The past year of 2010 (Hebrew year 5770), according the Jerusalem Post Christian Edition, was the best year ever for incoming tourism to Israel. This was announced last month by the Tourism Ministry. Approximately 3.1 million tourists visited Israel last year, compared to 2.6 million last year and 2.8 million the year before.
If you have never been to Israel, you must go! Whether you are a Christian, Jew or other, your life will be changed. It is such a ‘magical’ place, the apple of God’s eye and full of beauty, joyful people, even those living in poverty, and its very existence is a miracle. Did you know that after 2000 years, on May 14, 1948, Israel was reborn as a nation, an impossible feat? – “Who has ever heard of such a thing? Who has ever seen such things? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children.” (Isaiah 66:5-6)
Right now in our lifetime God is regathering His people back to the land He had given them for an everlasting inheritance! “I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,”says the LORD your God.” (Amos 9:15)
“In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea. He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth. (Isaiah 11:11-12).
“For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.” (Ezekiel 36:24-28)
The Hebrew language has been restored as the national tongue – also impossible – “For then will I return to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent. (Zephaniah 3:9). A land which had been left desolate and referred to as a ‘barren wasteland’ by Mark Twain in the late 1800s, is now once again the land of milk and honey – “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom. . ;” (Isaiah 35:1-2). Due to the sacrifices, hard work and the superior intelligence of returning Jews, Israel has an exceptional irrigation system which wastes not a drop of the scant rainfall of the land. Everywhere you go desert is being transformed to lovely forests, farmland, floral landscapes and beautiful hills. In the north you can ski on Mt. Hermon, yet in the south you can go to the beaches all year long. It is a tiny country yet at one time it was acknowledged as the center of the world – the maps even showed it that way with Jerusalem at the center and the three petals the major continents. (click once or twice on any photo to enlarge, back arrow to return)
I have been to Israel twice – once with Pilgrim Tours (http://www.pilgrimtours.com/mideast/israel/Retail/israel10.htm) and once as a study tour with Bridges For Peace. My heart is in Israel and I would love to go again and stay for a time, possibly volunteering for one of the many organizations which bless and support new immigrants, holocaust survivors, the poor.
Here are some of the photos from both trips:
Descending over Tel Aviv to Ben Gurion Airport was a most thrilling experience both times.
This is in the Garden where Jesus prayed the night before His crucifixion. This tree was surely there when He was! The olive tree lives for centuries. This one is over 2000 years old.
This is one of the saltiest seas in the world – you cannot sink! It is full of valuable minerals which are used in cosmetics and health care products worldwide.
This is where in 1947 a young Bedouin shepherd discovered one of the caves where the oldest manuscripts of the Holy Scriptures were found – the Dead Sea Scrolls. All but the book of Esther have been found and preserved in the ‘Shrine of the Book‘ museum.
This is an amazing excavation which is only partially complete. It is uncovering an ancient Roman city complete with shopping malls, theater, religious buildings. Israel contains many ‘tels’ which are hills consisting of layers upon layers of rubble from past eras. Bet She’an is a tel. There is a law in Israel stating that any modern construction which results in finding ancient artifacts must stop digging and allow archeologists to go in and investigate.
We walked from the top to the bottom of the Mount of Olives and saw many sights including resting camels, beggars, Arabs, rabbis, other tourists.
This was our first view of the holy city – the city of gold, city of light. There are the Old City and the new more modern city. We visited both and it was all wonderful.
Excavated only within the last 100 years, this is believed to be the actual tomb where Jesus was laid, which belonged to a wealthy man, Joseph of Arimethea. There are many reasons this is believed to be the actual site: it is next to a rock wall which shockingly contains natural gouges that look like a skull! I will post a photo of the skull also. In the bible account of the crucifixion, Golgotha is mentioned, which means ‘place of a skull’ – Jews in that day easily would have named the amazing likeness a skull; also, it is outside the gates of Jerusalem, not inside, which is also biblical; also it is not roughly hewn out of the rock, but chiseled in a perfect rectangle, suggesting it was owned by a rich man, which Joseph was – he allowed Jesus’ body to be buried in the tomb he had had built for himself and his wife – there are 2 ‘beds’ in the tomb as opposed to the usual 1. Also, most tombs had the ‘beds’ to the left, but these are to the right and the bible also states Jesus’ body was placed to the right. One more clue is this: the bible states Jesus’ tomb was in a garden, yet originally there was no water source to be found in the area; however, with recent digging, a huge water cistern has been found on the site, as well as an ancient wine press! After we had our turns entering the tomb, which was an awesome experience, our group had a private communion service in the small, humble chapel there.
The society which maintains this site is funded solely by donations. There are guides who teach you the story of the tomb before you walk down to it. Everyone should experience this!
Here is a modern bus station built under the biblical ‘place of the skull’. Just around the corner is the Garden Tomb!
Here is another view of the tomb of Jesus!
Here is the wine press I mentioned.
We enjoyed a boat ride on the ‘Sea’ of Galilee – it’s really Lake Kinnaret but the Jews had called it a sea before there was a word for ‘lake’. It is the place where Jesus walked on water and led the fishermen to full nets of fish. The boat, named ‘Faith’ is designed like the boats of Jesus’ day and is captained by a messianic Jew named Michael Carmiel. He led us in worship songs as we sailed on the loveliest of days. As each flag was raised we sang both the Jewish national anthem Ha Tikvah (the Hope) which always brings tears to my eyes (click this link to listen) http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/26/Hatikvah_instrumental.ogg, and the U.S. national anthem. Very moving experience all around!
Such a rich experience to worship with believers from all over in the land of Israel (ha eretz)
We sang the Israeli and U.S. national anthems as these were raised.
This is a cafe in the Old City of Jerusalem where we had falafels for lunch one day.
This was taken just outside the Jaffa Gate.
We visited 2 schools in Israel, Bet Shemesh elementary school and this Ethiopian preschool. Bridges For Peace supports these schools and people can ‘adopt’ an Israeli immigrant child for $60 per month, 1 year commitment. On our trip, a fellow tourist, who sponsors a little boy in the elementary school, got to meet his child and presented him with a soccer ball and other gifts while we all watched tearfully!
Here are some children at recess. They were so happy to greet us.
These are tombs on the Mount of Olives. Rich people have their tombs here, which is close to the Temple Mount where they expect the Messiah to appear. They hope to be the first to be resurrected! Indeed the Messiah will return here.
We had some free time to shop in the many Old City shops – we visited the Jewish quarter, the Arab quarter, the Christian quarter and the Armenian quarter. I bought tallits (prayer shawls) for myself and my son. I bought several other things as well!
This is the famous aqueduct built by King Herod near his summer palace on the Mediterranean Sea in Caesarea.
Formerly called the Wailing Wall (prior to 1967 when Israel reclaimed Jerusalem), this is where rabbis, residents, tourists from all over the world pray and place papers with prayer requests into the cracks of the ancient wall. To the left of the divider is the men’s section and the women’s is to the right. This is one of the original walls of the Temple Mount where the Jewish temple was built by Solomon, destroyed by the Babylonians, rebuilt by Cyrus and destroyed again by the Romans. Prophecy states that there will be a 3rd temple built which will not be destroyed. I visited the Temple Institute where many articles from the original temples and newly crafted ones are waiting for the rebuilding. Priests are being trained in the Levitical sacrificial system and the Sanhedrin has been re-established as well.
People from all over the world pray at this holy site.
This is a model of the 2nd Jewish temple, destroyed in 70 A.D. by the Romans.
This is a scaled model of Jerusalem as it was in Jesus’ day. We walked all around it.
This mosque is currently on the Temple Mount and heavily guarded by Arab Muslims.
We visited Nazareth and walked through a mock setting of the way it was in Jesus’ day.
Click on this link to read a wonderful description of the second tour by a friend I met on the 2009 tour, a writer named Lenore Eidse: