The sounds of Israel

So after spending 8 days in Israel and simply recording where we went each day, I now have time to stop and reflect on our amazing trip to the Holy Land. From the first moment, our tour guide, Tali, told us to take in our eight days with all our senses. I’ll begin with what I heard.

Twelve hours in the air from Miami to Vienna and then Vienna to Tel Aviv on Austrian Airline meant I had numerous chances to hear German followed by English instructions and updates on the plane. I took two years of German in high school plus two semesters in college. I may not remember much of the vocabulary, but surprisingly I could follow the conversation when the pilot let us know how far we were from our destination or what kind of food might be served next.

It was hard to get to sleep our first night at the hotel on the Sea of Galilee because of a large, loud party on the beach below us that didn’t break up till about midnight. I might not have minded had we been invited!

I sat in the front row of our tour bus, so I got to hear the wide variety of music our driver, Anatoli, played while on crowed city streets and highways between destinations. He switched between Hebrew talk radio, classical, Broadway show tunes, country, and a little techno thrown in for good measure.

From time to time we would be outside to hear a Muslim call to prayer. These were digital, not live. I am not sure I’ve ever heard one before and was surprised at how long a call lasted. Each seemed like a minute or more. We must not have been in Arabic locations, because I did not see many people bow in prayer.

A sea of tour busses surrounded us everywhere we went, filled with visitors from all over the world. As the groups passed, I heard Spanish, Portuguese, French, Russian and English tour guides pointing out the sites and explaining some history behind each. Each person in our group wore a headset, too, and the voice of our tour guide was always in our ear, explaining what we were looking at and where we were headed next.

Sometimes I heard nothing. Silence. Some sites prohibited explanations, so we took it all in with our other senses. At some, reverence for the moment and respect for those praying or meditating dictated quiet. Silence has a way of accentuating the holy. It was very quiet at the Church of the Beatitudes. A nun made sure of that. It was also virtually silent at Mary’s house in the Church of the Annunciation.

Church of the Beatitudes
(See the water flowing from the altar)

It was not quiet at all in the church of the Holy Sepulcher. I thought the place was packed, but our guide said it was only about 60% of what she had seen. Crowds of people in long lines and constant conversation in every conceivable language surrounded us everywhere we went. We did not stay long, but it is a busy, busy place!

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

In some remote places like Qumran, Masada and Caesaria Philippi, I heard the songs of birds. Some where there because our guide brought a few crumbs to feed some of them. Others were just curious or up in the trees.

At the Western wall in Jerusalem I was surrounded by many speaking or singing prayers. They sat in chairs in front of the wall with prayer books or scripture open before them. Many sang psalms at the site of King David’s tomb as well. We didn’t spend a lot of time in those places, but I imagine that some who came spent a large portion of their day there.

The souvenir shop at the Jordan River baptismal sight had a selection of shofar (rams horn trumpets) you could try. I heard these being blown in the store and also several places along the way. I was the only one in our group to blow a few notes.

At Temple Mount, a vigilant voice broke up couples who were simply holding hands or had arms around one another for a picture, warning, “No hug! No touch!” No one had to be warned more than once.

A boat took us out onto the Sea of Galilee. Once out there, the pilot cut the engines, and I heard nothing but the breeze, a few birds and the sound of gentle waves against the side of the boat. I really enjoyed this calm, peaceful moment.

On our way from someplace in Jerusalem to some other place, we came across a family celebrating their three-year-old son’s first haircut. I didn’t know that was a thing. But they beat on drums, sang songs and released blue and white balloons into the air, too.

First haircut celebration

Other sounds included the hiss of the espresso machine at a market coffee shop, the sizzle of an omelette griddle at our second hotel, the enthusiastic description of so many dried fruit mixes at one market stall, and the endless invitations to check out the merchandise at each and every shop in the Arab market.

For me, the best sound was my own voice singing in St. Anne’s church by the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. The acoustics were amazing. A sung phrase would linger in the air for five seconds. So I could sing and then listen, sing and listen, and marvel at the rich sounds surrounding me.

St. Anne’s

Unfortunately, my days were peppered by voices in our group complaining about long lines, waits and walks during the day and hotel room problems at night. Each concern was legit, but come on, folks. The opportunity to walk where Jesus walked and see all those places I’ve only read about before is worth a little inconvenience. At least it was for me.

When I began writing this, I had no idea how many sounds I would recall. I suspect I’ll remember more, so there might be a part two.

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