Israel Journal 2007

On February 27, 2007, two intrepid explorers (Rich and Tim Cathers) left the regions of Southern California to journey across the planet to the land of Israel.  Follow their day to day accounts as they explore the places we've all studied about but only dreamt of...


Day 1-2, February 27-28 – Travel Day(s)

Well we did it!  We finally got off on our trip to Israel.  We arrived at LAX with plenty of time, in fact we got checked through all the various security checks and still had a couple of hours to spare.  We’re flying Delta on this trip.  We had lunch at a Ruby’s in the terminal before boarding our 757 to Atlanta.  The plane to Atlanta was a bit on the crowded side, they were bribing people to take a later flight.  Even though our flight was a half hour late leaving, we rode a fast jet stream and still made it to Atlanta on time, 3 ½ hours.  In Atlanta we needed to change planes to a huge 777 to Israel.  The terminal for our departing flight was almost a mile away, we could have taken a superfast shuttle train but we decided to walk instead.  There are quite a few terminals in Atlanta, and each one is like a miniature city, or more like a mall.  We got a chocolate shake before waiting at our terminal.  The flight to Tel Aviv was much more enjoyable, more room on board, each seat with it’s own TV monitor with dozens of movie, TV, and video games to choose from.  We also were served dinner (we chose the chicken) and lunch (turkey sandwich).  We also tried to sleep on the twelve hour flight.  We were traveling with Bob and Bev Irish from Ventura.  Bob is the Senior Pastor at Calvary Ventura.  Bob had warned us that there was talk of a possible baggage-handler strike in Israel, and we were wondering if we were going to see our luggage again, but they must have worked things out because we got our stuff at the other end.  We landed just before sunset, and by the time we made it through passport control and got our bags, it was dark outside (we landed about 5:00pm Israel time). We were met at the airport by the folks at Sar-el tours, boarded our tour bus, and headed off for a two hour bus trip to Galilee, the Nof Ginosar on the Sea of Galilee, in Tiberias.  We ate dinner in the dining room (buffet style, we picked chicken).  It’s now about ten at night and we’re getting ready for bed.  We’ve been told we’ll have a wake up call at seven, breakfast at eight, a bit of touring at nine, but mostly have the day off tomorrow in order to adjust to the new time.  It looks like we’ll be able to purchase some wireless internet access each day, so I’ll do my best to catch you all up with our travels.

Here’s a few pics from the day …

Delta Flight 152Tel Aviv - Ben Gurion AirportIsraeli Coke


Day 3 – March 1 – Along the shore in Galilee, Mount Arbel, The Jesus Boat

Today was billed as a “light” day, some touring but done early enough so we can still work at catching up on sleep and adjusting to the time change.  Tim and I had trouble sleeping past 5:00am (only 3:00pm Fullerton time).  Our “wakeup” call came at 7:00am, but we were already well on our way for the morning when that came.  The rooms are pretty cozy – our room has a TV (some American shows w/Hebrew subtitles, some purely Hebrew shows), a small refrigerator, closet with hangars, two twin beds, bathroom w/sink, toilet, and bathtub/shower.  Our showers were pretty nice – nice and warm!  Breakfast was at 8:00am – a buffet deal at the hotel cafeteria.  We had omelettes (made while you watch), some potato-things, I had a baked tomato with cheese on it, croissants with a dozen different jellies to put on them, coffee, and hot chocolate.  Our group got on the bus at 9:00am and headed to Tabgha, a place down the street from our hotel, on the beach of the Sea of Galilee.  Our tour guide Amir gave us some insights into the location – there are seven hot springs that feed into Galilee at this point and where the hot water meets the cold, the fish like to hang out.  We even saw this strange school of fish just off shore, hundreds of them jumping and stirring up the water.  It was supposed to rain today, so we were kind of watching the weather to see how much we’d end up doing.  Pastor Bil (yes, just one “l”) Galatin (CC Fingerlakes, NY) is the host of the tour, he did a study on John 21 – where Jesus met the fellows after the resurrection – at a beach probably like the one we were on.  Great study on forgiveness, restoration, and God’s grace.  We were originally going to end the day’s touring there, but because the air was so clear, we got on the bus and headed around the lake to Mount Arbel.  This was very likely the area where Jesus was up on the mountain praying, watching the disciples’ toil away on the water.  You had a very clear view of the lake (the Sea of Galilee is just a big lake).  It was quite cold and windy, a storm was coming in from the east while the wind was blowing from the west, just right for one of those Sea of Galilee storms.  Pastor Bil taught from Hosea 10:14, where Arbel is mentioned as a place that was plundered by Shalmaneser of Assyria.  The message was a warning of judgment, how we ought to be careful of getting too caught up in the things of the world and how we need to be serving the Lord.  We didn’t get any rain, even though for a while it looked like it was heading our way.  Back on the bus, we headed back to our hotel, where there’s a museum with the “Jesus Boat” on exhibit.  It’s an ancient 1st century boat that was discovered by a couple of Israeli fisherman about 15 years ago when the lake level was extra low.  It was carefully dug up and is now on display at this museum.  We got lunch at a snack bar, got a peek at the boat, and stopped at a souvenir shop.  We’ve now got the rest of the day off to rest.  I think it’s nap time!

Here's some of the day's pics ...

TabghaArbelBoat Museum


Day 4 – March 2 – Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum, Boat on Galilee

We still haven’t quite adjusted to Israel time.  We both woke up before 5:00am (7:00pm Fullerton time).  Our breakfast was earlier this morning, at 7:00am.  Our tour bus headed off at 8:00am to the Mount of Beatitudes.  We drove up a windy road to a hillside, then got off the bus and hiked down the lake side of the hill and settled down among the long grass, yellow mustard plants, and little purple flowers.  Timothy wished he was in Biology, he could have done a “bug project” and collected a few specimens.  It’s a beautiful view of the “lilies of the field” while you listen to the “birds of the air” chirping.  Down the hillside you have a view of the entire Sea of Galilee.  After a time of teaching (Pastor Bil shared from Psalm 23, Ezekiel, and Jesus the shepherd with His people) we hiked the rest of the way down the hillside to our bus and then on to a short trip over to Capernaum.  Capernaum (“village of Nahum” or “village of comfort”) is a site regulated by the Catholic church.  It’s a great big archaeological dig, lots of ruins, what could be Peter’s house, and the center piece of the village, the synagogue.  Capernaum was seen as Jesus’ headquarters during His ministry in Galilee.  We were walking around places where Jesus walked, taught, and did miracles (remember the fellow let down through Peter’s roof?).  Pastor Dave from York England shared from Matthew 13 – we read the entire chapter first – and when you read all the things that Jesus teaches in the chapter, you can see them all as you sit in this tiny village – birds, fields of mustard, fishermen on the sea, it’s all there. Wow.  After Capernaum, we boarded our bus and headed clockwise around the Lake to the southeast shore of the lake where we had lunch at a Kibbutz (look at the fish plate). After a delicious lunch of fried fish (or pizza for the weak of stomach) we boarded a boat to head back across the Galilee to our home base at Ginofar.  It’s about 3:00pm and we’re done with our touring for the day, sitting in the café where there’s Internet access.

Here's some pics of the day ...

Mount of BeatitudesSynagogue at CapernaumFish heads, fish heads, eat 'em up, yum!Galilee Boat Ride


Day 5 – March 3 – Acco (Acre) and Beth She’arim (The Necropolis)

Today we got off to an early start.  Being a Saturday, it was “Shabbat” (the Sabbath).  Breakfast was a little different – no cook making omelets.  We headed out at 8:00am for the coast of Israel and the ancient city of Acco.  In the days of the crusaders, it was known as Acre, in the New Testament times it was known as Ptolemais (Paul visited there in Acts 21).  Because we got there pretty early, while all the Jewish folks were sleeping in (not only being a Saturday, it was a holiday weekend, “Purim”, celebrating the victory in the book of Esther – it’s a little like Halloween where the kids all dress up, but not in evil costumes), anyway, the city was pretty quiet.  We arrived at the old fortress and got a great tour through ancient secret tunnels, walked through real live Crusader Medieval banquet rooms, walked through an old fashioned Turkish Bazaar (fresh fish, still flopping, slabs of lamb, fruits and vegetables, trinkets, haggling salesmen) and had lunch at a small shish-kabob restaurant (we had the chicken).  All this in a fortress surrounded by a moat, huge stone walls, and overlooking the Mediterranean Sea – something right out of the movies.  After lunch we got back on the bus and headed for Beth She’arim, where there’s a “Necropolis”.  That’s a fancy word meaning “city of the dead”.  Again, just like something from Indiana Jones.  In Jewish history, after the nation was scattered by the Romans, concern grew that the oral traditions handed down from generation to generation would be lost.  The tradition was that these traditions actually started with Moses (not), these were the kinds of things that the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking (like their strict Sabbath rules).  One famous rabbi wrote six volumes worth of rules, and the “Mishnah” was born.  This fellow was buried at Beth She’arim, and it became known as THE place to be buried, whether you were religious or simply wealthy.  We spent an hour crawling through caves and tombs, really cool stuff.  By the way, it’s also a “fun” place where families hold picnics – where the dead people are.  Oh well, you just have to see it (and maybe some of you will!).  It’s about 4:00pm and we’re back at the hotel in Galilee, and we’re pretty tired from all the walking today.  Tomorrow we’re supposed to head up north, take a peek into Syria, and maybe see Caesarea Philippi (read Mat. 16).

As usual I’ve attached some of today’s best pics …

Acco FortressThe Bazaar - lamb for saleShishkabob for lunchTombs, tombs, tombsHe's not dead

Day 6 – March 4 – Northern Israel – Kiryat Shmona, K’far Gil’adi, Banias, and ancient Dan

We got up today and had breakfast at 7:00am, left at 8:00am heading to the far north of Israel, which really wasn’t all that far away, perhaps a 45 minute drive.  We drove through some of the areas that had been bombarded with rockets from last year’s war with Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Israel was bombarded with over 4,000 rockets, but very few caused damage.  We saw burn spots on some of the mountains, but Israel has replanted three trees for every tree burned down.  We drove through Kiryat Shmona, the northernmost city in Israel (they alone had over 1,000 rockets hit them), and went up to a spot (K’far Gil’adi) where a couple of rockets landed on a group of Israeli soldiers, killing them all instantly.  We were right on the border of Lebanon.  Our tour guide Amir (an ex-Israeli army officer) kept pointing out the difference between the Israel side of the border (lush farms, orchards, lots of green) with the Lebanon side of the border (not much growing).  His point was not to say that Israel was great, but that God was great.  We then headed east to a beautiful waterfall and stopped at Banias, also known in the New Testament as Caesarea Philippi.  The name Banias comes from the god “Pan”, who was worshipped at that site.  Pastor Bil did a short Bible Study from Matthew 16, where Peter identifies Jesus as the “Christ”, and where Jesus says that He will build His church on the rock and the gates of hell won’t prevail against it.  This area of the north was known as the “gates of hell” because it was the area that led into Lebanon, the area of the ancient Phoenicians, the ones who introduced Baal worship to Israel (through Jezebel), and thus this area became known as the “gates of hell” because of the paganism.  The area of Banias is a huge solid rock cliff, a great backdrop for the “Rock” Jesus would build His church upon (the Rock being Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ).  We got back on the bus and headed for “Tell Dan”, the ruins of the ancient city of Dan.  We hiked into the area where they’ve discovered the temple and altar area that was a part of King Jeroboam’s apostate religion with golden calves, and Pastor Bil did a study linking the sins of the tribe of Dan going back to Samson’s lustful lifestyle (he was from the tribe of Dan), to the tribe not being content with their “lot” in the south and heading up to the north, to the idolatrous worship introduced at the end of Judges, to Jeroboam’s idolatry, being the things that eventually led to the downfall of the northern kingdom - all being taught at the ruins of this ancient temple – powerful stuff.  We then hiked around the corner to where they’ve excavated the ancient gates of the city of Dan, and even farther down the hill where they’ve uncovered the even more ancient ruins of the city of Dan dating back to Abraham’s day (which we studied back in Genesis 14:14).  Amazing to think we were standing where Abraham would have walked.  By this time we were a little late for lunch, and headed down the hills to a kibbutz where we had a wonderful lunch.  It’s now 4:00pm and we’re on the road back to Ginosar, our home base.

Memorial at K'far Gil'adiWaterfallTim and JacobAmir at BaniasAltar at DanAbraham's gate at Dan


Day 7 – March 5 – The Coast – Caesarea, Carmel

We started today off with breakfast at 7:30am and onto the bus at 8:30, then off to the coast at Caesarea.  Caesarea was a grand, beautiful city built by Herod the Great, the fellow that expanded and refurbished the Temple for the Jews during the time of Jesus.  Caesarea was intended to be the Rome of the east, complete with harbor, Roman theater, and a “hippodrome”.  Herod poured millions of shekels into the building of the place, taking a small fishing village and turning it into the third largest port in the Mediterranean.  We started out in the restored “theater” (Amir told us it was technically not an “amphitheater” because an “amphitheater was in a complete circle, outdoors, like the Roman Colliseum), and outdoor semicircular arena designed for plays and entertainment.  Since it’s restoration, it’s used today for rock concerts and such.  Pastor Bil taught from Acts 24, Paul’s defense before his accusers while he was on trial at Caesarea.  From the theater we walked over to the ancient “hippodrome”, where horse races and other events were held – Herod intended Caesarea to be on the same par as Rome itself, even holding athletic games every four years.  The hippodrome itself was only recently discovered in the last couple of years.  We walked over to Herod’s “lower” palace, built right on the ocean, but also on an earthquake fault line causing it to eventually sink under the waters.  We also saw a replica of one of the stones found in the theater, a stone with the name of Pontius Pilate inscribed on it.  Critics used to say that there was no secular record of Pontius Pilate even existing, let alone being the Roman governor over Israel.  Yet there is the name carved in stone.  We continued walking through ancient Caesarea, including the remains of a Crusader fortress, the artificial harbor that Herod built, and the remains of Jupiter’s temple, under which Paul may have been held prisoner during his time in Caesarea.  When we got to the bus, we headed north to Carmel, where we stopped at a falafel stand for lunch.  Then off to the top of Mount Carmel where there’s a monastery on top.  There’s a great view of Israel from this site – you can see most of the northern part of the country, the Mediterranean, and especially the Jezreel valley, also known as the valley of Megiddo, or as we would affectionately call it, Armageddon.  Pastor Bil taught on the Battle of Armageddon as we watched the valley over his shoulder.  It was getting cold, the clouds were moving in over head, and after the study we headed back to the bus, and back to our Galilee home at Ginosar.


Day 8 – March 6 – Beit She’an, Ein Harod, Gan Hashelosha, Qumran

Hey fellow Bible lovers – we sure wish you were here!  We started the day a tad early because today was the day we leave the Galilee (up north) and head towards Jerusalem by way of the Dead Sea.  We packed an overnight bag with a day’s change of clothes so our large suitcases could stay locked on the bus overnight.  We had all the bags and stuff on the bus and left by 8:00am, heading north along the Jordan River.  We headed for the ancient town of Beit She’an, also known as Beth Shan (1Sam. 31), and Scythopolis, one of the cities of the Decapolis (Mark 5:20).  The story goes that the Jewish archaeologists finally got around to excavate the ancient Israelite city of Beth Shan, where Saul’s body was hung by the Philistines after he died, and as they began excavating, they discovered something far greater – a city a bit more recent (dating from Jesus’ day), the Roman city of Scythopolis, a huge archaeological find.  Some areas, like this one, have as many as 25 layers of city upon city.  The city of Scythopolis probably held at least 20,000 people in Jesus’ day.  It eventually became a leading Christian city, but after the Muslims invaded the land there was a HUGE earthquake (8.9 they estimate) and the entire city was devastated and lost in the dust, only to be found in the last few years.  Excavating is still going on and the place is huge.  There’s a huge theater (like Caesarea), a hippodrome (like Caesarea), markets, bath houses, and on and on.  In fact they got side tracked and still have yet to excavate their original site of Beth Shan.  We spent a couple of hours hearing stories, exploring the ruins, and hiking (or as one high schooler did, “run”) to the top of the “tel” at Beth Shan (a “tel” is the ruins of a city covered over with dirt, they’re all over Israel).  After Beth Shan we boarded our bus and headed off to “Ein Harod”, or the well of Gideon.  You can read the story in Judges 6-7, when Gideon gathered his army at the well of Harod to plan his attack on the Midianites.  From the well you can see across the valley where the Midianites camped, all the way to the hill of Moreh (Judges 7:1).  Pastor Bil taught from the story of Gideon, and how God can and does use the least likely people.  We got back into the bus and headed off to Gan Hashelosha, where there is a beautiful park, hot spring, and swimming lake.  It’s nothing archaeological or Biblical, just a nice place to unwind and have lunch.  Some of the folks brought their bathing suits and swam in the lake.  After catching our breath (and eating an ice cream bar or two) we once again got back onto the bus to make our way towards the day’s final destination, the Dead Sea.  After about an hour, we stopped for a few minutes at Qumran, the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947.  It’s an area that is part desert, situated on the coast of the Dead Sea, and surrounded by high steep cliffs.  The national park was closed, but we did some shopping at the gift shop and they let us in to get a peak at one of the caves from a distance.  After about an hour we got back on the bus and continued on along the Dead Sea to our hotel.  We pulled in around 6:00pm – our longest day yet.  The hotel we’re staying at, “Le Meridien”, is well, it’s … a total five star luxury resort.  The room Tim and I are staying in is a suite (they apparently treat the pastors well) with a living room, bathroom, and bedroom.  Two TVs, two balconies, bathtub AND shower, even a phone next to the tub – you know, just like in the movies.  We dropped off our stuff and went down to a luxurious buffet dinner at 7:00pm and are finally back in our room for the night.  The hotel is 17 floors, and we’re on floor 15, what a view!  Tomorrow morning there’s no wakeup call – we just have to be on the bus by 10:00am.  We’ll have dinner, some folks will swim in the Dead Sea, others are reserving “spa” treatments, we’ll probably go exploring.  In the morning we’re going to see Masada, then on to Jerusalem … more tomorrow (If we get internet…)

Tim on top of Beit She'anA look at Scythopolis from the top of Beit She'anGideon's Well - Ein HarodRich at Qumran


Day 9 – March 7 – Masada, Ein Gedi, Jerusalem

This morning we got to sleep in.  I think we got up around 6:00am.  Again, our hotel is just beautiful.  We woke up to a spectacular view of the Dead Sea.  I know that some people really want to go floating in the Dead Sea, but I’m afraid we weren’t all that excited about it.  Instead we took our time getting going, just catching our breath from the last week’s pace.  We headed down to breakfast around 8:30am, walked around hotel a bit, went back to our room for a bit, and got on the bus around 10:00am for our journey from Masada to Jerusalem.  We got to Masada and onto the tram by 10:30am.  It’s kind of like the Palm Springs tram, a coach with 25 people on it traveling up a long wire to the top of the mountain.  Masada towers about 1800 feet above the floor of the Dead Sea, but the top is actually about at sea level (since the Dead Sea is 1800 feet below sea level).  Did you see the mini-series made back in the 80’s with Peter Lawford playing the Roman general?  That’s the place.  During the days of David, it’s possible that Masada might have been one of David’s hiding places as he ran from Saul (Masada means “fortress” or “stronghold” (see 1Sam. 23:29).  Just prior to the time of Jesus, Herod the Great took this out-of-the-way place and turned it into his winter palace/place of hiding.  He built an elaborate, no-expense-withheld fortress with places for soldiers, huge storehouses, palaces, water cisterns, even a fancy sauna, all decorated with frescoes, tile, and marble.  It was eventually abandoned after Herod died, but in 70AD after the fall of Jerusalem, a band of Jewish rebels fled to Masada to hide out from the Roman army.  About 1,000 people lived at Masada for over three years until the Romans finally sent an army to take them prisoners.  The Romans conquered the mountain top fortress by building a huge ramp up the back cliff.  But when they finally broke through the gates, all the Jews had killed themselves the night before.  They knew that if they were conquered, their wives would be raped in front of their children, then their children would have their heads dashed against the cliff walls, and the men would be sold as slaves.  They knew this because this is what had happened in Jerusalem just a few years earlier.  They had decided they would rather die at their own hands then face capture at Roman hands.  It was the last time a Jewish army would be formed until 1948.  But at the birth of the Jewish state, Masada became a reminder of what they never wanted to face again, near extinction at the hands of their enemies.  During the wars of the last 60 years, the Israeli army remembers what they face if they lose.  Masada is a part of Israeli heritage and even though it is mandatory for all young people to serve in the army when they turn eighteen, they do it willingly in defense of their homes and country.  We had time to explore the ruins at Masada and then headed back down on the tram to have lunch at the base of Masada.  From there we traveled by bus northward to En Gedi.  En Gedi (or, Ein Gedi) is famous as one of the places David hid at when fleeing from Saul (see 1Sam. 23).  It was at a cave in En Gedi that David had a chance to kill Saul, but chose to let Saul live.  Pastor Bil gave a wonderful message on what it means to have a heart after God, and how we ought to treat our enemies.  Then those who were up to the physical challenge hiked back up into the canyon to the waterfalls.  What a gorgeous place!  It reminded me of pictures I’ve seen of Hawaii.  Those that didn’t feel up to the steep hike stayed back and rested at the café where the bus parked.  It was close to 4:00pm when we got back on the bus and began our trip towards Jerusalem.  We stopped for a brief moment to gas up the bus (and we bought a few ice cream bars), then on to Jerusalem.  The road to Jerusalem takes you up into the hills from the lowest place on earth (the Dead Sea and Jericho).  The hills start off brown and dry and end up green.  You see shepherds and their flocks.  You see Bedouin camps.  We even saw the strangest rainbow any of us had ever seen – almost a full circle around the sun.  As we entered into the city, we stopped at a souvenir shop and bought some really cool things, then back onto the bus and off to our hotel.  By now the sun had set and we were traveling through the city at night.  The old city walls are lit with spotlights, you can see the Dome of the Rock lit at night, all kinds of churches, we drove alongside the Kidron valley with the Mount of Olives on our left and the Temple Mount on our right.  I can hardly wait for tomorrow to see and walk through it all in the daytime.  Our hotel, The Sheraton, is another absolutely fabulous place.  Five stars.  We got our baggage off the bus, went to our rooms (we’re on the 11th floor this time, out of 22 floors), and then went downstairs to dinner – another fantastic Israeli buffet.  It’s now getting close to 9:00pm as I’m writing to you.  Tomorrow is supposed to be a day of walking through old Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane (Donna, I’ll take lots of pictures), and who knows what’s in store for us.  One last word – some people give me the impression they like to go to Israel to be closer to God.  I’ve got to tell you that as exciting as this is, I don’t feel any closer to God than I do in Fullerton.  That’s only because God is just as close to me at home as He is here.  What’s so exciting about this place is simply all the cool stuff we’re learning about our Bible.  Seeing the places, getting the lay of the land, learning the customs – you gotta think about coming…


Day 10 – March 8 – Jerusalem:  Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, Temple Mount

We’re back to the early morning, wakeup call at 6:00am, breakfast at 7:00am and on the bus by 8:00am.  The breakfast buffet at the Sheraton is just like all the other places we’ve stayed – absolutely amazing.  Israel is quite an advanced agricultural country – on the way to Jerusalem you see every valley jam-packed with field after field of produce, orchards, green houses, banana groves, almond groves, avocado groves, you name it.  And the buffets at the hotels all reflect this – there’s not a tiny little salad bar, but a HUGE section of the buffet dedicated to fresh fruits, vegetables, all sorts of exotic salads, as well as a multitude of cooked vegetable dishes – stuffed tomatoes, eggplant, mushrooms – and that’s just breakfast.  This morning our day (as the next couple of days) is dedicated to Jerusalem.  We’re going to be starting at the Mount of Olives and working our way to the Temple Mount.  Our bus driver Moishe (English:  Moses) dropped us off near the top of the Mount of Olives.  The idea was to give us a view of Jerusalem, THE view you see in most pictures with the Temple Mount, dominated by the golden dome of the “Dome of the Rock” mosque.  The Mount of Olives is covered with Jewish graves (they want to be close to Jerusalem at the resurrection), the valley in between, the Kidron, is filled with Christian graves, and the side of the mountain where the Temple is has Muslim graves (they’re trying to block the Eastern Gate, thinking they’ll keep the Messiah from entering Jerusalem – I think they have a lot to learn about Jesus).  We walked down the hill (the “Mount” of Olives is really just a steep hill) to the Olive Garden, you know it as Gethsemane.  We walked along what is known as the “Palm Sunday” route.  We were allowed into a small private garden where Pastor Bil taught from Luke, Jesus praying in the Garden.  You know gang, we have a Savior who really, really loves us.  He knew what was up ahead and He still willingly went through it, suffering and dying on a cross so He could pay for our sins.  And He did it all because of His love for us.  You know you really wonder why anyone would say “no” to a Savior like that.  After our short study, we crossed over the alley (the “Palm Sunday” route is the size of an alley) to the more public garden kept by the Catholic Church.  They have a beautiful church there, we peeked inside and heard the priests singing beautiful Gregorian chants in English.  After we got back on the bus, we made our way across the Kidron Valley (the one between the Mount of Olives and the Temple Mount) and into Jerusalem where we got a look at some of the excavations down to the level of the city in Jesus’ day.  We had lunch in the “Jewish Quarter” and spent an hour and a half in something like an outdoor pedestrian mall.  Lots of shops, falafel stands, bagel stands, pizza, and Turkish coffee.  We then made our way towards the Temple Mount, the place you and I recognize as the “Wailing Wall”.  The Jews only called it that during the time when they did not control all of Jerusalem.  Now they just call it “The Wall”.  It’s not actually part of the Temple, but only a retaining wall below the Temple, alongside the outside edge.  But for now, it’s as close to the Temple as the Jews are allowed to get.  In reality, it’s a large, outdoor synagogue.  There’s a women’s side and a men’s side.  Those of us without head covering were handed a “yarmulke” and were allowed up close to the wall.  We also got a glimpse of the “ramp” that Israel is renovating and causing all the outrage among the Muslims.  The Muslims claim it’s going to damage the Temple Mount, but when you look at it you realize that’s a bunch of baloney.  Actually what might happen is that Israel is going to find even more archaeological treasures (they’re not just repairing the ramp, but also excavating in the process).  We walked around to the southwest corner of the Temple Mount and saw the huge stones that the Romans tossed off the mount when they destroyed the Temple.  Then we walked around to the south side where we sat on the “Southern Steps”, the only place in Israel where we know for sure that Jesus walked.  These are the steps that every Jew would climb to enter the Temple compound.  Pastor Bil taught on the story of Jesus healing the man born blind (John 9), an event that took place right where we were sitting.  We’re now back in our room resting and getting ready for dinner and then a quite evening of rest and homework (Tim is trying to keep up with his schoolwork while in Israel).

Jerusalem from Mt. of OlivesBil teaches at GethsemaneGethsemaneYou won't see this sign at our church ...Rich at "The Wall"Not one stone left standing on another ...I can't believe how much homework I have to do!


Day 11 – March 9 – Jerusalem:  Hezekiah’s tunnel, Yad Vashem, Old Jerusalem City Model

Today is going to be a little lighter day since its Friday and that means that in the evening Shabbat (Sabbath) starts and things are going to be closed down.  After a 7:00am breakfast, we boarded the bus at 8:00am and headed off to the City of David, the oldest part of Jerusalem.  Over the ages Jerusalem has been built and rebuilt some 16 times.  The city that David built and lived in was not in quite the same place as the Jerusalem of Jesus’ time.  Remember that David’s Jerusalem, though expanded by Solomon, was wiped clean by the Babylonians.  When the Jews came back and rebuilt, some things got a little confused and the walls and boundaries of the city basically moved northward.  The area we were interested in this morning was an amazing engineering feat performed in the day of Hezekiah (2Chr. 32:30).  When the Assyrian army began to threaten to attack Jerusalem, Hezekiah didn’t want the Assyrians getting easy access to water, an didn’t want his water cut off (2Chr. 32:1-4).  So they dug a tunnel through solid bed rock, digging one tunnel from the north and other tunnel from the south, and bringing the water from the Gihon spring (then outside the city) inside the city.  The tunnel is 1777 feet, and to think that they dug it before iron tools or satellite GPS were invented.  We were going to go from one end of the tunnel to the other.  We were told that water is still running through it.  Note to self:  Next time bring a pair of sandals and shorts to wear inside the tunnel.  Our shoes and pants got a little wet, but oh well, it’s all for a good cause!  We brought flashlights because there is no lighting in the tunnel.  A couple of times we all turned out our flashlights, and it was completely dark.  And the tunnel is a bit long.  It was even a bit warm and humid, but if you come to Jerusalem, this is definitely an “E-ticket”.  Next we drove to the opposite side of the city to visit the Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem.  The name means “name and place”, the idea being that these victims of the most tragic period of man’s history now have a name and a place.  We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the memorial, so you won’t see anything but the outside.  First we walked through the Children’s Memorial, a touching display of candles reflected over and over again, giving the impression of thousands of candles, all to represent the fragile life of over 1.5 million children who were slaughtered by the Nazis.  The main memorial itself is a bit overwhelming, but definitely something every human on the planet ought to visit.  Israel has created one of the most well-done and moving experiences I’ve ever seen.  You walk through a maze of images, movies, and items.  One room had a glass floor through which you saw hundreds of shoes left over from the ovens, another had the railroad cars the Jews were shipped to the camps in.  In just about every room there were video screens with the faces and voices of holocaust survivors giving their accounts of what they lived through.  Mixed in were videos of Nazi propaganda.  It was so horrible.  And necessary.  From Yad Vashem, we took our bus over to the Israel Museum, where there is an outdoor display of a model of the ancient city of Jerusalem, dating back to the time that the Romans destroyed it (about forty years after Jesus, 70AD).  It’s a pretty cool thing to get an idea of how it was all laid out.  I took LOTS of pictures (and I’m sure you’ll be seeing some of those from time to time).  Tim even made a “panorama” picture to get the full effect.  It was getting to be about 2:30pm and we’re pretty much done for the day.  Some of the group went off to get lunch and do some shopping in the Arab sector; we’ve gone to the hotel to see if we can make a dent in the homework.  Tomorrow will be our last day in Israel.  Among other things we’re going to be going to the Garden Tomb.  We’ll be checking out of our hotel in the morning and eventually end up at the airport in the evening where our flight home leaves at 10:25pm (that’s Saturday noontime, 12:25pm your time).  We fly Delta through Atlanta and are supposed to be hitting Los Angeles somewhere around 10:30am, Sunday morning (though it will seem like midnight for us).  It may take us a day or two to adjust to the time change, but I look forward to seeing you all at Bible Study on Thursday night!  I’m thinking that in a week or two I’ll try to put together a “this is what we did in Israel” evening, maybe two or three evenings (I’ve got 3.5 gigabytes of pictures and fourteen hours of video), probably on Thursday nights. What do you think?  Interested?

Entering Hezekiah's TunnelLong and narrow tunnelThe tunnel exitYad VashemTaking pictures at the Israel Museum groundsTim walking in front of the Dead Sea Scroll BuildingJerusalem model

Super-Bonus Pic (careful, it's a big one - the panorama shot, 2meg download)


Day 12 – March 10 – Beth Shemesh, Valley of Elah, Judea, Jerusalem:  Pool of Bethesda, the Garden Tomb, Ben Gurion Airport

This is going to be a LONGGGGGGG day.  We got up a little extra early to make sure our bags were packed and ready to go because we will not only have a full day of touring, but we’ll be leaving Israel on a flight tonight at 10:30pm.  After breakfast we got on the bus and headed out of Jerusalem.  I don’t know if I mentioned it before, but our tour guide Amir had some personal business to attend to and we have a new tour guide, Ronnie Cohen – a Jewish man from New York, Viet Nam vet, ended up emigrating to Israel, served in the Israeli Defense Force, became a tour guide, got married, and ended up finding Jesus.  Ronnie took us first to Beth Shemesh and the valley of Eshtaol, an area with lots of history.  It was the area where the Angel of the Lord met Samson’s parents, the area where Samson grew up, where Philistines were fought, etc.  From there we traveled further from Jerusalem to the valley of Elah, where a Philistine army was challenging an Israeli army.  The giant Goliath dared the Israelites to send out a champion, and young David was the only one to respond.  We got off the bus and hiked down into a farmer’s field where a dry creek bed runs through it.  We sat down and Pastor Bil taught from the story of David and Goliath.  We all stopped and picked up some of those smooth stones that David picked from for his sling.  Ronnie gave a demonstration of how a sling works, one of the kids in the group, Jacob, tried it as well – I have a video on my camera of Jacob swinging the sling around and around and releasing the stone, to hit ME!!!  I never thought I’d have compassion on Goliath, but now I know a little of what it feels like – actually I’m fine, the stone only glanced off my wrist, it didn’t land on my forehead.  From Elah we stopped at a town (can’t recall the name) where Herod was born.  The reason for stopping is that there is a magnificent set of ruins, a gladiator ring, the only one in the middle east, it looked like something straight from the movies.  From there we made our way back to Jerusalem, stopping at an site of an ancient Byzantine church ruin.  There’s not much of the church left, but the tile floor is still intact and there was a large group of families with their kids visiting the spot, the kids taking turns sweeping the dirt and sand onto and off of the tile floor – very cute.  We continued our way back to Jerusalem by driving around Bethlehem – it’s a Palestinian town, so you don’t drive through it.  We stopped and got off at the Joppa Gate where we had lunch at a cute little restaurant – Tim and I had the “club sandwich”, which was a warm pita with cheese and ham in it.  We then walked through Jerusalem, walking down narrow market streets filled with shops, haggling shopkeepers, colorful displays of clothing, shoes, jewelry, food, all sorts of things.  We found ourselves eventually walking along the “Via Dolorosa”, the “street of sorrows” where some claim is the route Jesus took on the way to the cross.  We stopped at St. Anne’s church, where the Catholics claim that Mary was born (Anne was supposedly Mary’s mother).  The church is a beautiful Crusader church, tall stone arched ceilings, incredible acoustics, we stopped and sang some worship songs – absolutely wonderful.  The church is built on the site of the “Pool of Bethesda” (John 5) where Jesus healed the crippled man.  Pastor Bil taught on the story from John 5.  From there we got back on the bus and headed for the final stop of our trip, the Garden Tomb.  There is a “Church of the Holy Sepulchre” where the Catholic church claims Jesus died, but back in the 1800s, archaeologists began to wonder if it was really the right spot.  Several indicators seem to point to this Garden Tomb, the plot was purchased and is still run by a group of British Christians.  Just outside this garden is the rocky cliff face that looks like a skull, perhaps the location of Golgotha (also known as “Calvary”).  Around the corner from Calvary is this garden, thought to have belonged to a wealthy man, perhaps Joseph of Arimathea.  The British did excavations for fifty years and have uncovered and restored a garden that apparently was an ancient vineyard (they found a wine press) as well as a wealthy man’s tomb carved in the stone.  A tomb that is empty.  Is this the place of Jesus’ burial?  It just might be.  We had the opportunity to go into the tomb – and it’s empty.  We ended the afternoon with communion in the garden.  From there we headed back to the hotel where we’re preparing to split from the New Yorkers.  We were picked up at the hotel by a shuttle from the travel agency, and we made our way through Israeli security, customs, passport control, it took a while, but we finally got into the terminal, boarded our place an hour early, and are now making our way across the Atlantic.  It’ll be just short of thirteen hours before we land at Atlanta, get through U.S. customs, and board our plane to Los Angeles.  When we land in L.A. we will have been traveling about 25 hours and though it will be 10:30 in the morning, our bodies will think it’s a lot later…

Sheep Grazing at Beth ShemeshBeware of stone slingers in the Elah ValleyGladiator ArenaLunch at Jaffa GateJerusalem MarketGolgothaThe Garden TombHe is not here - He is risen!