I got a chance (work-related) to visit Israel, and it was an incredible experience.  Most of the time there was spent working about 14-16 hour days, but since our Israeli partners don’t work on Friday or Saturday (due to Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest), we got a chance to take a couple of tours on those days.  I hadn’t planned on this, but I had brought our old camera, just in case we got a chance to see something–I was really glad I did.

We stayed in a hotel in Tel Aviv, but I didn’t really get to see much of that city, since we were working some distance away.  It was a very nice hotel, though; Tel Aviv is a modern city and you don’t see much difference from other cities except for the Hebrew and Arabic lettering on the signs (most have English as well, which was good for us).

On Friday, we went to Masada, a fortress in the Judean desert overlooking the Dead Sea.  It’s an important symbol for the Jewish people.  The israel_20090024palace/fortress complex was originally built by King Herod around 37-31 B.C.  Jewish “zealots”, who fled Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple, took refuge in the fortress, and held off Roman soldiers for about 3 years.  The way the Romans finally broke the siege was to use Jewish slaves to build a ramp up to the fortress.  The zealots’ religious beliefs would not allow them to kill the Jewish slaves.  When the Romans broke through the wall, the 960 Jews at Masada decided to kill themselves and destroy the fortress rather than be taken by the Romans.  Two women were left, and they told the story to the Jewish-Roman historian Josephus.  Our tour guide emphasized that the Jews did not kill themselves because they were out of water or food, but because of their beliefs.  Today, the Israeli Defence Force soldiers are sworn in and receive their rifles in a ceremony held at Masada, taking an oath that “Masada shall not fall again!”

We walked up the ramp side and saw the cisterns where they collected water.  We saw several of the ruined buildings, including the synagogue, which is the oldest one in the world (dating from the time of the Second Temple).  According to our tour guide, it is one of only two where the steps to enter go downward–I think this symbolized sadness and despair because of the destruction of the Jewish people.  We also saw the remains of the Roman-style baths–you can still see some of the ancient mosaic work.  There’s a cable car you can take up and down the mountain, but most of us walked down the “Snake Path” on the opposite side from where we came up (and let me tell you, it’s a long walk–I’m glad we didn’t walk up that way!)

israel_20090091After leaving Masada, we went to a spa town (I don’t think we ever knew the name) by the Dead Sea.  We had lunch and then went out to the beach area.  A lot of the guys went in and floated in the Dead Sea.  It was actually pretty to look at, but it smells funny.  I tasted a drop and it really is very salty–and apparently stings pretty badly if you get any in your eyes, or so I heard.  The Dead Sea is the lowest spot in the world; I think they said it’s 300 meters below sea level.

On Saturday, we went to Jerusalem, which was an awesome experience.  On the way to Jerusalem, we stopped at a gas station to transfer buses, since there were several groups of us coming from different sites.  The area where we stopped was close to the Latrun Monastery, which overlooks the Ayalon Valley, where God made the sun stand still when Joshua was fighting the Amorites.

Our tour of Jerusalem started out on the Mount of Olives, looking out over the city, while the tour guide gave us a quick overview.  To be honest, the tour was kind of rushed and mixed up; the tour guide said it was a historical tour, but we didn’t really go in order.  However, we did get to see the Garden of Gethsemane, the Western Wall, King David’s Tomb (which is supposed to be the area where Jesus had the Last Supper), and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which has Mount Calvary and the stone and the tomb where they laid Jesus after he was crucified.

This is a view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.  You can see the Dome of the Rock (the golden dome), which is on the site where Abraham took Isaac after God told him to sacrifice his son.  The gate in the wall is the Golden Gate or the Gate of Mercy, which is supposed to be where Jesus entered Jerusalem.  It’s also supposed to be where the Messiah is going to enter Jerusalem when he returns.


The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is interesting both for the obvious reasons (the place of the Crucifixion and Resurrection) and for historical reasons.  Because it’s a holy place for several different factions, there has apparently been a lot of fighting (ironic, isn’t it?) israel_20090172over control of the area.  In the 1800s, a “status quo” was established, so all the factions have to agree before anything is changed.  A symbolic example of this is the “immovable ladder” you can see under the window on the right.  This ladder has been in the same spot for over 100 years, because the factions can’t agree on moving it.  Of course, the church itself is packed; apparently it’s often worse on Shabbat, as people go in to worship at Jesus’ tomb.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to see the tomb itself, due to the huge number of people waiting to get in to worship.  We did see the Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (different from the one he gave to Jesus), which our guide told us looked about the same.  It was a lot smaller than I’ve always thought of it, but I guess it makes sense in a way.  Also inside the church, you can see the rock that cracked when Jesus was crucified, the Stone of the Anointing where they laid Jesus to prepare his body for burial, and you can get in a huge mob of people (on purpose or on accident, like I did) and actually touch the rock where the base of the cross was.

At the end of the tour, we got to see Jerusalem from the other side, looking toward the Mount of Olives.  Then we made one last stop at a spot where our tour guide pointed out, way in the distance, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The photo gallery for this trip isn’t as good as some of the others, but I had to get some pictures even with all the crowds and the old camera.  Definitely an unforgettable experience!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Related Images:

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>