Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Holy Land Day 2 part 1

Ahh, what every winter-weary Canadian wishes for. At 8:30 am, it was 19 degrees Celsius, the bus tells us. By midday it was 30 degrees.

Boker Tov, or Good morning. We have formally met our driver, Gotde-al. Or Good deal as we called him, and he is aptly named. The man could park that huge bus into a matchbox, I am sure!
We had breakfast, a fabulous affair that offers eggs, fish, cheeses, salads, pastries, and excellent coffee. Jewish people enjoy salads with every meal.

We begin our day learning about the history behind how the State of Israel came about after the Ottoman Empire up until the League of Nations. Britain was given the mandate to set up the Jewish homeland. The UN offered the Jews a nation that was only 14 km wide and also offered the Palestinians a homeland too. The Jewish people took the offer, but the Palestinians refused it, wanting more land. The day after the State of Israel was declared, the Islamist Palestinians invaded it. This was the Jews' War of Independence. 
I found this interesting, albeit from a Jewish point of view. I had no idea about the 'why' behind the fighting. A lot of Jews lived in Arab countries and flooded in, and Israel gave them citizenship. But those Muslims who went to Arab countries didn't get citizenship there. 
High school students must learn about the Holocaust and those in certain studies must help at archeological sites. 
Rafe talked about the Roman occupation, too. We learned that in 100 BC, a tsunami hit Crete and many people, called Philistines, came to Israel. Seeing this, the Romans gave the name of those people to the area, which eventually became Palestine. 
I did not know that Hilter wanted Israel, which caused the Jews here to have their own army fighting the Nazis. Later in our tour, we saw a British war cemetery in Jerusalem, a rarity in Israel. 
The country is barren and this area has many sand dunes. Our guide is funny and cheerful, and proud of his country. 
We passed a coal-fired power plant that had virtually no emissions. It was operating, but there was no smoke, that's how advanced it was. The coal comes from Russia and South America. 
Rafe tells us that all houses must have solar domestic hot water heaters, and his house was the first in Jerusalem to have solar power panels.
We passed banana trees, all growing under nets, as the country is not warm enough to grow tropical fruit. There are also oranges, lemons, etc, all growing under customized nets. Because grey water is recycled, it's used for watering crops. Rafe tells us part of the daily prayers include praying for rain, and God takes away the rain when the Jews misbehave.
Houses in Netanya are expensive, with even the PM keeping a home here. And yet, there are also McDonalds here, and those with a green canopy are 'healthy' McDonalds. They serve only healthy food. 
Because land is at a premium, it is often reclaimed, and those sections too wet are turned into fish farms. There are many Kibbutz here, and I will talk of them later. 
We visited a Baha'i Shrine in Haifa, a stunningly gorgeous site overlooking the city. The Baha'i religion came from Islam about 200 years ago.


Allan bought me a necklace from a Druze, a secret sect of Islam started many centuries ago, which allows no converts. Interestingly, they believe in gender equality, dislike ISIS and Muslims, and have strong patriotism. 
And all the the men have mustaches, Rafe reports.
We discover that it's against the law to proselytize here. That is, evangelize, or try to convert people. Probably a good thing considering the tension here.
From there, we visited Mount Carmel, an important site for Catholics. There, we learned of German Lutherans who call themselves Templars (not to be confused with the Crusaders) and who believed them must help the Jews prepare for the Second Coming. But along with them, came, during the Second World War, Nazi spies. 
I'm finding it is getting so complicated, and the Holy Land is often fraught with religious tension.
At the top of Mount Carmel, we could see the fertile plain of Armageddon and interestingly, there is an Israeli Air Force base at the centre, which makes you wonder if that has any significance. Many have asked me if I felt unsafe. No, never. The security here is the tightest in the world. And the most serious. But I will talk more of that in a later post.


It was in this area that David slew Goliath and Jezebel lived. Jezebel means 'garbage', so don't name your girls that. At Mount Carmel, we learned that this is the site where Elisha built an altar, soaked it and asked God to light it. 1Kings 18:38 tells us:
Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.

Shortly after, we stopped for lunch at a Druze restaurant, and it proved to be a typical lunch of pita breads, felafels and mixed salads. 
And then, it was on to Nazareth. But that and a wonderful treat, will come in the next blog.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Holy Land Day 1

I'm writing this from the plane. El Al is a nice airline. Mostly because they offer red wine as soon as you board! The seats are wider than some airlines and there is more leg room, but we'll see how I feel at the end of the flight. We're on our way to Tel Aviv. Security is very tight. We were interviewed by a young man and I even had my purse checked and Allan got scanned.
We discovered that they have lost our return tickets and didn't want to let us on board. Allan volunteered to stay another day or two in the Holy Land, if they need us to. 
Allan has also decided that the Hebrew language is really just a lot of throat clearing.
We met some of the tour group, including three sisters from the Toronto area, one of whom has a daughter who married a Phinney from New Brunswick and who took her nursing training in the city in which I was born.
On the plane, we had our first taste of Kosher food. No milk products with supper as per the Rabbi of El Al's instructions. And we will soon learn that El El Al is the only airline that does not fly on Saturday.
It was nearly noon when we arrived, and though we're jetlagged, we're all keyed up.
There we met Rafe, our tour guide. We were given Whispers, small radio receivers on lanyards, with individual earpieces. Our guide had the transmitter, and its microphone allowed him to whisper to us, as in most Holy Sites talking is forbidden. So we could hear him speak. Allan got a laugh out of it when Rafe would say, "Come now to where I am." But we had no idea where he was.
Our first stop was Joffa, or Joppa as we might know it. It's an ancient town beside Tel Aviv. It means Hill of Spring. There are tons of cats, most fairly friendly because of cat lovers coming and feeding them. We saw one woman that night in Netanya feeding them from a huge bucket she'd brought down to the boardwalk late in the evening.
We saw a jewelry maker who works with Femo, a polymer clay, who'd learned to squish an image of Marilyn Monroe down to the size of a grain of rice. The shop had a 'Mysterious Room' which was a cave deep downstairs. 
Near this shop is the home where Peter was when he had a vision about clean and unclean food.


Around the corner is a statue of a whale, as it was from there that Jonah left, trying to run away from God. We learned that Jonah means 'Dove' or 'Peace'.


Joffa is steeped in Biblical history.  Acts 9:36 records: Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity.
We learned how young Tel Aviv is and how poor the area was before World War I (It was Palestine back then). Two men who owned Macy's came to help, but one stayed longer than the other. The one brother wanted to stay and help so much, that his brother left for England before him. After frequent letters urging him not to miss his ship, the brother who stayed finally decided to leave for England. Even then, he missed his brother and the ship back to America. That ship was the Titanic. The surviving brother decided to return to Palestine to help his fellow Jews here, hiring a man whose niece was Anne Frank.
After Joppa, we drove to Caesarea, a Roman town where Cornelius was baptized as we know from Acts 10.
Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually.
It's a national park now. And nearby is Israel's only golf course.

We learned a lot about this ancient town, including how Paul was imprisoned here for two years by Felix, Procurator of Judea. Our leader spoke to us about the site pictured below where you can see Rafe, in the blue Gilligan hat, wearing his microphone.


Have you ever noticed why so many statues have no heads? The early Muslims lobbed them off, as it is forbidden to have any images of people. There, we saw an amphitheatre and a Crusader castle which eventually fell to the Muslims.
Rafe walked us down to the shore, where he suggested we take a few sea shells for family back home. Allan was quick to grab a few free souvenirs.  
We saw a Roman aqueduct that brought water in from 10 km away, and even saw a set of Roman toilets, right there in the main thoroughfare. I guess you can keep up with what's happening that way. 


Eventually, we made it to Natanya, an ultra modern, sci-fi-like city. Our hotel had a buffet supper where we feasted on raw and cooked vegetables, lots of eggplant, fish, beef, beans, mixed salads of every configuration, and rich cake desserts. The only thing that didn't look good was the tray of orange slices and it was taken away. We've noticed a lot of juice stands around offering oranges and pomegranates freshly squeezed into juices. Our hotel room overlooked the Mediterranean Sea. We listened to the waves on our first night in Israel. Lovely. Tomorrow we head off to the Sea of Galilee, with some surprises along the way!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Holy Land: My Experience

Whenever I travel, I always take loads of photos and journal a lot, and this time, on my trip to the Holy Land, was no exception. I wrote 38 pages! It was an incredible, awesome time and I want to share it with you. 
Those of you who are grammarians, please forgive the various tenses. I deliberately kept them this way to give a more immediate feel. We were there, experiencing the Holy Land, looking back at events, looking forward to others. So, experience it with me!
And please check back daily as the daily posts will be new, and please, please comment! Commenting allows Google to find my blog more easily and share it with a larger number of people. 
My husband and I went with United Christian Broadcasters, in association with Christian Journeys. The two groups did a bang up job and I highly recommend them. You don't have to be 'religious' to enjoy the Holy Land. As you will read in my journal, we also learned about recent history, and saw things that would interest everyone and experienced several different cultures.
Please share my blog with your friends, too, with everyone you feel would be interested.
See you tomorrow!