Another installment of a travel diary by Kelly Hyatt, who traveled to Israel in February of 2018 with a group of American travel agents. Thank you Kelly!
We had now made it to the most holy city in the entire world, Jerusalem. The first day we visited Bethlehem, just 6 miles to the south. We visited the oldest church in the holy land, the Church of the Nativity. Based on the local tradition that Jesus was born in a cave at the edge of the village, the church was built over the site of the cave. We saw the Shepherd’s Fields, where Boaz met Ruth.
Then, after a yummy Arabic lunch in Bethlehem, we returned to Jerusalem, to the Mount of Olives, where we had our first view of the Old City walls and the Dome of the Rock. We proceeded to walk down the Palm Sunday road to the Church of Gethsemane, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the site of the agony of Jesus.
The old city called but that day was ended and we returned to the hotel for dinner and reflection.
The next day, it was raining and we first visited the Church of Peter Galicantus also called Caiaphas Palace, which held a cistern where Jesus was held before being taken to Pilate for his trial. Then we proceeded to the City of David where you can see the excavations revealing the earliest days of Jerusalem.
We entered into the amazing Hezekiah’s Tunnel and learned how the water from the only spring in Jerusalem was protected and got into the city. Here we joined Israeli school children who were on their own field trip, learning about their own history.
At the Zion Gate, you can still see bullet holes from the six days war. We walked the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to see the place where some traditions hold to be where Jesus was crucified and buried. It was Ash Wednesday and the place was full of people from every religion.
We then went thru the Muslim Quarter and out of the city walls to the Garden Tomb, near the place of the skull (Golgotha), another place where some traditions hold to be the place of crucifixion and burial.
The next day we went to the Israel Museum to see the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea scrolls are kept, and a full scale-model of Jerusalem during the time of Jesus. The model really put in perspective the way it was, compared to the way it is now. And we were each able to reconcile our own belief and faith in which of the two places of crucifixion and burial we felt was right from our hearts Thene visited Mt Zion and saw King David’s Tomb and the Last Supper Room
Next was a very special moment that I wish every person in the world could experience. We visited Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum. Before we went into the grounds we visited a place called the Valley of the Communities. Here Ya’lla Tours had arranged for a Jewish cantor to come and pray the Lord’s Prayer and sing a Hebrew song. The song of the Holocaust was perhaps the most moving thing I have ever heard in my life. Then having the opportunity to visit the museum, brought it all to a reality that I had never experienced and likely will never again.
Later that day, several of us went back to the old city on our own and we made time to go to the Western Wall and pray. We all put our paper prayers into the cracks of the wall and then went shopping!!!!
On the last day of our tour we went back out of Jerusalem and down to the Dead Sea. We drove to the massive fortress of Masada. A place that defies reality. The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth and the mountain fortress of Masada towers over the area and even though it rises to a height of about 450 meters it is only 58 meters above sea level. This is a magical place. Herod the Great built a massive fortress there and in 72AD, the 10th Roman legion, during a monumental siege, used an astounding ramp to conquer the fortress and end the revolt of the Jewish Zealots. The attack ramp, the Roman camps and fortifications that encircle the mesa have survived to this day.
From here we stopped at Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found and then on to the beach for a float in the Dead Sea!!!!
As we made our way back to Jerusalem, we saw Bedouin sheep herders moving their sheep in for the night and the sun was setting in a most beautiful way. We all felt that we were blessed beyond measure to have been on such a tour with such a fun group of people and the best guides you could ever wish for.
I want to thank my tour guide Zvika for making me want to be a better Christian and to Jane V and Ronen of Ya’lla tours for putting together such a great trip and for teaching me so much about the destination of Israel. The one place on earth that every person should visit at least once in their life.
One of the most popular experiences included in our Christian tours of Israel is the boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.
The Sea of Galilee is actually a large freshwater lake, 13 miles long and 8 miles across, better known in Israel as Kinneret, Gennesaret or Lake Tiberias. The lake feeds the Dead Sea, via the Jordan River, and, at roughly 700 feet below sea level, it’s the 2nd lowest lake on the planet, after the Dead Sea. It’s located in the Galilee region in northern Israel.
During a period of severe drought in 1986, the lake receded significantly, revealing the remains of an ancient boat buried in the sediment. The boat was excavated and dated to the 1st century, the time of Jesus. The boat is now housed in a small museum at Kibbutz Ginosar on the western shore of the lake. Close replicas of the boat take passengers on the lake past Christian sites, such as Tabgha (site of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes) and Capernaum (the headquarters of Jesus’ ministry), and stop to visit the remains of the ancient boat.
For Christians, the lake and its surroundings are significant as the area where much of Jesus’ ministry and many of his miracles took place. Four of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew and the brothers James and John.
One day, after hours of pulling up empty nets, the four fishermen had just pulled into shore. (Andrew was already a disciple of Jesus, the first, but he hadn’t yet convinced the others.) Jesus approached and asked Peter to take him out on the lake a little way so that he could better address the crowd that had gathered to hear his teaching. Later, after the crowd had dispersed, Jesus asked Peter to move into deep water and cast out his nets. Peter thought this would be a waste of time, based on his experience earlier in the day, but out of respect, he did as Jesus asked. When the nets were pulled in, they were so heavy with fish the boat couldn’t hold them all. James and John came to help and their boat was also filled to the brim with fish. Jesus gained three more disciples that day.
Later in his ministry, Jesus had spent a long day preaching to a large crowd near the lake and needed to rest. While he and his disciples sailed to a quiet spot on the opposite shore, Jesus took a nap. When they reached the middle of the lake, a nasty squall rose up, bad enough to terrify the experienced fishermen on board. Jesus slept peacefully through the waves crashing on the deck and the pitching and rolling of the boat, until the disciples woke him, certain they were about to die. He told the storm to simmer down, which it promptly did, expressed his disappointment in his disciples’ lack of faith, and resumed his nap.
I could go on and on about Jesus and the Sea of Galilee, but I’ll save some stories for future posts.
The city of Tiberias on the western shore of the lake makes a good hub for visiting the area. For privately escorted Christian tours that include a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee and a visit to the ancient boat at Ginosar look here and here.
The first I ever heard of Masada was from a very effective Israel tourism TV campaign way back in the early 1990s. Before then, I hadn’t thought much about traveling to Israel, if at all. The ad sparked in me an interest in the ancient land of Israel that continues to this day. It may have been the very gleam that became my work at Ya’lla Tours, including this blog.
Now that I have credited an Israel tourism ad with setting me on my life path, I must tell you I don’t remember much about it. There was a boy on top of Masada, wind in his hair, casting a poetic gaze out over the Judean desert. A dramatic voiceover spoke of heritage and heroism. Mostly I remember being stirred right down to my core. That’s good advertising!
Herod the Great, the Roman-Jewish ruler of Judea 37-4 BCE, was very fearful of assassination, so he built 8 isolated, desert fortresses in which to take refuge if needed. Masada is one. Around 30 BCE, he had a fabulous palace, complete with storage facilities to outlast a long siege, built atop this 1300-foot plateau overlooking the Dead Sea. It’s the perfect defensive spot. You can see for miles in every direction and the walls of the rock are steep. There’s no sneaking up on this place.
During the last Jewish rebellion against Rome (which ended in 70 CE with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple), a group of Roman-resisters escaped to Masada and held out there for several years. In early 70, the Romans laid siege to Masada. After spending a few months building a massive ramp, they overtook the fortress. According to the ancient Jewish historian Josephus, they found almost 1,000 inhabitants, men, women and children, dead by their own hands, and buildings ablaze. Excavations have only found the remains of 28 men, so Josephus may have exaggerated for effect. Whether 1,000 or 28, the story and Masada came to symbolize Jewish defiance and resilience in the face of suppression, as well as the loss of the Jewish homeland.
Masada is an easy drive from Jerusalem, less than an hour. If you’re in good shape, you can climb up in about 45 minutes on the snake path, a good trail with lots of switchbacks, or zip up and down in a cable car. The extensive excavations and restorations include two palaces, a synagogue, a bathhouse, storehouses, and cisterns. From the top, look down on the Roman siege camp, the Dead Sea and out over the beautiful desolation of the Judean Desert.
Click to see tours that include Masada.
This stretch of the Kidron Valley lies between Mount Moriah and the Mount of Olives in one of the world’s holiest cities. The valley continues eastward about 20 miles to the Dead Sea. The valley and adjacent slopes have been burial grounds for thousands of years due to their association with End Times in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Can you name that country?
See below for answers.
The Dead Sea is almost 1400 feet below sea level, the lowest place on earth. There is no outlet for the water, which flows into the Dead Sea, technically a lake, from the Sea of Galilee (also technically a lake) via the Jordan River. Water leaves the Dead Sea only by evaporation, leaving minerals behind in high concentration. Because of the extremely low elevation, the barometric pressure is higher than anywhere else on earth, there’s a greater concentration of oxygen in the air, greater filtration of ultraviolet sun rays, and the air is practically free of pollen and other allergens.
The Dead Sea has been known for its healing properties for thousands of years, and even today, the unique climactic and mineral properties are used in therapies for conditions such as psoriasis, arthritis and cystic fibrosis. Continue reading