2 Days in Israel

by on August 20th, 2014
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Who says you have to have loads of time to visit Israel? While it would be best to have several days, I managed to see quite a bit in about 48 hours. My friends thought I was crazy for flying 32 hours for a 52-hour visit, but I was thrilled!

On the flight over, I was able to get several hours of sleep. Arriving in the late afternoon also helped to acclimate to the local time. After checking into the hotel, our crew walked to Jaffa for diner. We found a great little (only a handful of tables) restaurant. I was a bit taken aback at the racks of meat hanging from the ceiling, but the three Israeli men working there were so nice. Several of the crew had been to Tel Aviv before, so they knew just what to order. I had some sort of chicken dish that was very good. It was different than anything I’ve had in the states, but I wanted to experience some local dishes.

We walked around Jaffa for a little while before heading back to our hotel. By now, it was about 9 p.m. local time, and we were really tired. We had a tour lined up for the next day starting at 8 a.m., so we all needed a good night’s sleep.

It was a little tough getting up the next day as the jet lag was starting to hit. But the excitement of the day quickly took over any feelings of exhaustion. Our tour guide, Rafi, picked up us promptly at 8 a.m. Several of us went on the tour, so we were looking forward to a great day. Rafi greeted up with a bag of oranges and apples, which we snacked on throughout the day.

We quickly boarded Rafi’s van and headed out. It was a beautiful morning, and I could see the breathtaking surroundings as we left out hotel. We were staying right on the beach, and the water was an incredible blue. As we drove out of Tel Aviv, Rafi was great about pointing out places of interest.

Out first stop was Bethlehem, which is located in the central West Bank. Rafi explained that he could not go with us into Bethlehem since he is Jewish and Bethlehem is in Palestine. He went on to say that is it dangerous for Jews in Palestine, so he would be delivering us to another driver. Being Jewish myself, this made me a little uneasy but I really wanted to stay with my group and see Bethlehem.

About a block from the crossing, Rafi turned us over to our new driver. He didn’t have as much to say but delivered us to the checkpoint. Our bags were searched by soldiers, and then we were allowed to cross into Bethlehem. The streets were lined with beautiful flowers and many shops. We all bought a few goodies to take home and then set out to explore the old city.

As we walked up to The Church of the Nativity, you could feel the significance of this structure. There was a very small door that led into the church. This door is said to be the “Door of Humility.” Once inside, we joined hundreds of people. Thought to be the birthplace of Jesus, The Church of the Nativity is one of the oldest operating churches in the world. The church is run jointly by Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic authorities. We saw each of these groups coming and going to different prayer sessions.

By far, the most popular part of the church was the Grotto. From the sanctuary, we took a winding stairway to reach the Grotto. A 14-point silver star set in the marble floor marks the spot believed to be actual site where Jesus was born. Ornate silver lamps surround the area. We had to wait in line to get very close to the star. You could tell from the other visitors how strong of a connection they felt to that particular place. Many people were offering prayers, some were even weeping. We were lucky enough to tour the entire church and were in awe.

The main Basilica of the Nativity is maintained by the Greek Orthodox. It features goldenmosaics, which cover the side walls. The mosaics are largely decayed, but you can still appreciate their beauty. The original floor has been covered, but there is a trap door which opens up to reveal a portion of the original mosaic floor.

Walking out of the church, we found ourselves in Manger Square. This is beautiful courtyard and a great place for reflection and prayer. Crowds typically gather there during the holiday season and sing carols.

After leaving Bethlehem, we reunited with Rafi and headed to Jerusalem, which is a holy city to the three major Abrahamic religions-Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The area is divided into four quarters, which are named for the ethnic groups who live there. The Jewish quarter is home to many synagogues including the Hurva Synagogue, which has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. Also, in the Jewish Quarter is the Western Wall. As a cancer survivor, this was tops on my list of places to visit. I felt strongly about saying a prayer at the wall, and my crew members wanted to as well. I was surprised that the men and women were separated and prayed in different areas. I was also surprised at the amount of armed soldiers who were in the area. Walking up to the wall, I was overcome with a sense of calm. As I took my scrap of paper and wrote my prayer, I looked around at all the others doing the same thing. We were from different walks of life and faith, but we were all there to offer prayer and thanks. I placed my paper in an opening in the wall, said a prayer, and let the spirituality of the moment sink in.

Next, was the Muslim Quarter, which is the largest and most populated quarter. It is full of markets that go for miles through narrow alleys. I was amazed at all the textiles, clothes, jewelry, herbs, etc. that were offered. Purchases are conducted through bartering, which definitely took some getting used to. Of course, the main attraction of this area is the Temple Mount, which contains several structures. The most famous structure is the Noble Sanctuary. Also known as the Dome of the Rock, it is actually a shrine. Its gold top can be seen for miles. It’s interesting that a path from the Western Wall leads to the Temple Month, but Jews aren’t allowed to enter the building.

We learned that at the heart of The Christian Quarter is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This area doesn’t contain many houses but rather churches and monasteries, and they are magnificent! Walking though the markets in this quarter, we were shown a place in the wall that Jesus once put his hand, and we all placed our hand in the same spot.

The Armenian Quarter is actually the smallest section. Here, we found shops with beautiful hand-made ceramics. Several of us got goodies to take home!

By the time we returned to our hotel (eight hours later), we were exhausted! We still had part of another day to enjoy the city, so we all hit the sack. The next day, we walked along the beach and took in the sights near our hotel. Right across the street, we found the burned out remains of the Dolphinarium Disco that was bombed in 2001. There is a memorial with the names of those lost in the attack, and I had a sense of sadness as I read them. Most of the victims were very young and had their entire lives in front of them. We ended our second day with more shopping and massages before heading to the airport.

The majesty of Israel was incredible. It was in stark contrast to the armed soldiers we saw milling about, but that is a way of life for the people who live there. I left with a huge appreciation for the history of the area as well as the diversity. Even though I only had two days to explore, I wouldn’t have missed the trip for the world.

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