My trip to Israel was fantastic. I’m going to divide it in posts by the full day tours I took with Rent-a-Guide, the van service the Tel Aviv Renaissance and other major hotels use. They were superb, especially my Israeli guide for Jerusalem, Ofir Horn, and his Palestinian counterpart in Bethlehem.
We drove first toward Bethlehem, which is in West Bank territories, though things have been calm in this particular area for some time. The walls en route were disturbing, both for what they mean for the people of Israel and the Palestinians. At a shop on the border, we changed to another van and guide who took us to the Church of the Nativity. Since the Palestinian guide does not get paid by Israel’s Rent-a-Guide, our Israeli guide strongly urged us to give him a good tip if we were satisfied. We were!
The guide was amazing, a gentle older man who urged us all to tell our friends to visit Bethlehem – tourism, religious and otherwise, is its only source of income. He took us on an extended tour of the Church of the Nativity, explaining its history as well as the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth. From Bethlehem, you could see the mount called Herodium, where Herod the Great built a fortress on the conic volcanic mount.
At the end of about a two hour tour we were shuttled back to the shop, where we rejoined our Israeli guide, Ofir. We had to hand over our passports to an armed guard to get back into Israel, but never at any time did I feel in any danger.
After a delicious lunch at an old convent-turned-restaurant, Ofir led us on a several hour walking tour of Old Jerusalem. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and I will include pictures of Bethlehem and Jerusalem in this post and responses to it. After walking around the walls into the Old City, we went first to the Jewish quarter and the Wailing Wall, all that is left of the Temple after the Romans destroyed it in 69-70 AD. There are separate men’s and women’s sections, and when I touched the wall and put a note it a crevice, I felt what many have felt over the millennia. After that we walked through the Muslim sector of the city and the souq, or bazaar. Finally we came to the Via Dolorosa that led to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Ofir stopped at each station of the cross to describe the biblical accounts of what happened at each place, as well as the divisions within Christianity that affected the city in the early centuries. At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which now covers all that was outside in Jesus’ time, we saw the area where he was taken down from the cross, the general area of the cave in which his body was put, where Mary Magdalene met him on the third day, thinking he was the gardener and so forth. We then returned after several hours to the van and drove to Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives, from which I was able to take photos that clearly show the outline of the rectangle of what is left of the Temple as well as the Dome of the Rock. The first set of photos I attach here are of Bethlehem, as will be the first few in my response to my post.
I am still absorbing all of what I experienced that day in both Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and the people I met. Tomorrow, I’ll go on to my next tour.
The area where one woman is lighting candles and another is leaning down to enter is believed to be the area of the tomb in which Jesus was laid after the crucifixion.
It was a little bit disorienting to me (even though I knew the history) since I knew all this happened outside according to the NT. But the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built by the Emperor Constantine, the first to allow toleration of Christianity in the Roman Empire, probably at his mother Helena's behest. She traveled to the Holy Land and was there in 326 AD when the excavation and building began.
Another photo with lamps hanging over a slab is the area where Jesus is believed to have been taken down from the cross.