Sunday, January 28, 2018

Lowest spot on earth and its scrolls

Today we headed south to Masada, the Dead Sea and Jericho. Admittedly, until this trip, I really did not have much knowledge of Masada.  Between 37 and 31 BC(E), King Herod established a fortress with a palace on this site.  In 66 AD (CE), a group of Jewish zealots overwhelmed the Romans at Masada by some secret manner and took over the fortress. Three years later, the Temple was destroyed and more rebels from Jerusalem joined the zealots so as to avoid being taken slaves...all in all there were 960 people at Masada.  The Jews held out at Masada until the Romans built an embankment wall to allow them access to the fortress.  Fearing capture and the most uncertainly painful existence as slaves to the Romans, the Jews entered into a murder/suicide pact.  When the Romans finally breached the walls, they found all the people dead.  To prove they did not die of starvation, the zealots burned everything except one food storage room that was full of food.

To reach the top of Masada, you take a cable car...or you can walk the Snake Path...we opted for the cable car.

If you go, dress in layers as the temps changes depending on where you are on the mountain.  Also, bring a water bottle to refill as there is no place to buy water once up on the mountain.

The views from the top were amazing!

Not a bad background...the Dead Sea and Jordan

A few pics from the site

Near the site of the synagogue at Masada, there is a small, climate controlled room where a scribe spends his days writing Jewish texts.  For a little donation, he will write your name in Hebrew.  I had him do a card for my sweet Andrea and Alexandra.

A short drive from Masada are the Qumran Caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947.  A young Bedouin, Muhammed Edh-Dhib, followed a goat into a cave where he found clay jars that contained the scrolls.  All in all, he found seven jars containing the scrolls.  Of course, he had no idea what they were but instead saw how the animal skin they were written on could be turned in to a pair of sandals.  Fortunately the shoemaker he took them to knew what he was looking at was something important and took them to an antiques dealer.  Over the decades, a total of 929 scrolls have been discovered so far.  Many of the scrolls are housed in the Israeli Museum in Jerusalem which we will see later in the trip.

One of the caves where the scrolls were found
The oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Biblical Scriptures are in the scrolls which based upon research date back to the second century BC(E).  They provide so much information about daily life in Qumran of the time as well as the different religious and political views during the Second Temple period.

Next stop...the Dead Sea.  At 1,300 feet below sea level, it is the lowest spot in the world.  Two nights ago there was a documentary on the BBC about the devastation the current drought is having on the Dead Sea region.  There are large sink holes causing roads and, in some cases, buildings to collapse.  There were large areas of barren land with evidence of the salt deposits from the water which once occupied the space.  As we were driving through the area, I saw many of the exact spots in the documentary.  

Three of the crazy kids in our group took a dip in the water.  Proper Dead Sea bathing procedure: slather clay, let dry a few minutes, lower yourself into the water and when you feel your feet rising, lay back and enjoy the experience.  Because of the high salt content (33% compared to 3% in the ocean), it is recommended you only stay in the water for 20 minutes.  Also, you have to be careful not to get any of the water in your eyes or injest the water.

On the more sane side,
I just put my feet in the water

This bar totally missed the opportunity
by not being open with our crowd!

After Betsy, Mark and Bernie cleaned up, we headed to Jericho to the Church of the Good Shepherd where we celebrated mass.  Jericho is inside the Palestinian controlled zone but as there was no place for us to leave our tour guide while we were there, she took off her ID and just blended in with us.  Nothing says welcome like this sign as we entered Jericho.

Church of the Good Shepherd

Mosque directly across from church. 
It was time for evening call to prayers as we were leaving mass.

Our final stop of the day was the base of the Mount of Temptations. This is where it is believed that when noted in Matthew and Luke, Jesus was tempted by the devil when he was in the desert.  Unfortunately, by the time we arrived it was too late to take the cable car to the top.  Of course, with any site, there was shopping...and for me some fresh squeeze pomegranate juice.  Honestly, it was the best juice I think I've ever had!  When I said it was so much better than the juice we get in the States, I was told "of course because these are Jericho pomegranates!"


Another fabulous day in Israel in the books.  Tomorrow is a free day and I'm looking forward to the time Mark and I will spend with Yoram just wandering the streets of Jerusalem.

Layla tov!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

In Jesus' Steps

Today was by far the most emotionally exhausting day of this Pilgrimage for me.  

We started the day in the Old City of Jerusalem at the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed a lame man who laid in the same spot by the pool for 38 years.

We then made our way to Via Dolorosa to begin praying the Stations of the Cross.  The 1st Station was prayed at Church of the Way.


In the same courtyard is the Chapel of Condemnation where we prayed the 2nd Station of the Cross.

These are stones at the 4th Station date back to the time of Jesus (100 BCE - 100 CE). In Israel, they use BCE for Before Common Era and CE for Common Era in place of the BC and AD used by Christians.  They were found 3 meters (~10 feet) below the current street level and were partially restored.  This gives us an idea of the surface He walked on and see how it would be easy to if the burden of the cross was not enough to make Him fall.

Surprisingly enough, only a handful of times during our time in Israel do I remember seeing the military.  They are clearly doing a good job behind the scenes as I felt very safe while there.

Along the Via Dolorosa, there are markings like this to signify the Station of the Cross. I noticed other pilgrims following the way of the cross alone.  For me, I am thankful Father West lead us along the way and in prayer at each station.

I did not take a lot of picture along the walk as it just felt inappropriate.  As I mentioned, it was a pretty emotional day...much more than I was expecting.  The last couple years have been some pretty challenging years for me and my family and I've begun to rely more and more on my faith more so than I ever have in the past.  This pilgrimage came at the right time for me and my journey.

As we walked the uneven steps in the crowded streets, I would find myself weary and irritated by all the people (much of the current walk goes through a Muslim market as the Via Dolorosa is in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City).  It would make me think about what Jesus must have endured that day for us.  Until today, I could really never image what the path He took must have looked like from a physical standpoint...would never even attempt to image the emotions he was feeling that day.  We had it easy as we were not carrying a giant cross, beaten, bleeding, weary, hungry, perhaps scared and uncertain, people spitting and throwing things and all the other things Jesus endured that day.  Today really put a lot of things in perspective for me.

Last Fall I participated in an Alpha program at church and one of the questions asked in our small group was "if Jesus walked in the door right now, what would you say to him?".  I vividly remember my response was "We have really messed this place up after all You did for us, haven't we?".  Walking the path today I realize how appropriate my answer was.  As if giving His life for us wasn't enough, the manner in which He did so must have been so completely agonizing.

The last 5 Stations of the Cross are actually inside The Church of they Holy Sepulchre. The church is actually built upon Mount Calvary...again something until this trip I never knew (or at least I don't think I did).  When you walk into the church, you turn to the right and literally start climbing up Calvary.  Very steep steps were cut into the stone so you are able to get to the top of the Mount.  During our wait to get to the alter, we prayed the 9th through 13th Stations of the Cross. 


As you approach the alter, you get single file and then upon arriving at the alter, you knee and crawl under the alter.  There is a small hole (large enough for a hand to enter) and when place your hand inside, you touch the spot where the cross where Jesus died stood.  There really aren't words to describe the feeling.

At the bottom of the steps leaving Calvary, is the Washing Stone.  This is where Jesus lay as He was prepared for burial. In accordance with Jewish tradition, His body was washed with water, anointed with oil and then perfume was applied to His body before being wrapped in the shroud and placed in the top.  There were so many people around the Washing Stone, it was hard to get a photo.

We concluded by praying the 14th Station of the Cross just feet from Jesus' tomb.

On one side of Jesus' tomb, there is a little opening.  Now I can't remember the full story for the use of the opening but the gist is this.  One day a priest went into the tomb with an unlit candle and upon entering, the Holy Spirit lit the candle.  To release the smoke, the small opening was added.  Over time, the opening became a place for pilgrims to gather annually as the act would be repeated.  Once the Holy Spirit lit the candle, the light would be passed through the opening to the faithful standing with bundles of candles.  Each bundle of candles consisted of 33 candles for the 33 years Jesus walked the earth.  The light from the one candle would light the bundles and the pilgrims would take the candles back to loved ones.

By now, it was time for lunch and I think we all needed a little levity in our day.  Tamar, our guide, took us to a restaurant in the Muslim Quarter where we had Falafel and Shwarma...yum!

After lunch, we made our way over to Mount of Olives to the Chapel of the Ascension. There is a mosque on top of Mount of Olives and it as well as the Chapel of the Ascension are owned by a Muslim family who also use the chapel as a mosque.  The Chapel of Ascension was built around the stone upon which Jesus stood as he ascended into Heaven.

From here, we made our way to the Church of the Pater Noster.  Lining the walls of the church is the Lord's Prayer in languages from all over the world.  There is the grotto where Jesus sat with His disciples and taught them the Lord's Prayer. "One day Jesus was praying in a certain place.  When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.'  he said to them, 'When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.  And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11)  It was pretty powerful standing there in a circle in the same place where Jesus taught His disciples to pray the Lord's Prayer as we stood there and prayed it as well.

Our next stop was just a little walk to the spot on Mount of Olives where Jesus could have stood as he wept for Jerusalem while looking at the Temple that he knew would soon be destroyed.  Today in place of the 2nd Temple stands the al-Aqsa Mosque.  This is the 3rd most holy place for Muslims (behind Mecca and Medina).

Directly below where we stood is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Israel.  As we were there on Shabbat, there were many families visiting today.  This is a highly coveted place to be buried and it cost as much as $40,000 for a spot.  In Jewish tradition, the body is placed feet facing east so that when the Messiah comes, they will be able to get up and follow him.

View of Mount of Olives

The Church of Dominus Flevit.  The dome is shaped like an upside down tear drop to serve as a reminder of the tears Jesus shed over the future fate of Jerusalem.

Of course no pilgrimage site would be complete without some commercialization.  There was a camel for hire and several folks took a ride, including Father West.  We are so fortunate to have him as our priest as he has a kind, gentle spirit and great sense of humor.

Our final stop of the day was Gethsemane Garden and the Church of the Agony where we celebrated mass. Gethsemane Garden is where the disciples waited (and slept) while Jesus was praying for His fate in the very near future.   The church was built around the stone believed to have been the stone where Jesus wept blood as he prayed to God about what was to come.  The stone is surrounded by crowns of the thorns.  Outside in the garden are beautiful olive trees ranging from one year old to over 2,000 years old.

Every night we all gather in the hotel bar (really you're not surprised a bunch of Catholics make their way to a bar, are you?) before heading to dinner.  Here's a few pics of my people:

What a day!  Until tomorrow, Layla Tov.