Water flowing

I love this picture. It is one of my favorites from our trip to Israel. I took this picture at the Church of the Beatitudes, possibly the site where Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount beginning in Matthew 5.

The streams flowing from the altar reminded me of two bible passages:

“Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar” (Ezekiel 47:1).

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1).

In that moment, I felt like I was there. In between the ancient prophecy of Ezekiel and the not-yet visions of Revelation, I was captivated by the streams of life-giving water flowing from the altar. Jesus died and rose so that I might have life in the waters of my baptism. For me, this was a breath-taking moment to remember.

Yes, I felt blessed The mosaic words capture the moment well: “Praise to you, O Christ!”

En Gedi: these caves look like the real thing

On our way home from a day at the Dead Sea, we had the chance to stop at En Gedi, a place of springs and caves where David hid while running away from King Saul. Saul was so jealous of David’s popularity that he tried several time to kill him. David found refuge in this place where only ibex usually leapt up and down the cliffs.

After visiting so many places of Jesus’ ministry that had been built over with churches, shrines, traditions and souvenir shops, my wife and I found this place to be quite different. Looking up at the caves on the nearly vertical cliffs, she said, “This seems like the real thing.” There was nothing artificial or modern about this oasis. We could imagine just hard it would have been to look for and find David and his army in a place like this. Standing beneath the waterfall, I could imagine just how refreshing it must have been to find a place like this out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but the starkest wilderness.

Where would you go if you had to run for your life? Where would you hide if you didn’t want to be found? Would it even be possible in our time to be off the grid like David?

I spy…all kinds of things

A rooftop just below the house of Caiaphas

We had just been in Caiaphas’ house. We had just descended into the sub-basement, the “pit” as it were, where Jesus may have been held while awaiting his first trial before the high priest. I had just read Psalm 69 to our group, remembering who to look to when we feel like we are in “the pit.” We climbed back out of the pit, passed by a place which could have been where Peter denied knowing Jesus three times.

I casually looked down from the courtyard where we were standing and saw a rooftop piled with all kinds of trash. In the picture you can see

  • A shopping cart
  • Milk crates
  • Scooters
  • A door
  • Five gallon buckets
  • Wicker shelves
  • Wood pallets
  • Barbed wire
  • Bicycles
  • A wheelbarrow
  • Tires and wheels
  • Refrigerator
  • Rake
  • Washing machine
  • Cememt mixer (?)
  • Dish antenna
  • Rebar and cinderblocks
  • Skateboard

You might be able to pick out even more discarded items. I’ll bet there are stories for each of the things that someone either tossed onto or carried up to the roof.

The reality of present day trash interrupted my meditations on the arrest and trial of Jesus, which led to his suffering and death on the cross. Then again, I’m sure they had a lot of refuse at Jesus’ time, too.

Our street looks like this on trash days. But we also put out furniture, mowers and trimmers and mattresses. I guess the age old question has always been, “What are we going to do with all this trash?”

What’s behind that door?

This door in Jerusalem fascinated me. I believe the door was cut into this mix of older and newer stones after these walls were built. The original handle must have been replaced by a key lock and later by a fourteen- button keypad. There were some signs on that door at one time, too. I have no way of knowing, but I can’t help wondering, “What was behind that door?” In hindsight, I could have knocked. Who would have answered? Or I could have tugged on the handle. Maybe someone left it open. I didn’t. I wasn’t feeling that brave that day.

Judging by it’s location on mu photo roll, it was on the way to or from the upper room of the last supper, a well-traveled route through the city. It’s got a lot of wear and tear, used by many over the years.

  • It could be as simple as the entrance to a residence. Just as in St. Augustine, FL, many live right where thousands of tourists explore historic streets and alleys. There’s no peephole, though. If you were leaving you might just open that door right into the face of someone like me who stopped to take a picture. Ouch.
  • Maybe it’s a plain, almost unnoticeable private entrance for after-hours entertainment. One that required a secret knock and/or code for admission. No one would know it was there unless you were told.
  • Some kind of storage closet? A place to keep brooms and cleaning supplies, signs and banners for special celebrations, trash cans and traffic cones? I really hope it’s something more exciting than that.
  • It could open to a flight of steps down below the street level. The streets of Jerusalem are built layer upon layer of history. The steps might lead to underground tunnels and passageways that can take you to different parts of the city. Or the steps might lead up, onto the rooftops. From there you could look down upon the streets, or move from one building to the next.
  • Or an elevator. I doubt it, but you never know. Someone might have had to install one after the fact.
  • What a surprise it would be to open that door and discover…a brick wall! A passageway that had been sealed up. But what – or who – was behind that wall? And how long had they been there?

Maybe someone will see this picture and tell me what it really leads to.

Siddurim at the Western Wall

While at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, I was fascinated by the sight of these bookshelves and tables filled with what I believe are Jewish prayer books. So many shapes and sizes. Some look brand new. Others are well worn. I wanted to pick one up and page through it, but I felt super conscious of not doing anything touristy or offensive.

On the men’s side at David’s tomb, a room full of men were bowed over their prayer books. I assume these were also siddurim. Again, I tried not to offend and didn’t get all the pictures I wanted.

As I thought back to that moment, I wondered if I could buy a siddur, a Jewish prayer book. And sure enough, you can order one on Amazon. They have all sorts of sizes and shapes, new and used, many with parallel Hebrew and English pages for people like me.

I came across an interesting article on How to Choose a Siddur, or Jewish Prayer Book, and it’s not as simple as I thought. They have digital versions, and a variety of apps. There are versions that appeal to Orthodox, Conservative and Reformed traditions. There are versions that include commentary and devotions. There are gender-inclusive versions. There are some published specifically for the high holy days. There are very small print pocket versions, so I assume there’s large print, too. It’s not unlike trying to figure out what bible to buy in a store with a sea of different versions and publications!

I need to ask some of my Jewish friends. Did they get one as a gift at their Bar Mitzvah? Or have one handed down in the family? They would no doubt be surprised that I know just enough Hebrew to awkwardly find my way around a Siddur.

Watch for a future post after I get one and see what they are all about.

No drones

On our way into Capernaum to see the traditional excavation of Peter’s house, I saw this interesting and detailed sign. Visitors speaking any language would understand appropriate dress and behavior, including a very modern “No drones.”

Clearly this sign is a recent addition. I’m thinking the powers that be posted it after someone complained about drones buzzing around this popular tourist destination. A photographer could get some amazing shots from the air. But how annoying that could be to those desiring to walk where Jesus did. Plus, who knows what harm could be done where crowds gather?

One of our tour group who lives in a condo upper floor mentioned that they often see drones hovering outside their windows. Disturbing. Who’s watching? And why?

Better watch your step.

Mahane Yehuda Market

Our last day in Israel was the “go do whatever you want day.” My wife and I and a few friends decided we wanted to return to the Jewish quarter of Old City Jerusalem and then check out the highly recommended market, Mahane Yehuda.

When we started out, we didn’t even know the name of the market. But a shop owner said, “You are probably looking for Mahane Yehuda” and he wrote down the name for us. Great. Now, how do we get there? “Oh, it’s easy. You have to go deep into the Arab market, out the Jaffa gate, and head towards Jaffa road and St. George.” We thanked him as if we knew what that meant, and headed towards the Jaffa gate, where our taxi had dropped us off early that morning.

We got to the Jaffa gate. Now what? Aha, there’s a tourist center here. He sent us out the gate and up the hill to where we could catch the tram, a light rail train that would take us to the market. We saw the tracks in the road, and waited for the next train to come so we could see where the stop was. Once we got to the stop, it looked like we would need to buy a ticket. Not quite sure how to do that, a random guy simply directed us to a machine that had an English option. As I fiddled with the buttons and my debit card, a train came and left. Finally the machine spit out five tickets for us, and we boarded the next one.

I think this is the first time my wife and I have set out to explore a city on our own without a translator or guide with us. I really enjoyed the adventure! As we were told, everyone we asked for direction was extremely gracious and helpful.

Sitting on the train, I looked up and saw a sign announcing the next stop – in Hebrew. I can figure out some Hebrew, but now quickly. Before I knew it the announcement changed to Arabic. Not helpful. Finally came the English. We reached the stop specially designed to bring traffic to the market, and started down the street.

There is a lot of information on Mahane Yehuda Market on Wikipedia. Over two hundred and fifty vendors lined the streets, some out in the open, some under cover. There were fruits and vegetables, fish and meat, bread, halva, baklava, coffee shops, spiced and dried fruit, olives, and candy as far as my eye could see.

Turning into one of the covered areas, we came across Haachim Levy spices, teas and fruits. The young man working the booth enthusiastically described and let us try many of the blends of dried fruits out front that could be used to make tea, infuse drinks, or mixed into oatmeal. We bought three sweet and one savory blend from him.

Baklava, anyone?

We asked him where to get the best baklava and coffee in the market. With booth after booth selling those items, we wanted a recommendation. He directed our eyes down the long row of booths past several signs his favorite coffee roaster. “Just past that you’ll see an old man – that’s where you want to buy your baklava.” At the coffee roaster, I got a delicious long espresso made from a Tanzanian blend. Sure enough, just a few booths down we found a huge display of baklava. We loaded up a box with one of each that was sealed up so we could take it home with us.

As we continued to walk through the market, I couldn’t help but wonder how many in Jerusalem did their food shopping here. Throughout all our travels, we hand’t seen any grocery stores or Walmarts in Jerusalem. Maybe we just didn’t go through those parts of town. After a little research, I learned that there are some grocery chains there. But most people talk about the markets.

The experience reminded me of the markets in Baltimore when my wife and I lived there. The best thing is you buy everything fresh! I suppose after a while you would have your favorite vendors and be able to get exactly what you wanted in season and for special events. I could get used to a great selection of fish, meats and vegetables. I am too often disappointed with the grocery stores near me.

One cool thing about the market is that you get to talk to the person working the shop. Everyone was very proud of their booth and products, encouraged me to try samples, and loved to talk about their product, their family and the market. The few farmer’s markets near us give us a bit of that, but it just wasn’t the same.

I think I could have spent the whole day there!

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.

Israel (Day 8)

Today was our “free” day. A few of us decided to spend s little more time in the Old City of Jerusalem.

When we met in the hotel lobby after breakfast, there was already a cabbie looking for a fare, so we hopped in. Our driver was a native of Jerusalem and shared s little of his views on yesterday’s election.

He dropped us off at the Jaffa gate, after we got our bearings, we headed down through the Arab market. We happened across Bassam Barakas, a fourth generation antiquities dealer who had more to offer than the usual trinkets (like yarmulkes with NFL logos). We purchased a pendant with a “widow’s mite” from the 1st century B.C. from him.

Bassam told us that his brother Yosef owns Tony’s Pizza in St. Augustine. We’ll check it out when we get home.

We returned to yesterday’s lunch place, the Upper Gate, for fish meatballs, salmon, and falafel.

After lunch we left the city and took a tram to Menachen Yehuda market, a huge area selling everything you can imagine. We bought some awesome dried fruit from Haachim Levy, drank a Tanzanian long espresso from a little coffee roaster, and bought some baklava to bring home with us.

After a quick taxi ride home, we packed a little, had a drink, and joined our group for a farewell dinner. Our bus to the airport leaves very early in the morning, so it’s time to get a few hours sleep.