Biblical Israel Tour Experiences from October, 2013
October 6-17, 2013
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DAYS 1 & 2 – SUNDAY/MONDAY – OCTOBER 6
The departure date for our Christian Israel tour to the Holyland finally arrived. The group excitedly met in Philadelphia for the non-stop flight to Israel. We boarded the plane about 8:30 p.m., arriving Monday about 3:15 p.m. Israeli time. After getting through passport control and finding our luggage, we were greeted by our guide Shlomo. We also met Assad, our driver. We were also surprised to meet Rick Ricart, president and owner of imagine Tours & Travel (www.ittworld.com). We boarded the bus and drove to Joppa (Jaffa). Upon arriving there we walked around the historic part of modern Joppa, enjoying the view of Tel Aviv.
We drove north through the Tel Aviv traffic, arriving at the Seasons Hotel in Netanya about 7 p.m. We enjoyed our first dinner together, followed by an orientation meeting in the hotel synagogue. Many enjoyed a short walk to the downtown area of this Jewish city. We are all excited for our first full day to begin tomorrow.
DAY 3 – TUESDAY – OCTOBER 8
We woke up to a bright sunny and mild morning. Some walked the beaches prior to breakfast. After loading our luggage on the bus, we headed to our first site Caesarea. Spending about 2 hours here, we saw a lot in this impressive Herodian city built by King Herod – theater, hippodrome, palace, the harbor, and the aqueduct. This city located on the Mediterranean Sea served as the context for the stories of Peter/Cornelius (Acts 10) and Paul (Acts 26). From here we traveled from the Sharon Plain to the Mt. Carmel Range. At Muhraqa (a Carmelite chapel on top of the ridge), we read from 1 Kings 18 about Elijah’s boldness in confronting the 450 prophets of Baal. After singing in the chapel, we ascended to the building top for a great view of the Jezreel Valley below. We ate our first falafel nearby for lunch.
Our stop following lunch was Megiddo, a huge archaeological site strategically located, guarding the main entrance into the Jezreel Valley. Here we saw Canaanite (Late Bronze) and Israelite (Iron Age II) gates, stables/storehouses, and a granary. We read from Revelation 16 and appreciated the truth of God’s ultimate victory over the nations of the earth. In exiting the site, we descended down 180 steps through the water system.
From here we crossed the width of the Jezreel Valley and arrived at Sepporis, a massive Jewish/Roman city located only 4 miles away from Nazareth. We were impressed by the city’s Roman streets, villa, theater, and mosiacs. Our last stop of the day was to the Nazareth precipice. This provided not only a different view of the Jezreel Valley below, but also the context for the Luke 4 story of Jesus teaching in his hometown. We were invited to “come and see” (from John 1:46), namely, the ministry of Jesus.
We drove to Maagan, our “hotel” for the next 3 days. It is actually a kibbutz with a “retreat-center” feel to it, located on the southern shores of the Sea of Galilee. Following dinner and before retiring after this first great day, we enjoyed a time of fellowship on the shores of the lake.
DAY 4 – WEDNESDAY – OCTOBER 9
Departing at 7:35 this morning, we started the day in the Golan by driving north along the eastern shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. We first made a brief stop near a place called Kursi. We read the Mark 5 narrative about Jesus’ encounter of the demoniac from the area of the Gerasenes. We stood on the cliff area suggested to be the place where the pigs ran into the lake below. Once we arrived to the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee, we drove through the Hulah Valley to Dan. Located on the northern border with Lebanon and formerly called Laish, the site of Dan includes not only archaeological ruins but also a wonderful nature preserve. Walking through this area where one tributary of the Jordan River begins was beautiful. We even saw a mud-brick gate from the Middle Bronze/Cananite period that Abraham perhaps walked through (Genesis 14:14).
Close by is the site of Ceasarea Philippi. Reading Matthew 16, this was where Jesus asked His disciples, Who do you say I am?” We saw the ruins at the grotto area of this site. Driving east, we visited Nimrod, a Crusader castle. We enjoyed exploring parts of this amazingly huge structure, including the towers, cistern, and the secret escape tunnel.
After eating lunch at the base of Mt. Harmon at another Druze restaurant, we drove to the eastern border of Israel. Here on top of Bentel (an old military lookout base), we looked into Syria below. Shlomo also shared some modern Israeli history about the 1967 and 1973 wars.
We ended the day by driving to Qatzrin, the largest Jewish community in the Golan. We stopped at a Talmudic village where we walked through a wonderful reconstructed house similar to the type of house used in Jesus’ day. We read from Mark 2, a story about the paralytic lowered on a mat through the roof. Only a few minutes away we stopped at an olive oil factory. It was a good place to pick up some unique things made with olive oil.
We returned to the hotel for a time of relaxation before dinner (some even swam in the lake)l. Following a gorgeous sunset and another great dinner together, we once again gathered by the shoreline for a brief time of review and fellowship.
DAY 5 – THURSDAY – OCTOBER 10
This day started with a sunrise gathering at 6 a.m. While listening to praise songs, we enjoyed watching this new day dawn. Following breakfast, we once again left at about 7:30 for a day around the Sea of Galilee. Our first stop was Bethsaida. Located on this NE corner of the lake, this was the area where the feeding of the 5,000 took place. We read from Mark 6 and 8. Next was Chorazim, a second city condemned by Jesus. We read Matthew 23 from within this 2-3rd century synagogue here. Driving to the NW corner of the lake now, we visited the area suggested to be the place where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount (of Beatitudes). After we heard the Matthew 5 passage read in both Hebrew and English, we enjoyed a quiet time reflecting upon seeking God’s kingdom. We then walked down the path that led down to the lake. It was like walking in the dust of Rabbi Jesus (as the rabbinic phrase was used), walking where He walked and taught.
During our lunch time at Nof Ginnosar, we saw the 1st century “Jesus Boat” found here in 1986. We then enjoyed an hour-long boat ride on the lake, taking the time to read the storm narratives (Mark 4 & Matthew 14), worship, and reflect.
After briefly stopping to see the 1st century synagogue at Magdala (we could only see it for a distance), we traveled to Gamla back on the NE corner of the lake. This 1st century Jewish city has a 1st century synagogue as well. It was destroyed by the Romans in 67 AD. From here we traversed down a windy road on the southern end of the Golan to Yardenit, the baptism site. 10 renewed their baptismal vows in the waters of the Jordan River. On our way back to the hotel from here we briefly stopped at the Kinneret Cemetery to hear the unique story of a Ukrainian Jew named Rachel.
We returned to our hotel for dinner and our 3rd gathering on the quiet shores of the Sea of Galilee, reflecting upon the day together.
We look forward to traveling to Jerusalem tomorrow!
DAY 6 – FRIDAY – OCTOBER 11
Checking out of Maagan at 7:40, we had a spectacular start to the day. Our first destination was Arbel. This is a 800 foot cliff on the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee. 13 of us hiked to the top, with the others arriving by bus, with a final climb of their own for the wonderful view of the Sea of Galilee below. Could this have been a mountain in which Jesus Himself escaped to in order to pray, or seek time with his disciples? It very well could have been. What a great place to see the entire Sea of Galilee area!
From here we drove south down the Jordan River Valley. We made a surprise visit to Sachne, a natural swimming area fed by refreshing springs. We enjoyed an hour of swimming and relaxing here. Close by was Bethshean, a huge archaeological wonder, with ruins dating back to both OT and NT times. Following lunch at the site, we explored this extensive site, with some even climbing to the top of the OT tel for the view. We saw bath-houses, Roman street (Cardo), numerous Roman pillars, and a theater, among other things.
Boarding the bus again, we drove about 1.5 hours to Jericho. Here we saw the two retaining walls that still stand on the southern end of the tel. On top of these walls was a mud-brick wall. This is the part that came “tumblin’ down” with the blowing of the shofars! The historicity of the Bible can’t be denied here, as the evidence of the walls, burn level, and pottery seem to verify without a shadow of a doubt the conquest of this Canaanite city just as the Bible says it happened. It was inspiring to see the very walls Joshua saw!
Ascending now 4,000 feet to Jerusalem, we drove westward. On the way, we veered off to a side road for a quick view of a Greek Monastery called St. George located in the cliffs of Wadi Qelt in the heart of the Judean Desert. Isaiah 40 and Psalm 23 were read.
We arrived in Jerusalem about 6 p.m. Our hotel is the Dan Botique, located just SW of the Old City, offering us a perfect view of the city walls. We enjoyed dinner at 7, with a free night to walk around on our own or relax. We are looking forward to the first day in Jerusalem tomorrow!
DAY 7 – SATURDAY – OCTOBER 12
This is our first morning in Jerusalem! Wow… we are excited! Following breakfast, we departed for the Mt. of Olives. What a great “first view” of the Old City and Temple Mount. It was exciting to see and learn about so many events and Biblical stories that took place here. We walked the Palm Sunday road down the Mt. of Olives to Dominus Flavet, a traditional place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Here we read from Luke 19 (the Palm Sunday narrative) as well as from Zechariah 14, a prophetic passage about Christ’s return. We continued our walk down to the Garden of Gethsemane. We met quietly to remember Christ’s agony and betrayal here in a quiet setting among the olive trees.
Next, we walked in St. Stephen’s Gate to the Pools of Bethesda. We read John 5 and enjoyed singing in St. Anne’s Church. The acoustics provide about a 10 second “echo.” We sounded like a choir! From here we walked the length of the Via Dolorosa, the traditional “way of the cross.” We stopped briefly at the Sisters of Zion church where we read from John 19 about Christ’s torture and suffering. It was a moving experience to consider how the crowds mocked Jesus here, and this area where Pontius Pilate condemned Jesus to death. We walked to the Holy Sepulcher Church, the area where Christ was most likely crucified and buried.
We ate lunch in the Christian Quarter before leaving the Old City for Herodium. Located about 8 miles from Jerusalem and on the edge of the Judean Desert, Herodium served as a palace/fortress for King Herod. It was here where King Herod was buried (4 BC). From here we drove to the Shepherds’ Fields. We sat in a cave and sang Christmas carols and considered the truth that Christ was born “just at the right time” (Galatians 4:4). We entered Bethlehem and visited the Church of Nativity too. It was fun to encounter a wedding procession that took place at the church. To end the day, we stopped at an olive wood store for some shopping.
We returned to the hotel for dinner. An optional walk on the Promenade that wraps around the Hinnom Valley to the south was enjoyable. Some even stopped for ice cream or frozen yogart at the old Jerusalem train station now renovated with wonderful shops and cafes. We returned to the hotel for a good night’s rest.
DAY 8 – SUNDAY – OCTOBER 13
We spent the entire day around the Dead Sea area. Awakening to another sunny day, we left the hotel at 7:35 and drove east. Literally descending 4,000 feet in a matter of 18 miles, we drove through the Judean Wilderness to the northern tip of the Dead Sea. Following the western shoreline of this body of salt water (33% salt and minerals), our first stop was Engedi. This was where God intervened on behalf of Jehosophat and the Judeans (2 Chr. 20) and where David hid from Saul (1 Samuel 24). We walked back to the 2nd water falls and enjoyed the refreshing water. We also saw many Ibex as well as a few coneys (as mentioned in Ps. 104).
From Engedi we drove further south about 20 minutes to Masada, the “fortress” (metzada in Hebrew, see Psalm 18:1-2). Taking the cable car up 1,000 feet, we visited a few significant ruins on top – the cistern, Roman ramp, dwelling places, storehouses, and the bathhouse. Shlomo told the dramatic and heroic story of how 967 Jews found protection against the Romans here after Jerusalem had fallen in 70 AD. After touring on top, some hiked down the Snake Path while others took the cable car down.
Driving now north along the Dead Sea, our next stop was Qumran the home of the Dead Sea Scrolls. After lunch here and an optional hike to one of the caves, we learned the story of the scrolls. The preservation of God’s Word is indeed a miraculous story in and of itself.
We ended the day by driving to the nearby shores of the Dead Sea for a “float” in this very salty and mineralized water. Everyone had a great experience. From here we drove back to our hotel in Jerusalem for dinner. A few joined together for an optional walk to the Western Wall. This historic holy place for the Jews is quite impressive to see at night.
DAY 9 – MONDAY– OCTOBER 14
We took off a bit earlier from the hotel this morning. It would be yet another brilliantly sunny day, with temps in the high 70s. Gorgeous weather for sure! Rounding the Old City once again, we drove to our first site – the Western or Wailing Wall. Walking into the Old City through the Dung Gate, we visited the Wall for a few minutes while waiting our time slot for what is called the Rabbinic or Western Wall Tunnel. We encountered many orthodox and ultra-orthodox Jews in the middle of their morning prayers. As for the tunnel tour, we walked parallel to this western retaining wall. We even saw one Herodian stone (the “Master Course”) that weighs around 550 tons (that’s right…. tons, the weight and size of a school bus!).
Once this walk finished, we made our way back to the Jewish Quarter to a shop called Shoreshim. Here, we listened to Moshe, an Orthodox Jew who talked about his Jewish faith in the context of our Christian faith. Close by is the Temple Institute, a Jewish organization that is preparing for the Third Temple to be built here in Jerusalem. It as a very interesting and intriguing experience. After this, we ate lunch in the Jewish Quarter.
Following lunch we walked out of the Zion’s Gate and drove to the western part of the city. Our first stop of the afternoon was the Israel Museum. Here, we saw an impressive model of 2nd Temple Jerusalem and the Archaeological Museum. Seeing this 1:50 scale model is so very helpful in being able to understand the Jerusalem that Jesus knew. In the museum, we saw some of the highlights of artifacts found from all over the country.
Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial & Museum, is located nearby. This was our last stop of the day. Here we heard of Shlomo’s personal story about his family members losing their lives in Poland (of 12 family members, he lost all but one, his uncle). We also walked through the Children’s Memorial and the museum itself. It’s sobering to understand the atrocities of the Holocaust.
We returned to the hotel for dinner and an optional walk to Ben Yehuda Street. Some of us stopped at the old train station, now renovated into shops and cafe’s, for some ice cream. What a great day here in Jerusalem!
DAY 10 – TUESDAY – OCTOBER 15
The sun brilliantly greeted us once again as it rose over the Mt. of Olives. Following breakfast, we drove to the Mt. Zion area since our plans to ascend to the Temple Mount were canceled because of some Muslim holiday. So instead, we visited the traditional locations of the Upper Room and King David’s Tomb. Also on Mt Zion is a Christian cemetery where Oscar Schindler is buried. We each placed a stone on his grave. From here we could see down to the deepest part of the Hinnom Valley and the Field of Alcadema (Acts 1) where Judas took his own life. Nearby and also on Mt. Zion is Peter Galucantu or the “Church of the Crowing.” This is the traditional location of the House of Caiaphas (the High Priest who bound Jesus on the night he was betrayed by Judas) and the courtyard where Peter denied Jesus three times. We read Psalm 88 in the “pit” (e.g cistern) here. A 2nd temple street also runs by this site.
At 10 a.m., we enjoyed a tour of the Garden Tomb. This is the alternative site for the place of crucifixion and burial & resurrection of Jesus. Following the tour of the site, we had a Communion service. It was a special time to consider Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us and also the victory over death accomplished for us through His resurrection.
After lunch at Ramat Rachel (a kibbutz overlooking Bethlehem), we spent the entire afternoon at the City of David and southern wall excavations. At the City of David, we saw the primary excavations on the eastern slope as well a a portion of David’s palace. We walked through “Warren’s Shaft” (and saw the 52 foot shaft). Getting close to the Kidron Valley, we saw the brand new excavations of the tower that protected the ancient Gihon Spring. This new walk-way provided a wonderful view of this massive stone structure. After this, some walked through Hezekiah’s Tunnel (still flowing with knee-deep water), while others enjoyed the earlier Canaanite tunnel (a dry tunnel). Both lead to the Siloam Pool where we read from John 9.
From here we walked back up to the SW corner of the Temple Mount through the Herodian “drainage” channel located beneath the Herodian street above. Taking 30 minutes to walk 600 meters, we ascended at Robinson’s Arch, once an entry way for priests into the Temple. We saw stones toppled over by the Romans in 70 AD, as well as the same Roman street used in Jesus’ day. To end this tour of the area, we walked east to the Temple steps. Here we recalled the many stories from the Gospels about Jesus’ ministry in the Temple. It as also probably here where Peter preached his Pentecost message, with 3,000 becoming believers!
We went back to the hotel for dinner. An optional taxi up to the Mt. of Olives and walk back to the hotel was enjoyed as well. We look forward to our “free day” in the Old City tomorrow.
DAY 12 – THURSDAY – OCTOBER 17
We arrived back in the U.S. What a life-changing trip it was for all!