My Israeli Journey: A Pilgrimage to the Holy Lands
LINK TO SHARE: http://goo.gl/aFcBu
My wife Michelle and I never imagined when we began organizing plans to form a new Synagogue south of Houston that 16 years later it would lead to an eyeopening experience in a land 7,000 miles from home.
In June, 45 members and extended family of our Synagogue Temple Beth Tikvah took the 14+ hour journey to Israel for a 10-day bus tour of the Holy Lands.
We began our trip in Tel Aviv, the second most populated city in Israel. Our Rabbi and other members planned an intensive trip that didn’t leave much time for sitting around with umbrella drinks that’s for sure! We had a guided bus that made on average three stops per day at different sightseeing activities. Our tour guide Yaacov (Israeli name equivalent to Jacob) was born and raised in Israel, and provided a wealth of information along our travels.
One of the first breathtaking sites we explored was the ancient battle lands of David and Goliath. The mountains were abounding, and Israel turned out to be a lot more lush than I was expecting. The Israeli government built a system of irrigation tubing that covers the country and delivers – to the drop – the exact amount of water that every plant needs to live in the dry, hot conditions.
We toured multiple Kibbutz facilities along our travels. The Kibbutz is a shared community of people that live and work in one compound and share all resources provided or created.
One particularly meaningful stop was to a children’s Kibbutz used to rehabilitate abandoned children around the world, and teach them to contribute to society.
I’m not sure I have ever seen water as pretty as we saw at the Rosh Hanikrah Caves on the Lebanese Border. While standing on a line between countries of such turmoil was intimidating for sure, however, standing out on bluffs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea filled me with an amazing calm. The world is beautiful in this little pocket of land.
Other adventures included a boat tour on the Sea of Galilee; walking tour of Tsfat, the birthplace of Kaballah; and rafting down the Jordan River.
In Tsfat is where someone captured this silly image of me blowing a Shofar. The Shofar (Hebrew: שופר) is a horn, traditionally shaped like the horn of a ram, used for Jewish religious purposes. Blowing the Shofar is incorporated into Synagogue services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Shofars come in a variety of sizes, but I held the big one!
Probably the most unique experience for me was riding a camel to lunch in the land of Abraham. We then got to dine on delicious, fresh foods (as you can see in the picture) in an authentic Bedouin tent.
I have to say that all of the food along the trip, particularly in the open-air markets was wonderfully fresh and catered nicely to vegetarians. I will say it was interesting to eat salads for breakfast … but when in Israel!
Our time at the Dead Sea and climbing Mount Masada was the most physically challenging. The Dead Sea, while fascinating to float in, felt like acid if it got in your eyes or, god-forbid, a cut! The salt content of the water is over 35% (compared to the ocean at ~3%), making a single drop burn like hell, and your whole body unable to sink.
The 2,000 steps to the top of Mount Masada required a feat of endurance under the beating desert sun. Even at 8 in the morning, the sun is as high as noon here.
The hike is well rewarded when you reach the top, and miles of ruins lay out before you.
From the Dead Sea valley we travelled on to spend four days in Jerusalem, the Golden City of David, the capital of Israel, and Holiest of Holy Lands. We participated in a fascinating archeological dig, and searched through authentic rubble for ancient treasures. Our group uncovered pottery and tiles from thousands of years ago! In Jerusalem I managed to get in a little running time. The twists and turns of the hilly roads made for an interesting jog that almost landed me lost forever!
The spiritual head to the trip came when we visited the Western Wall. It was an overpowering feeling to place a written prayer in the cracks of the old wall, and stand with my son before one of the religious Meccas of the world.