Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Shabbot Shalom - Tel Aviv & Ceasarea

We met the bus early to begin our journey. Since Shabbot (Jewish Sabbath Holy day) lasts through Saturday evening, there was very little traffic for our first day of exploring. Our initial stop was in the ancient port of Jaffa, which is said to be over 4000 years old.  
It was here in the 8th century B.C., according to the Bible, that Jonah 
(after being in the belly of a big fish) started his journey to Nineveh.
Much of Old Jaffa has been lovingly restored with renovated houses, artists studios and galleries.
 Jaffa is also a beautiful community with winding cobblestone streets, old world charm
 and incredible views.  We especially liked the address plates.  
Our guide, Rivkah, stopped at a lovely home at the end of town and commented that the family 
was a friend of hers.   She explained that the man was an artist, and mentioned that he even did a bit of photography in Lagos! After listening for a minute, I inquired if her friend was Victor Politis, 
who has done some fabulous books on Nigeria. It is indeed a small world, since she has been 
friends with Victor and family for about 20 years!
 I last spoke with Victor during December in Lagos and told him about our upcoming trip to Israel - 
and we discussed the recent unrest in the area.   He encouraged us to go (despite the concerns) and asked me to let him know when we were there.  
I never dreamed that I would end up right in front of his house.
 After connecting with his daughter, we found out that he was out of the country working on his next book, but the guide mentioned it all week long!   I am pictured below on his daughter's scooter!  :) 
We progressed on to see the modern Faith statue, which depicts Jacob's dream, 
the "sacrifice" of Issac and the fall of Jericho.
 We also visited St. Peter's church and monastery, a Franciscan order which has 
been in this location for over 100 years.
 It was beautiful inside too!
We toured Tel Aviv, which is a beautiful and very modern city, observing the 
 architecture and the various designs that have changed through the years. 
 We continued along the Mediterranean coastal road to Caesarea, built by 
Herod the Great as the capital of the Roman province of Judea.

 Caesarea was an important city during biblical times (See Acts) and Herod built the area
 to be lavish and Impressive with stunning views of the ocean.
It was built according to exacting standards and encompassed a royal palace, a temple, a theater, an amphitheater, a hippodrome, a market area, homes and ornate public buildings.  Its Herodian port was actually an artificial harbor which took 12 years to construct.
Herod was hated by the local citizens, but was well liked by the Romans as he 
brought Roman architecture and beauty to the people.
 The area has been rediscovered through archaeological 
findings, including headless statues and artifacts.
 One of the special finds at Caesarea contains an inscription referring to 
Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea in 26-36 A.D.
When Arabs conquered the area in the 7th century A.D., Caesarea lost its political and economic standing.   However, during the crusades, the city was fortified with a massive wall and moat. 
We then drove to Haifa which is located on the Mount Carmel
 range and overlooks the Jezreel Valley.
Haifa is an important industrial, commercial and service center.  
Haifa is also an important trade city with an 
impressive port and modern buildings.
The roots of many religions have great importance in Israel - especially for Christians, Jews
 and Muslims.  It is truly the center of religion worldwide.
The Baha'i faith also has roots in the area and they have impressive gardens in Haifa.  The gardens and shrine are memorials to the leaders of their faith and a holy site to their people.   The building with the gold dome houses the tomb of their leader.   UNESCO has named the shrine a World Heritage Site.   
As we drove across the countryside, we enjoyed learning trivia about Israel.  
**The country is one of the most taxed in the world and has over 100% tax on cars.  
**The official languages are Hebrew and Arabic with English widely spoken.  
**Everything - even the ports - are closed for Shabbot.   
**Israel specializes in fish nurseries and dairy farming.  Not only do they export 
the products, but they make a large income from teaching others how to do the same.  
**24% of all workers in Israel have a college degree and they are 
ranked #2 in the world for books owned per capita.  
**They hold the largest percentage in the world for patents and 
they are 1 of only 8 countries who can send monitors into space.   
**The three largest cities are 1)Jerusalem - Capitol city  2) Tel Aviv  3) Haifa.   
**The embassies are located in Tel Aviv instead of the capitol 
since many nations do not recognize Jerusalem as the lead city. 

To describe the three major cities, we learned that: 
In Tel Aviv,  the people play....In Haifa, the people work and in Jerusalem, the people pray.  

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

On the way to the Holy Land

Years ago, when we were on a cruise to the Baltic, my dad asked me to take my mom to see the Holy Land.  He said that he wouldn't be able to take her, but thought it would be a good trip for us someday.  He was right!  In November, my mom found a trip to Israel and I didn't hesitate!  However, with the unrest in the area and combat in December around the West Bank and Gaza, our trip was almost called off.  It settled down a bit, and I am so glad that we were able to go!!
Janet and Mother - Galilee
We did so much on our trip to Israel and it was definitely fast-paced.  We experienced an incredible amount of "history" and we were able to understand much of the reasons behind the current turmoil of today's time.  The Bible came alive as we walked the streets of old, visited Mt Olives, crossed the Jordan River, strolled on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and rode the waves on the Sea of Galilee. It was truly a trip of a lifetime, but the part I enjoyed the most was just being there with my mom!  Israel is a spectacular country and the depth of learning that took place only scratched the surface.  Israel is one of those few places that must take years to really experience correctly. 
Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport is beautiful! 
My mom flew through New York with a group of travel agents into Israel.  I left from Lagos and arrived into Tel Aviv about an hour after the group.  With address in hand, I was able to locate a taxi and find my way to the Herod's Hotel, about 30 minutes away, right on the beach of the Mediterranean.    I met the group at dinner which included agents and guests from Colorado, New York, Texas, Florida, California, Arizona, Tennessee and Nigeria (me!).   It was a great group of 15 - a perfect size for touring.
View from our hotel 
Shabbot (Jewish Sabbath) begins at sundown on Friday evening and families traditionally gather for a special Shabbot dinner.  Many Orthodox Jews were in the restaurant and we were welcomed with their prayers as they stood around the tables.  Our leader - a reformed Jew - lead the blessing of the wine and the bread before we began our incredible meal.  We had lamb as well as hummus, Israeli salad and other wonderful new dishes.  It was a fabulous beginning to a week of adventure.