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Israel Trip: The Food

I'm not a food blogger, I'm no chef, I'm not even that great of a cook, and I probably won't do a very good job of describing the food we had on our trip (yummy, tasty, and good, are kind of weak descriptives, I know).  But I *do* like to eat, and I'm willing to try just about anything, so I was excited to see what the food was going to be like in Israel.

Israeli Bread Cart

In a word: FRESH

Everything we had seemed to be fresh, whole, and made from real ingredients.  And if I do a terrible job of describing the food, maybe at least you can see it, and imagine what it might taste like.

Israeli Vegetable Stand

I'm not going to be able to remember the names of everything we had, and I don't have photos of it all, so this post will be kind of a mash of photos, recipe links and reviews of anything food-related on our trip.  Don't mind the madness...just roll with me, wherever I go...

The first night at Cafe Hillel (and with many of our other meals) we had a typical Israeli Salad, mainly consisting of cucumber & tomatoes chopped diced into small pieces.  Israeli food is chopped very very small.  Time consuming, I'm sure...but it makes for a great texture. It looked something like this:


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I ordered a Laffa Sabich, which is a wrapped sandwich with fried eggplant, hard boiled eggs and tahini sauce.  This is not a photo of the one I had (it's shown in a pita, rather than a Laffa, which looks more like a tortilla), but it has similar ingredients. Tasty. And the Laffa bread was SO SO SO good.  Ben had a similar wrap called a Laffa Kebab, made with meat and vegetables.

Laffa Sabich - Eggplant, Hard Boiled Egg & Tahini
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Coke Zero - The Arabic version.  *Loved* that Coke Zero was available most places we went.

Coke Zero - Arabic

Pickled olives, beets, carrots and cauliflower seemed to be pretty common additions to shawarma and falafel pita pockets.

Israeli pickled vegetables

We *very* much enjoyed our lamb shawarma pitas in the Christian Quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem.

Kebob Shewarma

Shawarma & Falafel Cafe in Christian Quarter, Jerusalem

Shawarma Kebob

At Tmol Shilshom, in downtown Jerusalem, we tried traditional shakshouka, which is the namesake for my Aunt Rachel & Uncle Chuck's band "Shakshuka."  It seemed fitting to try it in Israel with Uncle Chuck. 

Shakshuka

Basically, it's poached eggs in a tomato based sauce served in an iron skillet. 

I had the "green shakshuka" which is evidently very NON traditional, which was basically a poached egg and spinach, lightly seasoned with some slices of soft cheese of some kind.

Green Shakshuka

Honestly, it tasted kind of bland, and it wasn't NEARLY filling enough for me -- at least not that day, which was the morning we had run the hills of Jerusalem and visited Yad Vashem.  Ben's traditional version was much better tasting. Though, if I'm being honest...still a little odd.  It seemed kind of like breakfast spaghetti without noodles.  I think I need to try another recipe of it sometime.  Aunt Rachel...maybe next summer we can try your favorite recipe?

And again...Coke Zero - in Hebrew this time.

Coke Zero - Hebrew

Walking through the open market was not only beautiful, it was a great place to get a look at lots of different foods, even if we couldn't try them all.  It was a good representation of the types of foods that are popular in the area.

Israeli Market

These little snack-sized sandwiches and rolls looked REALLY good to me.  I don't know what was in them, but I would have really enjoyed a sampler platter.  We didn't get one though...we were just walking by.

Lots and lots of spices...

Spices

Fresh fish...

Fish Market - Israel

Nuts...

Nuts in Israeli Market

Dried fruits and seeds...

Dried Fruit in Israeli Market

Cheese and wine...

Cheese & Wine

And lots and lots of flavors of tahini...

Tahini

At the wedding, the buffet was full of all different kinds of salads, grilled vegetables, meats and potatoes. 

Israeli Wedding Buffet

I think this was probably my favorite meal, with the most variety and really good flavors.  It didn't hurt that had plenty of meat!  Since we ate in mostly kosher restaurants, we ended up eating a lot of vegetarian meals, which were very good, but not always as filling as I would have liked.  On the up-side, with all the activity and healthier meals, I lost several pounds over the week. :)

One of the restaurants we tried was called Focaccia Bar, and served all kinds of different foods on foccacia bread.  We ordered a kebab focaccia and a roast beef focaccia.  This is the roast beef version.  It had spinach, roast beef, horseradish sauce, and a poached egg in the center of it.  Sort of strange, but actually, it was pretty good.

Foccacio

On the kebab focaccia (which I'm holding in the photo below), there were a variety of vegetables and lamb meat that seemed kind of like little mini-burgers on top of a pizza. 

As I ate one bite of the kebab focaccia though, I noticed some heat coming from where my slice had touched this pepper.  I like spicy, and it was just the juices of the pepper on my piece, so I didn't think much of it.

But Ben, on the other hand, ate a quarter of the pepper in one swift bite--regretably.  he was expecting a green chile or a sweet pepper I think, which makes sense.  It was a giant pepper on top of the focaccia.  Nope.  It was some crazy-hot super-pepper.  He actually had tears running down his face and was stealing fries off of Grandma's plate and trying to drink anything he could to cool the fire in his mouth.  It took him about 30 minutes before he said he felt normal again. I've never seen him react to anything spicy quite like that -- and we make an annual date to go to the Chuy's Green Chile Festival every year, just for the heat of those peppers!

It doesn't matter what the name of the restaurant was.  We'll always remember it as the place that Ben nearly died from the "hot pepper" - which was the only translation our waiter could give us for the type of pepper it was.  As Papa Tom would say "Ay chiwowa!".

At the Lebanese restaurant near Ginosar, by the Sea of Galillee, we had hummus (YUM) and pita bread as an appetizer.  That's pretty common, kind of like a basket of bread at an Italian restaurant or chips & salsa at a Mexican restaurant.

Also common as appetizers are these little pickled green olives.  They were very sour.  Not my thing. I prefer black olives.

Ben and I like to order two dishes and split them, so we get to try more things.  One of the plates we ordered was this lamb meat stuffed zucchini with a yogurt sauce. It was kind of so-so.  Needed more salt and seasonings I think.

Grandma ordered a chicken wrap of some sort -- she always seemed to have the biggest portion on her plate of food.  Evidently she orders big! :)

And Grandpa's lunch looked super tasty.  Wish I could remember what it was...

The other plate Ben and I ordered was "Saint Peter's Fish", you know, since we were at the Sea of Galilee and all.  I didn't realize that meant the entire fish would be served on my plate--head, skin and all. 

Oh well!  I dug in anyway!  And it tasted good, even if it was a little bony.  I believe it was tilapia.

For dinner that night, we drove all the way to Tel Aviv/Jaffa and ate at a cafe called Puah.  Ben ordered a *really* tasty chicken curry dish that looked something like the one in the photo below.  I found myself stealing bites of his food the whole meal.  I'm so gonna figure out how to make this at home.  I think it may actually be thai food though, not necessarily Israeli.


{source} <-- go to this page, lots of great Israeli food pics!

At Yad Mordechai, when we visited Yasmin, we had lunch at her house, which consisted of two types of baked fish - salmon and some other white fish, Israeli salad, and rice.  Plus several dessert cookies.  Evidently, I was too hungry to take photos of any of that.

Plus, we came home with Yad Mordechai olive oil and honey.  The honey is fabulous! Haven't tried the olive oil yet.

At Shabbat dinner at Aunt Judi's house, she had an unbelievable spread of food for us.  This was just the salad buffet.

There was also a whole meat buffet of food on the other side of the table, plus several cakes and fancy moroccan cookies for dessert.  These weren't the actual cookies at the party, but they look similar.  You'd think they'd be super sweet, but actually, they seemed to be flavored with honey, nuts, and mild flavors, so they weren't overwhelmingly sweet.  The teeny sizes, wide variety and the "prettiness" of each of them sure did make it hard not to eat 5 at once though.


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And finally, on our way to the airport, we got to have some falafel.  It was fresh, the first batch of the night (they were just opening up after Shabbat), and it was VERY tasty - the perfect "fast food" satisfication. 

I added tahini sauce, eggplant, zucchini, pickles and cabbage to mine, but skipped the carrots.  They were spicy, which I learned from one of the carrot salads at Shabbat.  Tasty, but too much for right before a 10 hour flight. :) 

But the falafel itself was the best part.  Makes me want to go eat one now. 


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It was interesting how even though there was often a lot of food available, it was almost all very low in fats, sugars, and carbohydrates (with the exception of the pita & breads).  Mostly, we ate vegetables, fruits and nuts for a week, and it was great!

Now we just have to find some good mediteranean food restaurants and grocery stores around Birmingham.  If we can just get our hands on some GOOD pita and laffa, I think we can recreate a few of our favorites.  I've already had several places recommended from some local Palestinian and Armenian friends.

Writing this post has made me hungry. I've been writing it for 2 days, and I don't think I've stopped eating since I started.  How do food bloggers not eat CONSTANTLY?

And there it is folks.  Our trip to Israel. Documented.  Now I can relive it anytime I want. Until maybe we go again....


Israel Trip Wrap-Up:

  1. Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
  2. Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
  3. Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
  4. Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
  5. Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
  6. Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
  7. Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
  8. Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
  9. Israel Trip: City of David
  10. Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
  11. Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
  12. Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
  13. Israel Trip: The Food
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Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi

On Saturday morning, our last day in Israel, we met for breakfast at Judi and Moti's house.  She had a huge spread of fruit, yogurt, granola, breads, cheeses, juices and coffee.  We needed plenty of fuel for the day!

After breakfast, we loaded into a few cars to make the drive to the Dead Sea.  Rosenbergs are leaders.  All of them.  Too many leaders makes for some chaos before finally making a decision everyone will follow.  Ben found this hilarious...especially since the Steed clan is just the opposite.  The Steeds are all willing to yield to someone else's plan, resulting in a similar chaos. 

Ben and I rode with Judi and Moti so that we could have some extra visiting time with them.  We drove through the mountains and desert and saw all kinds of free roaming camels, sheep and goats.  There was something awesome about seeing this herd of goats with a kid running behind them, guiding them, in the Israeli desert.  Talk about bringing the bible to life!

And here's a sign you don't come across everyday:

We reached a lookout point just above the Dead Sea and stopped to check out the view.  The white you see (that looks like waves) are actually salt deposits.

Dead Sea

I'm not sure why, but I didn't expect the Dead Sea to be so blue!  I think I was expecting a dark green or dirty lake-like water.  Not so...look at that beautiful shade of turquoise!

We got back in the cars and headed on to Ein Bokek, a resort and beach area at the Dead Sea, for a swim! 

The Dead Sea

Ben was first in the water!

If you aren't familiar with the Dead Sea, it's at the lowest point in the world, and the salt level in the water is so high that no animals can live in the water.

Even cooler, because of the high salt content, your body floats as if you're on a raft! 

It's actually easier to float horizontally in the water than it is to try and stay upright.  So we had all kind of fun rolling in the water, doing tricks, and trying to keep it from going into our mouths.  Yuck!

I totally salt scrubbed my body--I wasn't about to miss out on a free spa treatment!

Minerals from the Dead Sea are harvested and used for all kinds of skin treatments and cosmetics.  The water has an almost oily feeling while you're in it that makes your skin feel really soft.  I bought some hand and foot lotion with Dead Sea minerals, and not only does it smell great, it definitely has a softening cocoa butter-like feel to it.  Very cool stuff!

This lady was trying out some mud mask minerals on her day at the Dead Sea. I looked for some Dead Sea mud, but that you have to (and can) buy.  Might have to give that a try at home!

Some people with psoriasis are even prescribed to sunbathe at the Dead Sea for a few weeks every year as part of their treatment because of the low elevation, making the UV rays from the sun less harsh.

I could have stayed there all day, but we had more to see, so we loaded back in the cars and drove up to Ein Gedi, a national park, to do a little hiking and see some natural spring waterfalls in the middle of a desert mountain.

Ein Gedi

But first...a picnic lunch, packed by Aunt Judi.  Talk about a fancy picnic!  Most of the salads and rolls were leftover from Shabbat dinner the night before, but it was a definite upgrade from the PB&J sandwiches we usually pack for our picnics!

After lunch we said goodbye to Yasmin, Harel & Ofek, who headed back home for the day, and then the rest of us headed into the park to hike up the mountain.  A little bit of water and her cane, and Grandma was ready to go. :)

By this time in the trip, I was getting pretty tired of holding my camera and taking photos.  Thankfully, Uncle Moti has his camera snapping as much as I do, so many of the photos from this day came from his camera. 

Plus, Chuck and Ben took over my camera for much of the day too.  That's why I tend to be IN more of the pictures this time around...why did it have to be on the day I look like I've been rolling around in dirt?

We started on the trail that started out flat, then had bridges and steps, and eventually became a rocky, uneven, and sometimes slippery climb up the mountain.

We had a little bit of concern about whether it was a good idea for Grandma and Grandpa to keep on climbing, but by the time we considered a turn-around, we were nearly to the top, and the trail was a loop, so going back down the way we came wasn't really a good option either.

Onward and upward.

We assigned Ben and Chuck to keeping near Grandpa and Nadiv and I stayed on either side of Grandma, chasing her up the mountain.

It was a long way up, but the view from the top was pretty spectacular.

Ein Gedi

They made it...still smiling. :) Not every 89 and 86 year old can accomplish these kinds of feats.  I'm pretty sure my grandparents are superhuman and that with their genes, I may live actively and healthfully for a long long long time.  Guess I better make the most of it, like they do!

We finally reached the waterfall, called David's Spring. 

Ein Gedi is referenced in 1 Samuel 23:29 when David ran and hid from King Saul:

And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of En Gedi.

We savored some time at the waterfall, in our last few hours of adventure in Israel with all of my family.

I had such a great day visiting with everyone, a great week enjoying Grandma, Grandpa and Chuck's company and wisdom, and an unbelievable time learning more than you could ever absorb from a book or a movie or a class.

As we headed back down the mountain, we noticed an Ibex (a type of mountain goat) up on the mountain above us.  He was almost completely camoflauged.

As we hiked back to the cars, I was overwhelmed with how well our once-in-a-lifetime (maybe?) trip to Israel turned out - even if it didn't always go as planned.

We made the drive back to the condo, showered, packed our suitcases up and then went out for one last adventure before heading to the airport for our long trip home.

I don't have any photos of this next crazy event, but it's defintely a story worth telling.  You'll have to visualize.

We had a little bit of time before we needed to be at the airport in Tel Aviv, and we hadn't yet had a falafel pita sandwich.  We could have gotten one at the airport, but since we had time, and the stores would be starting to open again (Shabbat had just ended at about 7:30pm on Saturday evening) we decided to try and fit that one last thing into our trip. 

We ended up at the Jerusalem Mall, which is a modern shopping mall near Chuck's condo.  As we pulled into the parking garage, both Grandma and Grandpa starting talking about how they had tried to get in there once, but they couldn't ever find a parking space, and how awful the people parked, even in the aisles, and eventually they had just given up and gotten out of there because it was so awful.

Chuck said, "Nah, you just didn't know where to park." I'm paraphrasing...but something along those lines.  To support his statement, he turned up onto a mezzanine level of the parking garage, which was nearly empty, pulled into a spot and we were on our way to get a falafel.  No big thing.  Right? 

Well...about 45 minutes later, we left the mall, went back to our car to find that the entire parking garage had been completely filled, and in fact the cars WERE parked in the aisles, cars were driving every which direction, people were yelling, blowing horns, etc. 

As we walked to our car, we literally had 4 cars pointed at our spot from all directions, waiting for us to leave, a woman who actually got out of her car and stood in our spot to try and save it for someone, and we could NOT get our car out of the spot.  It was CRAZY.  Yelling, honking, and absolutely no order of any kind that we could see.

Grandpa got so irritated that he jumped out of the car and started yelling and giving huge arm motions to tell the cars around us to move out of the way so we could get out.  It was a bold move...but they listened to the crazy shouting old man, and it's the only thing that allowed us to leave the parking spot!  One of the men waiting to take our spot shouted at Grandpa "What? Do you want to be my driving teacher??" and Grandpa yelled back "You need one!" I thought we were about to have a showdown in the mall parking garage.  Well, I guess we kinda did.

Still, as we tried to actually LEAVE the parking garage, we kept running into more of these no-rules-apply stand-offs, and couldn't. get. out.  Finally, Chuck (who was driving) took a ramp heading down a level (against the shouting advice from Grandma and Grandpa in the backseat, warning him that we'd be stuck in there for hours), which thankfully was just clear enough that we could get out alive and back on the road toward Tel Aviv without being stuck in the garage for what could have been hours.

I have a new phrase for someone who parks like they're the only car on the planet - "Parking like an Israeli".  I googled it...and found these photos that TOTALLY support my observations!

parking like an israeli
{source}

Israeli Parking Job
{source}

What a way to end our trip!  But hey, it's a good story, and we got that falafel (it was good!). 

The rest of the trip was spent mostly in airports, just traveling home.

As we arrived to check in at the Tel Aviv airport, Ben was pretty heavily questioned, and even had to show a second photo ID (we were glad he had decided to bring his Driver's License in addition to his Passport).  I'm telling you...we're pretty sure that he looked Israeli or Arab or something with that beard, and it got him stopped and questioned everywhere we went!  Thankfully, we did make it through - with all our luggage, although our honey and olive oil from Yad Mordechai evidentally warranted a suitcase search.  Security is intense...but I guess I'm glad it is--because we had a safe and uneventful trip home. 

In our last few moments at the airport, Grandma and I both jotted down notes in our journals about the trip.  It's no mystery where my writing and "historian" qualities come from.

We flew from Tel Aviv to Newark, breezed through Passport Control in the US, and then flew to Chicago to spend a night at Chief's house to recouperate, and then finally on Monday morning headed back to Birmingham to relieve Noni from her week and a half of duty with the kids!

What a week.  What a trip!  Thanks for reading along as I re-lived it and recorded it!

I have one more Israel Trip post coming soon to finish out the trip--a mediterannean food wrap up!


Israel Trip Wrap Up:

  1. Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
  2. Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
  3. Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
  4. Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
  5. Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
  6. Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
  7. Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
  8. Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
  9. Israel Trip: City of David
  10. Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
  11. Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
  12. Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
  13. Israel Trip: The Food
1

Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat

On Friday of our trip, we headed south to the Ashkelon area of Israel (right next to the Gaza Strip) to visit my Aunt Judi & Uncle Moti, and to see my cousin Yasmin and spend some time learning about the kibbutz where she and Harel and Ofek live.

Instead of ancient history, we tried to wrap our minds around some of Israel's more modern history and territory struggles.

We started the day at Aunt Judi's house, where we visited for a few minutes and got the grand tour of their house - via Grandma.  She took over.  Judi added comments though to compliment Grandma's tour. :)

I made sure to make a visit to the matching secretary desk to the one that's in our entryway at home.  Their desk is being used as a changing table for Ofek in Israel and has been refinished as well with a dark stain.  These desks were originally a part of a bedroom suit that my grandparents bought for my mom and Aunt Susan when they were in high school, I think. 

We didn't stay long at Aunt Judi's house, because they had a big Shabbat dinner to prepare for all day, and Yasmin was expecting us at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai.

As we drove out of Judi's neighborhood, we saw this playground along the road.  Every playground, the bus stops, and most other public places in Israel have a safe room (called a Mamad), which is used for quick protection in case of missile attacks. 

Mamad at an Israeli Playground - safe room - bomb shelter

Unfortunately, as close as this area is to Gaza, that's a fairly common occurance.  They had safe rooms in Jerusalem as well, but it was certainly more prominent here, and mentioned by my family much more often as a room we should be aware of how to use -- just in case.

We met Yasmin at the main parking lot at Yad Mordechai to begin our kibbutz experience. 

If you aren't familiar with what a kibbutz is, here's a very basic definition, but I highly recommend reading more about the history and evolution of kibbutzim if it interests you, or if you have questions: 

A kibbutz is a collective community in Israel that was traditionally based on agriculture

A collective community is a planned residential community designed from the start to have a high degree of social cohesion and teamwork. The members of an intentional community typically share responsibilities and resources.

Kibbutzim began as utopian communities, a combination of socialism and Zionism. In recent decades, some kibbutzim have been privatized and changes have been made in the communal lifestyle.

Yasmin's husband Harel and his family grew up at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, so it was especially interesting for us to learn more about its history. 

Kibbutz Yad Mordechai Museum

We started at the Yad Mordechai Museum, where we learned more about the Holocaust, the creation of this kibbutz - made up of mostly immigrants from Poland - and the famous attack by the Egyptians in 1948, where the farmers and members of the kibbutz (called kibbutzniks) were able to hold the Egyptians off for several days, giving Israel time to get supplies and defenses in Jerusalem.

The museum was small, but very well-done, and included this replica (above) of one of the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland, to show how the Jews were forced to live during the holocaust.

After we finished at the museum, we walked over to the "baby house" - or day care center - where we picked up Yasmin's little boy, Ofek. 

Yad Mordechai was one of the last kibbutzim to switch from their communal child rearing practices, which means that as recently as Harel's childhood, the children on the kibbutz were raised communally.  Children would spend most of their time in houses divided by age group; learning, playing and sleeping. Parents spent 3 to 4 hours a day in the afternoon with their children after work and before dinner. 

Imagine having a baby, and after a couple of weeks, turning over most of the minute-to-minute care (day and night) to a day care facility in your neighborhood.  It might be fun as a kid, to grow up with lots and lots of friends around you all the time.  It would sure be nice as a parent to get some sleep every night.  But, it also has the potential to be traumatic for the kids not to have their parents in close proximity, especially at night.  According to Yasmin and Harel, kids who were raised in those communities can have very different responses and feelings (both good and bad) from their experiences.  Harel, for instance, had a very positive childhood experience.

Kibbutz Day Care

In any case, kibbutzim have phased out this style of child-rearing.  Ofek attends just as we'd send our kids to preschool or day care and it's a service that they pay to participate in. 

With Ofek in tow, we headed to the hill in the center of the kibbutz to see the statue of Mordechai Anielewicz, a leader during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, for whom the kibbutz is named, and get a great view of the kibbutz.  Yasmin and Harel's wedding ceremony was held at the top of this hill.

Yad Mordechai Kibbutz

I spent a little bit of time bonding with Ofek, while we rested and visited and asked questions about the kibbutz.  Someday, when Ofek is a teenager, he'll come to visit us in the States and I'll tell him about when I came to see him in Israel when he was a baby. :)  He is seriously the happiest baby on the planet.  So cute.

Continuing our tour of the kibbutz, Harel's father Yoel joined us to show us more about kibbutz life.  They had just celebrated Yad Mordechai's 70th anniversary with a big party the night before, so we took a peek at one of the galleries that was still on display, showing off the current and past generations of kibbutz members.  In the photo below, you can see Harel holding a photo of his grandmother.

Yoel took us into the "Yesteryear" museum, where Yasmin translated and we were able to see materials and tools used in the kibbutz throughout the years and learn more about some of the old ways they used to run the kibbutz, and how it's changed over the years.

Below is a photo of the kids in one of the children's houses.

I got a chuckle out of the staged bath house (mainly the cardboard artwork), demonstrating how before the homes each had individual bathrooms, several families would share a bath house and use the showers on a schedule.

Yad Mordechai's major source of agricultural income is from their honey, jams, balsalmic vinegar and olive oil production and sales.  We took a quick look at the honey-bee museum and were thrilled to come home with a couple of bottles of honey and olive oil.  (Thank you Medina family!)

I was also thrilled to come home with this silly picture of Chuck and Ben, who became quite good  buddies during our week together:

As we walked through the kibbutz, we stopped to check out the laundry house.  It's a paid service now, but that used to be how the laundry on the entire kibbutz was done. Just drop it off and pick it up clean and folded.  The same with meals. There's a cafeteria where lunch and dinner are offered if you don't feel like cooking.  I dream of having a neighborhood cafeteria with a meal plan!  I'm telling you what...I think there's something to this community living -- everyone has a specialty, a job that contributes to the community and you don't have to do it ALL!  American women especially could learn something from this...

After our tour of the kibbutz life, we headed over to Yasmin's home for some lunch.

We ate on the front porch and relaxed for a little while (well, except for Yasmin, who was warming up food, setting the table, feeding Ofek, and cleaning up).  I helped.  As much as I could.  I promise.

Right across the road, we had a view of the mamads (safe rooms, which usually double as bedrooms) in the homes across the path.  It was a glaring reminder of how touchy the politics and safety in Israel can be, and was a strange contrast to the gorgeous day and community efforts we were learning about and witnessing.

After lunch, Yasmin walked Ofek over to Harel's parents house for a nap.  We got a kick out of the crib/stroller that is very common on the kibbutz.  Every day the kids at the Baby House get loaded into these strollers and go for a walk around the kibbutz.  Ofek seemed quite happy in it!

Just down the street from the kibbutz is a neighborhood that borders with Gaza, which is where the missiles originate.  We went to take a look.

When we asked Yasmin how often they heard the "Red Alert" messages and had to use their safe rooms, she shrugged and said, "Sometimes just once or twice a month.  Sometimes 20 times in one day. It makes it very hard to get ready for work when you are always running to the mamad."

I asked how recently the last "Red Alert" warning was, and she said "Last week." Wow.  I don't think I had *any* idea of the daily dangers there are in Israel. 

But, suddenly, as we stood looking into Gaza, where the rockets fly from, and as we considered that we were spending the night on the kibbutz, less than a couple of kilometers away, things got a little more serious.  While we didn't really think there would be any trouble while we were there, we certainly raised our level of respect for the situation.

Speaking of spending the night on the kibbutz...Here's a look at our room, which is a guest room for visitors to use, since the homes on the kibbutz are fairly small and you wouldn't have room to stay in a family's home.  Everyone who lives on the kibbutz gets equal space, based on the number of people in your family, so guest rooms and extra space simply don't exist.  Our bedroom is the mamad of our little guest house.  See the reinforced window?  Yasmin gave us instructions for what to do in our 10 second window of getting to safety, should we hear the Red Alert message in the middle of the night.

Actually, it was a nice little place, and a very unique experience.  Especially since as we looked around, we realized the closet was full of someone's clothes.  Hmm...  We were a little concerned someone else may have expected to stay there that night.  While Yasmin tried to reach the woman in charge of scheduling the room use, we wondered how crazy that would be to have a strange man come into the room and find us there!

We decided to head back to Yasmin's house to get ready for Shabbat dinner there instead (just in case), while we waited on confirmation that no one else was expecting to stay there that night.  I think it was a stressful afternoon for Yasmin.  She really wanted us to be able to rest and get ready for the evening on our own, and was frustrated that she hadn't been able to check out the room ahead of time for us. 

Other than an interesting story to tell, it didn't bother us though.  We are easy to please, and at the end of a trip like this, where things NEVER went as planned (but always worked out), it was just par for the course and it rolled right off our backs.  By the time we headed over to Aunt Judi's house for Shabbat dinner, we had heard back from the lady in charge of scheduling, and found out that some man who comes to the kibbutz a couple of times a year leaves his clothes in the closet.  There was supposed to have been a note.  There was no such note that we found, but the message from the lady in charge was enough to settle our nerves.

Next up -- Shabbat dinner with lots of family!  We got to tell Harel how much we enjoyed seeing his childhood home and learning about the kibbutz.  Unfortunately, he had been away at a wedding all day and wasn't able to join us for our tour.

Judi and Moti had set up long tables in their backyard to serve Shabbat dinner for about 25 family members and friends.  I believe this was Ben's first experience with Shabbat.  What a cool way to be introduced to a Jewish tradition -- in Israel, with family. :)

We spent the evening visiting with Chuck, Nitzan & Racheli, and Nadiv and really enjoyed getting to know them a little better.  We also ate some amazing food -- in several courses!  What a fun night!

After dinner, we headed back to the kibbutz with Yasmin, and settled into our mamad bedroom for the night.  Yasmin's parting words for the night were "Remember, if you hear a woman's voice on the loud speaker, you have 10 seconds to pull the metal shield on the window and lock it, and close the bedroom door." 

We practiced.  No joke.

But thankfully, our own little drill was the closest we got to actual danger and we slept great our night on the kibbutz.

Thank you to Judi, Moti, and especially Yasmin & Harel for sharing a little bit of your daily life with us! 

 


Israel Trip Wrap-Up:

  1. Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
  2. Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
  3. Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
  4. Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
  5. Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
  6. Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
  7. Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
  8. Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
  9. Israel Trip: City of David
  10. Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
  11. Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
  12. Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
  13. Israel Trip: The Food
0

Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee

On Thursday, the five of us squeezed into the rental car and started heading north to spend the day exploring several Christian sites around the Sea of Galilee area.  After the long and exhausting day before of hiking and walking, a day consisting of more driving seemed like welcome relief to us all (except maybe Chuck, who did all the driving).

Driving North Around the West Bank

In Israel, you can't always drive direct to your destination.  Since a large portion of the center of the state is West Bank territory, you have to choose whether to drive around the eastern or western sides of it. 

Since we were planning to start at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, Uncle Chuck wanted to drive us up on the eastern side of the West Bank, along the Jordan border.  Israel controls the borders, so we were allowed to drive around that direction, though most of the area and towns surrounding the roads were part of the West Bank.

We were amazed at the scenery.  Having flown into Tel Aviv (a large city), and then spent most of the week in Jerusalem, the contrast of the desert was staggering.

It was literally like being dropped down into the Bible - wandering camels and all!

camels in the desert

Traveling around the eastern side of the West Bank brings you close to the Dead Sea, so you do a lot of traveling DOWN mountains.  We made the obligatory stop at Sea Level. 

Sea Level - Israel

While we were there, a man offered to let Ben ride the camel for 5 shekels.  As soon as Ben sat down, the man changed his price to 5 shekels for a picture, 10 shekels for the camel to stand up, and 20 shekels for a ride.  The photo sufficed for us...and it's a gem! ;)

As we continued our drive, we passed numerous agricultural farms.  Israel produces all kinds of fruits and vegetables and has developed an amazing drip irrigation technology that allows them to successfully grow crops in the desert.

The drive up to the Sea of Galillee was about 2 hours, and we never tired of the changing scenery.  We saw shepherds and sheep traveling across the mountains, Arab towns in the distance, camels wandering unattended, and tons and tons of mountains and desert.

Yardenit

When we arrived at the Sea of Galilee area, our first stop was the Yardenit Baptismal Site on the Jordan River.

Yardenit

Yardenit was established as a replacement baptism site for Christian pilgrims when the actual location of Jesus's baptism in Qasr el Yahud became a part of frontier territory between the Israeli and Jordan border after the Six Day War. 

Yardenit

While we were visiting, several tour buses full of visitors from South American countries were there having a group baptism ceremony in Spanish.  Since we couldn't understand a lot of it (my Spanish isn't *that* good), we had to guess at exactly what they were reading from and saying.

They immersed themselves several times throughout the ceremony.

Baptism at Jordan River

This group appeared to be from Venezuela and at the end of the ceremony gathered around their flag in the water during a prayer.

Yardenit

Yardenit is a beautiful spot at the base of the Jordan River, where it meets the Sea of Galillee.  It was a good place for us to start our day following around the area of Israel where Jesus spent most of his ministry.

Ginosar

After Yardenit, we drove north through Tiberias, a port city popular for fishing and tourism.  We managed to get lost and made several "U-ies" because of some poor signage and crowded traffic...but we DID finally make it through the little coastal city.

Our next stop was Kibbutz Ginosar and the Yigal Allon Museum, to see the "Jesus Boat", a 1st Century fishing boat that was discovered by local fishermen and amateur archaelogists during a severe drought in the late 1980s. 

Ginosaur

We watched a short video about how the boat was found, dug up (in 12 furiously busy and highly guarded days), and then carefully preserved and transported.  It had to be submerged in a chemical bath for 7 years before it could be displayed to preserve the wood and prevent it from disintegrating.

Ginosaur - Jesus Boat

Ginosaur - Jesus Boat

Of course, it's a mystery who *actually* owned and sailed in this boat.  A couple visiting while we were there asked me "How do they know this was Jesus's boat?"  We set them straight.  It's from the time of Jesus -- but isn't necessarily Jesus' boat. :)

Ginosaur - Jesus Boat

The area around the museum was gorgeous, and on that day, the weather was unbelievable (high 70s) and the sky and water were just beautiful.  The top of the museum had an outdoor lookout where we could really soak in the beauty of the area.

Sea of Galillee

Sea of Galilee

Mount of Beatitudes

From our lookout, we could see some of our next stops - several churches that mark important moments in Jesus' ministry. 

  1. The Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount
  2. The Church of the Primacy of Saint Peter, where Jesus is said to have laid out a breakfast of bread and fish for the Apostles, and told Peter to "Feed my sheep" after the miraculous catch, the third time he appeared to them after his resurrection.
  3. Church of the Multiplication, marking the location where the miracle of the loaves and fishes took place. (John 6:2)

Sea of Galilee

Since the churches are all closed during the middle portion of the day, we took the opportunity to eat some lunch at a Lebanese restaurant called Katzeh Hanachal in Ginosar before heading up to see the churches.

The church at the Mount of Beatitudes was incredibly crowded with tour buses and tourist groups.  What I had kind of expected to be a quiet and calm spot, was VERY loud and conjested. 

Mount of Beatitudes

But what WAS very cool about this spot, was the dirt trail that headed from the top of the Mount of Beatitudes down toward Tabgha.  Ben and I decided to make the walk down, while Grandma, Grandpa and Chuck drove the car to the Church of the Multiplication to meet us at the bottom. 

Mount of Beatitudes

The walk was quiet, dusty, and undeveloped, which made it a really special moment on our trip as we descended the hill toward the water.

Sea of Galilee

Remarkably, we had a brief (and sunny) rainshower while we were walking.  No rainbows that I spotted, but that would have been unbelievable. :)

Mount of Beatitudes

When we reached the end of the trail, we ended up at the Church of the Primacy of Saint Peter, where you could walk right up to the rocky shoreline of the Sea of Galilee.

Primacy of Saint Peter

Primacy of Saint Peter - Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee

I think Ben may have picked up a pebble for Ayla. ;)

Sea of Galilee

When we realized where we were, and that we were NOT at the Church of the Multiplication, where we were supposed to meet Chuck, Grandma and Grandpa, we spent a few minutes trying to figure out how to get where we were headed.  We stopped some Australian tourists (amazing how quickly you recognize overheard English!) and asked a couple of other tour guides to try and get our bearings and figure out where to head next.  If we'd have had about 2 minutes of patience, we could have figured it out ourselves - we found a sign & arrow almost immediately. 

We met up with them at the Chuch of the Multiplication, saw the famous mosaic tile floor, and admired the church architecture. 

Church of the Multiplication of Loaves & Fishes

Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes

Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes

Then we had to head out and hit our last stop of the day, before it closed - Capernaum.

Capernaum

Capernaum is the town where many of Jesus' apostles lived and where he spent much of his time.  The ruins found there are very cool to see the walls and rooms of the homes of people from that time. 

Capernaum

Capernaum

We had a short visit there, but appreciated seeing some of the ruins of the town and the synagogue that was from the 4th or 5th Century and is one of the oldest synagogues in the world.

Capernaum

Capernaum

Capernaum

When we finished up there though, we were all pretty tired and ready to start heading back to Jerusalem -- around the western side of the West Bank this time, via Tel Aviv for dinner. 

Having spent a good portion of the day driving and getting lost a few times, I confess, I was a little crabby by the end of the day.  When you're traveling with the Rosenbergs, everyone is a "leader" and a "navigator", which makes for some noisy and argumentative rides.  Since I was in the center of the car, I heard it from all angles.  I tried to just keep my mouth shut. There were enough GPSs, maps, opinions and plans in that car without my input.  :)

As a result, we had some stressful tired, hungry and "lost" moments getting from the Sea of Galillee to Tel Aviv - Jaffa for dinner.  Most of us kept our cool.  I might have snapped at one moment and told everyone to just let the GPS tell us where to go instead of commenting on every. single. turn. :)

Tel Aviv / Jaffa

We had hoped to make it to Jaffa by sunset, so that we could see the Mediterranean Sea during daylight.  We didn't quite make it there in time, but we did get to watch the sunset as we drove down along the coast.

Sunset over Mediterannean Sea

We got to see a little bit of Tel Aviv at night as we drove through some heavy traffic. 

Tel Aviv at Night

After finally reaching the Jaffa area, and finally finding a parking spot, we went in search of a restaurant through the artsy port area of Jaffa.  Jaffa would definitely be a neat place to spend the day shopping and wandering -- but we just didn't have it in us that night.  We (I) needed food.

Jaffa

Food makes me much less crabby. :)

Though it was a long and very full and crowded day, the views and the sites we got to see were definitely worth it! Even if we did get lost several times...

 


Israel Trip Wrap-Up:

  1. Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
  2. Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
  3. Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
  4. Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
  5. Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
  6. Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
  7. Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
  8. Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
  9. Israel Trip: City of David
  10. Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
  11. Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
  12. Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
  13. Israel Trip: The Food
2

Israel Trip: City of David

Originally, we had considered driving to Cesarea and Tel Aviv on Wednesday, but with the wedding the night before and us getting such a late start, we decided that there was plenty more we could (and wanted to) see in Jerusalem, rather than spending so much of the day driving. 

So, after our Mount of Olives adventure, we headed down into the Old City to check out the City of David archaelogical ruins.

We don't see much of anything TRULY ancient in the US, so it was especially exciting to see how cities and homes and streets from thousands and thousands of years ago have been uncovered.

City of David

City of David

The City of David tour is about a 2 hour walking tour through the archeological park, with the option of a longer hike through Hezekiah's tunnel in knee-deep water. 

City of David

The City of David is where Jerusalem was born - the place where it all began.

Seeing sights like this ancient restroom is just pretty amazing.  That sounds sarcastic, but really, it's not!  I was truly enthralled with how we could stand and see mostly in-tact remains of a world that existed SO long ago.

City of David

We walked past portions of palaces and uncovered rooms made of stone, past Warren's Shaft (where the water system was created) and then arrived at a fork in the road. 

Should we take Hezekiah's tunnel to Siloam's Pool? 

City of David - Hezekiah's Tunnel

City of David - Hezekiah's Tunnel

Ben crept down and listened to the rushing water inside...

City of David - Hezekiah's Tunnel

Eh...maybe we'll stick with the dry Canaanite tunnel instead. 

Had we been a little more prepared, I think Ben and I would have been willing to do it.  I've heard it's a REALLY cool experience.  I couldn't help but think about our friends, the Justice's and how much they would have LOVED this hiking adventure.

City of David - Canaanite Tunnel

But, to be fair...the shorter Canaanite tunnel was a perfect adventure for our group!

Getting down the dark steep stairs and through the narrow passageways was challenging enough for all of us. Grandma was thankful to have her cane with her while Ben, Chuck and I stepped carefully and called out warnings of steep stairs, wet floors, and uneven walkways while ready to catch any of Grandma or Grandpa's mis-steps! 

City of David - Canaanite Tunnel

But they did fine -- and I think they had fun. :)  That's the biggest smile Grandma has given me for the camera yet this trip!

City of David - Canaanite Tunnel

When we reached the end, we stopped for a break and a look at the map. Chuck, Ben and I were hoping to take the tunnel from Siloam's Pool under the streets and into the Old City, but we knew that would be a tough walk.  We were all already pretty tired from all the hills, steps and climbing we'd already done.

Grandma's motto is usually "I can do it!" so it took some convincing for her to concede to letting us "kids" do the tunnel and meeting her and Grandpa on the other side of the city walls.  But she agreed.

First though...we had to get to Siloam's Pool, which was no simple feat!

We walked along a ridge on the side of the mountain, and took in a beautiful view of some Jerusalem neighborhoods.

Over rocky terrain where we saw some possible large royal tombs in the mountain.

City of David

Then we walked down a slippery, steep hill of a street, until finally, we arrived at Siloam's Pool.

There was no water in sight, but we could see half of the stepped pool in front of us and rest a while before the next tunnel hike.

City of David - Siloam's Pool

When we'd had a little break, we sent Grandma and Grandpa off in a taxi and the three of us headed into "The Stepped Road" and the Herodian Road.

City of David

These drawings were especially helpful to me, to visualize where we were and what we were seeing (and standing on).  In fact, I just bought a cool book we saw in Israel called Israel Then & Now on Amazon that uses photographs and transparent overlays to show what the current view might have looked like in it's original glory.

City of David

We started the long hike through the dark and often short and narrow Herodian Road tunnel...

We didn't see another person the entire time we walked, which made the whole hike an even cooler memory -- kind of a special, private, tour that no one else knew about.

We continued until we ended up at the base of the Western Wall below the Temple Mount.  WOW!  To be at the Western Wall in what almost seemed like a "secret and secluded spot" was a very cool experience!

Base of the Western Wall

Base of the Western Wall

I think this video does a great job of describing the Herodian Road, telling where it is,

and you can kind of walk through it yourself too!

When we emerged from the tunnel, we ended up behind the Western Wall at this plaza, near the entrance of the Davidson Center - an archaeological museum.

Inside, we saw ancient artifacts from many different eras, as well as a model of the second temple.  When we saw this coffin from the 1st century with a Hebrew inscription about it belonging to the son of a high priest, Uncle Chuck remarked that it was so amazing that the Hebrew letters on the coffin were the same alphabet and Hebrew language that they use now in Israel.  No need for a translation when you can read modern Hebrew--it's the same!

Davidson Center

After our long and exhausting walk through ancient Jerusalem and learning as much we could about the many eras of civilizations, we met back up with Grandma and Grandpa and headed back above-ground to current-day. 

We decided to take one last "quick" walk through the Old City, since we wouldn't likely return again another day that week.  We entered via the Western Wall:

Western Wall Entrance

On a Wednesday, the Western Wall is much less crowded than it was when we had been there on Monday during all the bar mitzvahs.

Western Wall

Ben was a few steps ahead of us, while Grandma and I were marveling at the velvety hat and coat this man was wearing.  While I fussed with my camera bag to get a good long-zoom photo of him, I saw something funny...

Western Wall

The man and woman were talking to Ben and asking him (in Yiddish or Hebrew -- Ben wasn't sure) to take their photo in front of the Western Wall.  Considering the formal dress and attire and customs these two must adhere to, we found it highly odd that they asked Ben (an obvious tourist, wearing shorts and a ball cap) to take their photo.

Western Wall

Regardless of the oddity of it, they seemed happy to commemorate their moment, and I'm certainly not one to keep anyone from documenting a memory!

While we were there, Uncle Chuck took Ben on a quick look around the corner of the men's side of the Wall. 

Western Wall

Evidently there's a prayer room to the far left side of the wall where men gather to pray, facing the wall.  Ben said he definitely felt like the only non-Jew in the room.

Inner Room at Western Wall

We left the Western Wall and walked through the Jewish Quarter, past the new synagogue, and back out of the main city walls through Zion Gate.

Zion Gate

During the War of Independence in 1948, the Zion Gate was a major battleground in a fight between the Jewish and Arab forces. As a reminder of those events the Zion Gate is covered with bullet holes providing the visitors with a glimpse into how fierce the fight was for the ownership of Holy City.

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Zion Gate

Right near the Zion Gate, we walked around the corner to King David's Tomb -- a site I found to be a nearly empty and uninteresting prayer room on the women's side.  However on the men's side, Ben, Grandpa and Chuck found a large and boisterous celebration dilled with songs, dancing, and welcoming Jews, encouaging Ben and Chuck to join them.  Grandma and I came out confused and unaffected, while Ben found this spot to be one of the most intriguing places we visited. 

King David's Tomb

While we were in the neighborhood (and even though we were all EXHAUSTED and ready to go find some dinner), we stopped at one more site -- the Upper Room inside the Cenacle, where the Last Supper was said to have taken place on Mount Zion. 

Upper Room - Last Supper

Upper Room - Last Supper

The city of Jerusalem, Jews and Christians all over the world owe a lot of their history to King David.  I guess a bronze statue IS in order. :)

King David

We finally made it back to our car, and went in search of a relaxing dinner (bet you can't wait for that food-related post, huh?)

 


Israel Trip Wrap-Up:

  1. Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
  2. Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
  3. Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
  4. Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
  5. Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
  6. Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
  7. Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
  8. Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
  9. Israel Trip: City of David
  10. Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
  11. Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
  12. Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
  13. Israel Trip: The Food
2

Israel Trip: Mount of Olives

Wednesday morning, we got a very slow start and didn't head out until almost 11:00am, since we had been out so late the night before for Nadiv's wedding.  We needed a morning to sleep in a little bit! The late start didn't keep us from filling EVERY second of the rest of the day though. 

Since our tour on Monday didn't include a visit to the Mount of Olives, that was first on our agenda for the day.  Grandma, Grandpa and Chuck hadn't ever been there, so it took a little bit of trial and error and navigating up some VERY narrow and steep roads to get up there.

Mount of Olives

First we stopped at a mid-way point, that after walking up the hill, we realized wasn't quite the right street--but, there was a great view of the Golden Gate from our little stopping point, so while they looked at the map to figure out where we should go, I zoomed in close!

Golden Gate

Tradition says that this is the gate where the Messiah will enter Jerusalem and the thousands of people buried here will be the first to be resurrected upon his arrival.

After that very steep walk - that wasn't quite right - we readjusted and found the *right* path to the Mount of Olives overlook.

Found it! And there was a dressed-up camel waiting for us. :)

Mount of Olives

And here it is...the view we had been most anticipating for our trip to Israel.  Standing at the top of the Mount of Olives, looking down across the Jewish cemetery, next to the Garden of Gethsemane, and into the old city of Jerusalem.

Mount of Olives

I loved how you could see the turns and bends of the city walls from this corner.

Mount of Olives

Mount of Olives

We spent a long time admiring the view and contemplating the spot where we stood, that we have read about so many times.  Being able to put a visual with the bible stories, to see the distance between the "mount" and the city, and imagine what the hills and valleys around us might have looked like 2,000 years ago and more.

The Garden of Gethsemane was closed for the day already by the time we arrived, but we could peek across and imagine walking through it.

Grandma and Grandpa stayed at the top of the hill while Ben, Chuck and I trekked down the street to see what we could find.

Mainly -- several closed churches.  I think they close from noon to 2pm most days, so we had just missed being able to visit most of the places on this road. 

In some ways, I think that was good.  We weren't that interested in seeing more churches, and it meant that it wasn't crowded with tour busses and people.

Instead, we could appreciate a quiet moment while we took in the details of the Jewish Cemetery and looked out over the hill and into Jerusalem.

Mount of Olives - Cemetery

Mount of Olives Cemetery

Plus...we got a LOT of exercise in!  That was one MAJOR hill to go down, especially when we turned around and had to head back UP!

Looking back on our trip, the Mount of Olives view was by far my favorite spot and moments of our trip. I'm so glad we made the extra effort to see it up-close!

When we finished our trek back up the hill (huffing & puffing), we all drove back down into the Old City to visit the City of David archaeological park -- another of my favorites...

 


Israel Trip Wrap-Up:

  1. Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
  2. Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
  3. Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
  4. Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
  5. Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
  6. Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
  7. Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
  8. Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
  9. Israel Trip: City of David
  10. Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
  11. Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
  12. Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
  13. Israel Trip: The Food
2

Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding

The whole reason we took this trip to Israel was because we were invited to my cousin Nadiv's wedding.  Okay, so maybe not the *whole* reason we went, but that was certainly the catalyst to finally get us to Israel. 

So, let me introduce you to the Israeli branch of my family:

This is Nadiv -- and his lovely new wife Nurit.

These are Nadiv's parents, my Aunt Judi (my mom's youngest sister) and Uncle Moti.  They're contagiously bubbly and happy people.  No matter how many years it has been between our visits, they're some of the most welcoming and friendly people you'll ever meet.  You cannot help but love them. Aunt Judi surprised everyone and showed up at our wedding in Carbondale, IL over 13 years ago.  It's only right that I finally made it to Israel to visit her!

This is my cousin Yasmin, and her little boy Ofek, who is about 7 months old and one of the happiest and most content babies I've ever met.

I missed Yasmin's wedding a couple of years ago (my mom was our representative at that wedding), and have been kicking myself ever since.  I wish I had gone.  But, since I waited until Nadiv's wedding to make the trip, I got to meet Ofek -- so that's certainly a bonus!  Yasmin and I are the only two girls in 10 grandchildren.  We have to stick together. 

The super-tall guy in this next picture is Yasmin's husband Harel, who was wonderful! He did such a great job of watching over Ben and I and the wedding and making sure we had plenty of fun! :) 

And this is Nitzan, the youngest son of the Israeli branch of the family, and his girlfriend Racheli.  When I had last seen Nitzan, he wasn't much older than Ayla is now.  He's still just as cute and charming as he was then! 

Ben and I have never been to a Jewish wedding, let alone an Israeli wedding.  So we weren't quite sure what to expect.  I found a description of how Israeli weddings are different than American weddings at a blog called "Erin's Adventures in Israel." She describes it SO much more perfectly than I could.  Go read her description and then come right back to read the rest of this post. 

Seriously -- go now! Then come back.

 

 

Okay, so now that you know all about what to expect at a typical Israeli wedding, I can show you all about *this* Israeli wedding.

The wedding was at a beautiful event center out in the middle of nowhere.  Everything was green and lush, with gorgeous lighting and the weather could not have been more perfect.

The bride and groom and all of the family greeted each guest as they arrived, and we all kind of mingled on the lawn while having drinks and fancy appetizers as all the guests trickled in. 

Judi said they expected somewhere around 350 people to attend.

The tables were set up inside a large enclosed tent for dinner after the ceremony.

Grandma and Grandpa introduced us to all sorts of family members - cousin Hadassah's daughters Dalia and Ruti, Moti's siblings, Harel's parents, Nurit's parents, etc. etc. etc. 

Most people spoke English (to us anyway), and though it was a little overwhelming sometimes, it was wonderful to get to meet everyone!  We also learned the Moroccan greeting - Moti & Harel's families are both Moroccan - - a kiss on both cheeks.  I'm sure we messed that up plenty, but we tried. Hopefully we weren't too awkward.

Finally, around 8:30 or so, everyone started gathering around the Chuppah for the ceremony.  The family members walked down the aisle first to stand with Nadiv and Nurit, and then Nadiv and Nurit walked down the center aisle together, holding hands.

There were two things I noticed in particular about this wedding that felt very different to me. 

First, with the exception of the photographer and one other woman, I was the ONLY person taking photos.  No iPhones, no SLRs, no point-and-shoots.  No one else was taking pictures.  When I asked about it later, my Israeli family assured me that it wasn't a faux pas thing to do, and it was fine that I did, but it was definitely a cultural difference that Ben pointed out to me, and then I noticed.  

We can't go to a single event - concert, wedding, game, etc. -  in the US without viewing it through the screens of the people in front of us.  I'm guilty.  I know it.  I don't deny it.  But, I did try to put my camera down for a good portion of the ceremony since I was feeling a little self conscious about my completely in-your-face giant SLR camera while everyone else was just "there" and enjoying the moment.  It was nice - and I still got a few good shots. :)

The second thing I noticed in particular about this wedding is how casual the crowd was.  It felt as if it was an impromptu ceremony that everyone just circled up and participated in, like it was natural.  I found that VERY different from the formal and rehearsed weddings we usually see in the US.

Oh, and I guess there's a third thing...it was all in Hebrew.

It was a short ceremony, but Nadiv and Nurit did several of the Jewish wedding traditions you might expect - the Chuppah, Ketubah, the seven blessings, and breaking the glass.

As soon as the ceremony was over, they kiss, everyone claps, the guests all kind of "rush" the Chuppah to give hugs, kisses and say their "Mazel Tovs" -- and then head straight for the buffet lines for the dinner and dancing portion of the reception.

Dinner was amazing -- all freshly cooked on-site, tons of different types of foods, meats, salads and vegetables - and all Kosher of course.

We ate, we visited, and then...the dancing began. 

Grandma and Grandpa kicked it off with a couple of songs that were added to the playlist just for them.  :) 

Hard to believe they are in their late-80's, isn't it?  We're celebrating Grandpa's 90th birthday this spring. 

The rest of the evening was filled with loud music, neon lights, and lots of fun and dancing.  Nadiv and Nurit chose not to do some of the traditional Jewish wedding dances, which might have been fun to see, but everyone had a great time dancing until late into the evening. 

Even Ben did a little dancing. :)

Nothing like a late-night wedding celebration on a Tuesday!  It seems odd to us, but that's a pretty normal occurance in Israel. (Weddings in Israel aren't held on Saturdays or Sundays because of Shabbat, so it's common for them to be late in the evening on weeknights). Just think -- most of the guests had to get up and go to work the next morning!

Mazel Tov Nadiv & Nurit! Your wedding was wonderful!  We're thrilled to have been able to share the evening with you!

 


Israel Trip Wrap-Up:

  1. Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
  2. Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
  3. Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
  4. Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
  5. Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
  6. Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
  7. Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
  8. Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
  9. Israel Trip: City of David
  10. Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
  11. Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
  12. Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
  13. Israel Trip: The Food
0

Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street

Tuesday morning, Ben and I woke up early to get a 3 mile run in the neighborhood in before our full day with Grandma, Grandpa and Chuck.  We decided not to go too far, and just ran in the neighborhood around the condo.  My cousin Ari warned me that the hills were pretty hard, but I figured, we'd both been training in Birmingham with plenty of hills and awful humidity.  Surely we could handle it.

Holy cow.  Jerusalem hills are SO. MUCH. BIGGER.   We covered three miles, but I had to stop to walk a few times.  In hindsight, perhaps I should have saved my energy for the rest of the day & night, but I didn't, and now I can say I've run the hills of Jerusalem--which does hold certain bragging rights. :)

After our run and breakfast at the condo, we decided to spend the morning at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust History Museum.  We couldn't visit Israel and have Jewish family that lived through the Holocaust and not experience Yad Vashem.

Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum

I wasn't allowed to take photos inside the museum, so you'll just have to take my word for the fact that it's a very impressive museum that chronologically tells the story of the Jews throughout the Holocaust, describing in detail the persecution, the ghettos, the death camps, and the lives of the people who lived through it.

Built around a long cement triangular hallway, the museum has you weave back and forth into different rooms full of giant photographs, video interviews, memorabilia and written stories.


{source}

If I remember the story correctly (family - please correct my story-telling if I'm wrong) my great-grandmother's cousin, Hadassah lived in the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland and was involved with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and spent some time in a concentration camp.  You don't need a family connection to appreciate the severity of the Holocaust, but it definitely adds a deeper dimension of respect to the history.

Though the combination of my exhausting early morning run and the ominous mood set by the theme of the museum left me feeling like I might pass out at any moment, I do feel like I learned so much more than my high school history classes could ever have taught me.  It leaves you flabbergasted that something like that could ever have been allowed to happen.

I wouldn't necessarily call it a "fun" morning, but it was certainly educational - and a must-see if you are in the Jerusalem area.

From there, we headed into downtown Jerusalem to Ben Yehuda Street for lunch and a look at the more "modern" Jerusalem with Uncle Chuck as our guide.

Ben Yehuda street is full of Judaica shops, street cafes and lots of people - both locals and tourists.

But, before we could do much exploring, first things first -- lunch at Tmol Shilshom, a quaint little bookstore & cafe.

{I'll be blogging all our adventurous food choices in a separate post.}

After lunch, I had some much-needed coffee to try and get me through the rest of the day without needing a nap! 

After lunch, we walked through the street, taking in the sights and sounds, hopping out of the way of the electric train cars (that you can't hear coming), and stopping for some very quick souveneir shopping along the way.  We picked up a shofar for Paxton and some Hebrew letter beads that spell Ayla's name, plus a mezuzah and prayer parchment for our front door.

Then Chuck guided us into the neighborhoods behind the main thoroughfare and we got a little glimpse into the world people live in.

This synagogue had all kind of ornate decorations on the front door and sign.  Plus, I loved the metal star of David above the doorway!

I especially enjoyed photographing the windows and doorways and I never tired of the turquoise doors and shutters. :) My favorite color.

Next, we walked over to the Mahane Yehuda Market, also called the "Shuk".  This was one of my mom's favorite places when she visited Israel a couple of years ago.

It was busy - and full of all kinds of gorgeous displays of foods of all different kinds - fruits, olives, nuts, spices, desserts, vegetables and more!

Wouldn't it be fun to be able to buy your weekly groceries here?

After the market, Grandma and Grandpa rested for a little bit while Chuck led us on a brisk walk through a religious neighborhood in the area called Mea Shearim

I think Ben was especially intrigued by this group's religious lifestyle and customs.  Walking through their neighborhood was truly like stepping back in time.

Here's some Wikipedia info about the people who live in this neighborhood:

Today, Mea Shearim remains an insular neighbourhood in the heart of Jerusalem. With its overwhelmingly Haredi population, the streets retain the flavor of an Eastern European shtetl. Life revolves around strict adherence to Jewish law, prayer, and the study of Jewish texts. Traditions in dress may include black frock coats and black or fur-trimmed hats for men (although there are many other clothing styles, depending on the religious sub-group to which they belong), and long-sleeved, modest clothing for women. In some groups, the women wear thick black stockings all year long, including summer. Married women wear a variety of headcoverings, from wigs to headscarves. The men have beards and some grow long sidecurls, called peyos. The residents speak Yiddish in their daily lives, and use Hebrew only for prayer and religious study, as they believe Hebrew to be a sacred language only to be used for religious purposes. "

Modesty" posters in Hebrew and English are hung at every entrance to Mea Shearim. When visiting the neighborhood, women and girls are asked to wear what is deemed to be modest dress (knee-length skirts or longer, no plunging necklines or midriff tops, no sleeveless blouses or bare shoulders) and tourists are requested not to arrive in large, conspicuous groups. During the Shabbat (from sunset Friday until it is completely dark on Saturday night), visitors are asked to refrain from smoking, photography, driving or use of mobile phones. When entering synagogues, men are asked to cover their heads.

Just a normal day of touring in Jerusalem!

By about 4:00 in the afternoon, we headed back to the condo so we could rest get ready for the big event that night and the reason for our entire trip -- my cousin's wedding!

 


Israel Trip Wrap-Up:

  1. Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
  2. Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
  3. Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
  4. Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
  5. Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
  6. Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
  7. Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
  8. Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
  9. Israel Trip: City of David
  10. Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
  11. Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
  12. Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
  13. Israel Trip: The Food
0

Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank

(continued from Israel Trip: Jerusalem - Old City)

After some much-needed nourishment on this busy tour day, our group hopped back on the bus and headed to the afternoon portion of our tour -- a trip into the West Bank to Bethlehem.

While Bethlehem is only a short drive from Jerusalem, since it is a city under Palestinian control, there was a certain amount of shuffling necessary to get our group across the checkpoint.


{image source}

Our Israeli guide dropped us off at the check point, and passed us off to a Palestinian guide, who took over our tour for the next several hours. 

We pulled directly up to the ominous border wall:

West Bank Wall near Bethlehem

Our Israeli guide wasn't allowed to cross the border into the West Bank, and our Palestinian guide appeared to be bending a few rules by meeting us on the Israeli side to bring us through, since he told us quickly to act as if he wasn't a part of our group as he speed-walked us through the checkpoint.

Checkpoint into West Bank at Bethlehem

West Bank Wall at Bethlehem

With an American passport, we had no trouble whizzing through the checkpoint, but it was certainly a strange and unsettling feeling to walk through the barred walkways and cross the space between the two territories.

Crossing into the West Bank

Once we reached the other side, we hopped on a new bus, and were suddenly navigating the streets of Bethlehem in the West Bank.  If we thought traffic in Israel was insane, it was 5 times as "boisterous" in Palestine.  Honking, shouting, weaving, waving, and we even saw a man literally pushing his car down the street with a LOONG line of cars honking and waiting behind him.

Bethlehem Street

In Bethlehem, the signs no longer had the Hebrew translations we had been seeing. Now we saw Arabic, English and Spanish.  In fact, our new guide spoke fluent English and Spanish and began translating his commentary into both languages (for our Venezuelan tour companions).  Since Bethlehem is primarily a Christian town, and a very popular location, it attracts many Christian and primarily Catholic, Spanish-speaking tourists.  Ironically, I was actually able to understand his Spanish a little easier than his English, because of his accent.

Our first stop was Johnny's Souvenier Shop, where we were able to use their restroom and, conveniently, spend a little time shopping.  I'm sure this is a "deal" worked out with the shop and the tour guides, but hey...it was a great place to buy some trinkets and souveniers in our very rushed day of touring.

Bethlehem specializes in carved olive wood creations.  Some of these detailed and intricate creations were priced as high as $5,000 or more. 

Nativity Carved from Olive Wood

We picked a much smaller, less-complicated version as a family souvenier of our visit to Bethlehem.

After our group was finished shopping, we had a few minutes of time to kill (evidently the Church of the Nativity was EXTREMELY crowded), so our guide took on a brisk walk through the city to see the Calle de la Estrella -- the street where locals, not tourists, believe Joseph and Mary walked through Bethlehem just before Jesus was born. 

Calle de la Estrella

Calle de la Estrella

We met our bus just off the main road, and started heading toward the Church of the Nativity

Palestine - Bethlehem

As we drove there, our guide informed us that the church was VERY crowded, and he was going to split us into two groups so that he could sneak half of us in through the front entrance of the "main attraction" and the other half he would escort through the exit door. 

Having no idea what he was talking about, we just nodded and followed instructions!  We walked into the church through a little door on the side. 

Church of the Nativity

Ben and I were in the group that our guide weaseled into the front of the line.  He had us take off our tour stickers and enter as if we were "locals" coming to worship at the church.

Church of the Nativity

We were then hustled into a mass of people, all trying to fit into this tiny little door.  Evidently the tour groups that had been there waiting a long while were NOT happy with our immediate entry -- and actually joined together to block us from going down with their group.  A woman across from me stared me down shaking her head over and over again as if I was the Devil.  I can't blame them for being irritated, but we were just following our guide's instructions!

Church of the Nativity

Eventually, we did make it down the tiny stairway and into a small basement room FILLED with people, draped walls, and lots and lots of lanterns.

Church of the Nativity

Having spent all our time getting into the church and trying to sneak into the front of the line, we weren't totally sure WHAT we were in line to see.  There's nothing like using deception and force to skip in front of God-fearing pilgrims so that we could see the location of Jesus's birth in a timely fashion.  I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure Jesus would not have approved.

Church of the Nativity

In any case...here it is -- the presumed location where Mary gave birth to Jesus, marked by a 14 point star, representing the 14 stations of the cross.

Church of the Nativity

And around the corner, an altar where Mary lay Jesus down in a manger.

Church of the Nativity

Unfortunately, my experience witnessing these two holy locations left me feeling kind of disappointed.  The sardine-like crowds, the hanging lanterns, the church, and the speed in which we whizzed through the underground grotto was NOTHING like what I imagine the night and location of Jesus' birth would have resembled.  I found that walk-through Nativity reenactments we've experienced at churches in the US at Christmas-time were much more effective at transforming my mind to that dark night in a stable. 

But then, I guess we did cheat and lie to get to the front of the line, so what did I expect, really?

When we emerged from the cave, we landed back up in the main hall of the church, where I was able to take a moment and appreciate some open-space and beautiful light along the columns of the church.

Church of the Nativity

Next, we took a glimpse at the original mosaic flooring of the original fourth century basilica (built between 327 and 333 AD) while our guide told us a little more about the original and current basilicas.

Church of the Nativity

Church of the Nativity

While it was beautiful and intricate, unfortunately, I don't remember much about who added the artwork or when it was added.

Church of the Nativity

Church of the Nativity

Next, we quickly walked into the other main attraction of the area - Saint Catherine's Church - where internationally televised Christmas cermonies are held each year.

Saint Catherine's Church

Saint Catherine's Church

Saint Catherine's Church

This is also where the baby Jesus used in those famous processionals is housed throughout the year.

Saint Catherine's Church

Saint Catherine's Church

Outside, at Manger Square, we took a quick look at the front entrance of the Church of the Nativity (since we had come in from a side door).

Saint Catherine's Church

The entryway had been enclosed and made smaller over the years, and is now called the "Door of Humility".

Church of the Nativity

Church of the Nativity

Though it wasn't quite what I expected, and it was awfully rushed and crowded, we enjoyed our journey to Bethlehem.  Certainly, we'll have a distinct memory to refer back to each Christmas as we teach our kids the story of Jesus' birth. 

West Bank - Bethlehem - Palestine

Most of all, we appreciated the opportunity to cross into the West Bank and experience a taste (though small) of the Palestinian section of the Holy Lands.

Crossing back to Israel from Bethlehem

Back on the Israeli side of the checkpoint, we got back on our bus and concluded our guided tour for the day -- but NOT our adventures.

As our guide was driving us to the various hotels to drop each person off, Ben and I were going to be let off at second drop-off stop, where we were going to call Grandpa to come and pick us up.

I got a little over-confident.

As we were driving down the street, I looked out and recognized Chuck's condo to our left.  Thinking I was being helpful (to both our guide and to save Grandpa a drive), I told our guide he could let us off there and we could walk, since we were staying just down the street, so he didn't have to drive us all the way to the hotel.  "Sure!" he said, "That would be great."  And we hopped off the bus, and he drove away.

Remember when I mentioned that everything in Jerusalem is made from the same Jerusalem stone?  Oh, and Mom, remember that time in grade school that I "ran away" and you shouted down the street "You're going the wrong way!"  Why couldn't I remember that I have a horrible sense of direction?  Yeah...we were NOWHERE close to my uncle's condo.

Oh jazz.

So there were were, sitting at some random intersection in Jerusalem, not sure how to get home.  At the time, we still thought we were pretty close to the condo, and tried to look around to see if we could figure out how to get there. 

*sigh*.  I'm always lost.

I took some photos of the street names and we weighed our options:

  1. Call Grandpa and explain to him and Grandma what we had done and see if they could figure out how to find us.
  2. Hail a cab, and have 'em take us to the hotel we were *supposed* to be dropped off at, so we could call Grandpa and everyone would be none-the-wiser.
  3. Call Uncle Chuck, and see if he could help us navigate back to his condo.

Since we weren't sure how difficult communcation would be with a taxi driver would be, and we DIDN'T want to worry Grandma and Grandpa, we went with option #3.  Uncle Chuck to the rescue.  Thanks to Google Maps, he was able to figure out where we were and came right away to meet us.

We were NOWHERE close to where we thought we were. 

We decided not to mention our little adventure to Grandma and Grandpa (until now!)  Thanks Chuck for rescuing us!  I'll try not to make dumb mistakes like that again!

Since we were out and about, Chuck decided to take us to another lookout point, called Talpiot, before we headed home.

Talpiot - Jerusalem

There we took in another amazing view of the city from up on a hill.  As the sun was setting, it was a gorgeous backdrop and a great way to end our touring day.

Talpiot - Jerusalem

See...sometimes, things have to go a little wrong in order to make opportunities for great experiences. :)

Talpiot - Jerusalem

Talpiot - Jerusalem

It's nice that Uncle Chuck was such a good sport about our face-palm mistake.

As we headed back to the condos, I took a photo of the condo buildings -- I would NOT mistake another building for his again -- at least not on this trip!

We met up with Grandma and Grandpa at the condo (and let Uncle Chuck get back to work, which he had interrupted him from), and then headed back out to a sweet little neighborhood called Ein Karem for some dinner. 

Brasserie - En Karem Jerusalem

We found an Italian restaurant that was open and ate up on the rooftop.  Though the service was slightly lacking, it was a beautiful night and especially nice to sit down for a few hours and relax after our VERY long and overwhelming day!

Then we topped the night off with some gelato for dessert.

gelato

What a whirlwhind day!  This sign says it all...

Enjoy Life Now.  This is not a rehearsal.

 


Israel Trip Wrap-Up:

  1. Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
  2. Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
  3. Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
  4. Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
  5. Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
  6. Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
  7. Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
  8. Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
  9. Israel Trip: City of David
  10. Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
  11. Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
  12. Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
  13. Israel Trip: The Food
2

Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City

After a good night's sleep, we were up and at 'em early on Monday morning.  Ben and I had signed up for a full-day guided tour of the Old City of Jerusalem and Bethlehem to give us a good overview of the area and allow us see some of the key sights while learning some history and context through a trained guide's commentary.  This was the only day we planned to do a guided tour, and would rely on guidebooks and my family's experience for the rest of the trip.

Since the tour bus doesn't pick up at Chuck's condo, he gave us a ride to a nearby hotel, where we were supposed to be picked up between 8:30 and 8:45 am. 

Let me just say that I was *not* surprised when no one showed up to pick us up by 9:00 am.  That's just the way things had been going so far for this trip!  Thankfully, though, we had borrowed a cell phone, and were able to call the tour company to see what was up.  Evidently they had us scheduled for the 25th (when I clearly had a confirmation for the 30th), but they promised to send the bus our way to pick us up immediately. 

After waiting another 10 - 15 minutes, the hotel concierge came up to us and told us that the tour company had called him to let him know they were sending us a taxi to meet the rest of the tour group.  Thank goodness so many people speak such fluent English in Israel!  Not having a clue how to speak (or read) much Hebrew makes navigating and communicating REALLY hard.

When the taxi finally arrived, we decided to just trust this dude in a pink polo shirt, who didn't say much to us, and hope he knew where he was taking us!  He certainly knew more than we did, but we were totally at his mercy.  Worried we had missed the first portion of our tour (we thought it started at the Mount of Olives, and didn't want to miss that), we got our first daylight glimpse of the hustle and bustle - and traffic - in Jerusalem from the back of the taxi. 

True to his word, the taxi driver dropped us off at the top of Mount Scopus to meet our tour group (we were sure it was our group, becuase the guide knew our names...whew), who had just started the long day's adventure.

With about 12 other tourists from various countries, our guide Aaron began telling us all about the history of Israel by pointing out where important landmarks are throughout the city, as we took in this unbelievable view from Mount Scopus:

One thing I learned in Jerusalem - and all of Israel, really - is that every time you turn around, there's another spectacular view.  The landscape of never-ending hills lends itself to perfect perch points from every angle.  I was camera happy--and my zoom lens got a major workout this week.

View from Mount Scopus

After a quick introduction to Jerusalem, the group hopped in our little bus and headed toward the Old City. 

Ben and I were hoping we would stop at the Mount of Olives -- we thought the tour description included a stop there -- but as we drove by it in a traffic jam of tour busses and cars, with a quick description from our guide, we realized that was not going to be one of our destinations that day.  We made a mental note to add that our agenda for another day of the week - since it was a spot we did NOT want to miss - and moved along...

Mount of Olives

As we drove around the city walls, we got a peek at a few of the seven famous city gates.  While we didn't get to see them all, I did snag pictures of several throughout the week.

Here's a view of the Dung Gate, which is the closest gate to the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter.

Dung Gate

Speaking of the "Quarters", here's a map of the Old City so you can get a bird's eye view of where we were and how we navigated through the streets. 

The Old city is divided in to four quarters - Armenian, Jewish, Muslim & Christian -- and that's the order in which we toured them during our walking tour of the city that morning.  It's pretty small, but we were walking FAST.  I'd recommend at least 2 days to really explore the entire area if you have the opportunity.

Map of Jerusalem Old City

We entered the Old City from Jaffa Gate in the Armenian Quarter.

Jaffa Gate

I should mention that EVERYTHING in Jerusalem is required to be built out of what they call "Jerusalem Stone" - in both the old *and* new parts of the city. It's made from the natural materials that are abundantly available, which gives the entire city a cohesive, though monotone, look.   What's amazing is that these walls in the Old City are not just old, they are ancient, dating back as far as the second temple built by King Herod in the 1st Century BCE - nearly 2,000 years ago.  Evidently, Jerusalem Stone is durable. :)  So you'll see a LOT of it in our photos.

Jaffa Gate

Jaffa Gate

Jaffa Gate

Armenian Quarter

We walked quickly through the Armenian Quarter, which had high walls and narrow streets and was fairly quiet. 

In the Armenian Quarter, we walked by (but did not visit) the Tower of David Museum.

Tower of David

Jewish Quarter

From the Armenian Quarter, we quickly entered the Jewish Quarter, where we could see a lot of newer construction where the Jews have had to rebuild after it was destroyed while under Jordanian rule from 1948 to 1968.

But even with the newer buildings up above, we could see that the history of the area remained.  Just below the new Cardo you could see the archaelogical digs revealing ancient streets, columns and corridors.

Jewish Quarter Cardo

As our guide continued to point out, in Israel, you only have to look down to peek into the past:

Jewish Quarter Cardo

Around the corner from the Cardo, we saw the courtyard of the new Jewish Synagogue, where, since it was a Monday, there was a Bar Mitzvah party taking place.

Jewish Quarter Synagogue Bar Mitzvah

Walking from each section of the Old City to the next is kind of like traveling from one country to another in a matter of minutes. We moved from the Christian Armenian area full of churches and crosses, right into the Jewish Quarter of Bar Mitzvah's, menorahs, and torahs!

Western Wall

Which brought us to the highlight of the day (in my opinion), which was visiting the famous Western "Wailing" Wall (aka the "Kotel" in Hebrew).

But first...a security check point - metal detectors, bags checked, etc.  Then we could walk into the Western Wall courtyard and see all the commotion for a typical Monday morning.

The Western Wall

The Western Wall

The Western Wall

The mens side of the wall was filled with groups of men participating in Bar Mitzvah celebrations, singing, chanting, praying and marching, not to mention tourists like us taking their turn getting and up-close look at the famous wall.

The Western Wall - Bar Mitzvah

On the women's side, chairs were pulled up to the diving wall so that female family members could watch their sons' and grandsons' Bar Mitzvahs up close.  They were clapping, cheering, throwing candy and having big old celebrations!

The Western Wall - Bar Mitzvahs

Still, as you walked closer to the wall itself, you could find people focused firmly on their prayers and meditations, often touching the wall or standing with thier noses nearly touching it.

Praying at the Western Wall

Both men and married women are required to cover their heads and dress modestly and appropriately at the Wall.

Praying at the Western Wall

People from all over the world come here with notes of prayers to stick between the cracks of the stones.  Interestingly, we learned that those notes are collected on a regular basis, but are not thrown away or burned.  Instead, twice a year, Rabbi Rabinovitch, the rabbi of the Western Wall, and his assistants collect the notes left in the Wall and bury them in the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. {note}

Notes in the Western Wall

Notes in the Western Wall

Praying at the Western Wall

Along both the men and women's side, you could find bookshelves full of prayer books. 

There were also fountains and sinks at the entrance where the Jews will do a ceremonial rinsing of their hands before they pray.

Jewish Hand Cleaning Ritual

I consider this spot one of the wonders of the world and am glad to say I've visited and experienced it.

Western Wall

The Western Wall Stones

Muslim Quarter

From the Western Wall, we headed into the Muslim Quarter to walk through what is called the "Souq", which is a VERY crowded marketplace along a long narrow and stepped street.

Narrow doesn't stop traffic in there though...we all had to scoot ourselves into the entries of the shops along the way to allow this truck to pass by right in front of our toes.

We moved so quickly through this area, trying to keep up with our guide, that I barely saw what was inside the crowded shops on both sides of us.  This picture *SO* accurately shows how our Muslim Quarter Souq experience went...I really wish we could have headed back there one day to explore a little more, but time just didn't allow.

Christian Quarter & Via Dolorosa

Just as quickly as we had entered it, we emerged from the Sooq and were suddenly in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, where there was a little more breathing room, and a whole different set of "goods" in ther shops.

The Christian Quarter is also home to the famous Via Dolorosa, which means the "Way of Suffering", where there are 14 Stations of the Cross memorializing Jesus's walk toward his crucifixion.

Station 1: Jesus is condemned to death

Station 2: Jesus carries his cross

Station 3: Jesus falls the first time

Via Dolorosa - Stations of the Cross

Station 4: Jesus meets his mother

Via Dolorosa - Stations of the Cross

Station 5: Simon or Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry the cross

Via Dolorosa - Stations of the Cross

Station 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

Via Dolorosa - Stations of the Cross

Station 7: Jesus falls the second time

Via Dolorosa - Stations of the Cross

Station 8: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

Station 9: Jesus falls the third time

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

While following the stations, and thinking about the walk Jesus made, we arrived at a VERY crowded entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is a giant church built at Golgatha, the site of the Crucifixion.  Interesting fact about the church -- it is shared by several different denominations of churches, though none of them Protestant.

It was a rather jarring experience to go from that spiritual train of thought to seeing this large group of modern Israeli soldiers outside the church doors.  Israeli soldiers are a very normal sight in nearly every place you turn in Israel.

Israeli Soldiers

We went inside the church to see the final five Stations of the Cross -- along with the rest of the world.  Holy crowd of tourists!

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Station 10: Jesus' clothes are taken away

Station 11: Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Station 12: Jesus dies on the cross

Station 13: Jesus is taken down from the cross (Deposition or Lamentation)

Station 14: Jesus is laid in the tomb

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

While the crowds made this spot difficult to truly appreciate in a meditative and spiritual sense (at least while we were standing there), it is a very pretty church and regardless of how accurate the actual locations for each event are, it is a very meaningful way to recount and study Jesus' last day. 

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

As we left the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we headed to a little corner restaurant to get some much-needed lunch (yes, that's right...we did all that before lunch!) before getting back on the bus and heading toward Bethlehem in the afternoon.

 


Israel Trip Wrap-Up:

  1. Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
  2. Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
  3. Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
  4. Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
  5. Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
  6. Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
  7. Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
  8. Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
  9. Israel Trip: City of David
  10. Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
  11. Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
  12. Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
  13. Israel Trip: The Food
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