Tonight we are sitting in our hotel room at the Dan Boutique Hotel overlooking old Jersulam. It feels light years away from where we came from yesterday. Tonight at 8pm the siren will usher in Israeli Remembrance Day which is immediately followed by Israeli Indepence Day. We are looking forward to experiencing the next 24 hours here.
Yesterday, we checked out of our peaceful hillside oasis in the Upper Galilee and headed for a special tour of an army base with an Israeli tank brigade and their equipment.
This a fishing village and the archeological site shows what is believed to be Simon’s house. The site was purchased and run by the Catholic Church as are many we will visit. Typical for the area, there is a large historic remain of a large Byzantine Church built much later. However when the Rabbi Jesus began his preaching it was most likely in a small room in the layer below the “new” building.
The new, modern Catholic church here is beautifully built above the ancient ruins with the middle of the floor glassed over so the congregation can both see the alter and the remnants of Peter’s lakeside house.
From here we drive up the hill a few miles to where Jesus is believed to have delivered his famous Sermon on the Mount. Once again the site is owned by the Catholic Church. The grounds are manicured and modern. But if you look out to the sides at the natural land sloping down to the lake you can more easily imagine Jesus speaking to a large crowd of the faithful who had walked up from the fishing villages along the lakeshore.
Back on the manicured gardens, there are small services scattered around the grounds in different languages. In the largest chapel, visitors from the U.S. were singing beautiful hymns. It was very peaceful. People were visiting from all over the world. As Ari said, a Jewish Rabbi gave a sermon over 2000 years ago and was so powerful that people from all over the world are still coming here every day to mark the event and better understand Jesus’ message of love, peace and faith.
Our finall Christian stop for the day was a spot on the Jordan River where many Christians come from all over the world to baptized in the Holy Land in the same river where Jesus was baptized at the beginning of his ministry.
Jim put his feet in the waters as other pilgrims were joyfully being baptized nearby. At about the same time, we were treated to a beautiful duck swimming by and several giant catfish swimming near the surface of the baptismal stairs leading into the river.
On our way to Jerusalem we made our final stop at a very large Roman archaeological site: Bet Shen. At its peak in the second century, over 20,000 people lived there and enjoined its flowing waters, fountains, public baths and an outdoor theater that seated 7,000.
It was about an hour and a half drive from there to Jerusalem through the West Bank as we followed the Jordan Valley south on Israel’s longest road: route 90, which runs only 300 miles from north to south. This part of the West Bank is virtually empty.
Driving to our Jerusalem hotel we got our first glance at the walls of the Old City. Ari dropped us of at the hotel before driving back to his home in Haifa for a needed rest before we join up again on Friday morning.
After settling into our modern hotel room with a view of the Old City, we showered and rested and then walked to the original Jaffa-Jerusalem train station, built in the late 1800’s by the Ottoman-Turk Empire. The old station was recently converted to a place where you can shop and eat. After looking at all the restaurants, we chose Station 9, which rewarded us with a delicious “Asian fusion” meal.
It was a great way for us to cover a lot of territory easily. We even got to ride them a bit in the Old City. Jim loves Segways and we both enjoy the smiles we get from most children and many adults as we travel along the local bike paths, sidewalks and pedestrian plazas.
We spent our afternoon walking around the Old City. It’s a strange place, a crowded old shopping bazaar mixed with crowded religious sites. Jim wanted to go to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I honestly had no idea what to expect. It’s the most important Christian pilgrimage in Jerusalem because it’s supposed to be where Jesus was both crucified and buried.
We ended our first visit to the Old City by grabbing a meal at an Armenian restaurant.
The Arminian story is as tragic as the Jewish story. In fact it’s in the news this week because the Pope recognized as “attempted genocide” the systematic slaughter of over 1,000,000 Armenians by the Turks 100 years ago during the Turkish-Russian battles of WW1. Turkey recalled their Vatican Ambassador in protest.
Tonight ends with beginning of the solem Israeli Remebernce Day marking the deaths of 23,320 soldiers and civilians who have died in the wars And terrorism since independence; 116 in the last year.
At 8PM, nationwide sirens marked the beginning of this 24 hour, solemn national holiday. There was a moving ceremonyat the Western Wall that we watched on TV. Unfortunately, there was no English translation but the emotions of the widows, widowers, orphans and parents of recently fallen soldiers was still very moving. As I finish this blog entry we are watching a beautiful memorial concert on TV that is taking place just outside the walls of the Old City. If we mute the TV we can also hear it outside our hotel room In the distance.