David and I flew from Athens, the birthplace of western civilization, to the cradle of the world’s religions: Israel. We were joined by a few of our friends who flew in from around the Middle East for a four day tour to see the dynamic and often contrasting cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and make an excursion to the north of Israel near the Sea of Galilee. We appreciated our time in the Holy Land for so many reasons: seeing the places we’ve read about in the Bible, experiencing a home-cooked Shabbat dinner for the first time, and seeing the modern and progressive beach areas of Tel Aviv and the ancient synagogue ruins of Capernaum. From the turquoise tranquil waters of the Sea of Galilee to exploring the Old City of Jerusalem a day before it was closed (again) due to internationally covered protests, Israel was an experience and education we won’t soon forget.
During our three nights in Jerusalem, we stayed at a beautiful Airbnb in the German Colony, a lively neighborhood full of restaurants, bars, and parks. Our first night, we set off to explore the nearby old railway tracks, which have been converted into a walking path lined with restaurants and end with an outdoor food court and beer garden. It was a great time catching up with friends before diving into several days of tours.
The next morning, we rose early and met our guide at Jaffa Gate, one of the four main entrances to Jerusalem’s Old City. The Old City is the center of many of the sites most holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It’s a contested section of Jerusalem divided into four quarters, three of which are open for exploration to visitors. I loved seeing the diversity of pilgrims who had come from around the world to pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which many traditions believe to be the site of Christ’s crucification and burial. We took in panoramic views of the Temple Mount from the rooftop of the Visitor’s Center then made our way to the Temple Mount and El Aqsa area to pray at the Western Wall. In the afternoon we left the old city to walk through the City of David, a neighborhood under active archeological excavations, where new and exciting findings are discovered almost every month. We walked through the recently discovered tunnel system believed to have been built during the reign of King Hezekiah, my favorite moment of the day.
Our second day in Jerusalem was a Friday, and most places were closed for the Sabbath. We planned to use this time to visit the Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem. If you visit Israel, a visit to Yad Vashem is a must and is incredibly moving. After our visit, we stopped by “The Shuk”, Jerusalem’s famous market before lunch at Machneyuda (AMAZING!!) and witnessed the hustle as families purchased fresh food for the Shabbat dinner and Saturday’s meals. In the evening we were invited to a friend’s home for our first Shabbat dinner. It was a warm and lovely experience. We appreciated the hospitality and even the chance to sing along with some of the songs. Meeting new friends in homes across the world has been a highlight of our travels, whether in Jerusalem, Bangkok or Okinawa.
On our third day in Jerusalem, we toured the rest of the city, including some sites held dear to Christians. We visited the Mount of Olives and Garden of Gethsemane where Christ prayed the night before he was betrayed, as well as The Palm Sunday Way, where he rode the donkey into Jerusalem. In the Garden of Gethsemane, there are olive trees so old that they were present when Jesus walked by. After our tour, we took off for a short stay in Tel Aviv to explore the much more modern and progressive city. Food in Tel Aviv is exceptional, and we had an amazing dinner at Sharon Cohen’s Kitchen.
Our fourth and final full day in Israel, we drove north to the Sea of Galilee, where we explored the ruins of Capernaum, saw the traditional site where Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount, and touched the Jordan River. We returned home to Tel Aviv, where we had a celebratory final dinner at the beautiful Hotel Montefiore, the best meal of the trip!
Special thank you to Simone for planning such an amazing trip!
All photos by David and Stacie Flinner for stacieflinner.com