REFLEXIONS
On Israel
 By Robert Ross

 

 

...all of us, Catholics, Arabs, Jews, have got to work out some sensible pattern of life for the world..."
- From The Source:
by James A. Michener

On our first night in Tel Aviv we introduced ourselves to the group with whom we would be traveling - fifteen in all, and a leader.  I introduced myself  and stated that normally I travel independently, without groups, but in order to coax my wife (Ingrid) to take a trip to Israel, I agreed to a tour - thinking that there was safety in numbers.  

I went on to explain that Ingrid was concerned that if we traveled to Israel there would be a possibility that we would be... well... "blown up!" I had glanced around the room to judge the reaction to my statement; no snickers, no rolling of the eyes. This was a good sign. My fellow travelers understood; understood that the images we see of Israel on American TV, are often of a bombing of some sort.

During our travels in Israel, we would learn that Israel is safe, very safe. What we didn't expect was the impact of Israel's almost overwhelming history - all there - in front of our eyes.  As one of our fellow travelers declared: "you can touch history here, it's everywhere!"

And so, our adventure began...
After a brief stay and a tour of the surrounding area of Tel Aviv, including the 4000-year-old seaport of Jaffa, we headed north to Caesarea. Israel is about, among other things, archeology. You can put a shovel down anywhere and you're liable to come up with an archaeological find from the ancient Egyptians, Canaanites, Mesopotamians, Romans or Crusaders, to mention a few.  

Caesarea was originally used by the Egyptians as a port, but didn't achieve its greatness until the city was given to Herod the Great who went to work, doing what Herod did best; build! He renamed the city Caesarea to honor Caesar Augustus. Although Caesarea was a city that was conquered and pillaged many times since the Romans, the city's foundations and some structures remained intact. We spent time in the amphitheater, where our tour guide gave us a history of the city.

Glancing around it was easy to imagine being in a great Roman city, with its hippodrome, amphitheater, precisely laid out streets, homes, public baths, all looking out over a pristine blue Mediterranean sea.

To demonstrate the natural voice amplification of the amphitheater, our guide sang the opening lines to The Sound of Music. I am not sure that The Sound of Music fit in with a Roman/Israeli theme, but it did the trick - projecting out to the entire seating area.

Continuing north from Caesarea, we headed for what the New Testament describes as the site of the world's last battle on earth, Megiddo, or Armageddon. (The word Armageddon derives from the word Megiddo in Hebrew).  Megiddo was a site of great importance in the ancient world overlooking an important trade route. It's an archeologist's dream, with its layers of cities, having been built and destroyed twenty-five times.

Our next destination was the port city of Haifa, which is the site of the magnificent Baha'i Shrine and Gardens. The gardens and shrine (containing the tomb of Siyyad Ali Muhammed - the Bab) extend nearly a kilometer up the side of Mount Carmel, which overlooks the city of Haifa.

These gardens are often referred to as the "Eighth Wonder of the World," for good reason; a total of nineteen terraces, each with perfectly-tended gardens, reflect the peacefulness and the serenity of the Baha'i faith. In 2008 these gardens were put on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites.

By the fourth day in our journey, we had established a traveling routine. Up early, breakfast at the hotel, then on to the bus, touring historic sites, museums or perhaps listening to talks by various individuals.  We heard about life in Israel from the point of view of a Bedouin villager, a Palestinian Arab and a holocaust survivor.  Then, it was back to the hotel in the evening for dinner.

We spent two days on a Kibbutz on the Golan Heights. The kibbutzim these days are a far cry from the socialistic experiments of the past. These are all money-making enterprises, in agriculture, manufacturing and tourism. The cabin we stayed in was perched on the edge of a plateau that overlooked the entire Sea of Galilee. The view was spectacular.

After the Golan Heights, it was on to Mary's house. Yes, that Mary, as in Joseph and Mary. Located off of the Sea of Galilee are the remains of Joseph and Mary's home, also, Disciple Peter's home and of course, a number of other archeological remains.

By now, in our journey through Israel, it was evident that there was too much to see; too many historical sights and too many archeological ruins. Two weeks in Israel was barely going to scratch the surface; three to six months would probably do the trip justice.

Via the Jordan River Valley, where John the Baptist baptized Jesus, we headed to the crown jewel of Israel, Jerusalem. Before arriving in Jerusalem, we spent the afternoon in Nazareth, a rather large bustling community with ancient churches (including the Church of the Annunciation) nestled up against contemporary buildings. Nazareth even had its own KFC chicken outlet.

Jerusalem is like no other city in the world, with Arabs, Jews, and Christians attempting to carve out a bit of safety and sanity in a city filled with tension and energy. One could easily spend a month in Jerusalem itself, with its churches, mosques, temples, the old city, Temple Mount and the unique neighborhoods.  

Our tour guide had a catchy phrase for the three large cities of Israel: "Tel Aviv plays," she quipped - as in night clubs and restaurants, "Jerusalem prays," as in an intense religious fervor that permeates the city and "Haifa works," as in the diverse religious communities seeming to get along and work together.

While in the city that "prays" we visited many sites including the Wailing Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Via Dolorosa, King David's ruins, the Holocaust museum, the Temple Mount, and the Muslim Dome of the Rock, just to mention a few of the many religious and historic sites in Jerusalem.

A twenty-minute bus ride from Jerusalem is the city of Bethlehem. Because our tour guide carried an Israeli passport, and Bethlehem is in the disputed territory, we were let off at an entry point to Bethlehem where we made contact with our Bethlehem guide - a Palestinian Christian, who could not cross over into Israel, for lack of a Palestinian passport (they don't exist). Such is life in Israel!

From Jerusalem we headed south for a few days of relaxing at a Dead Sea resort, enjoying the rejuvenating powers of the highly-mineralized waters. Included in our three days of R&R was a visit to the city of Masada and jeep tour of the desert to view the stunning canyons that wind their way along dry river beds.

Then it was back to Tel Aviv and a final night on the beach to enjoy the sunset over the Mediterranean.

Israel is intense, fascinating, complex and alluring - calling to history buffs, archeologists, those on a spiritual journey and anyone trying to understand the complexities of the world in which we live.

The travel company we used was Overseas Adventure Travel (www.OATtravel.com).

Robert Ross can be reached at: SanDiegoRoss@Yahoo.com   

 


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