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Israel Trip Days 1 - 3

By: Scott

It's about 9:00 p.m. as I write this blog post from my bed in Jerusalem, so you know, typical New Year's Eve for me.  At least the "in bed at 9:00 p.m." part.  I know I have a lot of family and friends praying for Raegan and I as we journey throughout areas of Israel and Palestine over the next two weeks, so I thought it might be fun to keep a blog throughout (but no promises on frequency/quantity).  This one is a little long, but feel free to treat it like a children's book and skip to the pictures.

Let's begin!

We got to the DFW at 1:30 for our 4:20 flight, which turned out to be more than enough time, since check-in and security took approximately 3.5 minutes.  We boarded an almost-full Lufthansa flight and hunkered down for the 10-hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany.  I like Lufthansa, mainly because the German-accented staff greets you with a cheerful "Hallo!" and their movie selection was good (Man of Steel = great, Wolverine = passable, Now You See Me = not quite sure, we landed with ten minutes to go).  I got about an hour and a half of sleep before they flipped on the cabin lights at 6:30 a.m. Frankfurt time for breakfast (which happened to be about midnight  Dallas time, and about 4 hours after dinner).

We got to Frankfurt and walked for what felt like a mile to get to Lufthansa's separate, Israel-only terminal.  Security was, let's say, as thorough as it could be while keeping everyone clothed.  I'm pretty sure it doubled as a physical.  We loaded onto a smaller, movie-less airplane where we were given breakfast again, so we're talking 3 meals in about 7 hours.

Mmmm... two helpings of soggy omelet.
I slept most of the 4 hours on the flight, I only woke up on our final descent.  We landed, went through passport control, and... no customs?  Guess that means they know exactly what's in my suitcase... you know, because they went through it.  Again, just glad that means no one else is bringing security issues into the country while Raegan and I here.  We got to our bus and started driving towards Jerusalem, which was only about 45 minutes away.  I'll pause here to say that one thing I've found incredible is how close everything is in the Holy Land.  I always assumed so much more space between places in the Bible, but I'm learning it's all much condensed than I first thought.

We got to the King Solomon Hotel, unpacked, and headed down to dinner.  Turns out I'll be gaining weight this trip.  Everything is so fresh, so delicious, and I have no clue what most of it is, but it's awesome!

We hit the hay at about 9:00 last night, and I woke up super disoriented at about 3 a.m. before forcing myself back to sleep.  Then at 7:15 I was greeted by Raegan flinging open our curtain, saying, "Look at how beautiful it is!"  We hadn't been able to see anything on the ride in because it was a rainy night, but we were graced with a gorgeous sunrise outside our 9th floor window.  The rolling mountains of Jerusalem are absolutely breathtaking, especially for a Texas boy.

We went down for breakfast, again delicious, and went off to the Shalom Hartman Institute for our morning class session.  We discussed God, Genesis 1 and 2, Judaism, and Israel, among other tangents. We had lunch and then got back on our bus to begin our afternoon driving/walking tour of the Old City of Jerusalem.

This is where it gets good, and also difficult to write about because I'm still largely processing what I've seen, heard, and learned today.  We started by driving up to the Mount of Olives, which overlooks Mount Moriah.

Mount of Olives.  Golden-roofed building is the Church of Mary Magdalene (Russian Orthodox)
Driving up the mount, there is a moment when you realize you've entered the Palestinian section of Jerusalem.  I knew like most that areas in Israel were under contestation by the Israeli and Palestinian people, but in Jerusalem it is compounded by 1000.  Every stone, every block, every square inch is claimed by someone and challenged by someone else.  The Palestinian sections appear more impoverished; graffiti is more frequent, litter higher in volume, and generally everything more run-down.  The Mount of Olives overlooks Mount Moriah, which gave us this wonderful view of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Old City of Jerusalem.  Gold-domed building is Dome of the Rock, Muslim mosque home to the stone believed to be the beginning of creation by Muslims and Jews.  

This was the moment I realized just how close everything in Jerusalem is.  The Garden of Gethsemane, which is at the foot of the Mount of Olives, is a close walk from the walls of the long-destroyed Temple (which sat where the Dome of the Rock is today).  I guess growing up in Texas has rubbed of on me, because seeing everything so close (sometimes on top of each other) is just so foreign to me.

Ezra, our awesome tour guide.  Seriously, he knows everything.

One of the most powerful moments of the day came for me at the top of the Mount of Olives, because it sits right next to a massive Jewish cemetery home to thousands of graves (some thousands of years old).  There was a traditional memorial service taking place with a group of Hasidic men at one of the graves.  Our guide explained that Jewish people have been buried here continually for centuries upon centuries, and many families will take dirt from the mountainside to sprinkle on the graves of family members who cannot be buried there as a means of connecting them to the place.

Two Hasidic men pay respects.  Church of Mary Magdalene (Orthodox, left) and Dominus Flevit (Catholic, right) in background.

The divide between the Mount of Olives (left) and the graves (right).

Every little box you see is a grave, and dark holes are tombs built into the mountainside.  Also notice the security camera on the right.  Someone's always watching here. 
The next part of our tour brought us to the interior of the Old City (which had "new" 400-year-old walls).  Inside, we made our way to the Western Wall (also known as the "Wailing Wall"), which is the remaining wall of the Temple (destroyed in 70 CE) that sat tall inside Jerusalem (the same temple spoken of in the Gospels).  The importance of sacred place is very real here in Jerusalem, and very foreign to a western Christian such as myself.  It's not that these places are holy or special, to the Jews who travel to the Western Wall, it is the stones themselves that possess a divine quality demanding reverence and respect.  I must admit, when walking up to the Western Wall, I couldn't help but be silenced by two thoughts: how much pain and destruction had taken place in this space, and how many people had come with their prayers over the millennia.  What could I possibly have to say?  So I stood in silence and simply allowed myself to be present at this wall that has meant so much to so many.  I have a few photo's below and then my closing thoughts

Women and girls praying at the Western Wall.

People praying at the Western Wall, divided by gender.  The men's side was approximately 3-4 times as large, despite having half the number of visitors.

A Jewish boy praying at the Western wall amongst men.  It is hard to see, but strips of paper with scribbled prayers are placed in the cracks and crevices of the stone.

The streets of Old Jerusalem.

A gateway that leads to the Dome of the Rock/Temple Mount.  This area of Old Jerusalem is Muslim-controlled (a decision that was made by Israel in the 6 days war), and consequently off-limits to Jews and many non-Muslims (notice the police barricade and officer in the foreground).  We should have an opportunity to visit next week with our Palestinian tour guide. 
An immense golden menorah.  There is a group in Jerusalem preparing for the "eventual" rebuilding of the Temple (this would require the surrender/occupation of the Dome of the Rock square/Temple Mount).  They have placed this menorah as a symbol of their hope for the building of the Temple, as it is to be used in the Temple if/when it is built.
Another view of the Dome of the Rock, with a muslim minaret on the left, and the Western Wall in the foreground.  I have no idea what that bridge is. 
Today was filled to the brim with places, names, information, and spiritual overload.  Like I said before, I'm still processing a lot of it, and will share more revelations in the coming days, but for now let it suffice to say that my expectations have been dashed, in a good way.  Israel is more beautiful, challenging, engaging, complex, and just plain interesting than I ever could have imagined.  It is changing me, by the moment.  My faith, my Christian scriptures, and the real world are colliding in a very real way, and I'm jet-lagged to boot!  For now, I will sleep.

- Scott


  1. Thanks for the journal. I love reliving some aspects of this trip and seeing other perspectives.
    You will go across the bridge when you visit the other side and the temple mount.


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