In spite of the sounds of Tiberius--a city that is vibrantly alive long into the night--on our first night in Israel we sank into our beds and slept as only exhausted travelers can. It had been an eleven hour plane journey followed by a full day of touring. We looked down from our hotel window onto the streets, lit brightly with a rainbow of neon signs and busy with people and vehicles--admired the view—and went to sleep.
The next day, restored, we found one another in the dining room and with varying degrees of daring, sampled unfamiliar tastes and textures from the abundant buffet. There were salads, dates, cheeses, boiled eggs, omelettes, fruits and all kinds of cakes.
At 8 o’clock sharp, our guide, Danny Appelbaum, met us in the lobby and we boarded the bus to begin day 2 which started with a walk through an alley crowded with market stalls. Our senses were bombarded with vibrant colour, smells, sights and sounds. We had been warned by our guide Danny, to be prepared for aggressively persuasive street vendors and the different social norms of the Middle East, and we tried hard to maintain some semblance of togetherness in the crowded alley.
We emerged onto the street and had time for coffee in a cafe and to browse a store or two before boarding the bus again for Nazareth--Nazareth!!
At Nazareth we wandered the Church of the Annunciation and gazed at the excavated ruins within the church, which are believed to be Mary’s house. The atmosphere was hushed and holy, and the church itself is a stunning mixture of ancient and modern beauty and art.
On the bus again we drove to the hill from which the people of Nazareth tried to throw Jesus from a precipice after he opened he scrolls in the synagogue and read from them, a situation that went downhill when he announced that the prophesy was being fulfilled at that moment. The hill is known as Mount Precipice. We climbed it and gazed at an amazing panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and plains below.
If this all begins to sound like a blur to read about, you are experiencing what we experienced. So much was packed into each day and at each stop we could have spent day. In England we used to have a stereotype of tourists who would come and talk about “doing England," seeing sights and absorbing history at a pace we found alarming. I was now one of those tourists, “doing Israel!”
From Nazareth we went to the Sea of Galilee and after stopping to have lunch and view a boat from the time of Jesus; which was recently raised from the depths of the Sea, at Kibbutz Gennosar, we went out on the Sea of Galilee on one of many boat filled with tourists (or pilgrims) from all over the world; but ours was a boat called Faith. The owner of the boat, Daniel Carmel, is a Jew who came to faith in Christ while on his boat. His testimony can be found on his website: www.hebrewworshipsongs.com for Daniel is also a singer.
It was on the Sea of Galilee, aboard Faith; from which the Canadian flag was fluttering proudly in our honour; that tears flowed for many of us, including me. The rapid pace had slowed, at least momentarily, and out on the water, looking back at the shore that Jesus would have looked at, on the body of water he was so familiar with; looking at the hills on the other side; the Gentile side where Jesus healed the man possessed with demons in the country of the Gadarenes, I felt his presence and his peace. All along I had been looking for him here, and now I had found him as we sang songs in Hebrew and English, led in worship by Daniel, a Jew who had found his Messiah in Christ.
We had one more stop to make that day though, at the River Jordan, where our two pastors were going to baptize anyone who wished to either take that step for the first time or take it symbolically as a proclamation of faith. There were seven in our group who did, and for four I believe it was for the first time.
Each group at the Jordan had a “site.” Some had come with a group and others came on their own and immersed themselves in the water. From various places songs of worship in many different languages drifted in the air. A large Spanish speaking group was across from us and they were so enthusiastic and passionate in their worship that we all wanted to know how we could join their church. They were singing and clapping and worshiping with abandon and deep emotion and as each one was baptised they applauded and praised God.
Our group was quieter, but for those who were baptized and who said a few words about their faith in Christ and what this moment meant to them; it was profoundly moving and significant—that was written all over their faces and the smiles which shone from them.
So ended the second day in Israel for the Alliston, Tottenham group of pilgrims.