Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Last day in Israel, April 12

This will be the final entry in this blog. It is about our last day in Israel which began with a visit to the Armenian Quarter of the Old City. One of the members of our group is Armenian although he was told by a man there that unless he speaks the language he is not really Armenian! Our group would have voted otherwise but be that as it may. The Armenians were active in Jerusalem centuries ago and were pioneers in printing books and literature. The picture below features our friends, the Andonians in an Armenian seminary.

Our next stop was on the way to Jericho. There is a little outpost near there where Muslims believe Moses is buried. We stopped briefly. The picture below is of a mosque there. This place today is a kind of drug rehab. center.

On the road from Jerusalem to Jericho we passed numerous bedouin villages. These people live nomadically much like they have for centuries. They are Israeli citizens, serve in the military, but live as and where they please pretty much.

Jericho is under the control of the Palestinian Authority so once again our Jewish guide was dropped off as he is not permitted to enter this region. It is to me a sad commentary about the political realities today. In Jericho we saw the famous sycamore tree that is reputed to be 2000 years old. Was this the one that Zacheus climbed up? We will never know. Here is a picture of it.

We drove through a checkpoint manned first by Israeli soldiers and then at the second point by thePalestinian Authority. The latter handed me a rose as a token of friendship I suppose. In spite of that kind gesture, we did not have a really positive feeling about being in Jericho. In addition, some of us may have picked up something in the lunch we ate there. Not a particularly good memory of this ancient city and a cause for discomfort on the long flight home later that day. The photo below shows another bus just coming through the border checkpoint. One man at the lunch stop adamantly blamed Pres. Bush for all the problems the Palestinians are having. There is nothing new under the sun. He is blamed for every problem here as well!!!

We concluded our day and our tour of Israel by relaxing in our hotel in Jerusalem. The Olive Tree has a nice website for anyone wishing to see more but here is one photo taken of the inside of this very comfortable hotel. This is the room where we took most of our meals.

And so, our tour came to an end! One more reminder of what life in Israel is like is that our bus was stopped at another checkpoint at the entrance to the airport. An armed Israeli soldier boarded the bus, took a careful look at each of us, and then waved us on. Just another routine day in Israel. Saying goodbye to our wonderful guide, Salo was difficult. He told us when we arrived that we were his "family". By the time we left, he was part of our family and a great reason for the success of our tour.

Another reason for a successful tour was that each person in our group fit in well with the others. It is important to have a certain kind of chemistry and we certainly had that. Thanks to Andonians, McRae, Johnstones, Penner, Rowe, Peters, Sharpnacks and Lehmans. You were great!

Fortunately for us all, the flights both coming and going were not entirely full so we had room to spread out a little. After 11 and 1/2 hours of flying, we landed in New York. Shortly we all scattered to our various homes. Sue and I were very pleased to be able to secure a flight to San Francisco and then Redding. By 2 PM Calif. time on Sunday we were home once again.

It was a spectacular trip for everyone. Various reunions are planned and rumors abound of another tour to some exciting location somewhere in the world. Stay tuned! You never know!

More on Israel

Well, we are all safely in our homes again after a fantastic time together in Israel. After we lost our internet connection we spent several more days touring and seeing places of interest. I will post a few pictures here and make some comments. The picture below is at the Western Wall, sometimes called the Wailing Wall. I did not know that the Orthodox Jews in Israel do not have jobs. Their view is that their contribution to the country is that they pray. They are supported by the government which naturally causes some friction among the rest of the citizenry. We chatted with one man who came from Mexico at the urging of his wife to go and pray in Jerusalem for a month

Another stop on Friday was Hezekiah's tunnel. Things have changed drastically since I was last in Israel and this site is a good example. People rarely walked this tunnel in the past. Now it is all set up for tourists with fancy steps, a gift store, and all the other trappings. Amazing digs are taking place but since some of this area is under the site of Arab homes, there are political difficulties. People are trying to buy up homes up above, so digging can be done underneath. What a country!! Anyway, back to the tunnel. You can read about this tunnel in the OT. It was built during King Hezekiah's time to assure the Israelites a supply of water in the case of siege. The tunnel is about 1/3 mile in length and is fed by the Gihon spring. Water was up to just above our knees in a few parts but mostly about a foot deep. It is an amazing feat of engineering because obviously the water had to flow by gravity. We walked the entire length in about 20 minutes or so. The picture tells the story well although much of its length we had to stoop quite a bit in order to make it.

Our day ended with a visit to Gordon's Tomb. This is a possible site of where Jesus may have been buried and the photo above is the possible tomb of Joseph of Arimatheia. There are some compelling reasons to believe it might be, but in recent years scholars have begun to question it more and more. As our host told us, the actual location is not that important. The historical fact that Jesus died and rose again is important.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Day 9 in Israel

Another very full and exciting day! Most of it was spent in the city of Jerusalem and specifically within the old city. We began at Temple Mount and the picture you see of all of us was taken in front of the Dome of the Rock. Unlike the past, this site is now closed. It is part of the game that is constantly going on here politically between the two factions.

From this point we continued through the winding lanes of the Arabic Quarter visiting about 7 of the Via Dolorosa locations. We also walked through the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. For most of us this site is discouraging. We are not among those in the Christian community that derive inspiration and religous fervor by venerating and bowing before dead objects of stone and wood. This is made even more true when we discover that no one can really be dogmatic that this site or that one is indeed the "very" spot where Jesus walked, performed a miracle, or whatever. We prefer to simply say that we are in the neighborhood. The narrow lanes and alleys are filled with commercial enterprises all competing for the attention and the wallets of tourists.

After lunch we visited Gethsemane and spent time in the Church of All Nations and observing the many olive trees dating back potentially to the days of Jesus

A favorite spot of mine is the Mount of Olives. We drove up to the Seven Arches Hotel area where in the past we have stayed, but this time only took time for a photo op. You see a photo of Hugo and Bernice Lehmann, the newlyweds on our tour taken from this vantage point.

It is likely that after tonight we will not have internet access. Unfortunately that will mean the end of my posting to this blog. We have two days left here. Tomorrow we plan to continue our visit to the Old City and conclude our day with a walk through Hezekiah's tunnel. On Saturday we are scheduled to spend some time in Jericho. Our flight back to New York is scheduled to leave late in the evening of Saturday, arriving in New York around 5:30 AM on Sunday. Shortly after that, if all goes well we should be in our home areas once again. The exception are the Peters. Al and Lydia continue from here to Cairo, and then Jordan, before flying back to their home in Abbotsford, BC. It has been a memorable time here. I have been very pleased to see how well we have all gotten along with each other. We are all fairly similar in age, background, theological convictions, and so on. That certainly helps. We are currently staying in the Olive Tree Hotel in Jerusalem. This hotel has a nice website you can check out if you wish.

We are all looking forward to seeing friends and family again.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

April 9 in Israel

Our day of touring has almost ended while in North America the day is beginning for most people. Last night as I mentioned, we attended a folk festival featuring a variety of Israeli music and dance forms picked up from the many cultures worldwide in which Jews have lived. Here is one glimpse of what we enjoyed.

Today we began with a visit to the Israeli Museum. This is the place where many of the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed. For the public a facsimile of the Isaiah scroll and other scroll fragments is available for viewing. The white domed roof of the museum is a depiction of the lid of a jar. It is incredible to think that a young shepherd boy would happen upon these documents over 2000 years old. By the way, an enterprising entrepeneur initially snipped the scrolls into pieces and began selling them. Someone much wiser and far less greedy heard about this travesty and tracked down each sold fragment and purchased it back for an enormous price. He realized the greater value of these scrolls. What you see below is the roof made to resemble a jar lid such as where the scrolls were found. The handsome couple are Al and Robin Sharpnack from Battle Ground, WA, friends of ours for over 35 years.

Some years ago someone designed a 1 to 35 scale model of the old city of Jerusalem to give tourists a visual idea of what the city looked like during the time of Herod the Great. In 2006 this entire complex was moved to the Israel Museum site. It provides a great idea of what the temple, the city walls, Caiaphas' home, the Kidron Valley, Pool of Siloam, etc etc looked like and how they were situated as part of the city of Jerusalem at that time. The picture below shows this model as it would be seen from the Mt. of Olives. You can see the temple just left of center. The handsome couple here are Al and Lydia Peters of Abbotsford, BC. The Peters are also dear friends of ours with whom we share a weekly care group in Abbotsford.

Today we also visited Yad Vashem (Holocaust Museum). We took no pictures of this site. I did do a search for a tree planted in the honor of a Polish friend of ours who was declared along with many others, a Righteous Gentile by the Israeli government. These were people who aided and assisted Jews during WW II. Our friend rented an apartment in Warsaw and allowed Jews to live in it. He was betrayed and sent to Dachau. He survived that ordeal, came to faith and lived the remainder of his life in Warsaw. In recent years the Israeli government has shown its appreciation for such people by awarding them a medallion, providing them with an impressive certificate, and planting a tree in their honor in the Yad Vashem area with their name and country listed.

The Holocaust is a subject of great interest to me. We have visited most concentration camp sites in Europe over the years. I find no words to express my feelings about this evil part of human history. Joel 1 speaks these words, "Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your forefathers? Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation." This passage speaks of a locust invasion but by application I believe it is fitting to consider it in the context of the holocaust. My strong belief is that people must see the horrors of that time by means of such museums. This awful story of the past century must be told so it will never be forgotten and hopefully never be repeated. That's my brother Harv sitting with members of the Israeli Air Force. Surely most of these young men will have a relative who was killed in the Holocaust. What might their thoughts be about this place?

In the body of our great guide, Salo, flows the blood of a pastor. He rarely resists an opportunity to take a text that relates to what we are seeing and giving us an extended little sermonette on it. Here we are in a Biblical Museum that he and his community at Yad Hashmona have developed. Salo is explaining to us about grape vines and how they need to be helped along by support and how they need to be pruned in order to bear fruit. Hear a sermon there somewhere? I am featuring Paul and Maryann Andonian, another handsome couple,(everyone in our group is handsome and attractive) in this photo. They live in the Vancouver, WA area.

I am feeling quite weary today. Hopefully a good rest will have me ready to go again for another great day. We begin on Thursday at 7:45AM.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

contact info

It seems we are having email delays and so on. If anyone reading this has family or friends on our tour and wishes to make contact, use the comments section of this blog. We will forward your message along.

Remember though that we will have internet access for only 2 more days.

Everyone is doing well and we are having a wonderful time.

Tuesday, April 8 in Israel

Our visits today included stops at Bet Shemesh, Lachish, Bet Sheva, Arad, Dead Sea for lunch and the Qumran area for shopping.

Bet Shemesh is the place where the Ark of the Covenant stopped. It also overlooks Timnah (where Samson found Delilah) and Eshtaol, his hometown. Looking into the valley of barley fields it was very easy to imagine Samson setting fire to those fields by means of the foxes. Interesting.

Of the greatest interest to me today was to view the Negev. It is the area of Israel many feel will become the center of the country in the days to come. The development of this area is fantastic to see.

The photo above shows the amazing green fields of fruit trees and crops of various types. This entire region was thought once to be of limited value. Vast underground water sources as well as water pumped from the north supplies the necessary ingredient for crops to grow well. Just a few years ago nothing was happening in this region. Today it is exploding with growth and development. Tomorrow? Who knows.

The area of Arad also is the place where it is possible to see the well of Abraham. A picture of this well is below. Hard to really see much in the picture but here it is anyway

Below is a picture of the southern portion of the Dead Sea. You can see the salt and other chemical components of this amazing body of water.

Our day is not done yet. After our dinner we are looking forward to a folk concert featuring music and dances that show how the many cultures in which Jews have lived has impacted Jewish music. I have enjoyed this concert very much in my prior visits and know that our group is in for a wonderful evening of entertainment.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Monday, April 7

My last blog post mistakenly indicated April 7. It was really describing what we saw on Sunday, April 6. Now for today, April 7. Our day began with a visit to Bethlehem. Because this area is controlled by the Palestinian Authority, our Jewish guide was not allowed to join us. As in so many respects, I have noticed many changes in Israel since my last visit. The political realities we experienced today are another example of those changes. It is sad and discouraging. Enough said. None of us are the type who are into ritualism, pilgrim type of touring, so our visit to Manger Square was, --- well, we have now seen it! After a few other stops in the Bethlehem area including a shop where olive wood items are made and sold, we safely passed through the check points, were reunited with our guide and made our way down from Jerusalem to Masada.

What a place Masada is. To Israelis it has almost a sacred flavor. Virtually all Israeli soldiers are inducted there to this day. Masada is the place where in about 73AD, 965 Jews sought refuge from Roman legions. After 3 years when it was apparent they were no match for 15,000 soldiers, these brave Jews elected to end their lives rather than submit to slavery and other untold horrors.

The scene above is from Masada looking east toward Jordan. The Dead Sea is in the foreground.

One other site that we saw today is Qumran. In 1947, a bedouin shepherd boy inadvertently stumbled upon the find of the century. Over time, virtually every book of the Old Testament and hundreds of other important documents were discovered in a Qumran cave hidden away in clay jars. The fact that these Scriptures, about 1000 years farther back in time than any other Scripture texts previously known, differed so very slightly, shows the incredible and surely divine hand of preservation of our Scriptures.

Before heading back to our hotel for dinner and rest, we stopped by the Dead Sea. Here all tourists enjoy the unique experience of floating in this chemically rich body of water. It is also the source of mud baths which some believe help a person reverse the aging process. Apparently my brother and sister believe there may be something to this.

Time for sleep!