Israel – final week and reflections

We’ve made it back to Jerusalem.  Can’t really believe the journey we have been on and the rich experiences we have had.  Certainly we have seen some amazing places especially for me the Biblical sites.  I have read about these places so often and I have found it hard to believe I’m actually here.  Although, while it’s been great to be in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Capernaum etc I haven’t really got into all the stuff about this is the place the angel appeared to Mary or this is the place that Jesus ascended etc.  Anyway, what has struck me most is the people we have been able to meet.  Our guides, people Gem has befriended and people we have just met on the street who have invited us for coffee or tea.  Their warmth continues to challenge my prejudices.  It seems people really do want to share their stories and hear others if you have an open mind and spirit.  When praying the other night I was thanking God so much for the opportunities he is always giving us and that I can stay open to them.  It’s such a complicated place and of course I still do not have any answers to age old conflicts but I least feel I have more understanding than I did when I first came.

Anyway, here’s where we have been since I last wrote:

Day 16 North Coast (Haifa and Akko) – After we left our little apartment on the Sea of Galilee we headed west to the port town of Akko.  This was also the crusader capital and was full of crusader ruins.  They were pretty cool especially the underground tunnels and I was excited to get a crusader tunnel for the Scav Hunt.  From there we headed down to Haifa where we spent the night in a Stella Maris convent.  We watched a beautiful sunset over the water, which is always exciting as doesn’t happen on east coast of Australia.  Haifa is mostly famous for it’s Bahai Gardens.  Blocks and blocks of the most pristine lawns and flowers you’ll ever see.  It seems Israel is Holy even for the Bahai’s.

Day 17 Ne’ve Shalom:  After the gardens we traveled south again to a place called Ne’ve Shalom.  Just west of Jerusalem there is a community of Jews and Muslims (and a small number of Christians too) living together.  The community truly is peaceful.  Gem has been trying to volunteer there (they actually have a place in May so still might happen) and because she has met some people while visiting previously we were lucky enough to spend a few hours talking to some community members about their experiences there.  While I have only been here for such for a short time I still am very much aware of the conflict and the hostility that exists here and so it was really helpful to hear stories of people living together.  It’s not perfect and of course there are still issues but people are trying.  We hear a lot in Australia about  two state solution for Israel and in some ways that does seem more viable but people we have spoken to here seem to be saying they actually want one Israel in which all its citizens, Jewish and Palestinians have equal rights and opportunities.  Who knows how they could happen or what it could look like but I sure am inspired to really pray for this for the people we’ve met and are trying to hold onto hope.

Day 18 – 19 Jerusalem: After spending the night at Ne’ve Shalom’s hostel we headed back into bustling Jerusalem.  We stopped on the way to see 12 stained glass windows designed by Jewish artist Marc Chagall.  He is a favourite of mums and she was determined to see them.  Despite mum’s love of art I often find it hard to fully appreciate it but these windows were truly breathtaking.  One each depicting the 12 tribes of Israel.  The colour of these windows and the light pouring through them, I can’t really describe the beauty.  It was a spiritual experience as well.

Back in Jerusalem we visited the Shrine of the Book where the Dead Sea scrolls are now kept, as well as other more recent Biblical scrolls are kept.  Gemma loves scrolls and seeing them I can see why.  In the evening we met up with a Jewish couple who mum started chatting to on the bus on our way in here.  They have some accommodation they rent to students so we managed to line some up for Gem.  Another grace from God.  We are leaving in 3 days and she had no idea where or what she was doing next unto May when she can go to Ne’ve Shalom.

Today we spent the more relaxing in our convent hostel in the old city.  It has the best views over the old city from the roof top balcony.  I could have sat there all day but the Dome of the Rock is a must see  so off we went.  It’s open for two hours but we waited in line for an hour to get through the checkpoint and then they shut half an hour early so we only really got fifteen minutes there but it was pretty memorable.  A holy place for Muslims (where they believe Mohammed ascended) and also a holy place for Jews as it is on the site of the original temples where the Ark of the covenant was placed  so it is another place of conflict and it’s hard to know what to do with all that but is very spectacular that’s for sure and so huge.

Day 20 Tel Aviv:  Tomorrow we are off to to Tel Aviv for a night and then home sweet home.  Well after another epic day and half flight.  I am very much looking forward to being home on Saturday and seeing my family again.  Cannot even begin to describe how hard it’s been to be away from them.  Also looking forward to being a place whose customs I understand and whose language I speak.  Traveling sure can be exhausting and I think Israel especially so.  So many customs, religions and holy places to look out for and certainly we have had to deal with a lot of hassling from me on the street.  I have been trying to challenge some of my stereotypes, I hope one day the stereotype about Western women will be challenged.  it sure will make travelling easier for us all.


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