Biblical Israel Tour Experiences from November, 2007
Tuesday/Wednesday, November 6 & 7 (Day 1 & 2)
Our Christian Israel Tour date finally arrived! Following an smooth flight to Vienna and then to Tel Aviv, we were greeted by our NET agent and our bus. We drove from Ben Gurion airport and arrived at our nice hotel, the King Solomon. We enjoyed a nice dinner, followed by a group “orientation” meeting and a night walk around Netanya. The Med winds were strong but mild (it’s 72 now). The waves look big as they crash onto the shoreline.
We also walked around the town square, seeing a group of 75 Israeli kids/teens practice for some kind of festival. They each had flags as they were learning their movements. We asked a few other Israeli kids if they knew what was going on, but did not know themselves.
Everyone is jet-lagged, but everyone is looking forward to a full day tomorrow. We start with an optional walk down to the Med Sea.
Thursday, November 8 (Day 3)
The morning started with an optional walk along the Med Sea. Our touring day started at Caesarea along the Med Sea. A city primarily built by Herod the Great, we enjoyed the theater, Pilate’s place, the hippodrome, and harbor area. The sunny skies and warm temps, along with the beautiful crashing waves of the Med made for spectacular photos! We read the stories of Peter (Acts 10) and Paul (Acts 25-26) while sitting in the theater.
From Caesarea we headed north and a bit east to Mt. Carmel, where we enjoyed a unusually clear view from the top of the Jezreel Valley below. Pastor John Peterson shared form I Kings 18 the story of Elijah.
Our next stop was Megiddo, a great OT city fortified by both King Solomon and Ahab a century later. Here was encountered OT gates, grain bin, and the water system/tunnel. We descended over 150 steps down into the system itself, climbing 80+ steps out the other side. Being a place of many battles as we as the place for the battle of all battles to come (Armageddon), we read from Rev. 16 and comments were shared about God’s ultimate victory in the battle against our spiritual enemy.
After enjoying lunch in Alufa (near Shunem and Nain), we visited Nazareth and Cana. Luke 1 and 4 were shared. We even encountered a real live wedding in the church at Cana (John 2).
En route to Tiberias we enjoyed a sunset panorama view overlooking Tiberias and the entire Sea of Galilee. It was so clear we could even see Mt. Hermon, marking the northern edge of Israel!
Tonight we dined and rested at the Golden Tulip hotel. Following dinner we enjoyed a time of sharing along the shores of Galilee to end the day.
Friday, November 9 (Day 4)
Today we started with an optional “Sea of Galilee” walk, reading passages along with way as we walked along the shores of Galilee. After breakfast, we enjoyed an 50 minute boat ride. Songs were song and Mark 4 and 6 were shared. The worship time was special for all. It was a sunny morning with hardly a cloud in the sky.
We “sailed” to Nof Ginnosar, the location of the 1st century boat found in 1987. From here we boarded the bus for places such as Capernaum (Mark 2,3), Tabgha (feeding of the 5,000 site), and The Mt. of Beatitudes (Mt. 5-7).
We had lunch in Ginnosar, with some eating “St. Peter’s fish! (expensive, but very good). From here, we headed north past Hazor and Kiriat Shmone to Banias or Caesarea Philippi (Mt. 16), the location of both Jesus’ questioning of Peter (“Who do you say I am?”) and the most likely place for the Transfiguration.
We headed back towards Tiberias for the evening by route going through the Golan Heights as they overlook into Syria. We met some very photogenic Israeli soldiers on normal patrol on this border. We had a cool drizzle up here in the Golan (not unusual), but once returning to Tiberias, it was mild and pleasant.
Following “Erev Shabat” dinner (the “eve of the Sabbath”), we headed to the 10th floor of the hotel for a time of sharing and for the view overlooking the Sea of Galilee. We head to bed early after a great day so that we can rise for the sunrise service at 6 a.m. 🙂
Saturday, November 10 (Day 5)
After loading the bus with our luggage, our first stop was this morning was the cliffs of Arbel. From here, a great view of the Sea of Galilee can be seen. A few parables (Matthew 13 and 14) were read: the sower and the seed, as well as the mustard seed. Following the half mile walk back to the bus, we headed to Yardinet, the place where 20 reaffirmed their baptismal vows.
Traveling south down the Jordan Valley, we stopped at Bethshan and enjoyed the massive Roman city built there. It was one of the Decapolis cities, the only one on the western side of the Jordan River. Climbing the OT tel portion of the site gave an amazing view of the valley. This was where Saul’s body was hung after being killed on Mt. Gilboa (I Sam 31).
Jericho was the next stop. We viewed the OT tel where the “walls came tumblin’ down. We enjoyed lunch and the gift shop here as well.
Finally, we made our ascent from Jericho about 4,000 feet in elevation rise to the Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem. Here we viewed the spectacular city of Jerusalem. The Palm Sunday and Zechariah prophecy was read (Luke 19, Zech 14). We walked together to the Garden of Gethsemane. We viewed the Church of All Nations and saw the ancient olive trees. We boarded the bus for the Grand Court Hotel, a great hotel in walking distance to the Old City. After dinner, about 25 of us enjoyed an optional “orientation walk” to the area overlooking the Jaffa Gate, then back to the hotel via the Damascus Gate.
Sunday, November 11 (Day 6)
The morning started early, with a reservation for the Rabbinical or Western Wall Tunnel at 7 a.m. 25 or so walked through this tunnel with Gila, while Pastor John took the others through the Old City to the meeting point. Together, we then saw the pools of Bethesda (John 5), and enjoyed the marvelous “echo” at the Church of St. Anne’s. We then walked towards the Holy Sepulcher on the Via Dolorosa (the “way of the cross”). We made stops at the church of flagellation as well as the Echo Homo church (Sisters of Zion Church), seeing the “lithostrotos” of “pavement of the Antonia Fortress (John 19). We walked out of the Old City via the Damascus Gate.
We then traveled south to Bethlehem. Crossing through the security post and fence, we enjoyed some shopping at an gift shop. Picking up our Bethlehem guide, Gabriela, we visited the Church of Nativity where we sang carols together and read the Christmas story from Luke 2.
Meeting Gila at the Israel Museum, we overviewed the 1:50 2nd Temple Model, a great resource to help us understand the size and character of the city of Jerusalem as Jesus knew it. We also walked through the Shrine of the Book where a few of the Dead Sea Scrolls are displayed.
Our last stop was to Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum. Walking on our own, we were gripped by the horrors of Nazi torture upon the Jewish people. It also rained towards the end of the day into the evening, a much welcomed rain for Israelis.
Returning back to the Grand Court hotel, we enjoyed dinner and a optional gathering with a Messianic family here.
Monday, November 12 (Day 7)
Another sunny morning! Traveling to the Judean Wilderness, we started this new day of learning and appreciating the “land of the Bible” by heading east towards the Dead Sea. Dropping about 4,000 in elevation, we descended from Jerusalem (2,800 ft above sea level) to the Dead Sea area (1,200 ft below sea level). Our first stop was Qumran, the place where the Essenes scribes wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. We viewed the excavation as well as Cave 4 among others. We saw a few ibex on the cliffs as well.
From here we enjoyed a stop along the Dead Sea. Most everyone “floated” in the 30%+ salt/mineral water. Some even coated themselves with mud.
Following about a 50 minute drive south along the Dead Sea, we visited Masada (a Hebrew word that meansfortress). Rising 950 above the valley, this site was famous for the Jewish standoff against the Romans between 70-73 A.D. Of the close to the 963 Jews who lived on this fortress, only 2 women and 5 children were found alive. All the others fell to their own swords rather than be killed by the Romans. About 15 in the group walked down the snake path, a 30-35 minute walk. We all enjoyed the sun and 75 degree temperatures. A leisurely lunch and some shopping was enjoyed by all.
On our return trip to Jerusalem, we stopped to overlook Engedi (I Sam. 23), the place where David hid from King Saul in a cave. Again, a few ibex were spotted down below.
The usual huge dinner was enjoyed, with many of the wonderful desserts being devoured once again. 🙂 A walk to Ben Yehuda, a non-traffic modern Israeli shopping plaza offering a nice cultural experience. The walk there also exposed us to the Orthodox/Hasidim community of the Mea Shearim.
Tuesday, November 13 (Day 8)
Our “all Jerusalem” day started with an optional 5:45 a.m. walk to the Western Wall to experience the Jewish morning prayer time. Using the tallit (prayer shawl) and phylacteries, this prayer time was especially interesting to watch. Many went down to the wall for their own prayer time. We walked back to the hotel for breakfast.
Our tour of Jerusalem started at 8 a.m. Entering the Old City at the Tanner’s Gate, we went directly to the Temple Mount, the place where the Temple once stood. We viewed the Al Asca mosque and the Dome of the Rock from the outside only. We also had a close-up look at the closed Eastern Gate as well.
Walking down off the Temple Mount, we enjoyed some free time at the Western Wall. Once again, many went directly down to the wall.
Nearby to the south, we next visited the “Southern Wall excavations.” Viewing Robinson’s Arch (preserving one of the entry ways into the Temple precinct itself, the temple pinnacle, as well as the southern steps were all part of this area we explored. On the steps we recalled the words of Jesus (Mark 12), “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus quoted Dt. 6:4 and Lev. 19:18 in response to the question, “What is the greatest commandment?”
Following lunch on our own in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, our next visit was to the City of Davidexcavations. Here, Pastor John led the commentary since he dug here back in the 80’s. We saw “Area G” as well as “Warren’s Shaft” (perhaps the same shaft that Joab climbed to infiltrate the city, see I Samuel 5). The highlight for some was walking through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, a 1720 foot tunnel chiseled out of the rock for the purpose of bringing water into the city. This was made during the Assyrian invasion of the land in 701 B.C. Thus, with flashlights, shorts, and water shoes, we carefully walked through this amazing water tunnel (II Kg. 18, II Chr. 32). It exits at a place called the “Siloam Pool” (John 9).
Our touring ended with a visit and Communion Service at the Garden Tomb. This is the location of the alternative site for the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection site. The tomb was visited, followed by our group service.
The dinner and free evening was enjoyed by all. A few walked through the nearby Hasidic community called “Mai Shearim.” It’s like walking back in time a few decades to Eastern Europe.
Wednesday, November 14 (Day 9)
Our “free day” began with an optional excursion to the top of the Mt. of Olives for sunrise. There were 17 who taxied up to the top. Once there, the view east was spectacular. With the clear skies, we could see into Jordan, with the mountains of Moab and the Mt. Nebo area in plain view. We then walked down the “Palm Sunday” route, entering then into the Old City through the Lion’s/Stephen’s Gate. We exited the Damascus Gate and enjoyed breakfast back at the hotel.
At 9 a.m., many of the group walked together back into the Old City. Walking to the Christian Quarter, we then split up, with people doing there own thing. The options included the following: The Holy Sepulcher, Jaffa Gate, the rampart walk, the Lutheran tower (178 steps up for a great 360 degree view of the Old City and beyond!), the Jewish Quarter, including the “Burnt House” (a house destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.), the Cardo (the north-south road of the 2nd c. A.D.), and a stop by a shop called Shorishim , where Moshe shared a bit about his Jewish faith. A few even walked out the Zion’s Gate to the Upper Room, King David’s Tomb (it’s rally not his tomb), and the church that preserves the possible location of the house of the High Priest Caiphas, called “Peter in Galicantu” (church of the “crowing” where Peter denied Jesus 3x’s).
We met up with many in the group over lunch or shopping. Bargains were made by most! 🙂
Following another great dinner together, we ended the evening with a group meeting where people shared some of their experiences. It’s early to bed for the 11 who return home tomorrow, while 30 continue on to the Sinai and to Jordan.
Thursday, November 15 (Day 10)
The day started early for 11 who did only the basic 10 day Israel tour. Leaving at 2:45 for the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, they flew back to the U.S. The rest of us, 30 in total, departed for Elat and the Red Sea. Traveling through the Wilderness of Judah and then the Aravah south of the Dead Sea, we arrived at the Underwater Observatory in Elat on the Red Sea coast. The coral waters were beautiful, with 1,000’s of fish seen from the underwater vantage point. From the top of the tower we could see across to Aqaba, the Jordanian port city, as well as towards the south to a tip of where Saudi Arabia begins.
After saying goodbye to Gila our Israeli guide, we crossed into Egypt at the Taba border. Carrying our luggage across into Egypt was rather quick and pain free. We were greeted by our Egyptian guide, Adel, and Mohammad our driver. We then proceeded south past Ezion Geber, and island fortress built by King Solomon, and later by the Crusaders (of whose remnants can be still seen). The rest of the drive (past Neweiba) and turning inland through the heart of the Sinai Dessert made us appreciate the challenges of Moses and the Israelite people who wandered in this desert for 40 years. We stopped for a great sunset photo of the dessert valley where the Arab Bedouin live, a place where fresh water still flows from underground springs today.
We arrived at our hotel at St. Catherine’s about 6 p.m. Dinner was served, and then it was early to bed in preparation for the 1:30 a.m. wake-up call for our hike up “Jebel Musa” (the mountain of Moses) tomorrow.
Friday, November 16 (Day 11)
What an experience it was to hike up “Jebel Musa, the traditional mountain of Moses, Mt. Sinai/Horeb! 19 of the 30 started the hike at 2 a.m. With some riding camels to the 2/3rd’s point of the hike, some others walked. The last 1/3rd includes walking up some 750 steps literally carved out of the rocks by monks as early as the 6th century A.D. Everyone made it to the top, rewarded with experiencing a sunrise over Saudi Arabia. Magnificent! Exodus 3 and 20 were read, helping us recall Moses’ encounter with God on this mountain. We descended carefully in full daylight. After breakfast, we returned as a whole group to see the St. Catherine’s monastery.
Traveling north to the coastline of the Red Sea, we crossed into Jordan by taking a new jet boat. It was a private boat ride that we all enjoyed, taking us from the Taba marina to Aqaba, Jordan. We passed by large vessels from all over the world. We even saw a few dolphins nearby the boat. We were greeted by “Mo,” our Jordanian guide. We headed north to Petra where we enjoyed a great dinner at the Panarama Hotel, followed by a much-needed rest. We anticipate a great day in Petra tomorrow.
Saturday, November 17 (Day 12)
We woke to yet another beautiful day. Following a wonderful hotel panoramic view of the Seir Mts. (and Petra) at breakfast, we started out early. Entering the site of Petra as a group shortly after 7 a.m., we walked down through the narrow “Siq” (canyon) nearly a mile to where the city of Petra opens up at the “Treasury Building.” The marvel of the preservation of this “royal tomb” as well as the entire site is truly amazing. No wonder Petra has now earned the ranking of the one of the top 7 wonders of the world.
“Mo,” our guide, shared a description of this building as well as others before allowing us some free time to explore on our own. The multi-colored sandstone could be seen everywhere. Pastor John took off on a “mission” to encounter a particular Bedouin family he met on his last trip. He came back with 20 necklaces for the women, paid for by a former traveler for a previous trip.
Leaving Petra around noon, we headed north up the King’s Highway, a Biblical route controlled by the ancient Edomites and Moabites at one point. We also traveled on the more prominent Dessert Highway as well, a route that took us towards Mt. Nebo, where we viewed the “Promised Land” as Moses did (Dt. 31-34). We also stopped at nearby Medeba as well where we saw the 6th century mosaic of the ancient middle east. This “map” also highlights the “Cardo” (the north-south street) of Jerusalem as well as other significant buildings, gates, and churches that existed at that time.
Leaving Medeba, we finally traveled to our hotel, the Dead Sea Spa, on the Dead Sea, a beautiful hotel right on the shores. After a wonderful dinner, the majority of the group enjoyed a time of fellowship together by the pool, looking west across the Dead Sea, to Israel. A few of the lights of Israel could be seen across the way.
A few plan to “float” in the Dead Sea tomorrow morning.
Sunday, November 18 (Day 13)
This morning was a “sleep in” day, with many of us going down to the Dead Sea for another “float.” This hotel, the Dead Sea Spa, is located right on the shore line of the Dead Sea. Some even swam in one of this hotel’s 4 pools. It was an enjoyable morning.
Following “brunch,” we loaded up the bus, and headed to the Allenby Bridge crossing. Getting through customs into Israel went as quickly as it could go. We were met by our driver, Akram, and guide, Nuvrit, on the Israeli side.
We stopped at Qumran for a quick bite to eat before we headed towards Jerusalem en route to theShephelah (lowlands). Many of the OT stories from the period of the Judges to the days of David were shared. We passed by the Ajalon Valley where the sun stood still during the days of Joshua (Josh. 10). We also passed by the home town of Samson (Eshtaol). We also visited the site of Beth Shemesh, where the Ark of the Covenant was returned by the Philistines up the Sorek Valley (I Samuel 6).
Our final site of the day and of this tour was the Elah Valley. Standing on top of Azekah, we read the story about David and Goliath (I Samuel 17) and viewed where the battle took place.
Finally, we traveled to Tel Aviv where we had dinner. Some of us enjoyed a walk around the Promenadealong the Med. coastline.
Early this morning we wake for the flight home.
Monday, November 19 (Day 14)
An early wake-up call at 2:15 a.m. prepared us for an early start as we headed to the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv. It is hard to think that our trip is now over other than the long flight home. However, what a life-changing trip it was, with so much to see, learn, and experience in the “land of the Bible.”