Sunday, 24 March 2013

Thur, Mar 21 - Exodus to Vancouver

Our exodus home began with a wake-up call at 2:15 a.m. ...a very early start to a very long day!

Wed, Mar 20 - Jerusalem

It's hard to believe that this is the final day of our tour!  With much to see, we left the hotel at 7:15 in order to avoid long line-ups to the Temple Mount.  According to Jewish tradition, this summit serves as the center of the world, the foundation of the entire universe.  Today, the Temple Mount houses the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque, and this area is currently controlled by the Arabs.

Our tour continued on into the City of David where we were able to walk through Hezekiah's tunnel, resurfacing at the pool of Siloam, where Jesus healed the blind man.  It really is remarkable to see the extent of tunnels chiseled by hand through several meters of rock.  The Davidson Center helped give us a better understanding of the magnitude of Herod's construction versus what we are able to see today.

After lunch, we visited to house of Caiaphas; the traditional site where Jesus was imprisoned the night before His crucifixion.  Archaeological evidence shows steps down to the Temple, further supporting the authenticity of this site.

Our final destination was the Garden Tomb, one of the sites believed to be where Jesus was crucified and buried.  As we looked into a typical first century tomb, we were reminded that while Jesus died for our sins, He has indeed risen again!!  Our time at the Garden Tomb concluded with Pastor Harvey leading us in a communion service as we remembered our Saviour's sacrifice and provision for our salvation.

Our dinner this evening gave us the opportunity to thank our guides and drivers, as well as bid farewell to those in the group who would be taking different routes home.  Shalom!

Tue, Mar 19 - Bethlehem

Our first stop of the day was the Herodium.  Imagine...this is a man-made mountain built under the command of Herod; one of his favourite palaces and fortresses, specifically designed for his funeral processions and burial.  Herod's tomb has only recently been discovered at this location.

The town of Bethlehem has next; the birthplace of Jesus and the hometown of King David.  Although we cannot be sure of the 'exact' location of each, we toured the traditional sites for the Star of Bethlehem, Manger Square, the Church of the Nativity, and the Shepherd's fields.  Pastor Harvey led us in a devotional in a nearby cave that would have been typical of a first century stable.

After lunch in Bethlehem, we returned to Jerusalem for a tour of Yad Vashem; the national museum and memorial to the holocaust.  The displays and tutorials were very well done in giving credence to this traumatic historical reality.

Our final stop of the day was the Shrine of the Book museum, which contains many of the fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, followed by the fabulous reconstruction of the old city of Jerusalem at the time of the second temple period.  If you watched any CNN coverage the following day, you may have seen some of this display when President Obama toured this sight during his visit to Jerusalem.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Mon, Mar 18 - Volunteer Service & Free Time

No wake up call was scheduled but some still received a 7 am reminder to be up and make good use of our Free Day. Slightly overcast skies greeted us, but the day turned brought sunshine rather than rain. By 10 am many of us left to join John on the Ramparts Walk around the Old City or to join Patricia and Sharon for volunteer work arranged through ICEJ. Avi dropped Sharon and her group of in the Ultra Orthodox area where we packed food hampers for needy people for Pesach. Our work was carried out at the Ezrat Avot Foundation that was organized by Rabbi Shlomo Gamliel when he was 106 (yes, 106 years of age)!! Today his work is being continued by his granddaughter Naomiwho is now in her 70s. Some of talked of returning to Israel to do a few days of volunteer work a Ezrat Avot before touring more of Israel. Patricia and her group helped prepare and serve lunch at a nearby soup kitchen. What a pleasure it was to "give back" to some of the people of this land. I think every group managed to get in some shopping...... Arrangements were made for an early dinner, and then we were off to a tour of the Western Wall and tunnels. Herod was certainly a great builder!!

Monday, 18 March 2013

Sun, Mar 17 - Jerusalem

Our first morning in Jerusalem!!! What a shock to be greeting by rain and temperatures that dipped to only 13 degrees!! Except for our surreal surroundings we almost thought we were back in Vancouver. Our first stop was at St. Anne's church where we experienced the most amazing acoustics as we sang "Allelua" and "Amazing Grace" . Walking over to the site of the pools of Bethesda where Jesus healed the crippled man, one had to wonder if we would have judged the man who dragged his mat, on the Sabbath, to the source of healing. I wish we could share our group picture taken on the Mount of Olives - but you'll just have to wait until we get home to see that picture. We made our way down the same path that Jesus would have taken on Palm Sunday; those Easter hymns will certainly take on new meaning for each of us. A quiet space had been reserved for us at the Garden of Gethsemane and it was our opportunity to reflect of the pardon Jesus paid for us over 2,000 years ago. I could fill pages with the history we learned about Jerusalem and the sights we saw in the Old City, but perhaps the pictures will portray some of what we experienced. Our day concluded with the opportunity to worship in English and Hebrew at the King of Kings Community Church.

Fri, Mar 15 - Upper Galilee

What a memorable start to our day as we made our way across the parking lot, through the wooded area and down to a stream of the Jordan River to watch Adria, Judith and Billie publically confess their faith in Jesus through Baptism.

After an incredible breakfast we were off to Tel Dan. I don't think any of us were prepared for the lush vegitation, the rushing waters of the Jordan of the rustic path upon which we walked. We stopped at the altar used in the time of King Jeroboam and carried on to the discovery of "Abraham's Gate". We continued on to Caesarea Philippi, the city of Panias. Mark 8: 27-31 took on a new dimension as we envisioned Jesus speaking to his disciples as asking "Who do you say that I am?" By bus we wound through the Golan Heights looking at UN establishments, seeing a town where half of the inhabitants lived in Israel while the other half lived in Lebanon. We looked into Syria and watched UN vehicles travelling along the roads. This was the day we enjoyed a picnic lunch! Some of our supplies were brought from Canada; we were very impressed with the shopping that our guide Yuval and driver Avi had done!! Between our busy schedule and another day of 34 degree weather, the leadership team decided we needed a bit of time to relax. By 2 pm we headed back to Kibbutz Hagoshrim where some went on a small hike of "The Hidden Valley" behind our kibbutuz, others went swimming and many took the opportunity for a siesta.

We met for dinner a little early and appreciated our guides Shimon and Yuval explaining the blessings a family would experience every Friday evening at Shabbat. Our greeting to people now became "Shabbat Shalom". After a meal we will not describe, or you'll be even more sorry you are not with us, many of us made our way to the lobby to listen to some Israeli entertainment. While none of us could understand the words being sung, the language of music was still able to communicate of their incredible culture.

Sat, March 16 - Upper Galilee to Jerusalem

Leaving the Hula Valley we drove by orchards of avacado, orange, banana and apple trees. We saw orchards of kiwi and mistook them for grapes. Later we saw the vineyards. Shortly we were in the fertile Jezreel Valley and our first stop was at Megiddo. Megiddo is Hebrew for Armageddon, and our view from the top of Megiddo allowed us to envision what John referred to in the Book of Revelation when he speaks of the final war to take place. We walked through ruins dating back to the time of King Solomon and we walked down the 183 steps to the water cistern. Our stop at Mt. Carmel included not only a time of devotions and worship, but the opportunity to look out towards the city of Haifa with the Mediterranean Sea in the distance and the Jezreel Valley on either side. We would almost imagine Elijah calling on God to conquer the prophets of Baal. We talked with our tour guide about war upon war in the land of Israel. Time and time again, Israel turned away from God; time and time again, they asked for forgiveness and God honored them. What a merficul God we serve!

Stopping for lunch in Israel can be tricky on Saturday as Jewish establishments are closed for Shabbat. However, we had arranged for a falafal lunch and salad bar at a nearby Druze Village. Then it was off to Caesarea Maritime on the Mediterranean Sea. Caesarea was the ancient Roman seaport capital of Israel and we saw archeological evidence of Pontius Pilate having made this his base. We toured the theatre and the hippidrome; we looked out at the swimming pools of King Herod. We walked through the remenants of a Crusader City and we marvelled at the aqueduct system. Some of the group dipped their toes into the clear, refreshing waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Our last stop of the day was at Jaffa where we walked by the traditional site of the "House of Peter the Tanner" and took time to enjoy gelato, coffee and freshly roasted nuts in the artsy surroundings of Jaffa.

In less than an hour we were entering Jerusalem, listening to "The Holy City”. There weren’t too many dry eyes as we stopped on the top of Mount Scopus. In spite of cool temperatures and blowing wind, we will likely always remember the “Blessing for Jerusalem” our guides led us in. You can not imagine how delighted we were to arrive at a hotel where we would stay for 5 nights - we could actually unpack our suitcases!!!!