I have not said anything about the food or lodging but we have had plenty of excellent middle eastern food. I love the hummus, shwarma, falafel, and the many fresh vegetables that are typical of the area. The people are friendly and the food is excellent. Also the last two nights in Ein Gedi, we stayed in a beautiful resort in the oasis. After a day of sight seeing, it was so relaxing to go into the hotels hot mineral water then jump into a cool water pool then into a sauna. We all loved the setting and the services there.
Our guide, Dan, gave the following background on kibbutz as we drove from Ein Gedi to Jerusalem. There are around 350 kibbutzim, mainly in remote areas or in disputed areas. Kibbutz means a commune. We learned about Theodor Hertzl, the visionary of Zionism, from our time in Tel Aviv. Hertzl’s view was attractive to young people. His view gave hope to young Jews and they came to the land in groups from eastern Europe primarily. They would board ships in places like Odessa in the Ukraine. The group owns everything and no one owns anything. David Ben-Gurion went to a kibbutz after he retired as PM, even if he could afford a life of luxury. Ben-Gurion and Golda Meier were in kibbutzim when they were young. They went into the swamps in the north and deserts in the south. The Jewish National Fund bought land from the Ottoman Empire but they had to pay baksheesh which irked them. In the commune each person found a task they could do and they supported the kibbutz. The kibbutzim turned the desert into mini oasis and the area of Galilee from an inhabited swampland into a tropical paradise. When the UN delegation saw how they changed the area, it swung their view in favor of the Jewish nation when they voted on a land for Israel. But kibbutzim were not long-term successful because people are inherently selfish (sin) and would get upset when others do not work as hard as them. Now there are very few true kibbutzim, although there are a number that are capitalists in practice. The size ranges from 400 to 2,500 people and our guide shared a bit about his 3 years in a kibbutz that was fascinating but also full of problems.
Also on our drive along the Dead Sea toward Jerusalem, we saw a boat repair house site from the Maccabees in 2nd century BC. The Dead Sea is fascinating with sink holes and asphalt seeps. In biblical times asphalt and mining salt were significant sources of income. In fact, soldiers were called “Saltiers” since they were often paid in salt .
Our trusty and skillful drivers cranked up the bus’s music to the tune of “O Jerusalem” as we entered into the city. It gave me goose-bumps and set the tone for the rest of a very busy but captivating day. It was very windy as we came to the Mount of Olives and we were all glad that we had jackets and hats. The first part of our trip, we could wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts, but no longer as a cold-front came in and we are also a lot higher in elevation (Dead Sea is -1400 ft; Jerusalem is +3800). The walled city is roughly 1 square mile and there is no other place in the world that has such impact. It has holy sites of three major religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) comprising 50% of the world. We could see what was called Mt. Moriah where Abraham offered Isaac to the Lord as recorded in Genesis 22. That site is viewed as holy by the three religions as they all claim Abraham as a key figure in the lineage of their faith.
We looked into our old friend, the 20th Century Italian architect, Antonio Barluzzis church, Dominus Flevit in the Mount of Olives. It was a beautiful but simple church with ancient mosaics. The church was destroyed in 618 AD, rebuilt by the crusaders, only to be destroyed again by the Bybars. We had visited another of his amazing works, the Church of the Beatitudes in Nazareth earlier on our trip. We walked a short distance down to the Garden of Gethsemane. The garden was beautiful but what stood out were the olive trees, some purportedly there during Christ’s time. I would use the word “gnarly” to describe these trees but they had their own unique beauty and they still produce some of the best olives in the world. The week of the crucifixion, Christ prayed daily in the garden (Mt 26) before going to the temple. You could see the Roman arches of the Eastern gate, although they were plastered up by the Romans and remain so today. By the garden is another of Barluzzis works, the Church of All Nations at Gethsemane. The Gethsemane is a very somber place considering it was a prelude to Christ’s death. Barluzzi captured the somberness in two ways: the church is very dark and by having symbols in the church ceiling of all the nations that were in WWII, which had recently ended.
We then came into the walled city of Jerusalem and went to a building that epitomizes the religions in Jerusalem. David’s tomb is on the first floor, the second floor is where the disciples took the Last Supper, and there is a Muslim minaret on the 3rd floor. Our guide believes that the Muslims put the minaret to honor both Judaism and Christianity, although we will never know. The room where the Last Supper was taken has been rebuilt a number of times so it does not look like when Christ was there (it is Gothic in design) but most scholars agree that it is the place of the Last Supper and Pentecost.
We also went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This site is where Christ died and may be where he was buried. Excavation of the area showed it was formerly a quarry but one tall stone in the middle of the quarry was not taken away because it was of poor quality. This quarry was near the Damascus Gate, so that it Christ’s time, people coming through the gate would immediately see their tall stone and it would be a good place for the Romans to make the point to not mess when them or you will be crucified on the stone and everyone will see you. One hundred years later, the Roman emperor Hadrian was mad at the Jews so he covered the quarry with dirt so the Jewish Christians could not worship at the site. The as was the custom of the Romans, they build a temple to a Roman god over it. Then around 150 years after that, Constantine’s mother, Helen, come looking for the holy sites and the locals told her where to look. This site is claimed by many groups of Christians and the church is divided up into different parts run by the Catholic Franciscans, Orthodox, Armenians, etc. It is very old but beautiful in its own way.
It is hard to believe that we walked where Jesus walked and where He died as well as where the Last Supper was held. Seeing all these sites in such close proximity can be almost overwhelming but also very reassuring that we serve a risen Savior!