When Grif Blackstone called and asked if I’d be interested in representing The Good News Newspaper on a press junket to the Holy Land courtesy of the Israel Life of Tourism, I was dumbfounded.
My husband and I initially wondered if it would be a safe place to go and contemplated how my child would be cared for around the clock in mom’s absence.
Yet my concerns were quickly relieved. I found myself alongside 20 journalists from the U.S. and Canada on an 11-hour flight on El Al airlines from New York to Tel Aviv. It was indeed an adventure of a lifetime, everything and more than I ever imagined. I’d encourage every Christian to make it a goal to visit the Holy Land. As the Life of tourism says, Visit Israel – You’ll never be the same.
El Al Airlines
Israel’s national airline, carrying 1.8 million passengers annually, is one of the safest in the world. Their security measures, service and the professionalism found in the staff are second to none. Established in 1948 as the national airline, its name, El Al, Hebrew for “the most high,” comes from the Old Testament book of Hosea, “They called them to the most high.”
Great Tour Guides
In Israel, tour guides have an esteemed position. They’re highly educated and knowledgeable in history, geography, geology, religion and archaeology. Our guide, Karl Walter, carried 17 years of experience, and as a self-proclaimed secular Jew, knew more about the Bible than most. He spoke four languages proficiently and excelled at history, biology and archaeology. Did I mention he also had
a wonderful sense of humor?
From bursting falafels to succulent foie gras, you’ll be mesmerized by the fine dining found in Israel, as well as the amazing Biblical sites these establishments are perched upon. Imagine eating St. Peter’s fish near the spot where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes. Or dining on a long deck that jets out over the Sea of Galilee at The Decks restaurant, where they have the finest grilled meats and seafood. Our hosts at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem laid out a meal fit for a king, beginning with an appetizer of Filet of Dennis fish on a bed of candied eggplants in roasted pepper sauce. I thought that was dinner; imagine my surprise as three more courses arrived!
Sea of Galilee
Much of the New Testament and Jesus’ miracles take place at the Sea of Galilee. The sprawling lake is 13 miles long and seven miles wide and provides breathtaking scenery and sunsets. Surrounded by beautiful rolling mountains, you’ll be able to sail in a replica of the “Jesus boat.” Imagine Jesus walking on water and telling the disciples to put their nets on the other side of the boat while the gentle breeze brushes through your hair.
The rabbis have said of it, “God has created seven seas, yet He has chosen this one as His special delight.” Places of interest in the Galilee region include the peaceful Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum and the Church of the Multiplication. The miracles you’ve read about in black and white come alive in vibrant living color in this inspiring setting.
Latin for “the way of suffering,” is the path Jesus took on the way to the crucifixion. The road is marked by the Stations of the Cross, showing where Jesus fell for the first time and where he met up with his mother while carrying the cross, along with other sobering sites. The journey will leave an indelible mark on your heart and soul. To walk the path that Jesus walked before he died on the cross, so that we may be forgiven for our sins and live with Him for all eternity, is an experience all Christians should have.
is Israel’s magnificent Holocaust museum. The site, a 45-acre campus, includes the museum of all museums and is an architectural marvel in itself. You’ll find exhibitions, a museum of art, a breathtaking children’s memorial, the Hall of Remembrance and The Learning Center. The tour guides are extremely passionate and knowledgeable, teaching about the 6 million Jews that were persecuted and murdered by the Nazi regime. In 1933 the Jewish population of Europe was approximately 9 million. By 1945, the Germans and their collaborators killed nearly two out of every three European Jews. In stunning displays the museum tells their story.
Our tour group was hosted by top hotels – The Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv, the Moriah Plaza in Tiberias and the Inbal in Jerusalem. Each is highly recommended. Staff members speak English and are extremely professional. The level of service was top-notch, from the wake-up calls and the palatial breakfast buffets to the clean and modern rooms.
is over 150 miles long, flows through the Sea of Galilee and spills into the Dead Sea, forming a border between Israel and Jordan along the way. It is considered one of the most sacred bodies of water in the world. Jacob crossed it, Jesus was baptized in it. The opportunity to be baptized in the emerald green Jordan River is an opportunity of a lifetime.
A name you may have never heard of, but a breathtaking site you will never forget. If the scenery doesn’t blow you away, the history that took place here will. Masada is the site of the ancient palace fortified by Herod the Great on top of an isolated plateau on the eastern ridge of the Judean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea. A cable car will take you to the very top, or for serious desert mountain hikers, feel free to go on foot. After the First Jewish-Roman War, a siege of the fortress led to the mass suicide of the Jewish rebels who chose death to surrender. Original artwork from the palace walls can be seen. You’ll be thankful for digital cameras enabling you to take plenty of photographs of the surrounding views.
Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls
About a mile in from the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the planet, the scenic Qumran holds the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Imagine, the entire Bible with the exception of Esther and Nehemiah discovered in excavations. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, nearly 900 scrolls, mostly on parchment and papyrus, were unearthed. You can actually view the scrolls at The Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Tower of David
The Tower of David, also known as the Jerusalem Citadel, was built mostly by Herod the Great and is located on the western side of the old city near Jaffa Gate. It is home to a museum featuring 4,000 years of history and provides guests with art, culture and nightlife. As the sun sets, the castle walls provide a backdrop for a stunning “night spectacular” light show that weaves together jaw-dropping virtual reality film technology with a dramatic heart-pounding soundtrack.
Gazing at the towering 40-foot walls surrounding Temple Mount, the Bible comes to life as you ascend the steep 2,000-year-old steps that Jesus used when he entered Temple Mount. The Mount, also referred to as Mount Moriah, is home to thousands of years of history, including the site where some believe Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac before God provided a lamb. The New Testament tells us this is where Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and where the Temple curtain miraculously ripped in two when Jesus died on the cross.
During our tour we had the privilege of a face-to-face meeting with the newly elected Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat. A fascinating man, Barkat had just celebrated his 50th birthday and brings a wealth of experience as a successful entrepreneur in the high-tech world. He has taken on this job for the payment of one shekel per year. He hopes to increase tourism on a global scale to showcase Jerusalem’s treasures and ongoing excavations to help boost their economy.
We saw first-hand the excitement of ongoing excavations. Archaeologists are uncovering artifacts and entire communities from 2,000 year ago and centuries prior. Not long ago they identified the village of Bethsaida, where Peter, Andrew and Philip lived. In recent years, two brothers unearthed a boat from 2,000 years ago by the Sea of Galilee when a severe drought brought water levels to an unusually low status.
“The Bible is alive here,” our tour guide Karl explained. “It’s not just simmering, it’s boiling.”