Sunday, August 10, 2008

the promised land

We're alive! We visited volatile and historic Israel--probably the most controversial piece of real estate in the world--and lived to tell about it. Let's just say, it's incredible.

Most people travel halfway around the world and spend weeks in the Promised Land (no doubt there is much to experience); we're already in the neighborhood, plus we felt ambitious and had saving money on our minds, so we did it in three days and four nights. Accomplishing all that we set out to do was easier said than done, requiring not a wasted waking moment and miles upon miles of walking in our sandals (we mostly traveled first century style). On our first full day, we conquered the Old City of Jerusalem, one square kilometer of concentrated historic and spiritual sites. Instead of explaining everything in detail, we'll let you look stuff up on Wikipedia, but highlights included the Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Western Wall / Temple Mount / Dome of the Rock, a tour of the underground tunnels, and watching the sunset from the Mount of Olives. For orientation, just at the tip of Wanida's silly right foot in the photo above is the famous Dome of the Rock. Truth be told, no one claims certainty when it comes to the exact locations of the majority of the Christian places of interest, but for sure Jerusalem has been the stage for so many significant events, so treading on "holy ground" and using one's imagination proves to be quite meaningful.

Day two began with about four hours at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Remembrance Memorial. The Jewish State has done a truly impressive job putting together one of the most moving and carefully crafted museums in the world. We learned a lot and were heartbroken a lot. In the afternoon, we boarded a bus for Tel Aviv and, after rush hour traffic, our eyes feasted once again on the oasis of the Mediterranean. We didn't bring our swimmies (mistake--the water was inviting), but we caught another sunset as we reclined in a pair of beach chairs.

We knew we were in for an adventure on our third and final full day as we took advantage of the reliable Israeli bus system again. Our destination was about two and a half hours north next to the Sea of Galilee. Mount Arbel, one half of a mountain split into two after an earthquake, came highly recommended as a day trip by both an old friend of Wanida's and our Jerusalem host. To summarize, the day was scorching hot and the summit was a chore to reach, but the achievement resulted in spectacular views of the entire Lower Galilee region and a fun climb down. Our circuit from the bus stop, up to the top, then to the town of Tiberias consisted of about five miles worth of walking in and out of the National Park and even three hitchhiking legs. We know, we know, don't try this at home. We cooled our bodies and replenished our spirits with a short dip in the Sea of Galilee before dinner. Unlike Jesus, we did not walk on it, we sank.

The Israel landscape is a beautiful one. Much of what we saw reminded us of parts of good old California. The people are a little more difficult to deal with. In spite of the approximately six billion dollars in aid that the US supplies to Israel each and every year, the citizens weren't as happy to see us as we thought they would be. In other words, no one had a problem cutting in front of us in line, or ramming their shoulders into ours as our paths crossed on the sidewalk, or making a scrunched and disapproving face instead of giving us directions. Perhaps it's fair to say that Israelis are hardheaded and aggressive people. We're not surprised, then, that they're willing to endure oppression and propagate conflict in their struggle for survival. It's worthy of mentioning that, in as much as we experienced it, the tension is in the air in Israel--religious and political. Especially in Jerusalem, the presence of Christianity and the promise of peace are overshadowed by Islam, Judaism, and the present day politics of borders and the right to exist.

One more story: Israel imposes mandatory military service on everyone once they turn eighteen. As a result, teenage soldiers with big guns slung over their shoulders are everywhere; our bus from Tiberias back to Jerusalem was no exception. One such soldier fell asleep in the row behind us, I fell asleep in my aisle seat, and Wanida fell asleep on my shoulder with her head in front of the gap between the seats. We were all awoken when she screamed, "Ouch", and started rubbing the back of her head. Military man's gun had slipped from its oh so safe leaning position, fallen through the crack in the seats, and the end of the barrel had whacked Wanida on her noggen. Does that not sound scary and dangerous?! It's just another example of the fact that, around Israel, war is always on your mind. Get it?


kristy said...

kids with big guns was one of the most startling things i encountered while in israel... especially when a bunch of them of them were on our tour of the holocaust museum.

but i'm glad you survived a bump on the thinker and all that walking!

Stuarts said...

I have been anxiously awaiting your news from Israel. I'm glad it was an exciting and interesting journey for you - and I'm glad your safe. Enjoy your last few weeks!

Miriam Maneevone said...

What an amazing experience all compressed into a few short memorable days! Yikes! Glad it was just the barrel that thumped you and not what was in it. Scarry! I celebrate your journey to the promise land and back. Now you have a fresh perspective of the scriptures and current events -tension of the times. Thanks for sharing. Love you- Mom

Melissa said...

Your blog was not enough... I need more:) So glad your 4 day trip was jam packed full of stories and amazement. I can't even imagine what it must be like to watch the sunset from that mtn... or what it must be like to get whacked with a gun int he back of the head-gives a good snap shot of what it must be like there. Thank you as always for sharing. More please:)