rainy weather, we walked the stations of the cross until we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the one possible site for the crucifixion and tomb of Christ.

Leaving the Old City for the afternoon, we traveled into Bethlehem.  Here, we shopped at an olive wood store as well as entered the Church of the Nativity where was read from Luke 2 and sang carols at the traditional place where Christ was born.  Our Christmas celebration will never be the same!

We ended the day of touring by going to Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum.  It was a moving time to hear Shlomo, our guide, share about the many of his family who lost their lives in Poland.  We returned to the the hotel for another great dinner as well as a optional walk to Ben Yehuda Street following all the yummy desserts we ate.

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Monday, March 16 (Day 7)

We headed east back through the Wilderness of Judah today to the Dead Sea area.  Leaving the cool and sunny skies of Jerusalem, we descended over 4,000+ feet in elevation, arriving at Engedi (I Samuel 22) and the warm sun of the dessert.  Here, we hiked into the water falls area, where the story of David and Saul was read, along with the story of Jehosaphat (II Chr. 20).   We also saw coneys and ibex, a long-horned goat-like animal that lives in this area.

Our next stop was Masada, the Jewish fortress that valiantly battled the Romans from 70-73 A.D.  This 1,000 foot high fortress overlooking the Dead Sea is quite impressive, a palace built by Herod the Great.  We saw cisterns, the Roman siege ramp, Herod’s northern 3-tiered palace, storehouses, and bathhouses.  7 walked down the snake path.

Our last stop was Qumran, where the Essenes lived as they penned the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Following lunch, we saw Jewish mikvas (ritual baths), scriptoriums, among other excavations from this scribal community.  Thanks be to God for the preservation of His Word.

Before returning west to Jerusalem, we enjoyed floating in the Dead Sea, a body of water with 33% salt/mineral content.  Most everyone enjoyed this unique floating experience.

As a surprise, “Zvi,” the voice of “Israel, My Glory” ministry, joined us for dinner and a optional meeting after dinner.  An opitonal walk to the Western Wall concluded the evening.  What another great day!

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Tuesday, March 17 (Day 8)

Waking to another sunny morning here in Jerusalem, our first stop after breakfast was the Temple Mount.  This was the location of both the 1st and 2nd temples.  Today, it is the location of the Dome of the Rock.  Leaving the Temple Mount, we visited the Western Wall, the most holy place in Judaism.  Most went down to the Wall to offer prayers.  Preceding to the southern excavations of the Temple, we all were amazed at the size of the massive stones that toppled to the Roman street in 70 A.D.  Here, we also saw the corner (pinnacle) of the Temple as well as the Temple steps that are still preserved today.  No doubt, both the Roman street on which we walked as well as the steps on which we sat were the same Jesus used.  On the steps, Mark 12 and Acts 2 were mentioned.

Before lunch, we visited the City of David excavations.  Here, we heard the stories of David conquering the Jebusites (II Sam. 5), and Hezekiah making the water tunnel during the Assyrian siege of the city.  many of us walked through “Hezekiah’s Tunnel” (1720 feet long) in water about knee deep.  The tunnel exits at the Siloam Pool (John 9), where Jesus sent the blind man.

We ate lunch in the Jewish Quarter.  Following this, we went to Shoreshim, the store of Moshe, an orthodox Jew.  Moshe shared about his Jewish faith and the similarities and differences between Judaism and Christianity.  After this, we visited some of the Jewish Quarter before leaving via the Zion’s gate.

Our last stop of the day was to the Garden Tomb of Christ, north of the Old City.  We saw “skull hill” as well as the proposed tomb of Christ.  We enjoyed a communion service together here, singing about Christ’s death and resurrection.  It was a great way to end the day.

Before arriving at the hotel, we said goodbye to Shlomo our guide.  After dinner, we had one last meeting as a large group.  An optional walk to back to the Ben Yehuda plaza was enjoyed by 13 of us.

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Wednesday, March 18 (Day 9)

This day was a “free” day for those going home tonight.  It was spent in the Old City for most, exploring and shopping!  For others (15 of us), after enjoying a few hours within the Old City, we departed the Grand Court hotel and headed south towards Elat.  Our lunch stop was at Ein Bokek along the Dead Sea.  Our next stop was Timna, a national park now.  Here, copper mines dating from the 14th – 12th centuries, B.C.  A full-size replica of the Tabernacle can also be seen here.  In addtion, we explored Solomon’s Pillars, climbing within the rock formations.

We journeyed a little farther south until we arrived at the Reef hotel right on the Red Sea in Elat.  What a beautiful area, with a great view across to Aqaba, Jordan.  We enjoyed dinner together as well as some fellowship time together.

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Thursday, March 19 (Day 10)

What another great day!  Here in Elat, we were greeted by a terrific sunrise over the Jordanian mountains to the east.  After an early breakfast, we left our hotel along the Red Sea for a day at Petra in Jordan.  Crossing at the Rabin border, we met our Jordanian guide and driver on the other side.  From here, we drove 2 hours to Petra, this magnificent Nabatean city of red rock!  We walked into the site together.  The “Siq” (canyon) was spectacular, with high walls of rock on each side.  After a mile, the whole city of Petra opens up at the “Treasury Building.”  The end of the Siq and this famous tomb of the Nabatean King Aretas was highlighted in he last Indiana Jones movie.  The Treasury Building stands 120 feet high and 90 feet wide.  Because of being protected from the weather these last 2,000 years, it still looks quite impressive.

From here, we walked past various other tombs and monuments, a Roman theater, and Urn Tomb, and an impressive Roman street.  Here, Pastor John met up with a Bedouin family from previous trips.  They also warmly welcomed the group.  We ate lunch a little further down in the Nabatean Tent.

After lunch, the group had free time until 4 p.m.  While some enjoyed a leisurely walk back through the city, 7 adventured to the High Place.  “Sela,” the oldest son on the Bedouin family, accompanied us to the top.  He also took his donkey named “Flower.”  What a spectacular hike as it winded up through the rock formations and tombs to the top.  Sela provided wonderful entertainment too for us all.  The view from the top was breath-taking.  We descended together down the front side.  We then walked back out the Siq to the entrance.  Most enjoyed ice cream and a coke after the long walk.

We arrived back at the border.  Once we crossed, we went back to the Reef Hotel for a 2nd night here.  Dinner was enjoyed, as well as an early bedtime for most.

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Friday, March 20 (Day 11)

Our last full day began with a leisurely start.  A few of us went swimming in the Dead Sea, enjoying the coral and colorful fish, while others walked the beach or slept in a bit.  At 9:15, we rolled out from our hotel in Elat, and headed for an interesting ride up and through the Machtesh Ramon (Israel’s Grand Canyon).  Here, we saw a brief video clip and enjoy the view from the observation station.

After some ice cream and a coke, we continued heading north to Beersheba located in the Biblical Negev.  Here, we saw the well, the rounded streets, 4-room Israelite houses, and a replica of a 4-horned altar.  The continuing journey on this last day was to proceed northward to Tel Azekah.  It is the site of an ancient un-excavated city located in the Elah Valley.  I Samuel 17 was read, the story of David an Goliath from nearby Gath.  The “Shephelah” of Lowlands of Judah served as a “buffer zone” for most of the time of early Israelite history.  Our last stop was BethShemesh, where I Samuel 6 was read concerning the return of the Ark of the Covenant.

We ate dinner back in Jerusalem at the Ambassador hotel before making our final journey to the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.

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Saturday, March 21 (Day 12)

We arrived safely this morning in Atlanta.  We said goodbye once we landed and went through customs.   What a great trip for all!