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Updates from Israel (2011)

Day 1- Arriving in Tel Aviv 

First evening- Hallie Rombach

After a little bit of drama at the airport and a long flight we finally made it to Tel Aviv!  I was worried it would be really hot, but it was perfect weather.  After checking into our hotel, we ate dinner and were taken on a tour by one of Chaya's good friends.  We went to an up and coming shopping area that all the hip people in Tel Aviv go.  

Some of the most memorable things about our first day were seeing Israel for the first time, and seeing the city come to life at night.  We witnessed an Orthodox date, met an Ethiopian Jew, and ate amazing food.  It was a great first impression of Israel.

Day 2- Tel Aviv, Caesarea, Haifa, Akko-Western Galilee College , Tiberius

First day in Israel- Deanna Platt

May 25, 2011- We left our hotel in Tel Aviv early in the morning, after meeting our tour guide for the first time. Driving to the coast of Jaffa, our guide joked that though his stories might put us to sleep, but his driving would make us pray. As we drove, our guide talked to us about how Jaffa was mentioned in the Old Testament as the harbor Jonah sailed from before he was swallowed by a giant fish. Jaffa was also mentioned in the New Testament as the place where God told Peter that pigs were no longer unclean for him. Peter went on to decide that gentiles could join the Jewish faith without converting to Judaism. These two events marked the point where Christianity stopped being a sect of Judaism and became its own religion. 

After finishing our tour of Jaffa we traveled to the former port city of Caesarea. Caesarea was built by King Herod to prove himself to the Roman Empire as a powerful Roman king. The ruins were in beautiful shape and it was amazing being able to simply walk through a city built two thousand years ago. Caesarea had a long and violent history after the fall of the Roman Empire. It became a Byzantine Christian city and later a Crusader fortress. Our guide told us that sometimes in Caesarea people will find ancient artifacts in their yard and will have to open viewing of that artifact to the public, even though it's on their private property. After watching a short film on the city's history, we took a ride to Haifa where we ate our first Israeli falafel and briefly visited the Baha'i Gardens.

The last stop on our journey before going to our hotel in Tiberius was the city of Akko. Akko is a mixed Jewish and Arab community which holds a magnificent stone citadel from the time of the Crusades. Before leaving Akko we visited the Western Galilee College where we heard from Dr. Devorah Eden bout the educational system in Israel  and had  a discussion with Dr. Boaz Cohen about living with the big weight  of historic burden attached to the different sites in Israel.

IMAGE: Tel Aviv shore

A view of the Tel Aviv shore

IMAGE: Falafel

Students Jeff Hilvers and Hallie Rombach enjoying their first falafel in Israel.

IMAGE: Visit Western Galilee College

Group with Dr. Boaz Cohen of the Western Galilee College in Akko

IMAGE: Baha'i Gardens in Haifa

The Baha'i Gardens in Haifa

Day 3- 2000 year old boat at Kibbutz Genosar Mount of Beatitudes, Nazareth, Har Megiddo (Armaggedon)

IMAGE: view of the Sea of Galilee from Mount of Beatitudes

View of the Sea of Galilee from Mount of Beatitudes

IMAGE: 2000 year old boat

2000 year old boat discovered in the Sea of Galilee

IMAGE: Tiberius sun rise

The sun rise in Tiberius from our hotel

IMAGE: 1st century fishing boat

Group photo in front of the ancient first century fishing boat

Day 4- Tel-Dan, Banias, Safed

Israel Journal Entry- Jeff Hilvers

May 27th, 2011-  Our fourth day in Israel, and it has been everything I could of hoped for. Our day today started with a trip to the beautiful city of Safad. We then visited the ancient city of Dan along with its powerful spring that feeds into the river Jordan. But where we went for lunch was probably the most amazing thing that I have ever experienced in my entire life. When we originally got our itinerary and it said we would be having lunch at a Druze village. I expected something small, where we would eat in some kind of common house, or dining hall with a group of people. However, when we got there we were greeted outside by a very welcoming woman. Even though we did not speak the same language I could tell she was incredibly happy that we were there. We walked into a building that I soon realized, was not a building but this woman's home. I was floored, I had no idea what to think, this woman who has never met us, cannot speak our language, has invited us into her home for lunch? What followed is probably something that I will never forget, a delicious home cooked meal, in which afterwards, we sat and talked about this very unique religion of the Druze. As we sat and talked over tea and coffee, I could quickly tell that this woman loved her family, entertaining people, and her religion. Most people in the world have probably never even heard of the Druze religion, I know that I never had. But this day made me realize that the world is not as small as we think it is. This woman was so happy to have us in her home, how awesome would it be, if the rest of us could strive to be as great of a person as she is? How many people do you know are willing to take people into their home regardless of race, religion, or any kind of background, then on top of that, sit and tell you about their faith.  I know that what I saw today I will never forget, and the lesson I learned I will carry with me forever. No matter who we are, we can all be a little more open to who is around us, because what you find, may surprise you.

IMAGE: Fauzia With the Druze flag

Fauzia with the Druze flag

IMAGE: Stained Glass door in Safed

Stained glass door in Safed

IMAGE: lunch at the Druze village

Lunch at the Druze village

IMAGE: Tel-Dan

Entry to Tel-Dan

IMAGE: Banias

Waterfall at Banias

Day 5- Quomran, the Dead Sea

Quomran and the Dead Sea- Kate Shires

After breakfast on day 5, we all loaded into the car and went to a portion of the Jordan River where you can be baptized. It was really cool, especially when a member of our group, Jeff, decided to be baptized as a rededication to his faith. There was a minister who had a large group, and Jeff joined their group. My favorite part of his almost-sermon was when he said that the water in the Jordan River wasn't magical, it was just a place. And the water wasn't special; it would return to the water cycle and probably end up in a different place. I don't know why but that meant a lot to me. Then Jeff got baptized with the group.               

Later in the day we went to the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. It was also where a group lived that believed that Jerusalem had been corrupted and the only way they could maintain faith was to leave. So we learned a bit about how they lived and why they hid the scrolls in the cave and how they were eventually found. Then, since we were near the Dead Sea we went to the beach and swam in it. It was very fun. In the Dead Sea everything floats and you HAVE to swim on your back (otherwise the lifeguard yells at you because it's dangerous to swim on your stomach) so it was hard to stand up again once you were done swimming. Also we covered ourselves in the mud of the sea and let it dry then washed it off because it is supposed to have minerals in it that are good for the skin and the body. Then, exhausted, we headed to the kibbutz where we were staying (which was awesome).

IMAGE: The Quomran caves

The Quomran caves

IMAGE: Dead Sea

Dead Sea mud treatment (only for the brave!)

Day 6-  Masada, Church of the Masses, Garden of Gethsemane

May 29, 2011- Deanna Platt

We started our trek toward Jerusalem by visiting the ancient city of Masada. Masada was a mountain-top fort built by King Herod which was supplied with large amounts of water by multiple aqueducts and was the site of a historic battle between the Jews and the Romans. During the days of the Jewish revolts, a group of over 900 Jewish zealots took over the abandoned fortress as a base of military action and for protection against the Romans. The Romans attempted to lay siege to the city but couldn't outlast the Jews when it came to water and food due to the aqueducts and a large supply of various birds. The Jews would actually taunt the Romans each morning, pouring water over the top of the city walls to show them how useless their siege would be.

Realizing their tactics would never work, the Romans decided to instead build a ramp up to the mountain and set fire to the gates. The Jews rained arrows and stones down on the builders, but their efforts were useless and most of the workers were Jewish slaves. Knowing defeat was imminent, the zealots decided to kill themselves rather than become slaves to the Romans and lose their spiritual life. A lottery was devised and ten men were chosen to kill everyone else in the city, then one of the men was chosen to kill the other nine before killing himself. When the Romans entered the fortress they found hundreds of dead bodies and large displays of the food and water reserves the zealots still had, to make sure there was no question as to why they had died. Only two women and five children survived the mass suicide by hiding inside a cistern, and through them the story of Masada made its way to Josepheus who wrote it down. 

The story of Masada is one of my dad's favorites and I've seen several TV documentaries on it as well. I was expecting to drive up to a mountain, park the car in the dirt beneath it, and then climb to the top. I was NOT expecting there to be a large tourist center with a parking garage, food stand, and gift shop or a cable car to take people to the top. I hadn't expected to see many tourists because of the long climb in the extreme heat, but with the tourist center and cable car there was a very large number of people. Although it wasn't at all what I was expecting, it was still well worth the trip. 

Upon finally making it to Jerusalem we visited the Church of the Masses at the Garden of Gethsemane. The garden beside the church had olive trees dating back to the time of Jesus. We then made our way to our hotel and Chaya left us free to get dinner and do some shopping. Kate, Hallie, and I visited a little café where I had many Hebrew mishaps and Hallie and I ate the largest bagels and lox I have ever seen. I then lead them through a small part of the old city where Kate was accosted by a pushy shopkeeper and convinced to buy a couple pillow cases. Despite our various mishaps I was excited to finally be back in Jerusalem.

Day 8- Bethlehem, Church of Nativity, Tel Maresha

May 31, 2011- Deanna Platt

Today was by far the best day of the trip. It started when we visited Bethlehem to see the Church of the Nativity. We had a local tour guide who was extremely nice, and we were fortunate enough to get to skip the line to see the actual spot Jesus was born.

It was our next stop, however, that really made today the best day ever. We went to an archaeological site where we would get to part of the dig. It was so cool to actually be part of something like that and I loved digging in and sifting through the dirt for artifacts. Our group found pottery shards, bones, and charcoal that hadn’t been touched for over 2000 years. The stuff we were digging up was on Tel Maresha and dated back to the time of the Maccabees. Archaeologists had found a tablet here that contained the tax code that the Maccabees rejected, leading to the story of Chanukah. After our dig we were given the opportunity to crawl through a site that was still just a dark and narrow cave with little excavation work done so far. The site would eventually become another digging site, and crawling through it was awesome and very Indian Jonesish. I definitely want to come back to Tel Maresha someday and do another dig.

IMAGE: Hallie used to explain an archeological Tel
Hallie used to explain an archaeological Tel
IMAGE: Kate and Dea in the cave
Kate and Dea in the cave
IMAGE: Jeff found something he couldn't keep
Jeff found something he couldn't keep
IMAGE: Flo and Jeff archeologists
Flo and Jeff archaeologists

Day 9- Jerusalem

Jerusalem evening- Flo Cunningham

Stunning. Moving. Inspiring. "The Night Spectacular" at the Tower of David Museum is difficult to describe, but those adjectives are at least accurate.  And even if we had been permitted to take photos, they would not have captured the grandeur of the display. In just 45 minutes, 4000 years of the history of Jerusalem danced across the outer brick walls of the Citadel in constantly changing images -- beginning with King David playing music on the rooftop of the city, through the destruction of the first and second Temples, the various invasions and conquests of the city, up to modern times and the establishment of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The show told a compelling story using no words, just powerful colors, images and music. Check it out at

IMAGE: Supreme Court Jerusalem

Group at the entrance to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem

Day 10- Heading Home

IMAGE: with our guide and driver Menash

Group with our guide/driver Mensah, before the farewell dinner

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