Saturday, June 21, 2014

Dancing in Jerusalem

          There are few places on earth that can bring about a variety of emotions at the same time, excitement and tension, as well as joy and uneasiness. Jerusalem is one of those places. The contrast between the Galilee and Jerusalem is comparable to the tranquility of Hawaiian beaches and the tumultuousness of New York City. However, Jerusalem is one of the most desirable destinations in the world, with over 2.5 million visitors a year.

It is high and magnificent; the whole earth rejoices to see it! Mount Zion, the holy mountain, is the city of the great King! Psalm 48:2    (Photo courtesy of                         

            We eagerly looked forward to being here. Our group even adopted a song, produced in Jerusalem, that we have been singing leading up to our arrival.

            Although, our Israeli guide tried to dissuade us from going on the Temple Mount, because of the tension, we wanted to at least attempt to go up, knowing that we might not be allowed or it might only be a short visit. Our group was up early and we arrived in line for the security check at 6:45 am.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Would You Hike This Mountain?

           My birthday in Israel started out great. We spent the night before in a gorgeous resort by the Dead Sea.  
View from our hotel looking at the Dead Sea and across to Jordan.

We woke up early, in order to get to the mountain fortress of Masada by 8:00 am. There is a tram that takes two-minutes to get to the top.
Masada in the middle of the desert.
Snake trail up Masada - Who in their right mind wants to hike this?
From our group, 16 brave souls decided to hike the winding snake path to the top, instead. I had hiked before, and was looking forward to hiking up with my fourteen year old sons.
One of them ran ahead, and the other one turned back from the heat. So much for family time. After a quick group photo at the bottom of the trail, our group took off a few minutes after 8:00.
Someone from out of town called our group from New Mexico, 'a hearty people.'

Monday, June 16, 2014

What is the Food Like in Israel?

            One of the most frequently asked questions we get when talking about going to Israel is “What is the food like?”  I’m glad you asked.
            The short answer is, “Awesome!”  The more complete answer is: the food is fresh, simple, Mediterranean cuisine. When staying at the larger hotels, with our tour group, the cost of the tour includes breakfast and dinner each day at the hotel. These hotels provide large breakfast and dinner buffets that have something for everyone.
            Each buffet is filled with fresh fruit and vegetables. Israel grows most of its own produce, resulting in a richer taste, like it was just plucked from a backyard garden. Every meal includes a Mediterranean salad bar, complete with the best humus, several types of olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, cabbage, eggplant, salad dressings, and my favorite, tahini sauce, which is made from sesame seeds.
There is a fresh salad bar at every meal.

            The hotels we stayed at were kosher, so breakfast was the dairy meal, and did not have any meat, except fish. Dinner was the meat meal, so it did not have any dairy items. 

 Our Last Supper in Israel was served family style.

            For lunch, since we were driving the country touring, we stopped and ate, or tried to eat, a light meal. Eating light, proved harder than we thought, as everything tasted so good, and most of us wanted to try everything. The lunch options typically included falafel, which is the Israeli national sandwich, comparable to the American hamburger. Falafel is a vegetarian meal, made of ground garbanzo beans, with added seasonings, rolled into balls and deep-fried. The falafel balls, usually three or four, are placed in freshly made pita bread, cut in half. We would take this to the salad bar, and add the veggies we liked, and I topped mine off with plenty of tahini sauce, which is similar to our Ranch dressing in the states. Yum – my! 
Falafel balls in a pita = Israeli sandwich.

            Schawarma was another lunch option. It was marinated meat, usually chicken, and cut into small pieces. This was placed in a soft flatbread, with roasted veggies and tahini or some other Mediterranean sauce, and wrapped almost like a burrito. This was the meat lover’s choice.
Chicken shawarma = meat lover's lunch.

            My 14-year-old boys lunch choice was usually the schnitzel, which was a flattened chicken breast, breaded and deep-fried. It was tastier than chicken tenders from home, but I think the boys thought they were eating a large chicken nugget. Sometimes the schnitzel would be placed inside a pita, making it a schnitzel sandwich, to which my boys would pull theirs out and eat the schnitzel and the pita separately, like chicken and bread. Either way, everyone was happy.
Schnitzel = breaded chicken patty.

            Breakfast included: several flavors of yogurt, cottage cheese, and other cheeses, fruit, veggies, olives, bagels, challah, cereal, granola, boiled and scrambled eggs, quiches, and fish such as herring, smoked salmon and mackerel. Sometimes there were made to order omelets, and made to order waffles with honey, from a honeycomb.
Breakfast buffet at the hotel.

            Dinner included several different meat options, usually beef, chicken, and fish, and also a vegetarian option, like eggplant. There were potatoes and rice, a salad bar, and soups. There were several breads along with my new favorite: small, oval focaccia bread, with an olive, tomato or garlic spread in the center. Topped with hummus, and I didn’t need anything else to eat. Mmmmm.
I was too busy eating the foccacia bread to take an actual picture, but it was similar to this one.

Imagine this bread with chopped olives and herbs, brushed with olive oil in the center.

            The dessert buffet table is nothing less than heavenly. Different flavors and arrangements of mousse, fruit cobblers, pastries, chocolate, and the most amazing, melt-in-your-mouth, chocolate cake with warm fudge sauce on top kept us filling our plates.
One of my boys called this the 'greatest dessert bar in the world.'

            You need not worry about being well fed while in Israel. Even with walking up to eight miles on some days, the amount of tantalizing food, kept me from losing any weight. The food was delicious and plentiful, and we enjoyed every bite.

I think it was only a tourist thing, but we did have the St. Peter's fish with or without the head still attached.
To read more about our 2014 tour of Israel, click here.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Virtual Israel Tour 2014 - The Dead Sea

          Vince and I are so happy to be in Israel again, we can hardly stand it. We love being here and we love bringing others here. There is so much to do and see, we can’t possibly see everything in ten days. Today, we visited one of my favorite sites. The biblical mention of it is small, but the ruins and the visual it provides are magnificent. We traveled south from the Sea of Galilee to the ancient ruins of a gigantic city called Bet She’ an. The Biblical reference is in 1 Samuel 31. The Philistines conquered the Israelites in a battle and killed King Saul and his sons. They hung their bodies on the walls of Bet She’an. Years later, the Romans conquered Bet She’an and rebuilt it into one of the ten cities of the Decapolis, called Scythopolis.
Straight ahead is the Tel of the city of Bet She'an. In the foreground it the rebuilt Decapolis city of Scythopolis,  destroyed by an earthquake in 700AD.

A Roman theater in the ancient city of Bet 'She'an.

            Archeologists uncovered almost the entire city! It was a wealthy, thriving city and became the leading city of the Decapolis. Walking down the white stone cardo, with its giant columns, we imagined a bustling marketplace with shops and vendors. There were fountains, a huge theater, Roman baths with hot, warm and cold water, and steam rooms. There were houses and even a large indoor communal bathroom, with running water. It is an impressive city to walk through, even in its ruined state. As always, we ended our time at this site with some ice cream before getting back on the bus.
Our boys loved exploring the ancient ruins at Bet She'an.

With our friends, Karen and Leroy on the cardo of Bet She'an, later called Scythopolis.

            We traveled farther south, on our way to the Dead Sea. We stopped at Qumran, where a Bedouin shepherd boy, discovered the Dead Sea scrolls in a cave here in 1947. The Dead Sea scrolls were rolled parchments onto which a group of religious Jews, called the Essenes, meticulously copied all of the Old Testament, except the book of Esther. These are the oldest Old Testament manuscripts ever found, dating back 1000 years earlier than any previous manuscript, around 200 B.C. People say all the time, that the Bible has been rewritten and handed down and retranslated so many times that it is not the same as it was originally written. The Dead Sea Scrolls proved all that to be wrong. Those scrolls match up with our current translations of the Bible 99.9 percent. Only a few of the tenses are different. 
A cave in the Judean desert, one of eleven, that held the Dead Sea scrolls.

             The farther south we traveled the more excited we became. The next stop was at a beach on the shore of the Dead Sea. The group loved getting in the thick, salty water and floating. We took pictures and tried to explain the unusual feeling of being lifted up in the water, as if we were floating without gravity. Of course, we had to do what is traditional here, apply the dense, black Dead Sea mud all over our bodies as a skin treatment, or just for fun! After rinsing off again in the Dead Sea, our skin was noticeably softer. We loved it!  Then, we went and sat in a hot sulfur pool. This was equivalent to a hot tub at home. The water must have been 95 degrees. After that, some of us took a quick plunge, in what seemed like ice water, to help seal whatever nutrients our skin took in. No trip to Israel is complete without floating in the Dead Sea.
Family float in the Dead Sea.

Natural beauty treatments with Dead Sea mud. We all looked ten years younger afterwards!
            After this, we traveled south for a few more miles to a hotel that we had never stayed in before. It was a resort, in an oasis, in the middle of the desert. We didn’t stay here long, just overnight, but it was a beautiful, plush vacation spot. We all wished we were spending more time there.
            Israel is an amazing country. Not only is it the apple of God’s eye, and His chosen country, it is hugely diverse in culture, religion and in topography. In the north, it was lush, green and mountainous. In the south, it is dry, desert and hot. But, even in the desert we marveled at the immenseness of our Lord, who created this place.
          If I can get it to load, here is a short video clip of the view from our room by the Dead Sea.
                Can you see the tiny American icon in the center? Yes, my boys had to eat there!

If you missed yesterday's tour,  click here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Israel Virtual Tour 2014 - Day 4 - The Golan Heights

            Today we drove to the northern most tip of Israel. We visited a nature preserve called Tel Dan. This is where the Northern tribes of Israel built an imitation temple, so they would not have to travel to Jerusalem to worship. We took a beautiful hike through tall trees, forests and streams to get to the site of the unearthed alter, part of the imitation temple. There was a spring of water flowing that was part of the start of the water that flows into the Jordan River.
Walking through Tel Dan Nature Preserve. Beautiful!

The imitation alter, part of a temple, found in northern Israel, in Dan.

            Close by Tel Dan, we came to an area called Banias. We walked to a cut out cave in the side of the mountain. This was where the Israelites, who were not following the Lord, would worship the half goat half man pagan god, Pan. They would sacrifice babies to this pagan god until the river flowed red with blood. It was a powerful lesson on spiritual warfare. There were niches cut in the side of the mountain where they would place statues of the idols they worshiped. I couldn’t help but think, what modern day idols could be placed there? 

Pagan worship to the god Pan. Can you see the 3 niches cut out on the right? Idols were placed there.

       Jesus referred to this place as “the gates of hades/hell”. He took his disciples here and asked them, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus told him, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
            Next we drove to the largest of the crusader castles, set high on a mountaintop, close to Mount Hermon, the highest mountain in the country and the only one that gets snow. Nimrod’s castle, built by the crusaders in the 13th century, is huge, 420 meters by 150 meters, and well preserved. 
Largest crusader castle, Nimrod's fortress.

On the top of the Golan Heights at Nimrod's castle, view looking west.
           Driving back down the steep mountain, our Israeli guide, Yoni, gave us details on the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur war in modern Israel. We were all mesmerized as he told some unbelievable details and how, as he put it, “the God factor” could not be missed. It confirmed again how the Lord has His hand on Israel and protects her. Israel is such a small country compared to her enemies, that without the Lord’s protection, the state of Israel would not exist. We drove to the Golan Heights and looked over into Syria. Along the way we stopped at some abandoned tanks, and more evidence of the strong need for aggressive security here.
My boys on an abandoned tank from the Yom Kippur war.

            We had lunch in a Druze village in northern Israel. It was described as “Israeli fast food”. We were told it had the best falafels in Israel, and they were the best we have eaten so far. They also had something we had never had before called labne. A –ma –zing! Is all I can say to describe it. It was a large, thin tortilla like pita flatbread, spread on top with fresh yogurt cheese, olive oil and herbs. Then it was wrapped and folded and heated on a grill. Someone described it as an Israeli grilled cheese. Yummy! It tasted like an exotic crepe with crème cheese.
At a Druze village in the Golan Heights eating labne, cheese filled pita, yummy middle eastern goodness!

                       Israeli 'fast food' lunch: salad bar at every restaurant. Falafel in the bowls at the top. Labne on the grill at the end of the salad bar.

            On the drive back to the Galilee area, we stopped at our friend Rami and Gabi’s house. ( She is an artist and they have a gallery with art made by Messianic Jews living in the area. They had coffee and drinks for us as we sat on their large patio, overlooking an incredible view of the Sea of Galilee, as she played her harp and sang for us. The harp has such a calming affect on people. She plays for groups and sometimes for Holocaust survivors. It was a special way to end our day, and our time in the Galilee area. 
Gabi playing the harp, on her porch overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

With our friend, Rami.

            We have enjoyed our time in this area immensely. Vince and I are torn between wishing we could spend more time here because it is so beautiful, and wanting to go to the next place because there is so much more to see and do here.
Our last dinner at this beautiful location by the Sea of Galilee.

If you missed the previous days, click here for Day 1, or Day 2, or Day 3.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Israel Virtual Tour 2014 - The Day of Rest

            Saturday in Israel is called ‘Shabbat’ in Hebrew.  When in Israel, we do as the Israeli's do, so our group enjoyed a day of rest. We could not have chosen a more beautiful place to have a rest day than on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Some of us went kayaking in the lake. Some of us relaxed in the shade and the sand. The weather was perfect, sunny, but not too hot. The water was blue green and refreshing.

Nobody was able to walk on water, so they decided to kayak instead.

Kayaking on the Sea of Galilee. Tiberius in the background.

Deborah and Mark kayaking in the Sea of Galilee.

What better place to spend our day of rest than on the beach by the Sea of Galilee.

            In the early afternoon, we took a five-minute drive to where the Sea of Galilee empties into the Jordan River. Many of our group decided to be baptized at the traditional spot where it is believed John baptized Jesus.  As is custom here, they wore white robes going into the water.  Don't they look angelic?  Each person introduced themselves and said why they were getting baptized. For some it was the first time and for others it was a rededication. We laughed when an older Israeli man wanted to take a group picture, so with a heavy Hebrew accent, he said
“Have all the Goliaths move to the back row, and have all the Zacheuses move to the front.”
A little Biblical humor.  
Beautiful friends getting Baptized in the Jordan River.

            It is always moving hearing why people are dedicating their life, for the first time, or again, to the Lord who loves them so much. There were several people who were not in our group, who joined us in the water to have Pastor Vince baptize them. We didn’t know why, but they got in our line and followed along telling us their name and why they were committing their life to the Lord as well. We clapped for them, just like we did for our friends. Later, one of the young women told Vince she was born in Ethiopia, but currently lived in Tennessee. She traveled alone to Israel, and it had been a lifelong dream of hers to be baptized in the Jordan River, like Jesus. She checked in and rented the robe, but the people in charge said she could not get in the water unless she had a pastor with her to do the baptizing. She was extremely grateful to join our friendly group and have her dream fulfilled. We were blessed to be able to hear everyone’s story and participate with them in this memorable event.

Date farm along the Jordan River.
            After this, we went to a date farm with an organic grocery store. We watched a short presentation on the history of the Jewish family who immigrated to Israel 100 years before and cultivated many different types of dates and other fruit on their property close to the Jordan River. I am not much for dates, but when they opened several different containers and passed them around for us to sample, they were heavenly. Who knew there were so many different types of dates, and that they could be so delicious?

This is the apple cider fruit infusion. Yummy!

Fruit infusions from the date farm.
            We returned to our hotel in paradise, ate dinner, and had a time of praise and worship out by the Sea of Galilee. We reflected on our day and shared what we were learning on the trip.  It was a perfect day, full of God’s goodness, and as they say here, His Shalom (peace).

Time of praise and worship by the Sea of Galilee! What an awesome God!
            Shalom to you reading this. I wish you His peace on your day of rest.
Blessings, Robyn

If you missed   Day 1 click here.   If you missed   Day 2 click here.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Israel 2014 - Virtual Tour Day 2

          This morning the sun was out and the sky was clear. We woke up in the lovely Holiday Village on the south shore of the Sea of Galilee. The rooms are more like duplexes or little cabins (or casitas for New Mexicans) at the beach. The lush green grass is filled with tall palm trees, bright colored flowers, a few friendly cats and three roaming peacocks. Some of our group heard the peacocks crowing (?) at 4:30 in the morning, so they were not as thrilled to see the peacocks wandering around, as the rest of us were.
Peacocks roaming the grounds of our Galilee hotel.

            We began the day driving to the first century ruins of Korazim, a town where Jesus performed many miracles. The ruins were built of black volcanic stones called basalt. There we found small houses, a wine press and a first century synagogue. The synagogue had a square stone pillar called the Moses Seat. This was where the Law of Moses was read. Vince taught that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who knows us by name, loves and protects us, and is willing to lay down His life for us.
The family at the first century village of Korazim.

Stone olive press.

Leroy offering wisdom from the Moses Seat.
Teaching about the Jewish prayer shawl in an ancient synagogue built with basalt rock.
            For our second stop, the bus ascended up a winding hill to the Mount of Beatitudes. The road was filled with round purple puffball flowers, that someone in the group affectionately called Dr Suess Lorax flowers. They were unusual and made an impressive welcoming path up the mountain. When we arrived we spread out on the beautiful garden grounds and spent time alone reading the Sermon on the Mount, at the very spot where Jesus spoke the words. Incredible!
Thousands of 'Lorax flowers' (zavat in Hebrew) welcomed us as we drove up the mountain.

View from the Mount of Beatitudes.

            Riding on a boat on the Sea of Galilee is one of my favorite parts of the tour. We read about this lake throughout Jesus’ ministry. This is where he called the Disciples to join Him. It is easy to see why He spent most of His time here. To be out on the lake, like Jesus was, looking at the mountains surrounding the lake where He walked, is a surreal experience. It is a beautiful, peaceful place. Even driving over the mountain, when we caught our first view of the Sea of Galilee, evokes peace and tranquility.
View looking east, from the boat on the Sea of Galilee.

            After lunch we visited a 2000 year old ‘Jesus boat’, that was unearthed from the shore of the Sea of Galilee in 1986. The movie showing how the archeologists carefully preserved the boat, while removing it from the soil on the shore was impressive. What an incredible discovery!
A fishing boat from Jesus time, discovered buried on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in 1986.

            By late afternoon, it felt cool and refreshing to go into an air-conditioned movie and shop called The Galilee Experience. The owners are Jewish people who believe in Jesus as Messiah, and they show a movie about the history of the Galilee area. Afterwards, the owner treated everyone to  ice cream, while we shopped in the gift store.
            Back at our Galilee hotel casitas, we had time for a quick swim in the beautiful pool, before celebrating the beginning of the Sabbath, with a Shabbat dinner. Every evening the holiday village has something fun going on for the guests. Tonight looked like a kid’s party with blow up jumpers, bungee jumping, cotton candy, a kid sized mechanical bull, and the most interesting, a human foosball game. Here the kids attached themselves to a horizontal pole and when the ball came towards them, the kids on that pole worked together kicking and pulling to try and kick it away. It looked like lots of fun! 
Israeli kids playing human foosball at the evening party at our hotel.

                       It is incredible to be here and we can't wait to see what God does tomorrow. 
                                            God's blessings to you from the Land of the Bible!

If you missed Day 1 of the Israel tour, click here.